Ed woke up with a pounding headache, and he lay there in bed for a few minutes, confused. Why did his head hurt so much? Why did he feel so strange? He was debating sitting up and seeing if Al or Major Armstrong were around, but a sob interrupted his thoughts and made him look about, spotting Amalda sitting in a chair near his bed.
"Amalda?" he said, surprised. What on earth was she doing in his room crying? "What's the matter?"
"I'm sorry, Ed," she said, sniffing and trying to stop crying. "I'd have stopped them if I'd known what they were going to do."
"Do? What are you—" At that, the memories came back to him: The bogus meeting, the events in the garden, and getting knocked out. The alchemy that he'd never seen before. The adoption, and then passing out from sheer exhaustion. "Do you know what it was they did?" he asked, glancing at the bandage on his hand.
She nodded. "It's an ancient alchemical binding. They've bound you to the land of Paxia to make certain you can't leave. My parents have adopted you, and when you are older, you will inherit the kingdom."
"But why?" Ed asked, mystified. "Why'd they…adopt me? Your parents already have you, and I don't see how they could want anyone else! Besides, I'm a terrible choice for a king!"
Amalda started sobbing again, burying her face in her knees. "Because I'm a girl! Paxian law states that a boy must inherit!"
"That's stupid!" Ed snapped as she got to her feet and started pacing. "Just because I'm a boy doesn't mean I'll be good at…whatever it is that kings do! We've got to tell your folks that they've made a mistake! I'd make a lousy king!"
She shook her head. "That's exactly what the Council wants, Ed. It's really the Council that rules now, and my father's only a figurehead. He doesn't really do much, and the Council likes its power," she told him. "I've been trying for ages to get the Priests to influence the Council to change the law, but the Council found out and they hurried the adoption through. They're the ones who suggested the adoption, and they're the ones who chose you. They wanted someone intelligent enough to think for himself if needed but can also take orders, without parents, and someone that the public would love. They'd need a stranger, who would feel off-balance here, and someone young enough to be impressionable. Also, they wanted someone who would feel ill at ease in diplomatic situations and would have to depend on others for advice. You have to admit that the description fits you."
"They'd have to know I wouldn't agree to anything like that!" Ed insisted.
"Why do you think they began everything when you were half-asleep and not expecting it?" she countered.
Ed stopped to think about that, and then looked around. "Where are Al and the Major?"
"They were escorted to the border this morning," she said, sounding upset again. "They've been told not to return."
"I didn't know about it until AFTER they were gone!" Amalda said, tears filling her eyes.
Ed's anger and worry deflated, leaving him feeling flat and tired. "I don't know what to do."
Amalda buried her face in a handkerchief and took a deep breath, obviously fighting for control. Ed understood that she was upset, but why the heck was she crying so much? If anyone had a reason to cry, then it was him! Then, he looked more closely at her, and he realized that there was more to her reaction than he understood. "Amalda? What's wrong?"
"What's right?" she snapped. "I've spent my entire life trying to be the perfect princess, one who would make a good queen! I've studied, and worked, and became a Priestess, and I've learned everything I could ever need to know--diplomacy, economics, history, politics--to rule! I've been an obedient and loving daughter, a princess the people could be proud of, and none of it made any difference! Just because I'm a girl, I'M NOT GOOD ENOUGH!" It was the frustration of years coming out, and a moment later, she dissolved into tears again. Ed was ready to pat her on the back in an effort to comfort her (however pointless that would be), but she got to her feet and started pacing, ranting about the pigheadedness of the Council, her parents' weakness, and the stupidity of the world in general. She stopped only when she snatched up a vase and hurled it into the fireplace, screeching with rage and frustration.
Ed stayed where he was, afraid to move and afraid to congratulate her on her impressive vocabulary of swear words. Where on Earth had a princess learned all of that? He wished he had a pencil and paper so he could write everything down to use for later. "Feel a little better?"
She sat back down in her chair and turned to face him. "Yes. Now that that's over with, we have to figure out what we're going to do."
"Yes," she said, giving a grim little smile. "You don't want to stay here for the rest of your life, do you?"
"But if it was an alchemical binding--" he stopped, not quite certain how that worked in Paxia. You could bind people to a place using an array, but had they drawn an array around the entire country to keep him in? "What can you tell me about that binding?"
"It's an old one," she said, leaning back in her chair. "Originally it was used to keep children from running away, so I guess that's about the same use it has now. A part of the person's body--usually hair, fingernails, lost teeth, and the like--has to be buried within the area that he's to be kept in. In your case, that would be the whole country, and I think they used your tonsils for the part to be buried. Identical arrays are set up at each of the four compass points on the borders of the area, and they are activated when an identical array is touched with the blood of the person to be bound."
Ed remembered the paper with the array that had been covered with his blood and the days of sore throats he'd had. Ick.
"The binding is in a state of flux for one hundred days and during that time, the person can't leave the area. It's sort of a settling-in period for the binding while it builds itself up, and the binding becomes final after the second binding. The second binding is done at the Central Temple here in the city. The person to be bound is taken there, placed on the altar, and they're cut so they'll bleed. A second array catches the blood and makes the binding permanent."
Ed blinked. From what Amalda described, they were using a highly-complicated alchemical work, but they had a bit of time in which to plan and possibly get away. "What happens if the binding isn't made permanent after one hundred days? What if you're late a couple days?"
"Then it doesn't work. The whole process will have to be done again."
Ed grinned. "That's perfect. All I have to do is avoid being cut on that day and that'll buy me enough time to get away."
Amalda shook her head. "How are you going to do that?"
Ed opened his mouth to answer and realized that he really couldn't do it. "Hmm."
"My point exactly, but I know who can help," she told him, smiling. "He and his family can hide you for a while, or at least until the binding collapses. Once that happens, you'll be able to leave and go back to Amestris."
Ed looked at her. "I'm not so certain I want to go back to Amestris," he said. "At least, I don't want to go back without getting even with those jerks on that council who set up this whole thing!"
"If you stick around to get revenge, then they may be able to do the whole process again," Amalda reminded him. "Count yourself lucky if you manage to get away."
He thought about this and saw that she was right. "Okay, so I can't pound those idiots into the ground. Oh, well, at least I can dream about it. Now, you said that I can hide with someone?"
"Yes, I just have to figure out a way to get you out of the palace and the city and to where he's staying at the moment," Amalda said thoughtfully. "They're probably going to be watching you pretty carefully, so we'll have to find some way to sneak you out without you being seen."
Ed grinned. That was more like it! "I'm really good at sneaking!"
Amalda returned the grin. "So is he. No one ever realizes he's there until he's already gone."
Ed whistled. "Pretty impressive, this guy. Who is he?"
Amalda's grin grew wider. "Merrick."
Major Armstrong and Al were furious, but the guards at the border would not allow them back into the country. Both of them were shocked beyond speech when they were told that any attempt to re-enter the country would be met with deadly force. Major Armstrong threatened to report this to his superiors in Amestris, and the guards answered that he could report away, just so long as they didn't try to come back to Paxia.
"What are we going to do, Major?" Al asked as they were forced onto a train going out of Paxia.
"I don't know," the major answered. "I don't know why we've been made to leave, I don't know why the Paxians are suddenly so unwelcoming, and I have no clue why they have decided to keep Edward with them."
"Brother would never choose to stay," Al assured him. "Not unless I could stay, too. The whole thing stinks."
"I agree with you, Alphonse," Armstrong told him. "We'll get to the bottom of this and we'll let Colonel Mustang know what's going on. We'll figure this out."
"We have to," Al said quietly. "For Ed's sake."
It was very late that night when Amalda came to Ed's room and woke him up. That day had been one of unending frustration for both of them. Amalda's parents had insisted that Ed call them "Mother" and "Father," which Ed had refused to do. Also, they insisted that Amalda defer to Ed, since he was now her brother, and as a male, was someone she should respect and defer to. Ed had told them both not to be ridiculous, if anyone there should defer to anybody, he should defer to her. After all, she was the princess. Then they started harping on how Ed was now a prince, the Crown Prince, no less, and as such he deserved respect from everyone. That infuriated him, so he told them in no uncertain terms to shut up. All that had accomplished was getting him sent to his room. It was a mixed blessing: it was boring in his room, but at least being sent to his room got him away from the king and queen. The day passed slowly, and he fell asleep, still dressed, soon after dark.
"What's going on?" Ed asked as Amalda woke him. "Amalda?"
"Merrick's here," she whispered. "Get up and get your coat. He has to get you out within the next hour, or we'll lose the chance."
Ed was on his feet in minutes and had his coat on, and in the dim light he could see Merrick next to Amalda. They were both grinning.
"So how are we getting out?" Ed whispered. He was thinking of the walls around the palace and all of the guards, not to mention the half a million servants that seemed to inhabit the place. Even in the city he wouldn't be safe since people would recognize him. He didn't see how they were going to do that.
Merrick's smile grew wider. "We'll get out while they're looking right at us," he said, taking out a rope and tying an end around his waist and Ed's. "We'll be going out over the roof and to the walls. Once we're in the city, we'll blend in. I have it arranged."
"I'm glad you do," Ed said, tugging at the rope to make sure the knot would hold. He wasn't so sure about going over the roof, but if it was the only way out...
"Good luck," Amalda said, giving Ed a hug. "I can't say that I hope to see you soon, but I hope everything will turn out well."
"Thanks," Ed said, returning the hug.
"I'll send you a message once we're safe," Merrick said, giving Amalda a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, sweet. I'll get him out and safe, and then I'll be back as soon as I can."
"I'll wait until you do," Amalda assured him. "Be careful, both of you."
Merrick led Ed out the window to the roof, and after that, the plan was a thing of absolute and heartbreaking beauty. Merrick had everything timed perfectly--the timing of the guards on their rounds, the timing and pacing of the servants still wandering about, and how he and Ed should move over the roofs and walls. Once they were in the city Merrick untied the rope and stowed it under his coat, pulling out instead a mask like those of the Brona's. Ed was so surprised that he stared at it stupidly until Merrick snapped at him to put it on. As Ed pulled it over his head he saw Merrick do the same with another mask, the same cat mask of the man that had kissed Amalda during the festival.
"You're one of the Brona?" Ed asked, surprised.
"Of course," Merrick said, grinning. "People tend to stay away from us, especially when we're wearing our masks. They find them scary."
"Does she know you're one of the Brona?"
If anything, Merrick's grin grew wider. "Course she does. Let's go."
With that, Merrick led Ed into the dark and hopefully away from Paxia and lifetime imprisonment.