Tale -596: Unknown Beginning
It had been quite some time since everyone had parted from one another. Beowulf and his beloved Reis had gone to the south, seeking to be away from Ivalice and spend their days together as much as they could. Mustadio and Construct 8 went to the north to keep themselves as secluded as possible from those who would be shocked at the sentient machine's existence.
One after another they left, with Rapha and Marach being the last. Meliadoul had stayed in Ivalice for some time, but left for nearby Valendia with Alma and Rad as per Ramza's wishes. As such, the only ones who were still around in Ivalice were Master Orlandeau, Alicia, Lavian, and Agrias. Ramza came and went as he pleased, seeing the three ladies with their sword master once every fortnight or so. However, this night would be the last time any of them would be in Ivalice.
It was autumn, rain beating down in torrents and sheets. Hardly anybody would be on the roads or the moors with weather this bad, and yet a cloaked rider atop a golden Chocobo pressed on through the downpour.
Despite the road nearly being unrecognizable and nigh-on obliterated because of the heavy rain, the rider hardly had any worries, having been through these roads time and time again over the years. Northern Zeltennia was mostly grassland with few cities, which helped this rider from being seen. Then again, it wasn't exactly like she had any worries as even inquisitors from the church never sought out dead people.
Separate from the road was a one-story house, lights in its windows clearly showing that it was inhabited and its residents were awake. That house was the rider's destination. Veering off the road, the Chocobo obeyed and went onto the grass which had some spots of mud spreading from the soil. Taking no heed to them, the rider merely went on its way until they could rest the bird in the barn.
Dismounting, the rider let down the hood of the cloak, revealing the face of a woman with long, blond hair done in a braid. Her Chocobo shook, trying to rid itself of the droplets of rain on its feathers.
"Ah! Damn, I just got out of the rain; even though I'm soaked already I don't need more of it."
The woman frowned at her Chocobo which preened its feathers nonchalantly. Returning her hood to its previous position, she stepped outside once more to go into the house. Surprisingly she found the door already open with a woman several years her junior leaning against the doorjamb.
"Agrias, looks like you made it."
"It's been awhile, Lavian."
The two women greeted each other casually, Lavian taking Agrias' soaked cloak and putting it on a hanger. Despite having worn her cloak, Agrias was soaked to the bone, her hair being sopping wet and her clothes felt like they'd never be dry again. With rain this heavy, she wouldn't be surprised if she saw her sword start rusting in the morning.
"Well, it looks like our dear big sister had a lovely trip." another woman, perhaps somewhat younger than Lavian, sitting at a table joked as she saw the proud Agrias wet as could be.
"Tch, I swear I will never go outside when it rains ever again." Agrias took off her boots, freeing herself from their highly uncomfortable, clammy confines, only to reveal wrinkly feet which earned her giggles from her two friends.
Agrias undid her braid, letting her long, lustrous hair spill freely to her waist. She was about ready to start removing her thoroughly wet clothes when Lavian pointed to a figure sitting in a dark corner that had been unnoticed until then.
"Don't mind me, I'm merely the minority."
"? Ramza?" Agrias quickly put her shirt back down "I thought you were out in Lionel, so why are you here?"
Ramza gave a sullen expression that wasn't something that was typical of him "The same reason you are, Agrias."
The room became of a more serious atmosphere, each one of its inhabitants knowing exactly why they were here on this rainy night.
Four years had passed since Ivalice's battles in the Lion War, and the battles of Ramza and his friends. Though everyone was all for leaving Ivalice, the one person they were certain would leave the soonest didn't. Of all the people to stay, the legendary Orlandeau, whose face was known far and wide, stayed in a place where he was thought of as dead. When asked why he merely answered:
"Because I'm too bloody old to be traveling, that's why."
Orlandeau decided to live out by the border to Valendia, spending his days in quiet retirement. Not too long afterward, he asked Agrias to be his apprentice, which shocked the young woman. Initially she had refused, but the old man's persistence was too much. For the next two years the pair had been regularly sparring for weeks on end. Agrias would have preferred the Lucavi to this beast of an old man who still had the spirit of a man a third his age. "Too bloody old", hah! That old man was just a lying coot.
However, it was about sixth months ago that his age finally caught up with him. Deciding he couldn't teach Agrias anymore, the old sword master sent her off to think about things. She had been near Gallion when she received a letter from Lavian a month ago. The great Thunder God Cid, once a deity amongst swordsman, had taken ill and was bedridden. Agrias rushed with all speed to the little farm house and had finally arrived here.
"How has he been faring lately?" Agrias had changed into a fresh pair of leggings and a shirt.
Alicia, who was normally the one looking after the old man, had nothing short of a look of grief.
"It's…it's not well. He barely sees and he spends more time asleep than awake. I think you made it just in time."
Agrias looked to Ramza, who had mostly been silent this entire time. He leaned against the wall, his hand toying with the hilt of that curved, foreign blade he so preferred.
"Have you spoken to him much?" she asked, not too keen on seeing the young man silent.
"Whenever I get the chance, but I don't have any rights to be by his side at this moment when the fact of the matter is I refused his invitation."
Agrias had known for some time that her master had asked Ramza first, though she couldn't understand why he would have. Perhaps it was a tinge of self-loathing, but she felt Ramza would have been more suited to succeed Orlandeaou.
Before Agrias could prod further, Lavian had come from the other room and looked to Agrias.
Agrias needed no further invitation. More than likely this would be the last night her master spent amongst the living. Giving Ramza a curt nod of her head, Agrias went to the back bedroom and stood in front of the door.
A few moments passed, nothing but the sound of rain pelting the house could be heard as time went by. An old, reedy voice then emanated from behind the door.
Agrias entered the room, her eyes not quite able to discern everything as the room was lit only by a single candle. However, she could see the figure of Orlandeau lying upon the bed. The old man turned his head, grinning.
"Well, sit down, darling." he gestured to the chair next to him.
Agrias did so, sitting proper. Her eyes now adjusted to the room, she couldn't help but be somewhat surprised by her master's appearance. Though his goatee and hair were the same, the rest of his body made sure no person could tell this was Thunder God Cid. A once proud, powerful frame was now no different than any other old man: withered, frail, and weak.
"C'mon now, don't give me that look. Be proud, like you always are"
Agrias jumped at his comment, though Orlandeaou was true. Not sitting straight and proud as she usually did, Agrias didn't seem like a Holy Knight but like a nervous granddaughter before her elder. Shaking her head, Agrias spoke.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be here sooner. Had I known this would happen, I never would have left."
"Ha ha ha, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. I kept telling those two dumb girls to leave for months and they still stuck around. Last thing I need is another young'n sticking around here needlessly." Agrias probably should have hit the old man, though with his current position she couldn't do much more than frown at him sourly.
He sighed, looking at Agrias in the dim light.
"What is it, master?"
"Come closer, I want to see your face."
She nodded and went to her knees, kneeling next to the bed. A weathered, wrinkled hand rose. Despite having seen countless battles and being covered in calluses, it caressed Agrias' face as gently as a grandfather. Orlandeau's eyes looked at her, despite his orbs having lost their sharpness, could make out the young woman in the dim light.
"Ahhhhh, my dear Agrias, you are so beautiful. Like a valkyrie who rode down from the heavens."
"You flatter me master. I am a knight, so beauty is of no concern to me."
"Nonsense, you will always be a woman before a knight. I'd never rest peacefully if I knew you were letting your youth and beauty waste away." needless to say, Agrias was somewhat red-faced at the thought of being womanly for a change.
"I'll… I don't know, maybe."
"Hehehe, that's my girl."
The old man turned his attention away from Agrias and towards a sheathed sword propped against the wall. It was rather plain, having no lavish adornments or gaudy metals upon hilt or sheath. Still, it was a blade that gave an aura of more magnificence than even the most splendid of swords.
"Agrias, fetch Excalibur."
She obeyed, leaving the old man for a brief moment as she retrieved the blade from its resting place. Sitting back upon the chair, Agrias offered Excalibur to Orlandeaou only to have him push it aside.
"No, it's yours."
"Wh-what!? But, I can't accept this. Excalibur is yours!"
"Tch," Orlandeau seemed almost insulted "that blade was merely in my possession; it's not like it's attached to me."
Orlandeau turned his head to Agrias, stopping any further protests. He waved his hand, making Agrias kneel at his side once more. Lifting his ancient, wrinkled hand, Orlandeau placed his palm upon her forehead.
"In the name of the blade, I declare that thee hath become only what the greatest of warriors may claim. Through trial and hardship, ye have attained a new plain of power. Agrias Oaks, discard Holy Knight and Sword Saint, I name thee Blessed Valkyrie."
With the end of the small ceremony, Agrias took Orlandeau's hand with both of her own. Her eyes glassy, Agrias bowed her head before her master.
"I'll…I'll stay. This is the only thing that I can do."
"…Thank you, Agrias."
Ramza didn't know how long it had been since Agrias went into Orlandeau's room. The rain didn't end though, coming down as hard as it hand when Agrias first went inside. Lavian had even replaced the candles in the lamps a few times as the hours went by.
"So Ramza, why exactly did you not stay in Valendia with Alma?" Alicia's query made him jump.
"Do you honestly expect me to just sit around all day while there's so much more out there?"
"Liar," Lavian said from the couch "I bet you can't stay in a place for more than three days."
Ramza, naturally, couldn't hide a secret worth a damn. Even went he went to Valendia to visit Alma, he only stayed for three days at the most. For some reason the thought of getting too comfortable terrified him and he'd often just keep wandering as much as possible.
"Lord, you are one dense boy, aren't you?" Alicia sighed.
"What are you talking about?"
"Apparently wandering around all the time during the war made you too used to having to leave places quickly. Now that no one's really looking for us anymore, you don't quite know what to do, right?"
Another thing Ramza couldn't do worth a damn was argue. It was true he was constantly on the move during the war and now that they were in times of peace, it seemed like he couldn't grow out of it. He would have liked to say he was doing the same thing he was years ago, but the fact of the matter he was really just being aimless.
The sound of a door opening got everyone's attention. Agrias walked in with her head hung low, clutching Excalibur tightly like an oversized doll. She didn't bother raising her head and responded in a cracked voice that was so unlike her.
Alicia and Lavian looked to one another, nodding before exiting the room. Ramza wasn't used to this atmosphere, not really being able to do anything besides watch at Agrias held Excalibur.
He didn't get her full name out. Before he got a chance, he felt her head buried in his shoulder as the sword she hung in her hand as her arms drooped limply at her sides. They stood there for a few minutes, neither saying nor doing anything else.
Ramza knew she was trying to hide it, but Agrias was shaking, her legs quaking like a small girl. This was no knight, not a valkyrie who could stand proudly without being fazed. No, this was just Agrias, a woman; a frail, ordinary woman who had lost someone she loved so dearly.
There was nothing he could say, so all that Ramza could do was stand there, letting her weep silent tears upon his shoulder.
Even two days after the storm, evidence of it still remained in the form of puddles and dew that clung to the grass like some sort of limpet. Sunny skies with white clouds had graced the country for the time being, though someone outside a farm house could care less.
Ramza was saddling up Boco, his packs loaded and his sword at his belt. Orlandeau had been buried the previous day, Agrias doing to duties of burying him herself. Ramza was surprised she hadn't shed a single tear during the whole thing, even when she placed her blade as her master's grave marker. He guessed what he had done the night before had been enough for her.
Ramza was readying to leave, seeing as Agrias, Lavian, and Alicia were all out at the moment. It was best he leave right now instead of letting them see him off.
Ramza jumped, seeing that Agrias was right next to the barn with her own Chocobo saddled as well. Excalibur was now properly sheathed and at her belt, something she still seemed a bit awkward about.
"How long have you…?"
"About a half-hour before you."
"I see." such a mediocre response earned him a glare. This of course was followed up by a query of Agrias'
"Why didn't you become Master's apprentice instead of me?"
That was definitely something Ramza had been thinking about a lot in the past few days. Regardless, it wasn't something he felt like answering.
"…I don't know, to this day I still don't know."
Agrias leaned against the barn door and crossed her arms.
"Master told me I should start acting more womanly," she was practically smirking "that's a tad ironic that he should do that and name me his official successor at the same time."
"You being womanly is a bit terrifying." Ramza said as he sat atop the saddle on Boco's back.
"What gives you that idea?"
Agrias approached Ramza and looked up at him, her yellow eyes betraying nothing.
"Could I…come with you?"
Ramza raised his brow at her and oddly, Agrias' expression had not changed despite the reaction.
"Er, any reason?"
"I traveled for a few months, but quite frankly I didn't like it. Being alone doesn't suit me at all. And quite frankly, it doesn't fit you either."
Ramza ruffled his shaggy, blond hair, thinking about what Agrias had asked of him. He sighed.
"I…I don't mind being on the road alone. But then again, having company would be welcome."
To that, he got one of Agrias' truly rare grins which caused him to do his own nervous one. The woman went atop her own chocobo, heading for the road with Ramza.
"So, what about Alicia and Lavian?"
"I told them to catch up to us in Valnain."
"What gives you the impression that's where we're headed?"
"Ramza, you need to go home.