The Rose Garden

Disclaimer: I don't own Suikoden or any of its characters. They all belong to Konami. I named my main character Fitz, and the headquarters Gast Castle.

Eikei stood on the second floor balcony, looking out over the water. It was very early, early enough that the two elven lovebirds, Sylvina and Kirkis, weren't there yet to admire the view. Some said that there was nothing more beautiful than watching the sun rise over Lake Toran, but Eikei wasn't interested. He was merely trying to listen to his new friend, Kai. The elderly stickmaster could be long-winded at times, but he was strong, and that was what mattered. He actually taught Fitz McDohl, their leader.

Eikei liked Fitz McDohl - everyone did. But as the Liberation Army's numbers grew, so did the warrior's consternation. Thieves, gamblers, merchants, counterfeiters, even a washerwoman! McDohl was powerful, but he had no sense at all. Someone needed to have a serious chat with him before things got out of hand, since it was clear that Viktor, Flik, or the other officers weren't going to.

"Where is McDohl now?" Eikei demanded suddenly, turning to face Kai.

"Master Fitz? I hear he likes to go up to the garden in the mornings. Why?"

But Eikei was already back inside the castle, walking purposefully towards the elevator. On the first floor, Chapman and Chandler were just setting up for the day, dusting off their counters and laying out new merchandise. Eikei had no problem with the shopkeepers - they sold the supplies that warriors needed, after all. He continued on outside, past Futch, who was still moping over his dead dragon, nodding with approval when he came to the doorway where Grenseal and Alen stood, and Valeria paced around, mounting the stairs that lead to the castle gardens.

Gast Castle's rose garden was undeniably beautiful, and Zen worked hard to keep it that way. The gardens were lovely before, under General Milich's care, but now they were divine. Zen could be found toiling away at all hours, often in the rain, until someone finally dragged him inside. Sometimes he stayed out past midnight, pruning, watering, mulching, and picking off the dead flowers. The farmer cared for the garden the same he did for his plants back at Qlon Temple. Some considered his devotion a virtue. Eikei didn't care one way or the other. He ignored the gardener's cheerful "good morning" and looked around, but the place was empty.

"McDohl been here?" he barked. Zen looked up from where he was sweeping fallen leaves.

"I don't think so," he replied slowly, after a moment or two. Eikei snorted with frustration, and headed back down the stairs. There was a loud bang and a thud as he collided with someone coming up.

"Watch where you're going!" the warrior snapped. Window struggled to pick up the armful of window sets he had dropped and felt around for his glasses. He found his top hat, jammed it down on his head, and scrambled to his feet, blushing fiercely. He tried to squeeze past Eikei into the garden, but the fighter blocked his path.

"Well? Aren't you going to apologize?" Eikei glanced down at the scrawny young man and sneered. "Or is getting in the way the only thing you can do?"

"S-sorry, mister! I didn't know you were coming down," Window said quickly. "Now, please - "

But Eikei was on a roll. "No! You don't belong here! Neither do you!" He added, seeing Zen, who was leaning on his broom watching them. "All you do is take up space and ruin things for those of us who do have a right to be here!"

"Stop," Zen interrupted meekly. "You shouldn't say such things..."

Eikei stormed back up to the garden and snatched one of the roses hanging above the stairs. He yanked it free and threw it on the ground. Zen cried out as if wounded.

"Not my plants! Why?"

"Because this is a place for warriors!" Eikei roared, grabbing another stem. "Not artists, not fishermen, not farmers! At least Blackman grows food!"

"But..." Zen and Window both tried to stop him several times, but Eikei wouldn't be deprived of the chance to finally give voice to his pent- up feelings.

In another room of the castle, Apple watched as her mentor crumpled up yet another draft of a letter and threw it on the floor.

"I know," Mathiu told her. "This is for my uncle Leon, so it has to be perfect."

"Maybe you should take a break and come back later," she suggested. "That would help."

"Fitz is going to Kalekka this afternoon. We can't afford delay."

"Why don't you go outside and try to write it there?" his student asked helplessly. "I hear that the rose garden is nice and peaceful this time of day. The change of scenery would do you good."

Mathiu caught her pained glance at the balls of paper scattered around and smiled. "Yes, Apple. I'm sure it will." But he took the hint, knowing that the moment he was down the hallway she would start cleaning the room. When he arrived at the foot of the garden stairs, he could tell something was wrong. Eikei was still shouting; his strong voice bounced off the walls.

"-useless, the lot of you!" he roared. "No wonder we can't defeat the Imperials! How dare you call yourselves members of this army! McDohl is a fool!"

"Eikei, what's wrong?" Mathiu demanded. "What's this about?"

"What's wrong?" Eikei asked incredulously. "Look around you, man! That's what's wrong! What do you call these people? They're just a waste of space!"

"Eikei, stop!" Mathiu cried, startled by the change in the normally taciturn warrior's behavior. "Get control of yourself!"

"What do you know?" Eikei snarled. "You're just a strategist! You have to get others to fight your battles for you! You're no better than these two!"

Window and Zen exchanged alarmed looks, wondering if Eikei had finally gone too far, but Mathiu just sighed. He glanced over at Zen and Window. The farmer was clutching a handful of broken rose stems and Window's bottom lip trembled as if he were about to cry.

"You're right," he said. "I'm no better than they are. And neither are you."

"What do you mean by that?" Eikei demanded angrily, taking a threatening step forward. Mathiu stood his ground.

"Just what I said," he answered. "We each have our own part to play, and we do it well. That goes for everyone, including you. Fighters are central to our cause, but that doesn't mean that others who are willing can't contribute to the war effort in any way they can! Their dreams and determination are just as strong as yours. We're all working towards the same end here! And if weary people can forget their problems even for a moment by looking at Zen's flowers, or Ivanov's paintings, or by listening to Kasios sing, who are you to say that's not a worthy accomplishment?"

There was complete silence in the garden. Eikei lowered his eyes, then looked back up at the strategist, shamefaced.

"I guess you're right," he admitted. "I had no right to lose my temper like that. You two, I'm sorry."

Before Zen or Window had a chance to reply, the warrior ran down the stairs with his head down. He wasn't used to apologies. Zen shrugged good- naturedly.

"It looks like someone learned an important lesson today," he remarked. "My plants will recover. I'd say it was worth it."

Window whiped his eyes on his sleeve. "Mister, you were right. All my life people have harassed me for my life's dream, but when you spoke, it didn't sound dumb at all! When I'm done, I'll present this stained glass window to Master Fitz. He can put it in the entrance hall of the castle."

He hurried to his corner of the garden, eagerly setting up his tools and supplies for the day. Mathiu gave Zen a slightly embarrassed smile and sat down at the glass table where Milich and Vincent de Boule had tea. Now he had no trouble writing the letter for Leon - he knew exactly what he wanted to say.