Scene Four: Brothers and Sisters. Love and Duty. (Part 3 of 3)
The rain hated Miakis.
It was, in the purple haired girl's honest opinion, the only plausible explanation. Despite her silent – and not-so-silent – pleadings, threats and exhortations, the damnable weather persisted in its downpour, soaking down past her armor and into her very bones, crippling visibility to a paltry foot or two before it was completely obscured by the torrent. How the rain could be so intransigent, Miakis did not know – she had it on good authority that she could be utterly irresistible when she wanted something, and she wanted sunny weather so bad she could almost taste it – but she was beginning to take the rejection a tad personally. The young girl glared at a nearby puddle which had formed amidst a rocky portion of forest ground, and found it to be particularly representative of the evil forces conspiring against her, and she decided then and there to give it a piece of her mind. Miakis groped for her daggers, then realized she had left them back at the tent with that… unmentionable person. She settled for merely stamping on the puddle vigorously with her right foot, until muddy water cloaked her to the shins.
"Stop already!" she hissed, but the deluge paid no heed to either her words or her stomps. Annoyed, she searched for, and found, a sharp branch broken off by the violence of the storm, and stabbed it into the center of the unoffending body of water.
"There. That'll show you!" she crowed triumphantly, aware that several nearby guardsmen were giving her wary glances.
She didn't care. Miakis knew she was acting unreasonably. It was what she did when the world was being unreasonable with her. Miakis had always been half convinced that whenever life threw her one its many unpleasant surprises – oh, only boys can ride dragon horses, or oh, you'll be the Princess' guard and not the Rivan's – that someone up there was having a laugh at her expense. Well, two could play that game, she had thought, and resolved from then on to give as much unreasonableness as she got. It was not much of a plan, but it did have its moments.
Besides, it was better than standing there in the damnable rain, and doing nothing. Doing nothing meant she'd just keep thinking, which meant she'd think about Rivan – her little Prince, out there in the storm, with only Lyon to guard his back. Not that she thought Lyon wouldn't do an excellent job on her own – but she certainly believed that Rivan Falenas deserved more than one back-watcher, no matter how competent.
Unlike a certain other scion of royalty she could name.
She should have gone with them, Miakis thought to herself. She should have insisted, and orders be damned, whether they be that of Rivan or his Father. If something happened to him, she'd never forgive herself! Or Lyon! Or Lym! Or this stupid, infernal rain!
Miakis realized suddenly how worked up she was getting, and with a supreme effort of will, tried to calm herself. A bit of eccentricity was fine – a Queen's Knight could be allowed a certain leeway for character quirks – but like it or not, she had a job to do, and if she was stuck with it anyway, she might as well do a good job.
Even if she couldn't stand to be in the same room as the girl she was supposed to protect.
Miakis looked back at the tent, its outline barely visible, where the Princess was presumably huddled in relative dryness, warmth and comfort – if her head hadn't exploded from rage at the way Miakis had treated her. The purple haired girl was well aware that what she had done was more than improper – it was technically punishable by death. A member of the Royal Family was sacrosanct in Falena, especially if she was the sole female child, upon whom depended the continuance of the royal line. Even if some of the guardsmen appeared to dislike the Princess, Miakis didn't think any of them would have had any qualms of killing her on the spot if they had been witness to her act. It didn't matter whether or not one liked the Sun – if you tried to touch it, you'd burn. There was no justification, merely cause and effect.
She didn't care. The brat had deserved it, and more besides.
Still, while Miakis was willing to hurt her, she was not willing to risk anyone else doing the same. She'd been patrolling a tight circle around the Princess' tent and the pavilion where Luserina and the injured guards were positioned, and she'd made sure to set four guardsmen near the princess' tent soon after Miakis' hasty departure. The Queen's Knight Apprentice considered for a moment returning to the tent to retrieve her weapons, but then thought better of it. Perhaps later … at the moment it was not a very good idea for Miakis, the Princess, and a pair of daggers to be within reach of each other.
Besides, it was not as if Miakis was completely defenseless, even when she was completely unarmed. She gingerly touched the top of her right hand with her left. Despite the rain, which had so soaked all other aspects of her being, she could feel a steady warmth emanating from the top of her right hand. The Queen's Knights were expected to be at least familiar with runes and rune magic, and Miakis was proud to say she was beginning to be much more than that. Miakis took great pride in the fact that she was the only one amongst the apprentices allowed to train with a Fire rune. Fire was a very tricky element to master, as had been so recently demonstrated by the rumored rune-caused conflagration in the northern continent. It had taken months of constant effort before Miakis had grown confident enough to have one attached for a prolonged length of time – well worth the effort, in retrospect, when she remembered the look on Alenia's face when she had accurately used flaming arrows for the first time. The only rune the snotty little Godwin had shown any affinity for was the Firefly – and that might just be because when any man, woman or monster spent any amount of time with Alenia, it took almost magical discipline not to attack her.
So no, Miakis was not worried about what she would do if ever the wounded bear decided to make its way back to the camp. In fact, she wished it would. What she did worry about was what would happen if the Prince and Lyon actually found the creature. Lyon could handle herself, that much Miakis knew, but the Prince…
She still sparred with him, on an almost daily basis – it was one aspect of their relationship that hadn't changed with Lyon's arrival. At first this was because Ferid had forbidden Lyon from becoming one of the Prince's sparring partners, perhaps to prevent a repeat of what had happened when first the two had met, but later it was because Lyon simply could not find it in herself to raise a hand against Rivan. Miakis however, had never had that particular foible. Besides, she enjoyed their spars – Rivan had talent bred into his blood after all, and he was being trained by the very best Falena had to offer. Yet, for all that, he was still a twelve year old boy who barely stood tall enough to reach her shoulder. He was good – but he just wasn't good enough to be out there, hunting a crazed bear. The entire idea was, in Miakis' humble opinion, entirely too stupid for words. Rivan should have been smart enough to see that!
Miakis sighed. And he probably did. Yet… with Rivan there was never a choice when duty beckoned. That too, was in his blood, and really – she wouldn't change that for the world.
She just hoped he'd be able to keep his blood in his body.
Just then, over the constant wet pelting of rain upon leaf, Miakis thought she heard a noise. The storm was a constant, inescapable cacophony in her ears, but at the same time, it created a uniform blanket of noise within which other sounds stood out. Sounds like a boot sinking into viscous mud.
A boot… or perhaps, a paw?
Miakis crouched low on the ground as she heard the sound again, her ears trying to narrow down the source of the sound. Her heart was thudding steadily in her chest – in the dark, in the rain, it was like fighting blind. Confident of her prowess against a bear in a head on fight, she was slightly less inclined to believe she'd fare as well if she were taken by surprise from behind. She needed to strike first and fast – but she couldn't risk going all out, just in case it was Lyon or the Prince. She'd already made her quota for royal beatings for today anyway. But if she struck half-heartedly, and it was the bear…
Aw forget it,I'm sure I'll come up with something when the time come… Miakis thought to herself – just as a misshapen silhouette came into view.
"PrinceLyonDUCK -!" Miakis blurted out, a split second before sending a fire arrow towards the top of the approaching creature, barely missing it as it seemed to separate into two, each side flopping down onto the mud… and revealing a pair not as happy to see her as she was to see them.
"Are you out of your mind?" Prince Rivan grated out, through gritted teeth, his white hair like a halo of light amidst the sodden darkness now that she was close enough to see it.
"Oh – it IS you!" Miakis gushed, "Rivan! Lyon! I'm SO glad!"
"W-wait," said Lyon, from her own position on the muddy ground, "You knew it was us?"
"Well, I thought so, but I wasn't sure – hence, the fire arrow."
"Ooookay…" Rivan said, as Lyon helped him to his feet, "You thought it was us, and you still tried to set my head on fire?"
"Of course not!" Miakis exclaimed indignantly, "That's why I told you to duck, didn't I? Juuust in case… and you did!"
"No," Rivan growled, "I slipped. You were speaking so fast, all I heard was 'Pryliodak'!"
Miakis gave it some thought. "Oh, well. Close enough," she said, before throwing decorum to the wind and catching the two younger children in a fierce hug, which both eagerly reciprocated. The three friends were silent for a long moment, storm, bear and harsh words all forgotten.
Until Miakis realized with a start that Lyon wasn't wearing a shirt.
The elder apprentice leapt back in shock, pointing an accusing finger at Lyon, who wore only a leather halter, and the Prince.
"Wh- wh- wh…" Miakis spluttered, as the two looked on quizzically.
"What's wrong?" Rivan asked innocently, while Lyon turned to look behind them, hand on her weapon, as if Miakis had seen an enemy
Miakis took a deep, calming breath. "Lyon," she asked, in a strained voice, "Where's your shirt?"
"Oh." Lyon looked down at herself, then to Rivan. "I took it off and gave it to the Prince."
Miakis felt her right hand twitch. Speechlessly, she turned to Rivan, who just blinked at her.
"What?" he asked innocently, "Lyon tried to make it into a hood for me, to keep the rain off, but it snagged on some branches on the way back. I told her it was useless in this storm anyway, but she insisted…"
"It was better than nothing," the younger apprentice answered defensively, as Miakis breathed a huge sigh of relief. Of course Rivan didn't see anything strange about it – while he was beginning his adolescence, the Queen and Ferid had made sure he and the Princess had lived sheltered lives… which, nowadays, largely consisted of making sure Kyle was never near either of them without Ferid or Zahak to keep him in line.
Miakis made a mental note to give Lyon a bit of a talking to however. While a certain ignorance of matters of the body was forgivable and endearing in boys, it wasn't the same for a young woman. Not that Lyon was growing up all that quickly… Miakis idly wondered how the Prince would've reacted if she-
"A-nyway," Miakis said, clearing her throat and her mind. (He's twelve!) "Let's get Rivan somewhere dry – if a place like that still exists in Falena…" Turning serious she asked Lyon: "Did you get it?"
The Prince's bodyguard shook her head, as they began to walk back to the camp. "No, alas," she answered, although Miakis could sense her relief, "And I told Rivan it was much to dark and stormy for us to have any chance of finding it."
"We did manage to warn the militia of nearby farmsteads," Rivan added, "All we can do is hope word spreads faster than the bear travels."
Word spread quickly when the three companions reached the camp. The guardsmen were visibly relieved that the Prince was safe, but maintained their posts as they were informed that the bear was still a threat. Meanwhile Miakis led Lyon and Rivan to the pavilion, where a relieved Luserina met them.
"Your Highness!" The beautiful girl exclaimed. "I'm so glad you're safe!"
"Thank you my lady," Rivan said as he plopped exhaustedly onto a seat. "I'm glad as well." He quirked an eyebrow at the still standing Lyon.
"You can sit Lyon, I know you're tired too…"
The black haired girl shook her head. "This is what we train for your Highness. Don't mind me…" She looked around, and spotted the table laden with their untouched afternoon meal. "You just sit right there – I'll be back with some food."
"I'll come with you," Miakis offered. She turned to Luserina. "May I leave our idiot of a hero in your hands milady?"
"Oh, uhm, yes…" Luserina agreed, not quite sure how to react to Miakis' manner of address.
"Off we go then," Miakis announced, taking Lyon firmly by the elbow, and steering her towards the food.
"I'm fine by myself Miakis," Lyon protested.
"Please," the older apprentice sniffed. "I'm not as gullible as Rivan. You can barely stand."
"The Prince isn't gullible!"
"I can see that's the only part you deny."
Lyon sighed, and Miakis felt the smaller girl allow herself to lean on her friend. "I am a bit more… fatigued, than I'd expected. Storms… bring back memories. Bad memories."
"Aren't they all?" Miakis said knowingly, as the two began to fill a pair of plates – one of which Miakis as going to make sure was Lyon's. With an added cake or two for Miakis as well of course…
"Not since coming here." Lyon answered quietly. "Not since I started serving the Prince…"
"How is he?" Miakis asked, serious and concerned. "I mean, after what she said…"
The younger girl shook her head. "I don't know. You know how he is – when he has something to focus on, some duty to accomplish, he can put his feelings aside. But… he loves her Miakis. He has to be hurting so much inside…"
Miakis grit her teeth. "I should have hit her twice as hard…" she mumbled, not even knowing she said it out loud until she heard Lyon's terrified gasp.
The older apprentice didn't answer, deftly moving towards the Prince and Luserina with her two plates of food. "Hey Rivan! Chow time!"
"Miakis…" Lyon hissed urgently, as she caught up with her friend. "Do you know what you've done? If word gets out…"
"You telling me you wouldn't have done the same, if you were me?" Miakis asked, glaring at the shorter girl. Lyon met her gaze for awhile, then turned away.
"I just… I don't want anything to happen to you Miakis."
"I'll be fine," the older girl said, waving Lyon's concerns away, as if treason was such a petty thing. It wasn't Miakis' way, worrying about the consequences of something she knew she had to do. After what Lym had said… well, Lym might as well have placed Miakis palm against her cheek herself.
When they reached Rivan, they found him already rising to his feet, waving away Luserina's offered hand.
"Hey!" Miakis demanded, Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm sorry," Luserina said, "But he was so insistent…"
"We have your food Prince," Lyon added, "Please try to eat something. You must be exhausted…"
Rivan didn't deny it – couldn't really, for his legs were visibly weak – but he refused their request. "I can eat after I've reported to Lym."
"What?" Miakis blurted out, "Why? She didn't even want you to go! She didn't care about the danger to her people!"
The Prince merely shrugged. "Doesn't matter," he said in a tired voice, "Whether she cares or not, they're still her people. And she's their Princess… She needs to know what's been done to keep them safe." He paused a moment. "Besides, I want to check on her. See if she's alright…"
Miakis took a step back. Rivan couldn't know that she… "If she needed anything she'd come out here and demand it herself. You're the only one who needs checking on around here – after all your work tonight - "
"She's had quite the scare - " Rivan began.
"- after what she said - "
" – she probably didn't mean -"
"She doesn't love you Rivan!" Miakis shouted.
The others were quiet as Rivan stared at his friend. The Prince ran a hand through his long white hair, and again the sad smile appeared on his face. "I'm not blind Miakis," he said quietly, "But I'm still her brother."
Rivan left then, heading to the other side of the pavilion, where Lym's tent had been pitched, Lyon trailing after him at a respectable distance. Miakis meanwhile crossed her arms and scowled. Why did he waste his time on her? Sure he was her brother, but that didn't mean he had to cater to her every whim did it?
But, the fact of it was, he did… and Miakis suddenly realized that he might not react very well to her method of defending his honor. "Prince, wait a sec," she called out, as she rushed belatedly to follow them, but he entered the tent before she could reach him.
If that brat rats on me… she thought in anger, as she flipped open the tent flap – "Prince I can explain- " she began…
And stopped, frozen in horror, as she gazed at the jagged hole torn in the rear of the tent.
The empty tent.
"Lym!" Rivan was calling out, as he stuck his head through the hole. Constrained by its size, he tore it wider in his frustration, allowing a fresh gust of rain and wind to blow into the tent. "Lym!"
Lyon was moving as well, dropping to the ground and searching for some sign, some clue of Lym's disappearance – but Miakis could only stand at the entrance, her jaw slack in disbelief.
Oh no. Oh no…
"Miakis," Lyon asked slowly, as she stood up holding one of Miakis' daggers, "What were these doing here…?"
Miakis didn't answer, instead rushing out the tent after the Prince. Rivan looked at her, his silver-white hair plastered all over his panicked features. "She's not here Miakis – Lym's gone!"
No. No she couldn't be gone. She was just playing a trick, a cruel trick, something to get back at Miakis for what she'd done. She couldn't be gone…
"Lym!" she shouted. "LYM!"
Rivan shook his head. "We have to get the guards, have them search – she might still be nearby!"
"LYMMM!" Miakis looked frantically from side to side, but she could see nothing but the rain, nothing but wet darkness, all around her. Darkness that seemed to press against her, ramming against her mind, her senses.
I've failed. I've failed her. I've failed him. I've failed them all…
"LYM! LYM! LY- "
"SNAP OUT OF IT!" Rivan shouted into her ear, shaking her by the shoulders. Miakis was bigger than the lad, and fully armored, but his need gave him strength. Shocked out of her near-trance, her eyes focused on her Prince.
"Keep it together Miakis!" Rivan begged, and she could hear the strain in his voice, the helplessness, "I need you to keep it together… Please…"
Miakis blinked back the rain from her eyes, her mind clearing, focusing. Focusing on the problem, and on the burden being borne by the slim boy in front of her. She pushed the guilt, the loathing, down, down inside her. It festered in her core, sickened her so much she wanted to vomit, but for now she could function – for now she could lend him the strength he needed.
"Head to the pavilion," she said in a level tone, "I'll meet up with you there."
Miakis made the rounds quickly, first gathering a group of guardsmen to start searching in a widening circle centered on the tent. She went then to each of the guards she had posted around the tent, but none of them had seen or heard the Princess departing, or being taken from within. Unsurprising really, as it was impossible to see more than a few feet in the storm pelted environment.
I should have seen it. I should have known! How could I have been so stupid? How could I have left her alone?
Easily, she realized, for it was something she had been doing all along. Hadn't she spent long hours agonizing over how to get away from the clingy child, to spend more time with the member of the royal family whose company she truly enjoyed – indeed, whose company she felt entitled to? Even now she was more Rivan's bodyguard than Lym's… The Prince had always been, to her mind, more deserving of protection.
Perhaps, she should have instead concerned herself with who needed it more.
Stupid, stupid STUPID girl!
The Prince, Lyon, Luserina and the remaining guardsmen were crammed inside the pavilion when she arrived. All of them looked extremely distraught, although the Prince was visibly trying to control himself. Rivan was well aware of who had command in a situation like this, even if there were far more senior guardsmen and attendants on hand. In the end, decisions were made by the royal family – and at that moment, he was the only one at hand.
Maybe the only one still –
Miakis shut her eyes and consigned the thought to a fiery hell. Lym was alive – had to be alive. She still had to make Miakis pay for her horrible, horrible mistake. But it wasn't the Princess' regard that concerned her the most at that moment.
The others looked up expectantly as she approached them, but their faces soon fell when they saw her despairing expression. Miakis kept her eyes averted from Rivan's – he was right, he needed her to be focused, now more than ever… and she couldn't do that when her very soul wanted to cringe away from his eyes.
I'm sorry… I'm so sorry!
"I've sent our best scouts out to search in advance… But no one saw her leave," she reported, "Nor anyone else approach. But what with the storm, an entire Armes corps might have waltzed in and taken her, for all we'd know."
"Do you think the Princess was abducted?" Luserina asked, wringing her hands. "Should we wait for more soldiers to come?"
Miakis looked up, then turned to Lyon. The younger girl's eyes were anguished, but she nodded resolutely. The purple haired girl sucked in a deep breath. "No, I don't think she was kidnapped…" She looked at the Prince then, finally, and held his gaze. He seemed strangely calmer, as if he was confident that she had somehow solved the entire disaster… instead of having been its cause.
Please don't hate me…
"I got into a fight earlier. With the Princess." She sighed. "A big one. And in the end I - "
But Rivan was already speaking before she could admit her crime. "Captain I want every able bodied man out there, searching for my sister. No need to search in groups – you'll cover more ground individually, and I don't think she's been taken by hostile forces. The bear could still be out there though – but if you see it, run. Lym is the priority." The Prince turned to Miakis then, whose mouth was still open in mid-explanation. "What would be the best search pattern Miakis?"
In that moment his eyes, his bearing, were just so much like Commander Ferid's that Miakis found herself snapping to attention and answering instantly. "Well, I'd have a third of them continue with the circling pattern of the scouts, but turning the opposite way, another third scattered along compass points, and the rest searching the south of the Princess' tent, where the opening was."
Rivan nodded in thanks, then turned to the Captain. "Make it happen." Then, as an after thought: "If you lose your way in the storm, keep an eye out – we'll send up a flame to show the position of the camp."
The captain saluted with a fist to his chest, and hurriedly began to carry out his task. Miakis looked from Rivan to the milling troops and back.
He held up a hand. "Luserina, could you stay here with our injured guardsman?"
"If that is what you wish of me Prince," the girl replied, "But I would be more than willing to join in the search, by your leave."
The Prince favored her with a smile. "I know you would my lady, and I am grateful, but our duty does not only lie with finding the Princess."
"Rivan - " Miakis began again, but he interrupted her once more.
"I need you to stay here Miakis," he said briskly, as he stood up, wincing visibly as he put weight on his legs. "How many more shots of flame do you think you could manage from your rune?"
"I… three or four maybe?" she answered, unbalanced by his manner.
"It'll do," he said. "Listen, I want you to send one out every… I don't know, every hour or so – it's a long shot, but hopefully if Lym or the one who finds her can catch sight of the flame, they can make their way back here, even if they lose their bearings in the storm." He thought a moment. "In fact, send out one right now, just in case it'll help Lym find her way back to us. Think that'd work?"
Stop depending on me! Miakis wanted to scream. Don't you see? I've already failed her once! She placed her hands on her head. "Rivan, you still haven't heard what I - "
She felt his hands on hers then, removing them from her face. "I know you Miakis…" he said softly, as he looked up at the taller girl, "How long have we been friends? You think I wouldn't know how you'd react?" He smiled at her gently. "It's not your fault."
Miakis didn't know what to say. She found it hard to even breathe, like she'd been carrying a millstone uphill, and only noticed it when its weight was lifted.
"Of course I don't know if Lym will be quite as forgiving," Rivan added, "But save the apologies for when she gets back… And somewhere private okay? Lyon, let's go."
"Right behind you Prince," the black haired girl said, as she took her place beside him.
"Rivan, wait…" Miakis called out, as the Prince and Lyon were about to set out into the rain.
"Miakis, I know you want to come," Rivan began, "But you're the only one who can - "
Her lips were touching his before he could finish talking. It was just a little peck, nothing grown up… But it still left Miakis flushed, and Rivan bewildered… though perhaps not as much as Lyon was.
"You really need to let a girl finish what she wants to say sometimes y'know?" she told him, as she held him at arms length. "Good luck my Prince – and you too Lyon. Tell Lym…" She paused.
Tell her that I'll make sure her next bodyguard will do a better job.
"Just… bring her back safe, okay?"
Lym couldn't imagine how things could get any worse.
She huddled miserably at the base of a tree, shaking as the rain pounded past her woefully inadequate shelter, and cursed her decision to leave her tent. What had she been thinking? Well… she hadn't been really, and that was the main problem. That stupid Miakis had made her so angry… and that stupid brother of hers too! What did he think he was doing out here in this storm? Didn't he think about how difficult it would make it for her to show him up?
And this storm! Lym understood that it was its nature to send rain and wind, but this was a bit much! Surely it should have exhausted itself by now… The fact that the downpour continued… well, it just meant the stupid storm was being contrary, yes it was. Raining just to spite her, and to help her stupid brother!
At first she had been determined not to make it win, to press on, no matter what, until she could find the bear that had almost stumbled over her in the camp, find it before Rivan did. That'd show them who they should be following… who they should love.
Very soon however, thoughts of the bear had left her mind, driven away by the sheer struggle it had become to put one foot in front of the other, to fight through the rain and wind for every inch of progress. Lym could be as dogged and persistent as, well, as only a Princess could be, but she was still a six year old girl, and very soon her body began to tire. It had been some time ago that she'd decided to turn back and return to the camp.
Only to discover that she had no idea where the camp was.
She wandered the rain whipped forest in increasing desperation, calling out loudly when she could do so without the risk of drowning as leaf flavored rain water filled her mouth. The only replies she'd gotten were the indifferent roar of the storm around her, and the crack of its thunder as it continued to rage onwards.
So she had decided then that she would concede this round to the storm, and wait out its fury somewhere safe, and preferably dry. Few places however, could fulfill both, or even one of her criteria, and she had found herself collapsing against the dark bulk of this old oak tree, out of fatigue more than any rational choice.
Shivering in the cold, she raised her head and called out once more: "I'm ready to go back now." Silence. "Hello? Miakis, I forgive you, so come get me now!" No reply. "Lyon? Luserina?" Again, she heard nothing but the rain pelted silence. "Someone? Anyone!"
Lym hugged herself tightly, shaking from more than just the cold. In the Sun Palace, she barely needed to finish a sentence before someone was rushing to attend to her. As the heir to the throne, she was constantly surrounded by servants and functionaries, ready to jump to fulfill her slightest whim. And now…
Now there was just her.
"I'm over here!" She shouted again, sure that they were looking for her. They must be… Oh and how they'd be regretting how they'd treated her. Miakis was probably in tears by now – and it'd serve her right! The thought of her bodyguard's repentance was enough to bring a gleeful smile to the little girl's face, and for a few minutes she forgot how miserable she was.
It didn't last long.
As the minutes passed and the rain continued unabated, Lym began to wonder what could be taking so long. Impatience turned quickly to anger, but eventually gave way to a slow, creeping fear.
What if… What if they didn't know she was missing? Worse… what if they knew she was missing, but didn't care? Or were even happy she was gone? Miakis certainly, had made clear how little she thought of the Princess – not even the possibility of being charged with treason had stopped her from hitting Lym. And her brother… Rivan certainly would not care she was gone. She'd gone out of her way to torment him all this time – and even Lym had to admit that maybe – just maybe – her last words to him had crossed over a line.
Am I really such a bad person?
No, Lym refused to believe it. Surely… surely she'd made some friends, some allies among the servants and guardsmen. But, for the life of her, she couldn't remember any individual name or faces – she'd never taken the time to commit these to memory. After all, one guardsman was as good as another right?
But what if… what if they felt the same about her?
That was rubbish, she thought to herself. She was the Princess of Falena – she was irreplaceable! Not even Rivan could take her place, no matter what people like Miakis might want! They were stuck with her, and that was that!
Of course, that didn't mean they had to like it. Or like her for that matter.
The little Princess pushed herself to her feet, shaking with emotion. Fighting off fatigue and depression both, Lym pressed blindly forward, small arms shielding her face from the stinging rain. If they thought they could get rid of her, oh she would show them how wrong they were! When she got back, she'd be sure to tell Father how they'd abandoned her, how badly they'd treated her, she'd tell Father, and Mother and…
She took another step forward, and suddenly the water-logged earth gave way beneath her. The Princess cried out in alarm, her hands scrabbling in the dirt as she slid down, down, until her knees buckled as her feet hit more solid ground, sending her sprawling forward in a heap, flecks of mud, pebbles and foliage following after her. Lym pushed herself up to all fours, coughing and gagging as she spit out dirt which had found its way into her mouth as she was screaming. Water and saliva mixed in the muddy earth before her, and very soon after these were joined by her salty tears.
"Mother…" she sobbed helplessly, her fingers clawing at the dirt, "Father…" Then in a whisper so low that she could not even hear it herself over the roaring water: "Brother…"
Lym blinked then, as something registered through her self-pity. Roaring water?
The Princess looked down and to her left, and realized she was perched precariously on a rocky outcropping above one of the many tributaries to the Feitas River. The dark water boiled angrily beneath her, frothing waves passing so close she might reach out and touch them, the waters having long flowed over their banks. Lym said a quick prayer of thanks to the Sun that she hadn't slid down any further.
Of course it was at that point that the rock broke free from the slope.
Another scream was ripped from Lym's throat as she plummeted into the water, cut off abruptly as her head sank beneath the surface. For a terrifying moment, Lym was completely submerged, then her frantic kicking pushed her back up into open air, her mouth gasping to breathe at the same time as she screamed.
"Help! Help! Hel – ulp," she cried out, her mouth taking in gulps of water with every lungful of precious air. She kicked desperately with her feet, helpless as the current carried her downwards, her hands reaching out for something, anything, to break her momentum… but they found nothing.
Instead, something found her.
His grip was strong as his hands clamped down on her wrists, almost wrenching her arms out of their sockets as he countered the currents pull with one of his own. Much to her surprise, even without looking, she knew who it was. Perhaps it was the feel of his hands, the tone of his muffled grunts as he strained every muscle in his body… but whatever the reason, she had no doubts when she called out his name.
"Rivan!" she cried out, her eyes wide at the sight of his pale, yet determined face.
"Hold on Lym!" He grunted, although it was he who held onto her. "Hold on!"
With excruciating slowness, the Prince hauled her out of the water, his feet slipping and sliding as they constantly had to find new purchase on the rain slicked ground as the river tried again and again to wrest her from his grasp. Still Rivan persevered, and finally, with a monumental effort, the Prince hauled her completely out of the water, and back onto fairly level ground. The two siblings rolled onto their backs, alternatively coughing and panting as they let the cool rain fall over bruised, aching muscles.
"Now I regret… splitting up with Lyon…" Rivan gasped, "You really are… more trouble… than I ever was…" He turned his head towards her and smiled. "And that's saying something."
Lym found herself smiling back. Then she realized just who it was who she owed her life to – who it was who had once more emerged as the hero.
You'd never be able to match him, not in a million years!
"Why?" Lym whispered, in a broken voice.
Rivan looked on, puzzled, but she didn't meet his gaze, staring instead up at the sky as it poured down upon her, her own tears blurring her vision of those of the heavens.
"Why did it have to be you? Why is it always you?"
Somehow finding the strength to move, she clambered to her feet. Rivan stood as well, but Lym was already on the move, running as fast as her short legs could take her. Her brother called out to her in alarm but she ignored him, barreling forward, ramming into trunk and branch until her fatigued body finally gave out, at the mouth of a cave ensconced in a low hillside.
Soon enough, Rivan was upon her, and it seemed that her sudden sprint had been enough to break even the Prince's composure. "What is wrong with you? This isn't the time for this!"
"Why are you here?" Lym demanded of him, her tears tempering her angry shout. "You… you shouldn't be here! You hate me!'
Rivan's jaw went slack, and he had to visibly shake himself to recover. "First," he said, in a forcibly calm voice, "This really isn't the time for this discussion. And second – what the he- I mean, heck, are you talking about? I never said I hated you!"
"You must!" Lym insisted, "Everyone hates me! The guardsmen, the servants, even Miakis…" she shook her head. "And you have more reason… after all the things I've done… that I've said…"
"You must hate me," the Princes sniffed, rubbing away her tears on the back of her arm.
"If I hated you Lym, why would I come for you?" Rivan asked in a gentle voice.
The little girl looked up at him, with sad eyes. "Why do you do anything? Good Prince Rivan," she sniffed. "Always doing his duty… Well I release you from it alright?" Lym shouted, her tiny hands balled into fists at her side. "Stop pretending you care! I hate you I hate you I – mmmph!"
"Ah Lym, Lym, Lym…" Rivan held her close to him, her voice muffled against his chest. The rain trickled down his face and onto her head, and the Prince slicked back her fine brown hair tenderly before he continued. "You can be bratty, irritating, insulting and downright unpleasant… But you've never been a duty." He held her at arms length then, and looked deep into her eyes. Lym looked back, really looked for maybe the first time ever… and she so no hatred in his gaze. No anger, no disgust, nor even displeasure. Rivan smiled down at her.
"You've been many things, and you'll be many things Lymsleia Falenas. But you'll always be my sister. And I love you."
Lym stared up at him, as if seeing Rivan for the first time. The boy suddenly cleared his throat and looked away, suddenly discomfited, as boys were wont to be, by his own sentimentality. "C'mon," he said, "Looks like you've found us some shelter. Let's get you deeper inside while I wait for the sign from Miakis."
Rivan took his sister by the hand, and led the way into the cavern, wrinkling his nose at a strange smell wafting from within – but he had taken all of five steps before he ran into something in the darkness. Growling in displeasure, he reached out a hand to feel his way onwards – and suddenly stopped, dead in his tracks.
The growling however, continued unabated.
Rivan took five quick steps back, pulling Lym forcefully along with him. "Get up the tree Lym."
"Wh-what?" His sister asked him. "But wh-"
"Do it!" Rivan shouted, and then he was half-pushing, half-carrying her to the nearest tree, boosting her up so she could scamper along its boughs. Lym had barely enough time to pull her feet up before the bear emerged from the cave.
It was smaller than she remembered it, perhaps because she was viewing it from a safer distance, or maybe because the rain had plastered its fur tight across its body. Yet it looked more dangerous, if that was at all possible. Its eyes were half crazed from pain, bubbles of froth visible at the corners of its gnashing jaws. And its stench… wet fur mixed with dried blood and decay… Lym would have had a trouble even standing within ten feet of the creature.
Yet her brother stepped away from the tree, quickly and confidently, motions exaggerated enough that he could not help but draw the eye of the bear. He stepped sideways, moving further and further from the tree where Lym hid tremblingly, not even glancing in her direction as he deliberately withdrew his three-part staff.
The bear was quick enough to take the bait. It began slowly circling the Prince, its shambling gait still more than a match for Rivan's cautious step, its eyes locked on the white haired youth as if somehow certain the boy had something to do with its predicament. Rivan for his part was shaking – the tip of his staff vibrating like a humming bird's wings – but his stance was steady and his expression ready.
"Brother - " Lym found herself whispering, her hands going to her mouth, her heart jumping into her throat.
And then the bear leapt.
Rivan avoided its clutches, if barely, by jumping to his right, pushing against the ground with his staff as well as his legs for added thrust. The bear tried to turn for another attack, but it had landed on its injured forearm, and the pain caused it to misjudge its lunge, and once more the Prince managed to roll out of the way. Again the enraged creature charged, but this time instead of moving away, Rivan met it head on, thrusting out with his staff extended and crashing its tip into the animal's snout. The animal howled in pain, and fell back, trailing flecks of blood faintly visible under the stormy skies.
"Yes!" Lym found herself cheering. That was her brother for you!
But the old bear had not survived for so long without learning a few tricks of its own. Half-crazed it may have been, but it grew wary then, crouching low and coiling in on itself, like a trap about to spring, as it slowly began to stalk Rivan. The Prince tried to regain the initiative, breaking left or right or feinting with his staff, but with a predator's patience the bear closed in on the boy, cutting off other avenues of escape – until Rivan was backed up against the very same tree where he had hidden Lym. When he realized where he was, the Prince cursed soundly, the first time the Princess had ever heard him do so.
"Brother climb up!" Lym hissed, but Rivan shook his head without looking at her.
"But- " she began.
"Hush!" Rivan hissed, his head turning desperately this way and that as the bear closed in. It was too near, Lym realized in shock, wherever Rivan ran he was sure to be caught! Her brother seemed to know this too, his hands holding his weapon in a death grip. He had to come up, he had to climb up the tree with her…
That was when Lym realized what her brother's choice would be.
You've been many things, and you'll be many things Lymsleia Falenas. But you'll always be my sister. And I love you.
Rivan took a deep breath, then kicked out towards the right, propelling his body left while he held his staff before him for protection. But the bear was too quick, too strong, easily blocking his path and lunging low, beneath Rivan's weapon, its paws batting at the boy's chest, sending him hurtling away, to the edge of the slope that lead back to the water. Lym's brother coughed loudly, painfully, his right hand still gripping his staff as he glared at the bear.
Lym began to tremble. No… this wasn't happening… Not to her brother! Not before she could… Not after she learned…
The bear stood up on its hind legs, roaring in triumph, its head almost brushing the branches in which Lym lay hidden. She could almost feel its stench, almost taste her own fear – fear that she suddenly realized, was not for herself at all.
I love you.
The bear leapt forward – but so did Lym.
"Leave my brother alone!" she shouted, dropping from the tree's branches and landing squarely on the bear's head. The creature roared horrendously, but the Princess clung on for dear life, wrapping her arms around its eyes and struggling to keep her grip. The bear stumbled forward, growling all the while, trying to shake the little Princess of its head. Enraged at its failure, the bear raised its arm, determined to tear the obstruction from its sight.
"Let go Lym!" Rivan shouted, and Lym responded instantly to her brother's command, sliding off the slick back of the animal just as its claw slashed downwards, and in so doing injured its own face. The bear yelped in pain, and took another shambling step forward – right to the water's edge.
The Prince was ready. Blood streaming from his wound, the boy grit his teeth and pivoted, bringing his staff in a wide swing that barreled into the bear's back, knocking it forward and down the sloping, muddy earth. The creature roared, and scrambled for purchase along the earth, but its weight dragged it downwards, to land in the overflowing tributary with a resounding splash. The bear struggled against the current, but even this child of the Feitas was stronger than any mortal creature, and the last the royal siblings saw of the wounded animal were its claws stretched out towards them as it careened down the canal towards the south, roaring and screaming all the while… until it was gone.
Rivan stabbed his staff into the dirt, gasping for breath – which was quickly knocked out of him as Lym rammed into him with a running tackle.
"Brother! Brother! Brother!" she sobbed, not knowing whether to pummel him or hug him, but settling on a reasonable approximation of both.
"Good job Lym," he smiled at his sister. The fatigue was evident in his expression – but so was the relief. "You saved me there…"
"Oh Rivan," Lym gushed, "You saved me first."
"Let's call it even then shall we?" her brother replied, but the Princess shook her head.
"I… I've got a lot to make up for, I think," she said, squeezing her brother one more time, hardly mindful of his wounds. "I… I love you Rivan."
The Prince smiled then, and even his exhaustion seemed to vanish, enveloped in the sheer joy of the expression.
"That's good enough for me Lym…" he said, looking up at the sky. Following his gaze, from the corner of her eye Lym caught a quick burst of light against the storm-wracked darkness.
"That's good enough for me…"
Miakis stood at the very edge of the pavilion, stock still, every sense alert, willing her eyes to pierce the gloom, her ears to penetrate the incessant drumming of the rain.
There! She sensed movement to her right, just at the corner of her eye, and she whirled immediately: "Princess!" she shouted – but there was nothing there.
Another rustle in the underbrush: "You found her Prince!" she shouted this time, turning to her left – but it was only a branch, felled by the wind. She sighed, despondent – and then she felt a presence behind her.
"Lym!" she exclaimed, spinning around completely – and finding a surprised Luserina taking a step back.
"Whoopsie," Miakis apologized, knuckling herself in the head, "Sorry about that milady."
"Uhm…, no it was my fault entirely," Luserina said graciously, "Its just I heard your shouts and I thought perhaps the Princess and the Prince had returned…"
"Oh, not yet," the older girl replied, "I was just getting in some practice."
"Practice?" Luserina asked.
"Yeah yeah," Miakis said enthusiastically, "See I'm sure this was traumatic for Lym, and I want to be sure to greet her right when she returns. How did I do? Did you get all warm an' fuzzy?"
"Uhm…" the pretty brown haired girl appeared to be at a loss for words, "I-I suppose I did feel a little… warm?"
"Great then!" Miakis grinned, and turned back to her surveying of the rain drenched forest. The storm had abated somewhat, to the relief of all, but the rain was still more than a mere drizzle.
Luserina took a few steps forward, and stood beside the purple haired girl, shaking her head. "You amaze me Lady Miakis…" she began, but stopped as she heard choking sounds from her companions.
"Goodness! Are you alright?"
"Jus- just give me a moment to…" Miakis gasped, then suddenly let out a throaty laugh. "Sorry Lady Luserina. Its just – well, to hear someone like you call me a Lady – is just too much for words!" She chortled. "If only Roog and Rahal could see me now… they'd eat their dragonhorsies!"
"Well, I certainly don't see anything surprising," the other girl replied, "I think you've carried yourself more than nobly today. And your faith that this crisis will resolve itself well in the end is… well, it's very uplifting."
Miakis looked at the younger girl for a moment, then shook her head. "I think you misunderstand Lady Luserina. I'm not really big on faith – though please don't tell the priests at the Sun Palace that!"
Luserina smiled. "I meant your faith that the Princess would be found."
Still Miakis shook her head. "Same thing – you have 'faith' in stuff that you can't see – or that you can sorta see, but can't touch. Like the Sun, or Spirits or that kind of thing…"
The brown haired girl looked puzzled. "I apologize Lady, but I fail to see the difference."
Miakis turned to Luserina and smiled broadly. "I know Rivan has gone to look for his sister. I know the Prince well, better than maybe I know myself. And because of that… I don't believe Lym will be found. I know she will be. I know it." She turned back to the forest then… and caught a glimpse of white.
It was like a shroud had been removed from her soul. For all her confident words, she ran out of the tent, unmindful of the rain, as if to catch this apparition before it disappeared - fearful it would slowly dissipate the closer she got. But instead, the image grew clearer: that of a slim young white haired boy carrying a tired little girl on his back.
She stopped an arms length from the boy, her guts knotting as she saw the blood down his shirt. But his expression was serene, as happy as she had ever seen it to be, and she found herself returning his smile.
"Welcome back Prince," she said.
"Good to be here," he replied, just as his little sister raised her head.
"M-miakis?" Lym whispered, and Rivan let her slide down his back.
"P-princess…" Miakis gulped. For what seemed a long second, she could not find any words to speak. She'd rehearsed it in her head, in her heart, the things she'd say to the Princess when she returned – but now, seeing this sodden little girl staring up at her, she just could not open her mouth.
Instead she dropped down to her knees, in the mud, and clasped the girl to her as if afraid the wind would sweep her away. Lym returned the hug and began to cry softly, clinging to her bodyguard as if she were adrift.
"Princess. I'm sorry, I'll never- "
"Shh…" Lym hushed her, and put her small hands against Miakis' face. "Not another word okay? Not to me, not to Father, or anyone else. You were right…" The Princess closed her eyes. "You were right about brother. I'm the one who's sorry."
"Oh Princess…" Miakis said, and beamed down at the girl as she never had before. "I – I…" She hugged Lym close once more. "I swear, I'll NEVER leave you again!"
Rivan smiled down at them both. "Heh, aren't you two the perfect picture… Like a pair of drowned Holly Elves."
Miakis turned to him at once, ready with a retort – then remembered suddenly that he was wounded. Immediately she reached down and lifted Lym to her with one arm, and with the other supported the Prince. "C'mon, lets get that looked at little hero… Where's Lyon?"
"We split up before I met the bear – and that's Prince Hero to you," Rivan replied, but he took her arm gratefully as the three walked back beneath the shelter of the pavilion.
"Oh Prince! Princess!" Luserina rushed towards them, with a small battalion of palace staff, ready with all sorts of healing implements, as well as a troop of soldiers who quickly stationed themselves around the royal children.
"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Lym was saying, a bit of her spunk returning to her voice as she waived away a persistent set of healers. "Go tend to my brother – he's the one who got wounded! Please…"
Miakis shooed them away as well, only taking a set of dry clothes from one of the attendants. "Alright little Princess, lets get you changed."
"B-but!" Lym protested, staring at her brother, "But brother might, what if brother needs…"
Miakis' eyebrows shot up. My, my… looks like someone's been won over. Finally. She looked over at Rivan, who was gingerly removing his shirt, and saw that Luserina was hovering around the medics and gazing at the Prince with a genuinely captivated gaze.
Whoopsie. More than one someone it seems…
For a second Miakis felt a twinge of jealousy – then she looked once more at the small, sodden Princess who stood before her. No… she'd already made this mistake once. She couldn't watch two backs at once, couldn't be there for both of them at once. Miakis looked from the Prince, to the Princess, and back again, biting her lip. Then she reached down her hand, and clasped a small, delicate fist in return – and made her decision.
"Let's go get you changed Princess…"
"Don't worry," Miakis laughed, as she scooped Lym up in her arms, "I think that they can heal your brother perfectly well without using your spare dress…"
In minutes she had the squirming, restless Lym in a set of dry clothes, and was being led by the insistent youngster back to the Prince, who sat sprawled on a seat that had been pulled up for him while trying in vain to get a red-faced Luserina to sit beside him.
"Brother!" Lym shouted, and promptly hopped into the place that Rivan had been offering to Luserina, hugging the Prince tight enough to make him wince.
"Ah Princess," Luserina warned, "I don't think you should-"
Lym scooted back as she realized she'd touched his wound. "Oh I'm sorry brother! Are you okay?"
"Don't worry," Rivan replied, smiling down at her and ruffling her hair, "You saved my life remember?"
"But you saved mine first!" Lym gushed. She turned to Miakis and Luserina, "You should have seen him! He pulled me from the river- "
"Just a flooded stream I think," Rivan interrupted, but Lym continued without pause.
"-and fought with the bear and whacked it so hard he cracked open its skull - "
"Uhm, that isn't quite- "
"-then he hit it again and again before he threw it into the river!" she finished, with a flair of her arms, before hugging him again. "Isn't my brother great?"
Rivan gave a helpless sigh, and shook his head. She's lying he mouthed to Miakis, and the apprentice smiled widely.
"Oh you bet he is," the purple haired girl said, agreeing with Lym whole heartedly, "He's a genuine Prince he is. A hero of legend. A man amongst men!"
Rivan gave her a withering look, but the girl returned it with one of sincere emotion. It must have looked like an odd expression on her face, for Rivan's brow creased in puzzlement. Before he could say anything though, Miakis was hugging him as well, as tight as she could without giving him pain. Lym squirmed beneath her, but she held on, as long as she safely could. Her mind was full of the things she wanted to say, but hadn't, promises she hadn't actually made, and yet which she felt she was now breaking.
But in the end, she could only blurt out two quick words. "Thank you," she said, and meant a million other things.
He looked at her strangely. "Why do you say that like you mean 'goodbye'?" he asked her softly.
"Oh shut up," she retorted, turning away before he could see her eyes. Stupid Rivan and his stupid insights… She wiped a hand across her face, and looked up to see a small form streaking towards them.
"Lyon!" she called out. "He's over here!"
The black haired girl trotted into the pavilion, wet and obviously tired, but she did not hesitate as she headed straight for the Prince. Miakis met her half way there.
"Is he okay?" the younger girl asked hurriedly, "Did he find the Princess? Is he hurt?"
"Yes, yes and a little," Miakis answered. She looked from Lyon, to the Prince – who had risen to his feet to greet Lyon – then back to the black haired girl.
"He's all yours now," Miakis said softly, as she clapped a hand on Lyon's shoulder. "Although…" she grinned impishly, "I'd keep an eye out for Luserina when she grows older."
The youngest apprentice knight blinked in confusion. "Huh? Lady Luserina?"
Miakis just laughed. "Don't lose Lyon! I'm rooting for you!"
With that, she brought Lyon back to the Prince, and pulled Lym back a bit to give the black haired girl and her ward some space – which Lyon was largely using to alternately berate the Prince for exposing himself to such peril, and to express relief that he was safe. Miakis held Lym close and looked on, smiling. They were complete once again, her little family, and if things had changed amongst them… well, maybe it was for the better.
"Uhm Miakis," Lym asked suddenly, "Can I ask you a question?"
"Why…" Lym stopped. "Why was Lady Luserina looking at my brother like that?"
Miakis blinked. Then a mischievous glint came into her eye. "Well, you see Lym, while you were gone…" she began, then started whispering an entirely inappropriate and untrue tale of rain, bears and romance into the Princess' little ear. As Lym's eyes grew wider and wider, so did Miakis smile.
"Th-that… That hussy!"
Miakis giggled. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all…
OOC: Sorry for the wait, and the length (for those of you who prefer bite size chunks), but I didn't want to make this a 4 parter :P This scene took me much longer to write than I had expected, but over all I think it worked out quite well
Which is good as it might be awhile till the next BNAD Scene as I need to finish a Vanishing Point chapter, and then I might start my Suikoden V AU fic. But I'll return to BNAD worry not. Miakis will be taking a back seat to Lyon for quite a bit - I still love her, but she's had quite a run - but actually the Prince and company themselves will take a rest next scene. Next scene, if all goes as planned, will be a tad more serious - Sialeeds, Lucretia, Arshtat - and the Sun Rune.
Be there, or the holly elf gets it! ;)