Ah! I am so bad at updating aren't I? How long has it been? Ugh...sorry. Anyway, I'm not dead! As a means of compensation for my activity, I'm going to go through and work on the older chapters a little, so if you're super bored you might want to check them out! I was also so eager to upload this that I didn't pass it on to my lovely beta reader. I checked and rechecked though, so it should be alright error-wise. Anyway, here's the latest chapter.
And I still don't own Suikoden III, just in case there was any ambiguity concerning that at this point.
Wine and Roses
Chapter Eleven: Fanning the Flames
"They're here! All able warriors grab a weapon!"
The entrance of the Budehuc chateaux had descended into buzzing chaos. Darkness had fallen several hours ago, but no one in the castle was sleeping tonight.
Borus stood in the midst of the confusion as people whizzed by him. Alarmed, he tried to rub the sleep from his eyes and scanned the crowd for familiar faces. He noticed Percival running towards him and straightened up.
"Here, take this!" Percival gasped, hastily thrusting an old sword into his friend's hands.
Borus nodded and grasped the hilt as tightly as he could, which wasn't very since his hands were still limp from sleep. He shook his errant bangs from his eyes before launching himself into the crowd after the other night. Their noble venture was halted quickly though, as an angry looking Chris blocked their path.
"No, Borus, you aren't fit to fight yet!" She yelled above the clamor, yanking the sword out of his hands.
"Yes he is! He doesn't need the cane anymore!" Percival declared, taking the weapon back from Chris and handing it to Borus again.
Chris and Percival began to argue heatedly. Borus watched, mute, as the sword was passed in and out of his hands. As usual, Chris was the victor and succeeded in confiscating the sword. It was Borus's turn to protest.
"Lady Chris, allow me to fight! I am able!"
Chris shot him a hard, unwavering stare. There was a frightening resolution in her eyes which made Borus gulp.
"You may be able to walk freely, but you are not yet healed fully! If a Chimera attacked you, you might—" She gulped and some of the resolve seemed to drift away.
"I'm fine." Borus growled, his voice mostly lost in the noise. He started for the door. Chris placed a hand on his chest and pushed him gently but firmly back against the cold wall.
Chris leaned closer to Borus. When she spoke, her voice was barely a whisper. Borus had to strain to hear her words.
"Borus please, don't go out there. If you got hurt again I…"
Borus gaped but Chris could tell he was not convinced. When he did not respond, she unexpectedly touched her head to Borus's chest, just below his neck.
"Please stay here Borus…I'm not prepared to lose you."
She did not say another word, nor did she say anything as she turned and ran for the exit.
Percival shot Borus a wildly confused look. He did not have time to ask, however, and stumbled after their captain.
Borus stood, stunned, trying to make sense of what had just happened. He had just seen, just heard…just felt a part of Chris he had begun to believe wasn't there. He touched a hand to his chest, alarmed and exhilarated by the fact that maybe she had a softer side after all.
A guard rushed past him, clipping him with an armored shoulder, and the spell was broken. Borus stumbled and glared angrily at the offending guard who didn't seem to find apologizing necessary. The smell of leather and metal reached Borus's nose. He listened to the clang of swords outside and watched the chaos inside. He yearned to join the battle after being useless for so long. He was not dressed for battle, wearing only a cotton shirt and brown pants, but there was a perfectly good sword at his feet and no one to stop him…
He grit his teeth. Grabbing the discarded weapon, he rushed to the door. No use having a lame knight around.
He turned to see two more castle guards approaching. They held between them a struggling boy who bit and kicked like his life depended on it.
"Sir, we caught this rat in the cellar." They threw the boy to his knees before the knight, "No doubt he was taking advantage of the chaos to steal supplies, and mutterin' strange things as he did so."
Borus regarded the boy briefly. He was young, probably late teens, and covered from head to toe in dirt. He glared up at Borus with defiant amber eyes through a curtain of matted brown hair.
"And?" asked Borus impatiently, "What concern is that of mine. Take him away." He said, making shooing motions with the tip of his sword.
The guards gaped at him. Borus had half a mind to take a swing at them until one of them spoke.
"But…Sir, he's not to be trusted. He needs to be watched."
"Well then, you watch him. I'm a knight, not a nanny." Borus growled.
The boy sneered at him and spat at his boots. Borus recoiled.
"That's it, whelp, you're coming with me." He said, grabbing the boy's wrist and yanking him to his feet.
He did not wait for the boy to get his footing before charging out into the cold night air. It was better to have the boy out here in harm's way. Maybe a Chimera would get him, Borus thought with a grim sort of satisfaction. As the two were flung into the disarray of battle, Borus caught sight of Percival and hollered his name above the noise.
The knight stopped upon being addressed. Seeing Borus, he changed course and ran to meet him.
"Borus, what's going on? I thought you weren't—"
"Nevermind that." Borus huffed, "I need you to keep an eye on this for me."
Percival looked from his friend to the ragged boy, then back to Borus. His eyes widened as he realized what Borus was suggesting.
"What? So I get to baby sit while you go off and play hero?"
"I won't be long!" Borus insisted, giving his friend no time to complain. He rushed down the hill, sword at the ready.
"You're disobeying your captain's orders, you know!" Percival called after him. Borus stopped short.
"I'm not disobeying any orders." Saying nothing more, he gripped his sword and ran off, leaving Percival alone and reeling with a strange—and quite bewildered—boy beside him.
The battlefield was rank with the stench of blood. Borus covered his nose and peered through the darkness. A nearby Chimera had a young guard cornered. The boy was wide-eyed and slashing pitifully at the gaping lion's maw as it gnashed its teeth. It was clear the guard needed help. Borus rushed up to it just as another fighter did on the other side. He pulled the guard to his feet and pushed him safely out of the way. With a yell, Borus rushed for the Chimera. He was eager for revenge. This one wasn't as big as the one that had fallen on him, so it was not difficult for his sword to find its way to the creature's heart.
The Chimera roared, but did not stagger. Instead, it began to disintegrate. Borus watched wide-eyed as the wall of fur in front of him wobbled, rippled, and dissolved into thin air. Dumbstruck, Borus blinked, thinking he had been tricked. He turned his eyes back to the scene and focused on a startled Chris, her sword held high in the air. Apparently she had attacked the creature too.
But it was not the beast's disappearance that caused her shock. A look of dangerous anger shot across her face and she slowly lowered her sword. Borus raised a defensive hand, panicked.
"Lady Chris, I—"
"Get out of here!" She snapped, shooting him a glare that made his stomach turn.
He knew immediately that there would be no negotiating with the captain now. Without a word, he took his sword, turned, and hurried back to the castle without another glance in her direction. He knew he had done something unforgivable.
Percival was fending off a flying Chimera when Borus found him. The boy was huddled nearby with his back to one of the chateaux's ruined stone walls. He rocked back and forth, shivering and muttering to himself.
"A little help here?" Percival yelled, sounding to be at the end of his rope.
Borus rushed to help him. The Chimera foolishly dove towards the two and found itself a welcome of pointed blades. A piercing shriek was all it gave before dissolving into the night sky just like the last.
Borus looked around to see if anyone nearby was struggling. Annoyed, Percival ran over to the boy. He grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet.
"Don't just sit there, pick up a sword and fight!" Percival grabbed a sword cast to the ground by a more unfortunate soul and shoved it into the boy's hands. He looked down at it, bewildered.
"What's going on!"
Everyone looked up as shouts of confusion filled the air. All around them, the Chimeras were vanishing, blinking out of existence as if they had been nothing more but smoke on the wind. No one but the boy noticed a scant few forms dive quickly out of sight and back behind the trees. Silence fell, and the Budehuc castle residents were left alone in the field.
People began to regroup and head back to the castle and houses, muttering in frustration. Most everyone was used to this by now, and focused their attention on helping the wounded to the infirmary. Seeming to snap back into attention, the boy began to sneak off. Percival grabbed his arm, casting him a warning glance.
Chris stalked past, fuming and deliberately ignoring Borus as she followed after the last of the guards.
"Uh…" Said Percival, still gripping the boy, "What did I miss?"
Thomas, Sebastian, Cecile, and the knights soon gathered in the meeting hall. A thick silence hung over them in the stark red room. The mysterious boy stood next to Borus, sulking quietly. Borus kept glancing nervously at Chris who was stony-faced and silent, her eyes fixed determinedly on Thomas.
Feeling the need to redeem himself somewhat, Borus roughly pushed the boy towards the large mahogany desk.
"They said he was trying to steal stores from the cellar." He explained to the distressed looking castle lord.
Thomas knit his brow and threaded his fingers together, looking woefully up at the glaring boy. Borus realized that Thomas probably wasn't much older than him, which seemed a sobering thought.
"What is your name?" Thomas asked in his gentle voice.
"Briar." The boy responded in a low voice.
"Briar?" Thomas raised an eyebrow, "That is...hmm…that's an...unusual name." He said, attempting diplomacy.
"He's about as fetching as one." Growled Leo, whose gaze rivaled his captain's. No doubt the axeman had had his fill of disappearing unkillable enemies.
"Leo." Chris said quietly. Her voice was different, much colder. Everyone easily noticed the difference and was silent for a moment.
"Well," said Thomas, saving them all, "We can't have a potential thief running loose. We'll keep him in a spare room with guards posted at the doors and windows. Tomorrow we'll decide his…punishment."
"Wouldn't it be best just to throw him back into the woods he came from?" Said Borus, staring with dislike at the dirty boy.
"Sir Borus, Please." Said Thomas, standing slowly, "I'll not have him mistreated on my order. Thief or no, he is not undeserving of our civility."
Borus nodded, bested. Poor Thomas, he thought. He was hard pressed to condemn any human being, guilty or not.
With the object of the meeting met, people began to filter out of the room. Briar was led out by two guards, and soon only Borus and Chris were left. Neither of them seemed to be in any hurry to move.
Borus thought he saw Chris hesitate, but the moment passed quickly. She cast him a contemptuous glance and left quickly. Borus hurried out of the room into the dark hall.
"Chris!" He called after the receding form. She froze. Taking advantage of this, Borus narrowed the wide gap between them.
"Milady, please listen—"
"To what?" Chris snapped, "Your excuse? Because you'd best have a good one."
"I don't have an excuse, I just—"
"You disobeyed me!" Chris yelled, turning to face him. Borus stepped back. Chris never allowed anyone to see her so upset. What was wrong with her?
"I didn't disobey any orders!" He defended, his own temper rising in spite of himself.
"No!" Chris almost yelled, "You did something worse: You disobeyed my request."
Borus froze. Lady Chris was frowning, her face wild with a degree of emotion she had never shown before. Borus didn't like it at all.
Chris turned to go, clearly wanting nothing more to do with him for the night. Borus reached out and grabbed her arm, halting her escape.
"Wait! Please, Milady, it feels wrong to see you like this." Ventured, allowing whatever words his mind could string together to spring from his tongue.
For a moment, the woman's gaze seemed to soften. She did not look at him, focusing instead on a painted vase displayed a few feet away. Perhaps it was the tone of Borus's voice that had dampened some of her fury, but it was not clear.
Her eyes shifted to the moonlight reflecting on the glazed surface of the tiled floor. The milky beams caught in her eyelashes and she blinked.
She had realized something lately. She didn't know quite what it was she felt, but she had determined that it boiled down to Borus. She was furious with him because he had scared her. It didn't have anything to do orders or him disobeying or any of that nonsense. She had seen Borus alone, unarmed, and vulnerable in the midst of the battle and it had terrified her.
She managed to look back up at him. His face held obvious grief. Had she hurt him? Yes, of course she had.
Chris looked away, angry again. The most irritating thing about the whole situation was that, despite her anger, she could not bring herself to pull away from him.
That was why she did not draw away when Borus reached out for her. She did not look at him, but she let him touch her.
Borus watched his beloved captain with agony. Why wouldn't she forgive him? He rested his hands gently on her shoulder and let out a small breath of surprise. She was shaking.
"Chris, I'm sorry, I should have—"
Chris twisted away from him, forcing his hands off her shoulders. She kept her eyes determinedly on the ground.
"Stop." She said quietly.
Borus let out a painful breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
Chris pressed a fist to her pursed lips, still not looking at him. "Don't." Her voice was muffled.
Without another word, she dashed away into the darkness of the hall, leaving Borus alone in the shadows, half exposed by the lonely, painful moonlight.
The next few days could not have been harder for Borus. Everything he did was not enough to keep his captain's anger from his thoughts. The castle had more or less been safe for two weeks now, but Borus cared little.
To everyone's surprise, Percival had taken quite a liking to Briar. The boy appeared a scrawny, ill-tempered louse to the rest of them but Percival had apparently noticed something of value. Even more surprising was that the boy seemed relatively content to stay at Budehuc. Not once had he tried to escape. Some suspected he was growing equally fond of his armored benefactor, but Borus suspected it was simply because he received free meals.
One night, Percival even dragged Briar to one of the knights' meetings. This spurred a moment's discussion of discontent, as no one, Percival excused, felt comfortable trusting the boy.
"Don't be ridiculous, all of you!" Percival exclaimed, thumping the boy on the back, "What's the worst he's going to do, eat your dinner?"
The others reluctantly acquiesced, knowing that Percival would not let it drop if they didn't.
"It seems taking a sword to them is the most effective method discovered." Salome reviewed, "Though it is difficult to affirm that it kills them. We don't know if their disappearances are permanent."
"Well, they don't seem to be lessening." Said Leo gruffly. Several nodded their heads in grim agreement.
"Can a rune really do all this?" Asked Roland from his post at the door.
"There are many runes still a mystery to us. What powers they hold are equally unknown." Salome answered.
"Maybe we're fighting a magician." Percival suggested, "You know, illusion charms, duplication spells."
Briar shot him an odd look.
"Do you know of any magicians who can do that?" Asked Chris quietly.
Percival said nothing.
"Maybe it's a god." Said Briar.
Everyone stared strangely at him. He sulked and sunk lower into his seat.
"Just and idea."
The meeting, as always, danced around a few more unstable theories and managed to prove none of them. Everyone, as always, was glad when Salome called its end.
Evening turned quickly to night. Borus retired early, finding no motivation to head to the tavern as usual. Chris was still pointedly ignoring him and he realized it was simply another thing to add to his list of worries as he fell asleep.
The advent of morning was a particularly unwelcome one for Chris. She tried to bury herself in the warm feathery retreat of her pillow, but the incorrigible sunlight, matched with the sour onset of the previous week's events, made that clearly impossible.
"All right, you win!" Chris yelled defiantly to no one.
She pushed back her covers, feeling a bit foolish. When her day clothes were on, she stood in front of the mirror and scowled at her reflection in an attempt to put up her hair. Her tongue curled away from the rough surface of the heavy wooden comb that she held between her teeth. She sighed in frustration and found herself missing the team of maids who dressed her back at Brass Castle. Finally she settled on a simple braid, feeling vain to be so focused on something as trivial as her own hair.
She found many strange things to be of acute annoyance, which put her in an even fouler mood. She stubbed her toe and caught her belt in the doorway of her room. A lock of newly grown bangs insisted on poking her eyes, and something about the way Muto's tongue lolled out as he walked by sent a vein of anger through her. By the time she made it to the tavern door she was an emotional wreck. This, too, was embarrassing, because it was barely 9 a.m. Gritting her teeth, she closed her hand around the doorknob and swung the door open with unnecessary aggression.
She managed to startle the few folks who were nearby. Anne stopped her task of clearing dishes and Mio jumped enough to send some of the tea she was drinking airborne. Chris, however, was more focused on Borus, who was staring at her wide-eyed. Why, of everyone, did he have to be having his own breakfast at that very moment, She wondered. He was sitting with the boy Percival had been dragging around recently, who had yet to remove his fork from his mouth since her appearance. His wide amber eyes were fixed on her. She avoided them and sat down at the counter, determined to ignore the other knight's presence.
"Are you here for breakfast?" Anne asked quietly as she polished a glass mug.
Chris nodded and slid some Potch onto the counter. Anne took it this time and scurried off to the kitchen. Chris watched Mio out of the corner of her eye until Borus's voice drew her attention.
"Well, anyway, what I meant to say before, uh…" Chris felt his eyes upon her and was suddenly a little embarrassed, "Well…I didn't really trust you at first, and if I came off as being rude, well…I guess I just wanted to say that I may have…misjudged you."
Chris fingered the corner of her napkin. Was Borus trying to apologize? She hid her smile in the glass of water that Anne brought with her breakfast. The thought lifted her mood a little. She heard the boy offer a soft 'Thanks' before pushing back his chair. She watched him leave and then realized that Borus was once again focused on her.
To her dismay he stood, and with each footstep he took towards her, she felt her mood darkening again. She bristled and became fully aware of his presence directly behind her.
"What do you want?" Her voice was colder than she had intended.
Borus was silent for a moment.
"I wanted to apologize…" She felt his warm hand on her shoulder and stiffened.
"Please don't touch me."
He withdrew his hand, clearly a little surprised. Chris could tell that Anne and Mio were paying close attention and trying to act as if they weren't. Mio sipped her tea, keeping her eyes on the counter, but the look in her eyes showed she was not seeing what was in front of her. Anne began to wipe down the counter with a little too much focus.
"It's just…what I did…"
"Just say it, Borus!" Chris nearly snapped, turning around to face him.
The moment she met his eyes she wished she hadn't spoken. The man stared down at her, shock and hurt unmistakable on his face. He seemed to flounder for a moment, but quickly did what he did best: he turned his insecurity to anger. His eyes hardened, his jaw set, and a deep frown obscured his previously vulnerable face.
"Fine." He said bitterly, turning for the outside door. He did not look back. Chris flinched as the door slammed behind him, cutting off her view of his retreating figure. She sighed and tried to ignore the cold place on her shoulder where his hand had been.
"Lady Chris, are you…feeling alright today?"
"I'm fine." Chris sighed again.
"You're not in poor spirits?" Mio gave her an appraising look, "Anything throwing you off? Your…cycle, perhaps?" She asked, her cheeks flushing a little.
Chris made to respond, but Anne was faster.
"Mio!" She scolded, "You know Ironheads aren't comfortable discussing such things."
"I can't help it!" Mio defended, her cheeks now very red, "I am a nurse, after all!"
Anne shook her head, clearing a few empty plates. Chris, despite her mood, couldn't help but offer a small smile.
"Really, I'm fine."
She caught Anne's knowing gaze and sighed, pressing her forehead down against the counter.
"No, I'm not."
"It's alright dear. A lovers' quarrel is never good for the heart."
Chris shifted, thinking it was her stomach that felt more uncomfortable at the moment. She chose not to respond.
"Oh my..." Said Mio sympathetically.
Chris could feel her breath warm her face as it bounced back off the surface of the counter. With her arms around her, she could see very little light, and she preferred it that way.
"Maybe you should take a walk." Mio suggested. "The fresh air will help you think."
"Yes, you're right." Said Chris suddenly, standing up. "I'll go do that. Good day."
She left hastily, leaving the other women in confusion. She felt a little bad leaving them so quickly, but Mio was right in that she needed to clear her mind, and a walk was what she needed to do it.
...That seemed really short...I should make the next chapter longer.
Feel free to be harsh or offer ideas for the direction of the plot. I feel as if I'm heading towards a rut.
Jimdonuts—I'm glad you think it's sufficiently realistic. (: It's difficult to determine where to draw the line between game logistics and reality.
Li Katsuya—I'm glad you appreciate their friendship. I try to play it up whenever possible.
Adelle-chan—Your reviews always make me beam! I loved reading about all your pairing ideas.
Celeste9—I owe the name Boofus to another Suikoden fan who's a friend of mine. I love it so much I had to put it in! I'm really glad you approve of my characterization. It's hard to be consistent after not having played the game in so long.