Author's Notes:

It seems like over half of the fan fiction out there is alternate universe, so I want to say right from the start that this is NOT an alternate universe tale. I wrote this story to answer the mysteries surrounding Nick, Deanna, Hindel, and others in general, and in particular Nick's baffling behavior in Shining Force Gaiden I and II. Using clues in the games, I've put together what I think is the most likely answer. This story is consistent with Shining canon as far as I can see, and all my future fanfics will treat it as canon.

Constructive criticism is of course appreciated, and praise is actually of good use as well. I have plans for a follow-up to this story which will explore Deanna and Natasha's relationship and their growth as heroes, but there's not much point in my writing it if no one wants to read it. So if you liked this story and want to see more, let me know; otherwise I'll just move on to Shining the Holy Ark fanfics.

Technical Notes: The milleu of this fanfic and all the characters within are property of Sega. This story is set between Shining Force Gaiden I and II(Books 1 and 2 of Shining Force CD), more specifically on the proverbial dawn of SF Gaiden II.

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The King's Friends

basic plot and original dialogue(as seen in Shining Force Gaiden II and Shining Force CD) -

Hiroyuki Takahashi, Shugo Takahashi, and Hiroshi Kajiyama

additional plot and script - Martin III

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Yeesha caught up with him at the head of the stairs. Nick's stride was longer, but her nimble step allowed her to race up even the steepest staircase with no more than a swift kiss from the toe of her shoe hitting each step. "Nick!" she cried, practically running into him.

Nick sighed; he'd hope to avoid this sort of encounter. "Don't call me that. I'm the king now; it's important for the people to see me with respect."

"Forgive me, sire," she quickly amended with a bow. Her long hair caught the sunlight as she did so, reflecting it over her delicate features. She would capture the heart of some young man soon; Nick was sure of it. "Have I leave to speak?"

"Apparently so, since you've opened your mouth to ask me that," Nick answered crossly. "Just say it, Yeesha."

Yeesha nodded and raised comradely eyes to him. "You just said a moment ago that you're now king. Why have you delayed your coronation?"

"Dear Cypress is under invasion. I can't rest until she is free from Iom's shadow."

"'Rest'? It's a day's ceremony! Can't you let Mayfair handle the preparations for a few hours?"

"I want Mayfair to be at the coronation."

"Honestly, Nick, you're crazy! One second you argue from overdeveloped responsibility, the next you argue like a spoiled ch -"

Nick cut her off with a gesture. "You forget your place, Yeesha." His eyes were not angry, but they were hard. Yeesha took a step back from him. "Do so again, and it will be a public whipping."

She was frozen for a moment, stunned. Then she said in a weak voice, "Forgive me, sire." She ran from Prince Nicholas, her sobs echoing back to his ears.

There were guards standing nearby, so the Prince showed no reaction as he continued on his way to his private study. Once he had closed the door behind him, he let out a heavy sigh. His hands trembled.

Since she'd joined his liberation force, Yeesha had been behaving with increasing familiarity towards him. Things couldn't be that way anymore; he was to be King, and she a mere servant girl. Such behavior was inappropriate and offensive to the people he now governed. He only wished that he hadn't had to administer this lesson to her so harshly.

He turned his mind from the distraction of Yeesha and sat down at his vast mahogany desk, pulling out the two letters he had concealed in his royal tunic. One had arrived nearly a week ago; the other had just been delivered. He set them aside for the moment and meditated on the fight ahead.

"So, Iom," he said aloud, looking over the marble chess set upon the desk, "...the second stage of the game begins." He pushed one of the white pieces from the board. "You've lost Woldol, your queen. But in turn, you have the black king hemmed in... powerless..." He raised his stone arm to his face. "...crippled."

He looked over the arm bitterly. It had taken weeks, but his shoulder had grown the strength to lift the dead weight attached to it without soreness and pain. However, nothing could alleviate the discomfort of lying in bed with a stiff limb, or the intense humiliation of needing a servant to cut his steak up for him and a scribe to pen his letters for him.

"A difficult position to play from," he continued, musing over the chess board. "But I have my strategy in motion, Iom."

It was his father who had taught him this, to plan every war out from beginning to end, calculating the moves of each piece involved and manipulating them to one's end, so that victory would be assured before a single lance or blade had been drawn. Had Woldol openly opposed his father instead of treacherously murdering him, Nick had no doubt of who would have been the victor.

But it was done. And aside from his father, there was no one Nick would rather have as king than himself. So he'd played the game with a mastery that would have done his father proud, in one fell swoop liberating Cypress, avenging his father, and seizing the crown from his uncle. It was a pity that he'd had to kill him, but Nick's father had slain more than one man on his way to the throne.

The trouble was, an instant's mistake had drawn the game out to a second stage.

The Prince shifted in his chair and opened the more recent of the two letters. It was from Guardania.

"To his royal majesty, King Nicholas the Second of Cypress:

I've heard that you intend to leave behind the Sword of Hajya when you depart for Iom. I beg your highness, in the name of your comradeship with my son, to reconsider this foolishness! You saw for yourself when we battled Woldol that nothing could break Iom's power but the Sword. You have no chance of defeating Iom without it.

I also hear that you plan to leave in a mere two weeks. I can only hope that this letter reaches you before then. Guardiana's army certainly won't. If you leave so soon, your army will have to face Iom's without us. Is that what you want? Your highness came to us when you were under attack from Iom, and in your distress you aided us rather than yourself. You helped us when you were poor; helping you when we are rich is the least we can do in return.

Your highness is taking actions that are certain to lead to his death. I beg of you, heed my warning! We would be devastated to lose a friend as dear as you.

Your humble ally,

Luke of Guardiana"

Nick snorted with derision. Did Luke really think that Iom would let him reach his shrine with the Sword of Hajya and a restored arm? If the dark god's forces were that weak, he wouldn't have dared Nick to confront him after the defeat of Woldol. Bringing the sword along would just be an extra incentive for Iom to kill him before he could heal his arm, and take Hajya in the bargain. No, there was a better way. Let Iom take him to the shrine, thus restoring his arm, while someone else took care of the sword.

There was a pouding thunder of footsteps, followed by a knock at the door.

"Your highness? It's Gyan."

"Come in."

Gyan entered and closed the door behind him. "Prince Nicholas -"

"Please, Gyan. To you, I'll always be Nick."

"I just ran into Yeesha, Nick." He gave him a look. "Apparently she hates you."

Nick frowned. "I hadn't expected her to be so childish."

"Can you blame her? She's always been your servant, but you two played together as kids. She felt close to you."

"I know. It's my fault; I led her to think we'd always be friends. But she has to learn that the order of things has changed. A king can't have friends among his lessers."

"Really?" Gyan cocked his eye. "You seem to be getting pretty friendly with that young guard. What's her name? Nataya?"

"That's different," Nick answered, unfazed. "She and I are 'friends' in the way a king is 'friends' with his soldiers. Besides, the friendlier I am with her, the better she'll serve me."

"Ah. Are you and I 'friends' in this way, Nick?"

He looked up. "Why are you asking me something like that? You and I are true friends, and always will be. You're one of the few people I both trust and respect."

"Sorry. Bit of a malicious streak in me. So, who's the letter from?"

"Luke. He says I have to bring the Sword of Hajya."

Gyan chuckled. "Luke may be a renowned hero in Guardiana, but he's also a superstitious buffoon. Only the sword could injure Woldol? Hah! The rest of them were trembling too much at that overgrown scorpion to get in a decent attack. If only you'd let me have a go, I'd have shown Luke just who's invulnerable."

"You were injured," Nick put in. "I couldn't risk losing you."

"It was just a scratch," Gyan growled. "One little heal from Mayfair was all it took to make me good as new. It's Woldol you should have been concerned about."

"Better cautious than in mourning."

"Anyway, I'm glad you don't buy into Luke's mythological nonsense." He had begun reading over the letter. "Though he does have a point about Guardiana's army."

Nick shook his head. "We need to strike quickly - take them unawares."

"If you say so. I don't have your head for strategy."

Nick hated lying to Gyan, the one person he shared his lies with. Gyan had lied for him, telling the Guardianans that he'd come to help them against Woldol's forces, when really he'd simply been using them to win the crown from Edmond. It was a hopelessly transparent lie, but coming from Gyan they'd believed it. Now he was returning the favor by lying to him.

He had no choice; Gyan would never agree to him being captured. But that was the only way Iom would allow him to get near enough to restore his arm. Waiting for Guardiana would force Iom to strike at the capital of Cypress and kill him - they knew they couldn't overcome Guardiana and Cypress's combined forces.

While Gyan read over Luke's letter, Prince Nicholas looked back to the chess board. The next step was also up to Iom. He must be sweating blood after the power he'd given Woldol had been vanquished. That meant he'd try to steal the Sword of Hajya, and most likely would succeed.

Nick fingered the black queen. This was where Mayfair came into play. She, his pawn who had crossed the board. He got up and went to the door.

"Nick?"

"One moment, Gyan." He opened the door and called out, "Mayfair!"

Fortunately, she was within earshot, and came immediately. Her eyes, freed from the mask of blindness, shone like twin pools of water to a man lost in a desert. "Yes, Nick?"

"How are the guards?"

She grimaced, wrinkling her tiny delicate cheeks. "The girls are shaping up, but most of the boys are still nothing but trouble. They're a lovely bunch of kids, so I hate to say this, but I think we should give up on these junior squads."

He gave her an encouraging smile. "Cypress needs new blood, Mayfair. Keep working on them."

"If you say so, Nick," she said, returning his smile, "...then I'll keep trying."

As he closed the door, he heard Gyan say, "She's a perfectionist."

"Yes. Those kids are exceptional, and she's only had a few weeks to work on them. The castle will be in safe hands while we're gone."

He was very lucky to have Mayfair, he realized. She was an incredible woman. Like him, she'd lost her father to Woldol and been hunted like an animal in her own country, and had her sight stolen from her on top of that... yet, like him, she was not beaten. She'd fought to win back her country in spite of her handicap, and then risen to become a brilliant general. She was steadfast, courageous, and intelligent. Quite lovely, too. She would make a perfect queen.

Perhaps he would ask her to do just that, once this war was over and he had been crowned. It was hard to say if she'd say yes, but it was certainly worth a try.

Her part in the war was to recover the sword once it was stolen. She and her young force would most likely have to travel into the heart of Iom to do that, but that was just what Nick wanted, and he had no doubt that they would succeed. Her troops were vibrant and idealistic, not unlike the force he had led into Cypress years ago, and she was the most capable of leaders.

Once in Iom, they'd probably hear of his capture. Hindel, at least, would almost certainly let them know. Even if they didn't hear of it, by then the thrill of adventure would have seized them and they would come to his aid anyway.

Mayfair's force would bring the Sword of Hajya to him. The Iom army would be slowed from fighting them off, and if the time table went well Guardiana would arrive at that point. His arm and his sword restored to him, it would be a simple matter to dispatch Iom. Checkmate.

"You seem deep in thought, Nick."

"Huh? Oh, sorry Gyan. Just going over my strategy."

"I'm sure it's as solid as mithril, whatever it is. So what's this other letter?"

Nick picked it up and read aloud to him.

"To the new King of Cypress, his royal highness Nicholas the second:

I pray that your highness will recall an occasion of his youth, a rare instance where his father was required on a diplomatic visit to Iom and the court of the late King Aaron. While your father conducted his business, you passed the time with a tall, brown-haired boy your age, named Hindel. The two of you played at wrestling, chess, and a pretend game of your own making called 'assassin hunter.'

I have since become one of Iom's top generals. I hope you will remember, however, that even in play I was a man of honor, for at this moment I desperately need a favor from you.

My brother, a young sergeant named Deanna, has been sent on a mission to capture a village near Cypress's capital. Do not concern yourself with the purpose of this mission; I can say with confidence that it has no hope of success. To explain why, I must tell you about my brother. Please bear with me.

When Deanna was only four, our mother died, and our father responded by turning to whiskey. When that failed to drown his sorrow, he took his frustrations out on us. At first only I received his blows, but it wasn't long before he starting beating Deanna as well. These were not ordinary, disciplinary beatings, but unprovoked outpours of violence. I remember one time where Deanna lay in bed for three days, bruised and bloody. These beatings continued for two years, until I reached the legal age for challenging another to life-or-death combat. I challenged our father, and won. (Deanna still does not know I killed him. If you meet him, do not tell.)

I survived the years of abuse from my father. In many ways, Deanna did not. For almost as long as I can remember, Deanna has been nervous, meek, and withdrawn. The other boys all picked on him, even ones much smaller than him. He invariably responds by running in terror or cringing in a corner. He doesn't socialize; the other boys frighten him.

He shows no talent for improving himself. At sword fighting lessons, he trembled so much at his opponents that he kept dropping his sword. I had to train him myself in my free time, and even so he is a clumsy swordsman; he knows all the basic moves, but he lacks the killer's instinct needed to execute them properly. He always seems to do allright at wrestling, until his opponent gets him in a hold. Instead of breaking the hold as he was taught, he breaks into a fit of pathetic bawling and calling out, "Hindel, help me!" I am told he does this even when I'm nowhere around. The only sport he does even passably well at is sprinting; he has only to imagine a boy half his size coming after him, and he'll finish in the top three every time.

Words cannot describe how great an embarrassment my brother is to me. He even puts bracelets on his arms and wears his hair long, like a girl. He shunned the company of his own gender to chat and play dolls with the girls. The boys all ridicule Deanna for this; his name hadn't helped matters. Once I was entertaining an attractive woman, and she remarked on how kind I was to look after my poor sister. When I asked, 'What sister?', she answered, 'Her. The dear-mute girl in the corner. Isn't she your sister?'

In a final attempt to make a man out of him, I used my position to get him in the army as a sergeant. I thought it would drive him to prove himself, and also bring him a steady income.

Instead, it has only made things worse. His swordsmanship is as poor as ever. His own subordinates mock and ridicule him, and ignore his orders except when it pleases them. Even the girls poke fun at him now. Just last week he came home with a black eye and a bloody nose; two of his own men had beaten him up. Deanna had caught them poaching and tried to reprimand them, hoping to make me proud of him. When my king asked me how my brother was doing, I had to grit my teeth as I told him that I believed he would one day be as great a general as me. One of my fellow generals, Barbara, smirked at me as I said it. Somehow she'd found out.

When the King was considering who to send on the mission I spoke of, Barbara suggested my brother. King Warderer, not knowing of Deanna's colossal ineptitude, agreed.

Barbara told me in private that the fact that I hadn't had Warderer send Deanna off myself is proof that I am weak. More galling than her smug voice was the knowledge that she was right. Only Deanna's death can remove the shame he has brought upon our family.

Perhaps an honorable death is the most merciful way to end the pain he has faced since the unhappy day he was born. But the one thing which surpasses my disgust for Deanna is my love for him. I cannot let him die. If I cannot protect my own brother, than I am even more worthless than Deanna.

So please, when you capture my brother, let him live. Do this, and you will have every bit of aid against Warderer that I can give."

The letter went on, but Nick stopped there and looked up. "What do you think?"

"It's obviously a trick. How do you know it's even from Hindel?"

"I can't imagine one of Iom's court taking note of two boys playing at a diplomatic meeting."

"Even if it is him -"

"Understandable doubt," Nick cut in. "...but I have a good feeling that the Hindel I knew would not stoop to something so cheap. And the story of his brother is too much. The idea of a military officer so hopelessly incompetent is so ludicrous, even comical... Iom couldn't possibly have come up with it. My instincts are telling me that we have a genuine mole on our side.

"Don't get me wrong; I'm not relying on Hindel for my strategy. But it is nice to have a hidden advantage. Speaking of advantages, I'd better go review the troops." But as he put his left hand to the door, he suddenly stopped. "By the way, Gyan, why am I postponing the coronation? You insisted that it wait until after the war, but wouldn't tell me why."

Gyan grinned broadly. "You'll see. There'll be a surprise for you."

Nick said nothing as he opened the door and stepped outside of the study, but before leaving he turned and gave Gyan his blackest look. "I... HATE... surprises."

Gyan's grin grew, showing his massive teeth. "Awwww, the little prince doesn't like soopwises. Too bad."

After Nick stormed off to review troops, Gyan's grin drooped into a worried frown. "You're really going to hate this one," he muttered.

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The day of departure arrived. Nick stood outside the castle gate with Mayfair and Gyan at his side, carefully controlling the urge to rub at his stone arm. Now that the point of no return had arrived, he felt unsure of his plan. So much of it relied on Mayfair and her squad of youths. Nick had always ultimately relied upon one person, himself.

Relying on others was something he was just going to have to get used to. Now that he was king, there were sure to be a great many things that he'd have to depend on other people for. Other people... his friends.

They were his friends. Randolf, Claude, Sarah, Mayfair, Gyan... They loved him and served him blindly, without knowing who he was or what their real part was. A realization came upon him suddenly: he could not allow death to be his friends' reward for their trust. No matter what, he could not allow them to be captured with him. He would look for an escape route as they entered Iom, and when the trap was sprung he'd make sure that all of them ran. He silently swore to himself that not one of them would die on this mission.

Gyan broke in on his thoughts. "Prince Nicholas, if you are ready..."

He quickly nodded. "I am." His boots stepped smartly, turning to Mayfair. "Mayfair, remember, you're in charge while I'm gone."

Standing simply in her modest way, without the slightest smile or toss of the head, she answered, "You can count on me. The castle will be well protected during your absence." She softly stepped over to Gyan. "Take care of the Prince, Gyan, and look after yourself. Okay?"

He nodded. "Thanks. I'll be careful."

This was it. Prince Nicholas strode forth between the ranks of his army, holding his head so that they could get a glimpse of the noble determination on his face, and be inspired by that image in their struggle.

Once past, he turned to face them. "We must succeed... in order to achieve true peace. There is no other way!"

That was his entire war speech; he had learned that long speeches drove out whatever motivation the men might be feeling with boredom. As the troops' enthusiastic cheers attested, it was better to be short and inspired.

"Lower the drawbridge," Gyan's voice boomed.

It was done, and the Cypress army marched across with Nick at the lead, their steps thundering out Iom's doom. But their march was halted on the other side. It was Natasha and another of the junior guard.

Nick approached her. "Natasha, what's wrong?"

"Prince Nick, come quickly," she said in between gasps for breath. "We heard some screams coming from the cliffs, and when we arrived..."

The other guard, a centaur named Dawn, came forward. "This young man was lying there unconscious." She had a litter hitched onto herself, and upon it lay a teenager with torn clothes and streaks of blood all over his body. One leg seemed to be broken.

"Is he hurt?" Nick asked, pretending not to look at him. When Dawn nodded, he said, "Bring him to the castle and tend to his wounds."

"Yes, your highness."

Watching as she carried the young man back between the ranks of the army, he covertly whispered to Gyan, "It's Deanna."

"Hindel's brother? How do you know?"

"Trim the hair to male length, add a little robustness to the jaw, and you have Hindel's splitting image."

They were interrupted by a young throat being cleared behind him. "Ah, Prince Nick..." Natasha said awkwardly, "I, uh, guess it's time for you to... leave."

He turned back around to face her. Her eyes dropped down to study his boots. "Yes, I must be leaving. Don't be so glum. This battle was unavoidable, and it is for the good of Cypress." He put his left hand to her chin and raised her head up so he could look into her eyes. "Take care of things while I'm gone."

Once he'd stepped back from her, Natasha moved to allow the army to pass. As they marched off, Gyan stepped up to his side and said quietly, "I just thought of something. Maybe the trap isn't for you to trust Hindel. Maybe Deanna is really one of Iom's most powerful agents, and they sent him to take over the castle and steal the Sword of Hajya. The letter was to keep you from thinking of him as a serious threat."

Nick burst into laughter. "Oh, Gyan... sorry. But even when you try to think cleverly about strategy, you miss the point." He stifled his laughter to answer Gyan's growl. "Think about it, my friend. If we hadn't gotten that letter, how could we have even suspected that that young man was from Iom?" He chuckled. "No, Deanna's not one of Iom's most powerful agents, poised to destroy Cypress Castle. He's just Hindel's brother... and that's all that he'll ever likely amount to."

"Heh. You have a point. But still, shouldn't Mayfair know?"

"I'd rather not burden her mind with unnecessary information about traitors and their brothers. She has enough to worry about. Besides, it doesn't really matter whether or not she takes care of Deanna; all that matters is that Hindel believes the letter I sent him saying that Deanna is safe in my care."

"Of course. You're right."

"If there is any truth to Hindel's letter, there's no point in sparing poor Deanna a second's thought. Let's just hope that he recovers, for his brother's sake."

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Natasha tried to make herself head back to the castle, but over and over she found herself turning back to look at the departing Cypress army. She anxiously bit her lip, staring out after them.

A voice called out to her, "Don't worry. I'll take care of everything." It was General Mayfair's voice. She'd been almost like a mother to her these past few weeks, but even she couldn't understand what she was going through.

She heard Mayfair come to stand beside her, felt her strong, warm hand on her shoulder. "The Prince and his party will be fine," she said to Natasha with confidence. "They're stronger than you think. They'll be back, victorious."

Natasha nodded slightly. "Yes, they will." But that wasn't what worried her.

Even after Mayfair had left her alone, the same thought kept on running through her head. "Take care of things while I'm gone"? Is that all you want of me?

"Oh, Prince Nick," she whispered to the bright spring afternoon, "If you would but ask, I'd follow you to the ends of the world!"

END