Fairy Tales: rose woven
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine. Apologies if their use in the following is in any way traumatic.
Chapter 8: Returns
Wufei's feet pounded the steps as he raced down the stairs towards the front entrance. Sliding to a halt at the doors, his smile was strained as he came face to face with his previously-assumed-missing older brother. Feeling a fraction of his burden lift from his shoulders, he gave Trowa a quick embrace, then ushered him into the palace. Trowa's long awaited return could not have been more welcome in this situation that was verging on catastrophe.
"Tell me everything, Wufei," Trowa said as he followed his younger brother into their home. "It seems you've had some difficulties," he observed, noting that neither his mother nor father had come to greet him upon his return. "Tell me, has Quatre returned?"
At that, Wufei's stride halted and he turned to face his brother. He shook his head and his mouth turned further downward, his eyes frowning as well. "I was hoping you would know where he was."
Trowa closed his eyes and buried his grief. It was much too early to sway from hope to despair. "No. I have no news."
Wufei nodded his understanding and continued to lead the way, his happiness at seeing his brother now returning to worry for other matters. He was leading them to the queen's quarters with haste, which Trowa made note of immediately. Wufei began to explain the state of things: "Word arrived less than a week ago that the Tritonstead had been caught in a storm and destroyed. A few survivors made it to shore and related the story, but when neither you nor Quatre turned up, father left the palace in search of you, vowing not to return until he brought both of you home." They had reached the second floor landing, when Wufei abruptly stopped in his tracks, turning to face his brother, his countenance solemn and grave. "A few nights ago, one of the riders in father's party returned with news." Trowa's brows lifted with hope, but Wufei shook his head. "Father has disappeared."
The meaning of those words failed to register in Trowa's mind. He shook his head, "I don't understand."
The muscles in Wufei's jaws clenched tightly, but he forced himself to relay the unhappy news. "They were covering the woodlands at the southwestern border. Something spooked the horses and the group scattered. Father's personal guards lost sight of him. By the time everyone had regrouped, father was nowhere in sight."
Trowa made no gesture of affirmation but Wufei knew he had been heard. His brother was gradually accepting the information that had been given him, but it was a lot to handle, especially since he had been so elated to finally be returning home not two hours before. To have gone from relief to apprehension in such a short time was difficult and his natural defense had reared up to shield him: silence.
At last, Trowa responded: "You're saying that father is lost as well now?"
Wufei frowned tightly and nodded his chin in a simple, concise movement that echoed his tightly wound worry. "The rest of the camp is searching for him, obviously, but I don't know what good that will do. I've sent a contingent to check the camp, make sure this isn't some ploy to take over the throne. It's true that we're at our most vulnerable, what with the king out frolicking about the countryside and most of the princes out of the kingdom or missing; it would have been a prime time to strike."
Trowa's heart had sped up. Adrenaline was already coursing through his veins. "How could he just disappear?" he demanded.
Wufei just shook his head, showing that his own sentiments ran along the same track of utter disbelief.
Trowa's eyes shifted to the heavy doors before them that led to the queen's chambers. "And mother?" Trowa asked.
"She's taken it badly. She's been resting in her chambers as often as I can persuade her to do so, but mostly she continues giving orders to keep the palace running smoothly or stands by the windows in the library, just waiting. She's resting now, however. I think she'll be very happy to see you."
And she was. The queen threw her arms around her third son and cried unabashedly. She checked him over for wounds and bruises and when satisfied that his afflictions had been tended to properly, she held his hands and would not let go.
Wufei smiled a genuine smile, noting that the queen's color had already improved dramatically. Unfortunately, a knock on the door signaled that there was yet work to be done. He stood and kissed his mother, told Trowa where he would be, then politely took his leave.
When the younger brother had gone, the queen smiled proudly. "Oh, he's been so wonderful, Trowa. With your brothers gone, Quatre lost, your father missing… Wufei's had to take care of everything and he's done such an outstanding job of it. I've been sure to praise him for it, it's such a thankless job, but that boy is steadfastly modest in some respects…"
"And unrepentantly proud in others," Trowa finished.
"It is a wonderful omen that you have returned to us safe and sound." The queen let out a shaky breath. "I've missed you, my son," she said, tears shimmering in her eyes again.
Trowa kissed her cheek and replied, "It is very good to be back, mother." He had missed home and had been craving this reunion, but the news that Wufei had relayed to him earlier was raising the alarm in his head. He sensed that this storm was preparing to throw him another obstacle, and he was itching to face it as soon as possible.
The next morning, as sunlight was peeking over the crest of the mountain ridge that covered the eastern horizon, Trowa could be found in the private dining chambers of the royal family. The queen was with him, both mother and son enjoying a peaceful breakfast before Trowa left to head a search party in the south. The night before, Trowa and Wufei had decided that the younger brother would continue his operation from the palace grounds while the older would go out in search of their missing family.
The meal was a quiet one; the queen knew that was how Trowa preferred things and she had little to say that wasn't a sigh or a sob. She was just happy to see her son home again. She would not relish seeing him leave a second time, but there were things even a mother could not ask for from her son. The queen could see Trowa's itch to leave. He was worried, and though Trowa was never rash or impulsive, he was also not one to wait when trouble was imminent.
His relief came soon enough.
The door burst open. "It's father! They've spotted him coming down fast out of the Royal Forest. He should be here soon!" Without waiting for a reply, Wufei turned and raced for the main gates, his mother and brother on his heels.
The royals and a number of their men stood waiting anxiously by the gates. Together, they waited for the king to return. "Something's wrong," Trowa declared when the king finally rode into view.
The king's horse was galloping full-speed towards the palace with its rider – obviously not in control – somehow managing to hang on as they raced down the road. Even from a distance, the horse looked wild, almost rabid with fear. The charger came racing over the final hill with all the sensibility of a frightened rabbit, and people scurried to make way for the reckless beast as it stampeded towards them. It was plain to see that the steed would never stop willingly, for the king, somehow still clutching to the horse's back, was slumped over in the saddle, unconscious.
When the horse was close enough for all to hear its panicky breaths, panting as if it had run for centuries, one man stepped forward cautiously but skillfully. He captured the slack reins in his fist and engaged in a struggle of force with the war-horse that was determined to stomp over him in order to continue its maddened flight. Through calm commands, soft words, and a good deal of cultivated patience, Trowa was finally able to steady the petrified steed. "Shush," the prince coaxed as the horse tossed its mane feverishly. With the horse under a relative sense of control, the prince moved on to attend his father.
As the prince shook him, the unconscious king's frightened eyes flickered open. Pupils adjusting and focusing, the old king gave a distressed groan of both fear and pain as he recognized the sight before him. "My son!" His whispering rasp seemed to condemn. "Not my son!" he begged as he rolled from his saddle into the arms of the Silent Prince.