Chapter 15 - A Song and a Dance
The village was in a pitiful state, its inhabitants dirty and poor, its buildings decrepit and worn down with weather. There was one major dirt road that went through the center of the village. Hardly any markets were open for business and all its people milling around the open stores were hoping to buy food. There wasn’t much. Relena looked around, peeking out from her satin hood. She knew she did not look as she belonged here, not in her fine clothes and horse. Not with Treize in his usual impeccable garb sitting behind her, holding the reins. Everyone glanced at them, afraid of them. Or envious. It broke her heart to see her people like this, down trodden and sullen. "I wonder why father never sent any food levies to this village."
Relena knew her father was not a great king, but he was not a bad king. Surely, he would not ignore the plight of his people so close to his castle.
"Your father cares not. You do, though, my dear Relena. That is why it will be you who will rule in your father’s place."
Relena squirmed a little. She still could not like the idea of displacing her father and brother to rule. "I don’t have to rule the world, Treize. I can do the work of the Light without it."
Treize nodded sagely and answered her. "Yes, you can. But it would be much more effective to do it from the throne. You want to pull these villagers out of poverty, don’t you? What better way than to decree that the royal granary be opened to them?"
"Or I can use the power to wish for more food." Treize let out a gentle laugh.
"Yes, you could, couldn’t you. But if you want to convince people with words, you must not frighten them. Power frightens people. Reserve your power until the people believe in you. Then it will enlighten them."
"Fine. But I’m hungry now, so let’s give the local village inn some business, okay?"
Treize conceded to Relena’s growling stomach. They had been traveling for some time and so it was reasonable that Relena was feeling hunger. Besides, he also felt a little famished. Even the three thousand plus year old resurrected sorcerer of the Light got hungry sometimes.
There were a few people in the inn’s common room, drinking ale and eating some sort of food. They all gawked at Relena and Treize when they walked into the room. It could have been their clothing, it could have been their noble bearing. Relena walked gracefully towards an empty table with Treize right behind her. She sat carefully when Treize pulled out the chair for her. She waited for service which came quickly. When one looked like they had money, it seemed everything was done with more haste.
"Welcome, My Lord, My Lady. How may I be service to you?"
Their serving girl was maybe eighteen, but because she was so gaunt and malnourished that she looked like she was less than her true age. Her clothes were dirty and worn out, just like everything else in the village.
"We would like some food and wine. Whatever you have will be fine."
Nodding, the girl bowed deeply and scuttled away towards the kitchen. The patrons had stopped talking to openly stare at the well dressed pair. Then suddenly, the common room door burst open and six soldiers with the Peacecraft insignia barged in. "Hey, innkeep, we want food, wine, and women. Bring them now."
With the crude declaration, the six of them sat at the center table of the room and looked around arrogantly. Others in the room, Relena and Treize excluded, looked into their mugs and avoided eye contact. Relena glanced at them with disapproval strong in her eyes while Treize merely smiled and brushed specks of dirt off his gloves. From the kitchen, the serving girl rushed out and placed two cups of wine before Relena and Treize, bowed once again, and scurried towards the soldiers. Treize recognized the fear and distaste in the small girl and grimaced. It was unseemly for soldiers to inspire fear in those they were assigned to protect.
"Hey, wench, good to see you. After you serve us, we will let you service us. Aren’t you a lucky wench?" The girl stood there while various hands reached out to grope her. She passively stood there letting them touch her, insult her. It happened to her too often at the hands of these same six soldiers. One of the soldiers then reached out and pulled her into his lap. He kissed her roughly while the others cheered him on. The girl was not struggling, but Relena saw the tears that leaked from her closed eyes. This was completely unacceptable.
"Unhand her, you disgraceful lout."
Surprised at an opposing voice, the soldier dropped the girl onto the ground. She quickly made her get away to stand near the bar. Relena stood and made her way towards the brutish soldiers, righteous anger burning in her eyes. Treize followed right behind her.
"How dare you treat these people this way. You are all unworthy to wear the insignia on your arms." The soldiers began to laugh.
"Look, little missy, the king himself assigned us to this Light forsaken village. We can do anything we want. We can take what we want, and no one interferes. We are the kings in this village. So go back to your table and play with your dolls, okay? Unless you want us to make you into a woman."
"That is no way to speak to a lady. Apologize. Now." The soldier that spoke turned his head toward the man who had given him the ridiculous command, fully intending to cut him down. When he reached the man’s eyes, the cold, blue eyes, his words failed him. His companion soldiers had the same reaction. The man who stood with the girl gave off waves of power and authority, the likes of which they had never seen. Not even the king had intimidated them in this manner. But there were six of them and he was but one man. Their bluster resurfaced.
"Step off, man. It’s none of your business unless you want to make it your business."
With the threat out in the open, the six stood and drew their swords. Everyone in the common room quickly got up and cowered by the bar with the serving girl. The villagers felt pity for the nice girl and the brave man who had stood up for one of them, but fear of death kept them from acting.
"I don’t usually deal with fools, but this once, I may make an exception."
Treize gave a toothy smile and swept Relena behind him to keep her from harm’s way. He drew no weapon. He needed none against these dead men.
"Don’t kill them, Treize."
"Then what do you propose we do with them?"
Relena grinned happily. He had not opposed her.
"We will show them justice."
Treize answered with a ferocious smile.
A rumbling shook the Dome for the fifth time of the day. Une let out a frustrated sigh and grabbed the breakables on her desk so that they would not totter off the table. However, she missed her teacup and it bounced onto her rugged floor, breaking into two neat pieces. Sally looked on with a serene smile on her face.
"That’s your third cup of the day, Une. How many more do you have?"
Une grumbled under her breath.
"Sally, it’s not a good idea to annoy the Oracle. Especially when she is already pissy."
Noin’s warning slid off Sally’s calm mood like water off a duck’s back.
"Well, I don’t see why she’s all angry," Sally replied, ignoring the Oracle’s twitching eyelids, "since the Warrior Mages are practicing their magic to save the world."
Noin eyed the annoyed Oracle closely. It was a good thing that the boys were practicing and that Sally had regained her unflappable calm, but if the Oracle lost her sanity..
"Look," Une said, startling Noin, "I’m not opposed to their practices. They were attacked by Darkness knows what not even a week ago and barely survived. But it won’t do anyone any good if they bring the Dome down around our heads, now will it."
Noin could only wince at the venom coating the Oracle’s voice. It had been so long since Une had been nervous enough to lose her composure, not since before she had been named the Oracle. But now, it seemed that every time she turned around, Une was on the verge of breaking down. It was more unnerving than Sally’s temper. Noin could only send up a prayer to Darkness that she did not have to deal with Sally’s temper along with Une’s nerves. It would have been too much.
"Oh, Une, calm down," Noin heard Sally say in her still serene voice, "the Dome is how many thousands of years old and it’s still standing, right? A little Warrior Mage magic won’t crumble it."
There was no direct response from the Oracle but Noin could swear that she heard the overwrought woman grumble under her breath ‘don’t be so sure.’ But then again, these days, imaginations were running quite wild in her head with the whole prophecy of doom situation. Soon, Une stopped her grumbling and produced yet another tea cup from her infinite stash within her desk. Sally finished her tea and poured herself another. Noin breathed in relief. Just at that moment, the Dome shook again and Une lost her fourth cup and Sally spilled her refreshed tea onto her robe. Noin could only hang her head in resignation and hope that all this was worth saving the world from the Light.
"Crap. The burn marks will not come out, you know."
Wufei frowned sourly at Duo’s smart-ass remark. All five were covered in soot, their hair singed at the ends and frayed like a wild lion’s tail. Wufei’s attempt at controlling the wave of fire had gone astray again, sweeping through the room in a wide wave before frying the Warrior Mages to a crisp golden brown. Duo seemed especially annoyed about the hair because he was clutching his poor, abused braid to his chest like a long lost child, stroking the tufted end and mumbling soothing sounds to it. Heero discreetly coughed and sent a poof of smoke into the air while patting Duo on his back. Quatre looked stunned, staring at his blackened clothing with wide eyes and Trowa was busy patting out the little happy flames licking away at his sleeve. Wufei could only mumble an apology for immolating everyone.
"Look, maybe next time we practice, we should go outside. We’re going to kill ourselves in here."
Quatre’s logical suggestion was met with four enthusiastic nods. Their practice room, given to them by the gracious Oracle, was spacious and made from some strange substance that masqueraded as marble. It withstood every single magical blast that had gone out of control. Yet, the five within it had been subject to various side effects from their uncontrolled magic. Wufei had already burned them several times. Heero had managed to suck all the air out of the room at one point and had made everyone pass out. Duo had pelted them with wild mix of icy rain and hale, leaving behind some interesting bruises and cuts. And to make everything so much worse, Trowa had left them somehow trapped in the solid rock beneath them up to their ankles hours ago and they had yet to free themselves. Hence, none of them had been able to dodge Wufei’s fire. Quatre hadn’t even had his turn to practice yet, thanks to all the things the other four had done to themselves.
"Trowa, figured out how to get us out of the floor yet?"
An apologetic smile laced in smallest bits of shame was the answer to Duo’s question. They were literally rooted to the ground, unable to move, covered in soot and water. It was not the prettiest sight on the planet.
"If the forces of Light saw us now, we’d win only because they would have laughed themselves to death." Five heads hung in shame and exhaustion. Wufei was right. They were not going anywhere with their practices. If they kept this up, they might manage to kill themselves before they even got to fight.
"You know, if we had someone to teach us, we wouldn’t be so bad off."
Heero agreed with Duo. Their powers weren’t the problem - they were formidable and deadly when used right. It was the control. No one alive now had any knowledge of how this power really worked, not even the Oracle and the Guide. It was truly unfair, really. The Light had a powerful sorcerer to teach its Child what to do, a guy that was powerful enough to scare the Oracle and the Guide. Whoever it was, why couldn’t the Darkness have thought ahead and given them tutors?
"The Child of Light is going to wipe the floor with our untrained asses."
The bitterness in Trowa’s voice was only matched by the venom behind Wufei’s reply.
"I’m not losing to some girl! I don’t care if she’s the princess, I don’t care if she’s got some all powerful guy teaching her stuff. I’m not losing!" "Remarkable resolve, Wufei," Heero replied in his dry voice, "but don’t you think you’re being rather harsh? Women are capable of kicking men around. I mean, look at Sally and Noin. They scare us more than the Light."
They could only agree. More than the Oracle or the Guide, the ones that inspired these boys into fear were the two Dreamers who had found them. But it was not the fear of the enemy or of death; it was the fear that they would disappoint the two women who had risked so much to find them.
"We need to learn more. I wish we had books or something."
Quatre’s sentiment went unanswered for they all knew there were no such things as manuals or books for their talents. It wasn’t like Warrior Mages popped up all the time to save the world from the greatest threat in the universe. Not at all.
"I have something better than books. Would you like to know?"
Five heads swiveled towards the melodic yet mocking voice. Their eyes settled on Dorothy, the Guide, walking calmly toward them. Her red robe billowed out behind her in a gentle silky wave, following the flowing lines of her long blond hair. Her blind eyes searched each of their startled faces briefly, as if they could see far more than the normal human eye. "Well, Warrior Mages, what say you? Shall you take a lesson from me?"
Dorothy’s question hung in the air thickly, none of the boys daring to answer. Then as if by silent consent, they nodded in unison.
"Then please come to the room I am staying. You know where."
The Guide turned in mid-step and switched directions to the exit door of their practice room. Near the door, she paused and spoke in a clear voice filled with a bit of laughter.
"That is, if you can free yourselves from the ground." After Dorothy left, there was silence. The comment had hurt all of their egos, especially Trowa’s.
"If the ones on our side is laughing at us, I don’t even want to know what the other side is thinking." Nodding glumly at Duo’s less than cheerful joke, the five Warrior Mages worked to extricate themselves from their predicament. That is, Trowa concentrated while the other four cheered him on with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It would be yet another several hours and a few more injuries later that they would be free to walk to the Guide’s room.