Let Justice Be Done
All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Gundam Seed/Gundam Seed: Destiny. They belong to their respective creators, owners, licensees.
Border of Orb Union and the Kingdom of Plants, Disputed Region
The horses' feet dug into the damp, dark earth with each step they took. Small chunks of dirt and grass were kicked up in their wake as they pulled along a drab looking carriage, ignorant of the war that raged on around them. The blond haired driver's gloved hands gripped the reins tighter as wary eyes darted around, searching for any sign of an attack.
This was disputed territory and the chance of them crossing paths with one of their own was rare. Silently, the driver cursed himself for not being more careful. He should've known which way to take in order to return to Plants – to the safety of Zaft within its heartland. Instead, he was thrown off by a fork in the road, simply because the sign had been broken from some earlier skirmish.
Lord Zala would have his head if he didn't return to the estate safely. All the love Lord Zala bared for his old friend would mean nothing if his trusted driver failed to bring home Lady Zala safely.
Beside him, an orange haired guard assigned to the small party was scratching his head as he looked down at a worn map in his hands. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out where they were exactly.
"Miguel, Rusty," a voice said within the carriage. "How much further until the border?" It was a sweet voice, curious and almost childlike in its innocence, yet, the question gave away the owner's true thoughts.
"My lady, how did you know we are heading towards the border?" Miguel asked, barely glancing over his shoulder as he continued to steer the four horses forward.
"Because we have crossed over into Orb territory, Miguel," she replied, somewhat amused. "Back, at that fork in the road, if I am not mistaken. Am I correct?"
Rusty let out a heavy breath, sincerely wishing she wasn't. "Unfortunately, my lady, you are. How did you know?"
"It has been a while…we should've reached a border town or village already," the woman within the carriage replied thoughtfully. Her eyebrows furrowed. "Perhaps we should turn back?"
The two men sitting at the front of the carriage exchanged looks. Rusty gave the driver a conceding nod of his head. "I'm starting to believe that would be the best choice, my lady," Miguel replied in a low voice. "As soon as the road widens, I shall turn the horses back."
"Take care not to cross paths with the Orb military, Miguel. We are in disputed territory and basically unarmed." Another voice spoke from the carriage and Miguel nodded, almost miserably.
While they were armed to an extend, the driver doubted that the saber at his side and one armed body guard could fend off a squad of Orb soldiers. As skilled as Rusty was, he had never seen true battle, having been stationed at the Zala Estate. It would be too difficult, if not impossible, to escape seasoned Orb soldiers. Worse still if they ran into one of the Haumea Elite; Orb's premier all female troop of warriors. They had heard that the Haumea Elite were stationed at the most dangerous areas of the war and couldn't help but feel that they would be in the area they were in now.
"I will take care, Master Asuka." Miguel replied. The horses continued on their way. Within the bouncing carriage, a little girl sat beside a well dressed woman with long pink hair. A star shaped pin held her bangs back as she fidgeted with the new ring on her finger, despite herself. The seal of the Zala family was placed on the top, flanked by two red stones. She took comfort in touching it, as if to reassure herself she would be safe at home soon.
She wanted to return to the estate. Her husband would be waiting for her, no doubt. She had taken it upon herself to go and assist the Asukas in delivery of supplies to a small Plants town ravaged by the on-going war. He had told her time and time again not to leave the safety of the Zaft region, especially while he was away in the front lines, but no…she wanted to help.
She wanted to help her people, just like her husband and her cousin, Plant's esteemed Princess. So, when Master Asuka and his wife were preparing to leave with supplies, she insisted to joining them. She swore the servants to silence and ordered their driver to find their most common looking, yet trustworthy carriage, and take them to the border town that needed aid. She had even dragged along one of the guards. Rusty was a talented guard, judged by her own husband, but he was still only one guard.
Now, she wondered if it was a good idea to come along in the first place. Blue eyes glanced down at the sleeping girl beside her. Thick brown hair was pulled into two braids on either side of her hair as she leaned against the noblewoman's lavender and white clad shoulder, happily dreaming. Across from them, the child's parents sat patiently.
The Asukas had been hesitant to allow their much valued Lady Meer to accompany them, but they could not refuse her orders. As such, young Mayu was brought a long as well, as she would one day serve under Lady Meer. The delivery of supplies had gone without any problems. It was the return to Zaft and the Zala Estate that now posed an issue.
"The road is widening." Miguel smiled to himself as he let out a breath of relief. "We should have enough room to turn around, soon, Lady Meer."
Within the carriage, the woman let out her own breath of relief and untangled her hands from her skirt. She gave a wide, reassuring smile to the man and woman across from her. Suddenly, the carriage came to a sudden halt. Meer's body jerked forward as her eyes darted to the window. Why did they stop? Was he turning the carriage around?
"Miguel?" she called out carefully. "Rusty?"
"My lady, please remain in the carriage." She recognized the redhead's voice, but also the concern and warning laced in it. His voice was low, caution filled plea. Curiously, the older man in the carriage leaned towards his window and brushed aside the thick red curtains, only to drop them as if they had burned him.
Meer's eyes met his questioningly as she felt her stomach begin to churn. Something was wrong. She could almost taste it in the air. "Sir…?" She didn't even realize she was whispering.
Eyes filled with sudden worry met hers. "A check point, my lady…" the man replied in a wavering voice. His hand reached down and cupped that of his wife's beside him.
The noblewoman swallowed the lump that had risen to her throat. Her voice was tentative, almost hesitant to ask. "Ours?" She already knew the answer.
Asuka's eyes lowered as he shook his head. "Orb's." Outside, they could hear voices speaking to their driver.
"This is disputed territory and blocked off to civilians," a man's voice said. "Please state where you are coming from and where you are going."
Within the carriage, Meer closed her eyes tightly. She held her breath as her arm wound around young Mayu's. Whether it was for the sleeping child's comfort of her own, she was not sure.
"We are just coming from visiting my lady's family and returning to our home village, sir," Rusty answered vaguely. "We took a wrong turn and were trying to find an area where we can turn the carriage around."
"Understandable, but we will still need to see your paper work," The soldier at the check point stated. "No civilians should've been able to enter this area without the approval of your village's magistrate."
Miguel cursed himself as he glanced over at Rusty. The lone guard seemed to be more composed, though not by much. At least half a dozen Orb soldiers were standing around them with more up ahead at a road block. Even worse - they had no paperwork to speak of. "I'm afraid we do not have any, sir."
The soldier standing before him frowned. "The reason?" A thousand plausible excuses ran through both men's minds, but nothing stood out as good enough. Then a voice pierced their silence.
"We were attacked by bandits!" Meer's voice broke through the tension. Her eyes widened, not realizing she had spoken until the Asukas' eyes were on her.
"Bandits?" The soldier looked to Miguel for confirmation and the blond driver nodded his head. "I see…regardless, we will have to do a routine check of your carriage. We'd like you to come down."
A knock on the door made Meer jump. "Will those within the carriage please exit for the routine check?" Another soldier asked. Panic filled her face as her eyes flew to the older man and woman across from her, as if asking what she should do.
The man gave her a nod of his head. "We will be coming out, good sir." He began to stand up and reach for the door. His hand gripped the handle and turned it downwards, unlatching it and allowing it to open freely. Two soldiers in drab gray and white uniforms awaited them just outside the door.
Meer couldn't help but shrink back against the cushions of the chair. A movement beside her reminded her that she was not sitting alone.
"What's going on? My lady…?" Mayu opened her eyes tiredly while raising her hand and rubbing her eyes with the back of it. She blinked and tilted her head questioningly to the side as she watched her mother be escorted out of the carriage by an Orb soldier.
"Young miss," A man with brown hair smiled kindly into the carriage as he beckoned her out. "We are sorry to disrupt your sleep, but we need to do a routine check of your carriage."
"Check…?" Mayu's eyebrows furrowed, but she stood up none-the-less. She could see her parents standing to the side, waiting for her and their Lady to exit. "Why a check?"
"Just to see if there is anything wrong with the carriage," the friendly looking man said. He put his hands under Mayu's arms and cheerfully lifted her out of the carriage. The still half asleep child giggled as she was carried a little further before being set down beside her parents. "Don't worry, we'll have you back inside and to your nap soon."
Her mother's hand immediately clamped on her arm as soon as the soldier looked away. She gave her daughter a silencing look and Mayu nodded without question. Rusty and Miguel joined them to the side as the soldiers began to look over the carriage.
Meer stood at the edge of the carriage door, about to take the offered hand of one of the soldiers to help her down when the soldier with the glasses standing beside her driver straightened up. His eyes were fixated on the road where Meer and her party had come from. Subconsciously, the noblewoman turned her head to see what he was looking at. She could hear the rapidly approaching horse footsteps before she actually saw them.
As she stepped out of the carriage, several soldiers on horseback rounded the bend, all lead by a lithe, white war horse. Seated on its back was a figure dressed in a maroon colored uniform beneath a dark purple riding cloak that hid the rest of their body from view. Thick, short golden hair seemed to stick out in all directions as the figure approached.
An aura of authority seemed or orate from the figure as a half dozen women in a similar uniform on horseback followed behind the one on the white horse. Colored bangs adorned the women's arms. One had a bright blue, but the rest were a vibrant, crimson red. The rider at the front of the group sat, disciplined, on the horse as a maroon sleeved arm came out from beneath the cloak and saluted the soldiers.
Across from Meer, Rusty and Miguel paled. The rider wore a red arm back with a gold crest of a lion's head.
At once, the soldiers around her offered their salutes to whom Meer guessed was their superior. Her suspicions were confirmed as the purple clad horseback rider brought their ride to a trotting halt before them. A blonde topped head gave the subordinates a sign of acknowledgement before they gave an order.
"Return to camp, sisters!" Meer's eyes widened as the realization sank in. Though deeper than normal and filled with authority that rivaled even her husband's, the superior's voice was not the voice of a man. The soldier on the horse was a woman. "I shall join you later."
"Yes, captain!" A series of female voices chorused their response and Meer, as well as her companions, watched as a half dozen young women in white and maroon walked their horses passed them, each giving a courteous bow to them as they watched.
"Officer Argyle, report on the situation." The first woman addressed the officer with the glasses.
"These are civilians who have gotten side tracked and accidentally entered the disputed area, Captain Athha. They lack the proper paper work so we are doing a check to make sure they are not carrying anything for Plant." Sai reported dutifully.
Captain Athha gave him a nod of her head. "Continue." She looked down at the six people standing to the side of the road. Amber eyes seemed to study them, as if assessing their story by doing so. Meer's eyes lowered to avoid her gaze.
The carriage was simple. Simple enough to be owned my civilian commoners, but it was also relatively old. The two younger men, the blond and the redhead, wore uniforms. One for a driver and the other one, more formal, though not completely military. Her eyes settled on the swords at their sides. She raised an eyebrow curiously.
Her eyes then drifted to the older man, woman, and the girl who seemed to be their child lodged between them. They were dressed rather simply. However, the pink haired woman… Amber eyes settled on the gold ring on the young woman's slender hand. She seemed to keep playing with it.
"The carriage is clear, Captain Athha!" The brown haired man who had carried Mayu out of the carriage reported. He walked around the back end of the carriage. "Shall we search the passengers now?"
The Captain never took her eyes off of the pink haired woman in the fine clothes. She didn't miss the panic that spread over the woman's face as the officer posed the question. Glancing at the other passengers, the Captain could see the same looks in their faces and her hunch was confirmed.
Before a soldier could reach the blond driver, the woman on horseback held her arm out to stop them. "That is not necessary, Officer Koenig. They simply civilians…" Her voice trailed off as a small smile tugged at the corners of her lips. Her eyes went to the driver. "I assume you were on course to turn back after getting lost?"
"Yes, mam…er…Captain!" Miguel nodded, grimacing as his voice was louder than necessary.
The blonde woman looked at her soldiers spread around the carriage. "Assist them in turning the carriage around," she ordered. She met the gaze of one of her men. "Tolle! Miriallia is already back at camp. Ask her for some water, bread, and butter for the travelers. It looks like rain and it will hinder their speed to the next town."
"Yes, Captain!" The brown haired man bowed his head and rushed off.
The Haumea Elite looked back at the dumbstruck passengers as her men lead the horses around. "I apologize for inconvenience. Please accept our meager food and water as thanks for your patience."
"Yes…of course, Captain." Asuka bowed his head, followed by his wife and the others. Meer lowered her head, occasionally glancing up to look back at the woman on horseback.
She no longer seemed as intimidating as she had when she first arrived, with her golden hair flying around her stern face. Now, she looked welcoming. As Meer and the others straightened up, the carriage was brought to a stop in front of them. One of the soldiers opened the door.
Meer was ushered inside first, followed by Mayu, her mother, and then her father. Rusty closed the door as Miguel climbed to the front of the carriage. As the female captain ordered her men back, she approached the driver's bench, still on horse back.
"When you get to the fork in the road, go right, to head north," she told the two men as they took their seats. Amber eyes met theirs confidently. "The road will continue, but splits into two. Both lead back to Plants."
Instantly, both men stiffened in their seats. Miguel's hand had frozen over the handle of his sword. The Captain didn't move from her spot beside them. "Now…Captain…why would we go to Plants?" Rusty chuckled, trying to ease the sudden tension.
The Captain smiled. "Because your lady within wears a ring bearing a seal of a noble house," she told them quietly. "And in Orb, we do not have noble houses."
"Captain! Here is the food and water as requested!" a voice said behind her.
She nodded, never taking her eyes away from the driver and the guard. "Like I was saying. Be careful." Her voice was serious. A small frown crossed her pink lips as her eyes narrowed. "Both paths lead back to Plants, but the shorter road, the one on the left, has had bandits plaguing it's stretch. For your safety, I suggest you go right. It is longer, but safer." She reached into a pocket of her coat and took out a small piece of parchment, sealed with a wax seal. She extended it to them expectantly.
"What is this?" Rusty eyed the parchment warily.
"Paperwork," she stated. "Take it. It has my seal. Should you be stopped by any more of our soldiers or warriors, show it to them and you will be allowed to pass. You must leave now, though. It is only good for another day."
Neither man took it from her hand. "Why?" Miguel asked, frowning. It was all too suspicious. She was a maroon clad Haumea Elite. One of the sharpest, most skilled warriors of Orb. She couldn't possibly have been so naïve as to believe them. She had even said she knew where they were from! Haumea Elite were known for wiping out entire armies with their small squads. Shouldn't they have been at least arrested by now?
The female captain looked at them seriously. "You may not be carrying civilians of Orb, but you still carry civilians," she told them sternly. "This may be war, but I will not have the blood of innocent on myself or my troop. So, take this and go!" She grabbed Rusty's hand and pressed the parchment against his palm.
"Captain, the food?" Tolle finally reached her and the blonde captain turned her horse around. She reached down and gathered the water skin and the bag of food Tolle had offered her.
"Thank you, Officer Koenig. You may return to your post." As the brown haired man headed back, she lead her horse towards the window of the carriage, where Mayu had stuck her head out and was smiling.
"Thank you, captain!" Mayu beamed as she was handed the food. The blonde woman gave her a nod of her head and pulled her reins to the side. At the front of the carriage, Miguel snapped the reins and jerked them forward.
"Captain, wait!" The curtains moved and the pink haired noble woman stuck her head out of the window. She looked back at the blonde woman on the white horse as she tried to brush the long strands of hair that blew around her face. "What is your name!?" she called out.
"Athha!" The Captain smiled and gave her a small bow of her head. "Haumea Elite Captain Cagalli Yula Athha!"
"Plants? Cagalli, are you sure?" Wide blue eyes looked at the maroon dressed captain sitting across from her.
"Positive, Miriallia," Cagalli replied as she dipped her quill into a well-used ink well. She drew it across a sheet of paper, madly writing down her report for the day before she forgot. "The noblewoman with them wore a signet ring of a noble house. I recall seeing them before the war on visiting dignitaries."
The brown haired woman seated on the edge of her captain's modest cot rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Do you know which house?"
Cagalli shook her head. "No, but from the red stone on either side of the seal, I'm guessing she comes from one of the main houses."
"From Zaft, then," Miriallia concluded. Cagalli nodded. "Perhaps you did make the correct decision on this."
"I hope so," the blonde captain nodded. She signed the last sheet of her report and carelessly tossed her quill to the side. A wide, proud smile reached her still youthful face. "There! All done. And Kira said I never finish my reports on time!"
The other woman in the tent laughed as her eyes crinkled up. "Be sure to wave it in his face when he arrives later."
The blonde nodded and began cleaning up her make-shift desk. Cagalli and her twin brother may have been separated at birth, but once they were reunited at the start of the war, it was as if they never parted. In fact, Miriallia had met her now close friend through Kira, as they were both studying scholars at Orb's Haumea Temple.
Miriallia had come from a modest home in a town north of Orb's capital city, Onogoro. Years earlier, she had traveled to the capital to join the Haumea Elite, but much more was required of her than physical strength. Intelligence, statesmanship, even knowledge of the arts was a pre-requisite to the all female troop.
The then Captain of the Azure Seray, one of the five Seray that made up the Elite, was now their current elected Queen, Murrue Raimus. It was she who took Miriallia under her wing and guided her to the temple to study. Two years later, the young woman had been accepted into the sisterhood and entered the Azure Seray, which mainly focused on strategy and design.
The brunette looked over at the blonde. Cagalli was from a different background. Her twin brother's parents were from a humble background, but Cagalli's was different. Her father was a long time advisor to Orb's ruling council, lead by their Queen, an elected official who would take the throne until she retired and stepped down or passed on.
Cagalli's adopted mother once held Cagalli's position as Captain of the Rouge Seray, the division focusing on negotiations and political dealings between Orb and other countries. However, the former captain had passed on in an earlier war, when the neutral Orb Union was caught between Plants and the Atlantic Federation.
It seemed only natural and Cagalli rose through the ranks proudly, eventually taking her mother's place. Dubbed the "Lioness or Orb", a title she blushed at, she had been working painstakingly on negotiating with the encroaching Plants when the war erupted. It had devastated Cagalli and she had thrown herself into her position as a captain, giving the world her all in an attempt to bring peace back to her beloved Orb.
In one of the earliest battles, Cagalli met with a defense tactician on the front lines. He was a brown haired, purple eyed young man who had volunteered his services to try to end the war. His name was Kira and upon their return to Onogoro to report, Cagalli's father revealed the true nature of their relationship. Since then, the two have been almost inseparable.
"I wonder what's taking him so long," Cagalli frowned as she capped the ink well. "He was only supposed to deliver those defense plans you drew up to Fllay and return at sunset."
Almost inseparable. Miriallia stressed to herself. Captain Fllay Allster of the Chartreuse Seray was also the daughter of esteemed council advisor, though her division was the largest. They were a focused on defending the country and, aside from the Orb Military, were at the front of the battle. Aggressive and manipulative, Miriallia admitted to herself, Fllay was still a fine captain. After two years of war, Plants had still not gained any Orb land.
"Perhaps he wanted to spend a bit more time with her?" Miriallia suggested, already expecting Cagalli's reaction.
Immediately, the blonde wrinkled her nose in disgust at the thought. "Need I remind you that he is my brother and she is…Fllay?" Cagalli scowled. Miriallia chuckled. While not outrightly affecting their work, Cagalli and Fllay had a mutual dislike for each other. Fllay thought Cagalli was too idealistic and forgiving; a weakness in the Haumea Elite who only got so far because of her mother. Cagalli simply thought Fllay was an arrogant, manipulative whore.
The fact that Cagalli believed Fllay was somehow manipulating her precious brother also served to heighten that dislike. Despite that, she did give her respect to Fllay and kept her more vehement opinions to herself in the presence of Fllay's friends and their peers.
"I'm sure he'll be back soon," Miriallia assured her. "Are you worried about your brother?"
"Who wouldn't be?" Cagalli admitted. Her eyes glanced towards the closed flap of her tent warily. She leaned forward and spoke in a lower voice. "A group of Plants civilians managed to somehow end up at our doorstep, Milly. It makes it much more possible that soldiers might have infiltrated us, as well."
The brunette tilted her head to the side questioningly. "You didn't seem too worried with the civilians."
"They were safe…and I will not risk the wrath of any Zaft noble house because we held one of their own against her will." Cagalli informed her.
Miriallia let out a heavy breath. "If Fllay finds out-"
"Fllay will not find out," Cagalli frowned sternly. "They were innocent people and I will not harm innocent people. I am Haumea Elite, not a butcher. I practice tolerance and mercy, not hate and slaughter, regardless of the war around us. What good would it have done to keep them here? If Plants' Zaft hears of that, they'd throw their entire selves into the war and that is not something I wish to risk."
"I see…" The other woman nodded. "You sent them back as a sign that you wish for peace."
Cagalli rolled her eyes. "You make it sound so idealistically naïve, Miriallia."
"It is also better than retaining them or killing them," Cagalli assured her. She leaned back against her chair and crossed her arms. "And I repeat, Fllay will not find out."
"Find out what?" A male voice came from the outside of the tent and Cagalli sat up straight tin her chair. Two sets of eyes darted to the entrance as the overhanging flap moved to the side. An arm pushed it away as a young man stepped into the dimly lit room. "Captain Athha, Lt. Haww." The purple eyed man gave them both a respectful bow of his head before shifting into a more casual position. "What are you two talking about?"
"Nothing!" Cagalli said as she stood up at the sight of her brother. "And what took you so long? You're soaked!"
"Oh…" Kira blushed sheepishly as he held his rain drenched arms out. "Yeah, Fllay…I mean, Captain Allster, wanted me to stay at her camp for the night since it was raining, but I thought I'd be best to return in case you needed anything."
Cagalli shook her head and tossed her brother a towel that had been lying at the foot of her cot. "I was beginning to wonder if you were coming back or not. I need to speak to you and Miriallia about strengthening our defenses."
"In this region?" Kira's eyebrows furrowed as he ran the towel through his hair. "Why?"
"We were infiltrated," Miriallia told him. Cagalli shot a glare over her shoulder and Miriallia shrugged meakly. "Well, it is the truth."
"Infiltrated by whom?" Kira frowned as he lowered the towel and stared at his sister questioningly.
Cagalli let out a heavy breath. "Don't be angry," she began. Kira internally winced. He hated it when she began an explanation with that sentence. "Plants civilians accidentally wandered into the area."
"What!?" Kira's large purple eyes widened. "When!? Where did this happen!? Who was with them!?"
"One question at a time!" Cagalli frowned. Her eyes narrowed as she stood proudly in front of her brother. "And keep your voice down! The soldiers and other Elite don't know!"
Kira remained frowning and took the seat his sister had vacated. "What happened, Cagalli?" His sister took a deep breath and began to explain what had awaited her upon her arrival at the camp. At the end of the tale, Kira looked at her, concerned. "Was that a wise thing to do?"
"What did you want me to do? Behead them then and there?" Cagalli snapped. "All of them were scared stiff at the sight of me and the others! All they wanted to do was leave!"
"They might see it as a weakness." Kira argued.
"Or mutual respect," Cagalli frowned. "Do not forget that Zaft's Red Knights spared Orb civilians who were in their territory at the start of the war."
Kira lowered her head. If the Haumea Elite were feared by Plants' soldiers, than the Red Knights were feared by Orb's. He had seen them collide on the battle field just once before, with devastating results. Kira was sure that had it been anyone other than his childhood schoolmate who had been in charge at the time, the civilians would not have been spared.
"I understand, Cagalli…but we're deep in the war now," Kira told her as he lifted his head to meet her eyes. "This does, however, explain the tracks at the fork in the road I saw when returning from Fllay's."
Cagalli let out a breath of relief. While her brother may not have agreed on her, admittedly, too idealistic approach, at least he understood. "I told them to take the long road. They should be in Plants by now."
"Unless their wheel broke off," Kira mused thoughtfully. Cagalli gave him a questioning look and he elaborated. "Ah…I saw the tracks and one wheel track was off. They'll probably have to pull over to fix it."
"That's too bad, they'll be caught in the rain," Miriallia frowned sympathetically. "And they had a little girl with them, too."
"Don't worry," Kira smiled brightly. "The tracks lead through the left road, so it's shorter."
Cagalli's eyes widened as her head shot up. "What!?" Her slightly sun tanned face paled. Without bothering to hear her brother question her sudden concern, she turned around and grabbed the dark purple riding cloak she had tossed across her cot.
"Cagalli?" The blonde fastened it over her shoulders as she marched towards the exit. She snatched the sword that hung on the wall as she passed it. Kira looked at Miriallia questioningly.
A look of concern was on the blue eyed woman's face as she scrambled after the captain. "Cagalli! Cagalli, wait! Don't be rash!"
"Those bandits have killed everyone who went through that road! All we've found are bodies!" Cagalli shouted as she tossed aside the flap of her tent and stalked out into the rain. Urgently, she called for one of the soldiers informally. "Sai! Sai, bring me Strike!"
"Cagalli, wait!" Kira ran after her. "Where are you going!?"
"Where do you think I'm going, Kira?" Cagalli replied as she fastened her sword to her back.
"Cagalli, you can't just go off alone!" Miriallia said. Frantic blue eyes searched the camp. "Tolle! Tolle! Bring me Archangel!"
"I'm going ahead!" Cagalli shouted as the soldier with the glasses brought her the horse. She easily mounted the creature and gripped the reins. "I'll be back by morning!"
"Cagalli!" She ignored her brother's cries as she turned her horse to the side and galloped away, her cloak disappearing in the haze of rain around them. "Why is she so impulsive!?" Kira sighed. He looked towards Sai as Tolle brought Miriallia's white mare forward. Kira ran a hand through his hair and let out a heavy breath. His eyes narrowed with determination. "Bring me Freedom!"
"Are you cold, Mayu?" The middle aged woman huddled closer to her daughter as they sat within the confines of the carriage. Their clothes had been soaked by rain, having stepped out of the carriage while Miguel and Rusty fixed the broken wheel. Upon the Asukas insistence, Meer had remained dry within. Her traveling cloak was now wrapped around a shivering Mayu.
"I apologize for this, my lady, sir, madam," Miguel apologized for the third or forth time since they had started moving again. "I should've checked the wheels earlier." Meer looked towards the window to her left. The curtains had been drawn closed, though she knew what lay outside. The sun had set already, but it had grown darker earlier, as thick storm clouds gathered over head before drenching them. Now, the steady sound of rain against the carriage roof beat along with the horses' footsteps and the bounce of the carriage.
"It is not your fault, Miguel," Asuka assured him through the window. "I felt an oddity with the wheel even before we reached the check point. I should've said something."
"The time we lost fixing the wheel will be made up, though," Rusty assured the group. "We did take the shorter route."
Sitting on the bench across from the family, Meer fidgeted with her ring once more. "Are you sure it is safe to do so?" She had been questioning their choice since they made it. "I thought I heard Captain Athha said the longer road was safer."
The driver and the guard exchanged looks. So, Meer had over heard their conversation with the Orb Captain. "Forgive us, my lady, but we found it too suspicious to take." Miguel told her.
"She may have discovered us and purposely suggested the other direction for the purposes of an ambush." Rusty added carefully.
"But, she didn't have us checked," Meer reminded them. "And she even brought us some food for our journey."
Mayu's father had tossed the water and bread to the side of the road when Meer wasn't looking. He, like the other two men, suspected that it was poisoned. After all, the seemingly generous and merciful blonde captain was still a Haumea Elite and he had heard of their prowess in war. They were more than a worthy match for their own Red Knights.
"Rest assured, Lady Meer," the older man told her kindly. "We are safe and will be back at the Zala Estate before Lord Zala returns from his foray in the south."
The young woman bit her lower lip, but returned a smile and nodded. While she hoped they would return safely, she knew that her newly wedded husband would already be there, seething that she disobeyed his orders and got herself in trouble.
"Do you think Lord Zala will be angry if he finds out you came with us?" Mayu asked quietly. She seemed to be growing sleepy and Meer couldn't blame her.
"Athrun will not be angry at you, Mayu." Meer smiled reassuringly at the girl. He will be angry at me.
Suddenly, a voice cried outside the carriage. A moment later, they were thrown to the sides as it jerked from side to side. Meer let out a scream as the parents across from her gathered a suddenly stunned Mayu against them.
"Miguel! Rusty!" Asuka shouted as he braced himself and his daughter, pinned between him and his wife, against the sides of the carriage. "What is going on out there!?" He demanded.
"Stay in the carriage!" Rusty's voice shouted before he ordered Miguel to quicken their speed. "Get us out of here!"
"Miguel! Rusty!" Meer gripped the sides of her seat, wide blue eyes looking towards the front of the carriage. "What is going on!?"
"We're under attack!" Miguel yelled from the outside. He leaned forward, peering through the torrent of rain as he gripped the reins firmly in his hands. Beside him, Rusty had unsheathed his sword as he stood up from the driver's bench.
"Attack!?" Mayu's mother gasped, horrified as she gathered Mayu against her.
"By who!?" her husband demanded as the carriage ran along erratically. Meer reached for the window and his eyes widened. "My lady, no!"
Pale hands grasped the edges of the fine curtains and pulled them aside. A scream echoed from within the carriage as came face to face with a sneering bandit on horseback. Asuka grabbed her hand and tore it away from the window. The carriage jerked once more, sharply, as a pained yell came from the front.
"Miguel!" Meer gasped.
Swearing, Rusty grabbed the reins to steady the horses as the blond driver fell back against the bench. An arrow had pierced through his upper left arm and blood oozed through the wound, on to his clothes. "Are you all right!?"
"Give me the reins!" Miguel ordered stubbornly. "I can still drive! Just get them away from us!"
Rusty handed the reins back to Miguel as the blond grabbed them with his good arm. He wound the leather reins against his wrist as Rusty climbed to the side of the carriage and engaged the nearest bandit on horse back. As the rain and haze began to clear around them, he could make out the six or seven horse back bodies approaching them from behind. Swinging his sword, he managed to strike the bandit, sending him tumbling to the ground, trampled beneath the wheels of the carriage.
"One down…" Rusty murmured to himself. He heard a thump above him and looked up. Another was on the roof, eyeing the back of Miguel's head. "Miguel!"
The blond looked over his short and ducked, just as a sword swung down. He could feel the edge of the blade scrap the back of his neck. "Rusty, do something! I can't drive like this!"
"I'm trying!" Rusty argued as he climbed upwards. He braced himself on top of the carriage roof, barely ducking fast enough to avoid an arrow that flew towards him.
All around him, he could hear orders being given from one bandit to the other. His stomach twisted as dread swept over him. Something was wrong. Why didn't they just descend upon the carriage all at once? What were they waiting for?
A clean sweep of his sword sent the bandit on the roof flying to the ground below. Quickly Rusty turned around, preparing to take on another opponent when he realized the bandits that had been chasing them had disappeared. Confusion etched his brow before a yell was heard from Miguel. He whirled around and barely braced himself as Miguel pulled back sharply on the reins.
Their eyes widened as the horses came to a sudden halt. Standing in front of them were a row of men, half on horse back, and all baring weapons. "It was a set up…" Miguel murmured as his eyes beheld the sight in front of them. "They chased us here…"
Rusty gripped the handle of his sword tightly. "Drive."
"What?" Miguel's eyes momentarily darted towards his comrade. "What are you talking about?" Carefully, Rusty climbed down the carriage. "Rusty!" Miguel suddenly understood his actions.
"I'll try to hold them off as long as I can. You drive through when you have the chance. Don't stop until you get to the estate, understand?"
"Rusty, are you mad? You don't stand a chance against them!" Miguel gasped, horrified at the idea.
"We don't have a choice," Rusty frowned. "Our first priority is to bring Lady Meer home safely. Do you understand?" Miguel's hands tightened on the reins.
"I understand." He whispered. The bandits attacked.
Rusty smiled sadly. "Good." He lifted his sword and ran forward. Within the carriage, Meer sat frozen in place, unable to keep herself from listening to the sounds of a skirmish just beyond their doors. Across from her, the middle aged woman was hugging her daughter against her, burying the child's head with a blanket in hopes of muffling the sounds of violence.
Beside the woman and child, the middle aged man reached under his seat. Meer's eyes widened. "Master Asuka, no!"
The man held the sword carefully and narrowed his eyes as he looked at it. It had been years since he fought, but somewhere, he was still a soldier. He looked across the carriage and gave the young noblewoman a bow of his head. "It is my duty and honor to protect you and my family, my lady."
"Master Asuka!" Meer's eyes shot to his wife, beseeching her to try to stop him. The woman's eyes were shut tight, tears streaming down her face. Meer's heart sank. She understood her husband's resolve. Tears came to Meer's eyes as one last whispered protest escaped her lips. "No…"
"Miguel will drive you back as soon as there is enough room to get through," the man said as he unsheathed his sword. His hand rose and gripped the door handle. Meer's hand shot out, trying to keep him from leaving the safety of the carriage, but he brushed it away gently. "Tell Shinn that I am proud of him and to keep his mother and sister safe."
"Master Asuka!" The door flew open and the man leapt out into the fray. Meer screamed, unsure of what else to do as she watched, paralyzed. Mud and dead leaves flew into the air as grunts and the clang of swords fought for dominance around them. Despite his skill, the man was no match for a half dozen blood thirsty bandits.
Without warning, the door on the other side of the carriage was suddenly ripped open. Meer screamed as a hand reached inside and grabbed the person nearest to the door – Mayu's mother. The woman screamed in horror as her daughter reached out for her. "Mother!"
"Mayu, stay with the Lady -" Meer screamed as blood splattered across the interior of the carriage, staining her dress and sticking to Mayu's pale, terrified face. The elder woman's words died at her throat as a knife slid the tender flesh of it all too easily.
"Mayu!" Meer reached across the carriage to grab the child and hide her behind her, only to have another bandit reach into the carriage and grab Meer's wrist. "Mayu!" She screamed, fighting against her captor as she caught sight of the girl's wide, blank eyes staring at the spot where her mother had been killed before them.
"My lady!" Miguel's shout cut through the sound of fighting as Meer was dragged out of the carriage violently. Her legs and arms flailed in the air as she fell to the muddy ground, yelling. Somewhere, she heard Rusty yell for Miguel to help her as Asuka's pained aguish echoed at the sight of his wife dead on the ground.
"A noblewoman!" one of the bandits yelled. "She wears a signet ring!"
"Search the carriage for anything of value!" another yelled. "Kill them all!"
"No!" Meer screamed. She could see Miguel trying to fight his way towards her, a broken arrow still protruding from his arm. A man was entering the carriage and panic surged through the noblewoman. "Mayu!"
"Get away from her!" A voice roared above them as a glimmer of a blade cut the bandit from shoulder and down, across his back. He whirled around, only to have his throat slit by a figure on horse back.
Purple. Meer could see a dark purple…and golden hair. Suddenly, she felt arms around her, lifting her up. "Come, my lady, we must get you back into the carriage!" Miguel was grimacing as he tried to lift her.
"Master Asuka? Rusty? Where are they!?" Meer gasped frantically. Her eyes darted around, searching for them. Her eyes settled on the bleeding old man hunched beside his wife. "Bring them back into the carriage!"
"But, my lady-"
"That is an order!" Meer cried out. She shoved him away and rushed to the fallen woman and bleeding man. As she bent down to try to lift the dead woman into the carriage, Rusty yelled for Miguel to get back on to his post.
"I'll help the captain!" he shouted.
Meer's head shot up as she heard the title. She turned around to look for their savior and felt a hot flash of pain across her abdomen. Her eyes widened as she looked down. The lavender colored dress was now quickly staining with red.
"Get in the carriage!" A gruff, female voice ordered. Meer saw a man fall beside her as a dismounted blonde rushed through and grabbed her elbow. Amber eyes settled on the wound. "Damn it!"
"My lady!" Rusty rushed forward, his eyes widening as he saw the wound.
The captain's head shot up and met the guard's. "Move the bodies to the side! Give me room!" She ordered.
Instinctively, Rusty followed her directions. His own arms were bleeding and he had a cut against his side, but he still moved Mayu's mother's body to the side as Master Asuka continued to cradle it in an almost catatonic state. As he gave the Orb woman room, he caught the sight of a frozen little girl sitting in on the bench. His eyes softened with worry. "Mayu…"
"Move!" The woman rushed into the carriage and laid Meer on the other seat. She ripped off her cloak and tore off a strip from the bottom. "Do not move! Stay as still as you can and keep pressure on the wound!" She said as she wound the cloth around Meer's mid-section. She looked over her shoulder at Rusty as she tied it. "Take her straight to a hospital! Military or otherwise! They need help!"
Rusty merely nodded. "Lady Meer…"
"Let me see your wound, sir!" The captain said as she turned to the middle aged man. He shook his head and slowly lifted it to meet her amber eyed gaze. The blonde woman paled. "Sir, please!"
"Thank you for your mercy, Captain Athha." He murmured as his body began to slump against the seat. "I wish to have met you under better circumstances."
"Sir! Sir!" She pushed forward and reached out, checking for a pulse on the man's neck with a blood and mud stained hand. "Sir…" Tears rimmed her eyes as she stared down at the man's empty eyes and slowly withdrew her hand. Outside, she could hear the rain return.
Rusty reached forward and closed the other man's eyes. Silently, the captain moved the rest of her cloak over the faces of the man and the woman he still held in his cold arms.
"Captain Athha," Meer called behind her. The captain closed her eyes tightly and forced herself to regain composure before turning around. "Thank you." A hand painted with red blood reached forward.
"It is Cagalli." The captain bowed her head without a word before she took the woman's hand. "I must let you be on your way," Cagalli said, straining to keep her voice leveled. She lifted her head and turned to the girl seated across from her. "Mayu, is it?"
The child's eyes rose slightly, though no word or emotion was heard or felt. "Her name is Mayu…" Meer whispered sadly as her eyes crinkled with tears.
Cagalli nodded and covered one of the child's hands with her own warm one. "I m afraid I must ask a large favor of you. Stay by your lady's side. If these bandages become soaked, you must take the rest of my cloak and replace them. Can you do that?"
Rusty and Meer both watched as the child slowly nodded her head. Cagalli smiled and squeezed the child's hand comfortingly. "Cagalli!" A voice shouted beyond the doors.
"I must go, now," Cagalli released both hands and climbed out of the carriage. She closed the door and walked towards the driver's bench at the front. "Take them straight to a hospital!"
Miguel nodded as he waited for his companion to close the other door and return to his seat. "Yes, captain!"
"Captain!" Rusty stood beside the carriage before climbing up. He stood up straight and saluted her. "Thank you!"
Cagalli nodded and stepped back. "Cagalli!?" A voice cried out as two figures on horseback reached them. Bodies of fallen bandits lay scattered around the carriage. "What happened here?!"
"What are you waiting for?!" Cagalli yelled as Rusty sat on the bench and eyed the new arrivals. "Go!"
Miguel snapped the rains and the carriage was off.
"Cagalli!" Kira jumped off his horse and rushed towards his sister. "What-"
"I was too late, Kira…" Cagalli said as she stared numbly after the retreating carriage. "I was too late."
"Lord Zala!" The doors to the study flew open and three men hunched over a desk, looking at a map looked up at the intruder. The silver haired man scowled as he eyed the servant.
"What do you think you're doing!? Didn't we tell you not to disturb us!?" he roared impatiently.
"Calm down, Yzak," the man beside him said as he held out his hand to silence him. Green eyes the shade of the richest emerald turned back to the servant. "What is it?"
"Lady Meer has returned!" the servant gasped breathlessly.
"That is no surprise, we expected her to return today-" Yzak began coldly.
"My lords! She has been wounded!" Yzak stiffened as the blue haired man with the green eyes paled.
"Why did you not say so immediately!?" the green eyed man demanded as he dropped the map in his hands. He swept past his companions and headed towards the door.
"Athrun!" the blond beside the Yzak called out.
"I must see to her first, Dearka," Athrun said as he rushed out of the study. He followed the scrambling servant. "It is it serious? What happened? How did it happen?"
"We are unsure, my lord. Rusty and Miguel, who were with Lady Meer, were taken away to report to Lord La Creuset as soon as Lady Meer was brought here." The servant reported.
Athrun frowned as they reached the double doors of his wife's room. One door was open and voices could be heard within. "As soon as they return, I wish to speak to them."
"Yes, my lord!" The servant bowed his head as he stood back and allowed his master to enter. Athrun wasted no time in approaching his wife.
"Meer?" He stiffened as he approached the bed. Even after she had been cleaned and her bandages replaced, he could still smell the offending blood around her. Pale skin had grown deathly whiter as sad eyes met his.
"Athrun…" A small smile reached her lips as she struggled to raise a hand to him.
"Meer, what happened?" Athrun asked as took a seat beside her, his hands gripping hers as he brought them to his lips. They were so cold. "Are you all right? Who did this to you?"
"I'm so happy…I can see you once more…" she whispered. Her voice was raspy and strained.
"Meer, don't say things like that," Athrun told her has he reached out with one hand and soothed her hair back. He offered her his best smile. "You'll be fine."
"I lost…too much…" she wheezed. "I wish…we could've been married…longer…" she smiled weakly and Athrun gave a small, pained chuckle.
"We have plenty of time, Meer."
"No, we do not…I will miss you...I have never loved another man more." Athrun gripped her hand tighter. This was not happening. They hadn't been married for more than a month! She couldn't be leaving him so soon! Meer smiled sadly. Her eyes began to water. "My only regret is leaving you alone…"
"Meer, I will get the best doctors. You will be fine! You!" He turned his head to the side and narrowed his eyes at the nearest servant. "Go fetch Lord Durandal!"
"It's too late…" Meer whispered, even as the servant ran out of the room. Her husband turned his attention back to her. "I love you…" she said once more. She struggled to breath "Athrun…"
"Yes, Meer?" He leaned closer to hear her.
Her tear filled eyes looked up at him, wanting her last image to be that of the man she had loved since she was a child. Darkness was fading in. "End this war…"
His eyes widened. "Meer?" She face relaxed. "Meer!?" He screamed. His hands shot down to her shoulders. "Meer!"
From the doorway, Dearka and Yzak stood silently as they watched. "Lord Joule, Sir Elsman," a voice said behind them. They turned around. A blond man with down cast eyes and an arm in a sling stood behind them. "I must speak to Lord Zala."
The tanned blond in the red uniform exchanged a silent look with the silver haired man. "I do not think now is the best time, Miguel." Dearka told him carefully.
"I have to tell him what happened." Miguel stated.
"Just tell us who is responsible for all of this," Yzak ordered. Miguel straightened up and met their eyes with hollowed ones.
"A Haumea Elite, sir," Miguel clenched his hand at his side. "Her name is Athha. Captain Cagalli Yula Athha."
"Athha…" a low voice said before them. The three men looked up to see Athrun standing there with a cold expression on his face. "I shall never forget that name."
Zala Estate, Zaft Region, Plants – 3 Years Later
He closed the door to the bedroom where the mute girl slept amongst rows and rows of stuffed animals and books. Sad green eyes lowered. Three years and she hadn't said a word. Nothing so much as a nod had come from Mayu since she returned to the estate that fateful day.
Athrun turned away from the room and began down the hall. The girl's silence had devastated her older brother. The blow was made even more painful by the fact that their parents had been taken away, as well.
"Lord Zala," a voice said behind him. Athrun turned around and acknowledged the servant. "Young Master Asuka is in the library."
"The library?" Athrun frowned as he raised a questioning eyebrow. He had returned to the estate from the Queen's palace late at night. "What is he doing up?"
"Waiting for you, my lord." The servant reported. Athrun nodded and dismissed the elderly man before turning around and heading back down the hall to the library where his ward and heir was said to be.
He opened one of the heavy double doors as silently as he could and peered inside. The fire was still going at the hearth and before it, a long red couch. Athrun could make out the top of spiky black hair against the fire. As he rounded the couch, he heard the sound of even breathing. Shinn was indeed asleep.
Smiling slightly, Athrun shook his head at the sleeping young man. Shinn had wanted to go with him to find out why the Queen had called for him so soon, but Athrun made him stay. He should've figured Shinn would try to wait up for him.
Turning around, headed towards the hearth and stopped before a pile of wood. He tossed in a few cut pieces and stood up to watch the fire devour them. Slowly, his eyes rose to the portrait above the fireplace. A lovely young woman with long pink hair and large blue eyes with a wide smile.
The first cousin of Queen Lacus had been his wife. Energetic and assertive, Meer had pursued him, even when there had been talks of and arranged marriage between him and the then Princess Lacus. Athrun smiled to himself. It had been quite an eventful courtship, with Meer doing everything she could to get his attention.
Three times she had asked him to marry him at her cousin's ball. Ever since we were children… Athrun thought to himself. While he was fond of her, he never really thought of marriage. Having gone away to a prestigious international academy as child and then diving into his studies at the Zaft Academy, he was left little time to think about his personal life.
It was when his father passed away years earlier that he gave marriage a thought and accepted Meer's third and final proposal. Then the war escalated and he was called to the front lines. In a rush wedding, he spent barely a day with her before riding off with his men to battle. When he returned, she died in his arms.
His lips pursed into a tight line. Advisor and Lord Durandal had just given a rousing speech about forgiveness and tolerance on the eve of their finalized peace treaty with the Orb Union, yet Athrun could not help but still feel the anger and resentment within. Perhaps it was not directed towards Orb herself, but to the woman who killed his wife. The woman who's name haunted his mind.
"Athrun?" A tired voice sounded behind him and the blue haired man turned around.
"Shinn…forgive me if I woke you." Athrun replied. Shinn shook his head.
"No, its fine," He said as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. "What did they say? What did Queen Lacus want?"
"Nothing you should be concerned about," Athrun assured him. "Just information on the peace treaty with Orb."
At the sound of the country, Shinn scowled. To him, Orb had taken away his mother, his father, and to some extent, his sister. To say that he resented the country was an understatement. "I had heard rumors at the Academy."
"What rumors?" Athrun asked curiously.
"That they want to marry off Plants nobleman to Orb noblewomen to ensure continuing relations and trade." Shinn frowned, obviously disapproving of the idea.
Athrun took a deep breath and mulled over his thoughts. Unfortunately, that was not a rumor. "If you are worried about being married off, I wouldn't let that happen." A small look of relief shone in Shinn's face before he nodded. "And Orb does not have noblewomen or noble houses."
"Then who would they marry?" Shinn asked.
Athrun paused for a moment, wondering what exactly Shinn's response would be. His own had been of utter shock at first, but slowly, he grew on the idea. Not because it would encourage good relations or peace, but because it would give him access to the Orb woman he sought on the battle field for three long years.
A.N. – Thank you for reading. This is my first Gundam fanfic. While I know this painfully long fist chapter lacked even the slightest Cagalli Athrun moment, and was OOC beyond belief, I still hope you enjoyed the story's set up. Terribly clichéd so far, it seems, but I hope it becomes more interesting as it goes on. Thank you again for reading!