Title: Sweetberries
Series: Yggdra Union
Character/Pairing: Yggdra, Duant. Implied Durant/Yggdra
Rating: PG, probs.
Summary: He thought back to the bittersweet taste of summer and a girl through the ages. Durant/Yggdra in varying shades of requitement.
A/N: This was mostly 1. To reconcile my utter frothing hatred for chapters 16 & 17 2. I wanted the pairing/interaction to exist 3. the comment when Durant finds the garden made me want to write it.

Any canon differences are artistic license.

The numbered spacings represent Durant's age at the time. (For reference: Yggdra is seven years younger than him)

52_flavours + 11. Your pretty blue eyes are just stained glass (old theme list) / 15 ) Bitter to taste, sweet in imagining (new theme list)

24.

Durant wrapped more bandages about his left arm. This was the last of their stores, but his wound had reopened, and he couldn't let it grow infected. His armor had been dented almost to be unrecognizable. A few of Milanor's flunkies had taken to 'fixing' it with hammers, and Durant cringed at each blow against metal. Their craftsmanship was entirely artless, and he could only imagine what kind of scrap metal his beloved breastplate was being turned into.

It'd been made for him upon his entrance to the noble knighthood. He'd always been a bit fond of it, even if he was not overly materialistic or sentimental. It was more the memories that went with it, rather than the armor itself.

Light caught her hair as she lifted the tent flap and came in. It was like a halo, a crown.

"Are you all right, Durant?"

"You shouldn't stay that close to the front line, Princess. Leon could've easily killed you."

"I won't die so easily, Durant," she said. "You need to be careful as well."

Some of his ribs had been broken in the assault. Each breath hurt now, and each breath, he remembered the feel of being slammed into the stone road, as clearly as if it was happening all over again. He'd thrown himself before her as a sacrifice, knowing very well he wouldn't win, but that he probably would not perish. If he did, it would be in the line of duty for their Princess.

He'd fallen immediately, leaving his knights in chaos at his falling. They were just as injured as he was. Kale had a broken arm, Jeeves, a punctured lung. They were in no state to march on, yet march on they would soon have to.

"You're bleeding," she said.

Durant looked down to see bright red stains at his side. Oddly enough, there was no pain. He felt it and found it wet, and yet strangely sticky.

"Did one of your wounds reopen?" she said. Concern tinged her voice and she frowned in concentration.

He reached to find an pouch he had kept. It was brown and of no particular value sentimental or otherwise; his mother had not stitched it for him, nor had it been a gift from a paramour. It had merely been for the sake of convenience.

"There is nothing to worry about."

He began to chuckle, but found it hurt his ribs enough that the laughter turned into a grimace and then coughing.

He held the berries out in his palm, his hand shaking from the pain.

Truly, it was a disgrace to be in this state before her. Still, he half-smiled through the pain to lessen the dishonor of his weakened conduct.

"I picked some of these, most were hurt in the fall, but two remained."

Sweetberries.

Her expression softened at the side of them, and she took them from him eagerly. She took only one, but popped it in her mouth and chewed with her mouth closed as if to savor the taste just a little longer.

"It's been such a long time since I had these...." She said once she had finished.

"They're your favorite," Durant said.

"You remembered?"

"Of course," Durant said.

And he remembered back to summers and Strawberries – the more common title of the Sweetberries. He thought back to the bittersweet taste of summer and a girl through the ages.

12.

He'd been on the brink of thirteen that summer. His first years as close as the taste of apples, crisp and juicy and warm.

Of the knights, he was perhaps the most well-read. His mother had almost thought he would take the path of a scholar given his deep interest in books, but the lance pulled harder. Thus it became the family joke. The sword may not be stronger than the pen, but the lance sure is!

Durant was a studious, serious boy who was prone to lingering too long on moral technicalities. He never indulged in the mischief that the boys his age reveled in, and coupled with his intelligence, this made him something of an outcast with most of the boys his age. Most, but not all. Richtor, the head scribe's son was just intelligent enough that they could discuss the works of Mallory from his bedside. Richtor was a pale, sickly boy two years his senior. He looked like a withering plant starving for sunshine with his colorless lashes and skeletal figure. Beside him, Durant looked the elder.

Richtor had wanted to be a knight as well, for many of the same reasons Durant had. The books of chivalry and knighthood were just as appealing to Richtor as they were to Durant. However, Durant had the advantage of having a father who was already a knight, as well as being as healthy as Richtor was sickly. Durant had never been sick a day in his life, Richtor had barely been healthy a day in his life.

They made a good pair, through their differences.

Durant's mother had been a lady-in-waiting to the queen when the good lady had been still with the living. He had always been this close to royalty, yet never quite reaching enough peerage to be anything more than a higher classed servant.
Still, Durant took pride in his service. He was not one of those revolutionaries who wanted to steal fire from heaven for himself. He had been taught every day since his birth that to give one's everything – passion, drive and eventually one's life to the royalty was the creed of a knight. It was a noble thing, and he embraced every ideal he could fine.

His mother was a fair, petite woman with deep blue eyes. That was the only trait to bind him to her, otherwise Durant would have entirely resembled his father. He was tall and skinny that summer, with bony shoulders that were on the verge of manhood while the rest of his body strove to catch up.

When he was younger the queen had been barren, it was late in her life that she born a child – a child that eventually was her downfall. She did not live long past the birth of Princess Yggdra, after the birth she withered into bone and dust and nothing.

But before the princess there had been two gold haired girls for a short period of time. Durant hadn't remembered them that well, for he had been young when they had disappeared and the queen had another gold haired child in their stead. But what he did remember was two vivid girls who were happy and full of life. Shortly before they disappeared, their mother died under mysterious circumstances. Documents were found hidden, a poison in her drink, a note that looked to be her hand, but sloped slightly too much.

And then those smiles disappeared and they became far more serious than their years. Not long after that, they simply were erased and no mention was made of them in the court or their mother.

But then that tragedy, that nameless horror was followed by the birth of the princess and the death of a queen; a balm and tearing at the wounds in one stride.

And she grew. She was five now, and was currently in a shy phase. The world of the court was big and frightening and there was always large velvet curtains and mother's dresses to hide behind.

But she could be coaxed out at times to wander in the courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard was a well-guarded patch of Sweetberries, her favorite fruit. They were originally a wild plant, one cultivated for the king's pastries alone. It was not that they were forbidden to commoners or lower-class members, merely that their worth was so much to grow that there was rarely anyone rich enough to spare for their own table.

That didn't mean that children didn't steal them in the night. The taste was tart, a bittersweet taste that was perfect within pies or sliced atop airy cakes. Despite their tangy aftertaste, it was often before morning the bushes would be bare. It was a good thing that the berries grew back quickly.

Durant himself had tasted them once in a pie his mother had saved him part of. From the queen's own table when she had still been alive. He watched over the Sweetberries, and sometimes read near them. He knew that he would never falter and give in to the temptation to steal them, and yet the prospect was tempting. To have something near him, within his grasp, to lay by it day by day... it proved that his will was stronger than his wants. But sometimes, he wanted to smell them. To imagine what they might feel like, dissolving in his mouth.

Today, however, he didn't sit back and read. He practiced as he did most every waking hour when he wasn't reading or working. Lancing was his life. Durant lifted his practice stick up and yelled "We fight for the king!". He beat back the invisible enemies with his invisible mighty steed and his invisible armor. He was still a page, and a long ways from doing anything but hauling armor and brushing horses, but already he could taste the glory, the nobleness of such a life.

Durant missed a blow and the stick toppled, he defeated by the invisible monster's wiles in the end. He'd have to train harder, at this rate he'd be a disgrace to the royal army.

A stick broke. He turned his head to see the origin.

She peeked out from a light pink Forsythia bush. Had it been the yellow variety, she might have vanished completely into the middle without a trace. Being the pink, she stood out against it.

"Princess?" Durant said. "Isn't your mother looking for you?"

She said nothing, head ducked. She reached out to the cage where the berries were held and her tiny stubby fingers just fell short of them.

"You want one," he stated.

She looked up at him, her blue eyes large, and expressive. They were the exact color of a cloudless day.

"Please?" she said.

It was a moral conundrum. It would be breaking a rule to steal them, and yet, she outclassed him and ignoring a request from her – even a wrong one – would be close to treason.

But she was so small, and her hand reaching out to the berries wasn't something he could just deny. He couldn't just send her back at this rate empty handed....and she did technically have every right to the berries.

"Very well then. But only one, otherwise the cook will notice."

"Two," she said.

"Two?"

"Two!" she exclaimed and held two tiny fingers up. "One for me and one for you."

He smiled. "All right. I'll bring two back."

Durant reached in past the wire, thankful that Sweetberries did not have thorns. She licked her lips as he brought back two of the red berries back without squishing them.

He dropped one into her palm and pressed the other into his mouth. It was more tart than he remembered on his first taste. She licked her lips again and gave an ahhh, almost the exact sound of someone's thirst being quenched. She smiled soft and said Thank you in a whisper before she skittered back off to a skirt to hide behind.

.

He was called later that day with a head captain and a very angry cook. Captain Frall was a stocky, yet a imposing man despite his lack of height. His brows were burshy and as unkempt as his mud colored hair. The cook himself was a man who was thin all over. Lank and think lipped, with a thick beard that often had foot caught in it. He was a short tempered man, perhaps because of the heat of the kitchens, perhaps because of certain children with sticky fingers constantly getting into his berry patches. He stared at Durant and seemed to radiate anger. Captain Frall, on the other hand, was perfectly calm. He came up to Durant with one arm behind his back in a way that was almost casual – deceptively so.

"Durant, did you steal the Sweetberries? Andre informs me that two are missing– Please answer truthfully."

"Of course he did!" Andre spat. "He always sits by the cage, just waiting for a chance to steal them away, I say!"

Technically, he had. It had been his that had plucked them away, and he reclined there often with a book in tow. He had no alibi, and he could not merely use the princess as an escape.

Durant swallowed back the excuses and took his fate. "I did. I am deeply sorry. Please forgive my impertinence."

"I'm disappointed in you, Durant," said Captain Frall, a man who he hoped in every way to become at that moment. There could be no worse punishment than this, other than being denied his knighthood.

Footsteps skittered across the hall as if tiny feet were running over it. The door caught, then opened to show a small figure, the princess herself.

"Nooo. You can't send Durant away!" she cried. "I-I'll ask papa!"

"Now calm down," Captain Frall said. "This is a serious matter, but I hardly think exile is in order over something as small as a

Andre snorted. "A thief like that in my day would've had his hands cut off–"

"But I asked him to!" she cried.

"Princess Yggdra?" Captain Frall queried. "Did Durant pick those on your behest?"

"I wanted Sweetberries and couldn't reach them..." She said. "I didn't mean to get Durant in trouble."

Durant was surprised, he hadn't thought she'd known his name or would defend him. In his current state, he was little better than a serving girl.

"Please don't be mad!" Princess Yggdra said. "Nursie Rio said that t-thee would be an execution!"

"Execution?" Captain Frall chuckled. "Perhaps some more chores, but there shouldn't be anything that serious."

Captain Frall cleared his throat. "I suppose such a thing could be excusable, if he was working on the orders of a princess. Still, we can't just let this slide..."

"I still took it, even on her orders," Durant said gravely. "Thus I..."

Captain Frall laughed and clapped his hand on Durant's shoulder. "You're far too technical, boy, but I like you. Taking the fall fora princess' orders of all things. It's just too much."

"But this can't go unpunished," Andre said as a bitter reminder. "That would've gone into precious ipies and cakes/I."

"Which would've gone to the princess and her Sweetberry habit, so it was about the same," Captain Frall said. "I suppose working off the debt incurred would be a fitting punishment, don't you think, Durant?"

Durant nodded slowly, half relieved to be off the metaphorical chopping block, but still anxious by the glares Andre was giving him.

"It looks like you'll be peeling potatoes for Andre for a long time."

.

Durant spent most of that month peeling potatoes and suffering Andre's horrific temper. More than once he came home with chapped, cut and burned hands, but this was his atonement and he took the abuse silently.

Yggdra opened up, or to be more precise, she opened up to ihim/I. He had proven himself in some

"You'll be my knight when you're big?" She said.

"Of course, Princess. I'll protect you with my life."

"Then carry me! Papa says I'm too old to play horsie anymore. You'll play horsie with me?" She asked with a certain frame of hope.

"Well, Andre may need me–"

"Please?" She said.

"I suppose a little bit won't hurt..."

She squealed with joy as he bent down to become her mighty steed. She threw her arms about his neck and he held her legs in check to keep them from dangling.

"Neigh," he said in his own passionless, dry nature.

"No, no, you've got to put more heart into it!"

"Neigh?" Durant said.

"Gallop, horsie!" She said.

And so he did, adding a flourish of a nicker. She giggled and held tight. For a second they were just that, knight a princess, a girl and her surrogate horse.

17.

He'd made a misjudgement that day. The armor of another teammate had blinded him (and considering it was Binkser, it could very well be more than an accident)

"Haha, nice show, Durant!" Binkser said.

Druant groaned and pushed himself up from the practice area. There was dirt and blood on his face, but it was nothing major. Scrapes and bruises, things that would hear in good time.

Binkser smirked. This sort of scene was not uncommon considering Durant was the favorite to take a commanding position under Captain Frall. Combined with his deep thoughtful attentions to the technicalities of moral standpoints and his intelligent ways, he was often the butt of other boy's jokes.

.

She was too old for games and long past her shyness. She was getting lady lessons now and walked often with thin volumes upon her head to increase her sense of balance. She did not cut the thread that connected them entirely, though Nursie Rio thought it best.

But then, he was to be her knight. One day he would protect her. It was forgivable in a sense. Princesses were things to be guarded (though Richtor referred to them as 'bargaining chips', a thing he and Richtor disagreed upon bitterly)

He couldn't imagine her being married off to some foreign prince upon her seventeenth birthday. There were rumors of her being married to Gulcasa to promote peace, a thing Durant could not quite accept. The King adored his daughter too much to ever hand her over to mere strangers.

Durant always felt a tinge of anger at those whispers, but then he had always been especially protective of her. It was only right for a knight to worry about his lady liege, after all.

She would run up to him now at any given opportunity, seemingly unaware of the balance of class between them. When she was small, it was forgivable, but now day by day it grew steadily uncomfortable. She would wait for him on courtyard corners for when he made his way home. Five years had passed and while he wasn't carrying her about as he once did, she still followed after him, smiling just as bright.

He'd once overheard a maid joke that the princess had a crush on him. It made him uneasy, like a treason slowly being committed over the years.

.

"You're late," Richtor said crossly.

"I sustained an injured on the practice field, though it was nothing serious," Durant replied.

"I see you fell," Richtor said. "Something gold catch your eye?"

"Sir Binkser's armor was poorly placed."

"Mistake indeed," Richtor said drolly..

In the time since their youth, Richtor had become skeletal. Every sickness of Fantasina had ravaged Richtor's body and left him completely bedridden for the past year.

"You're an idealist," Richtor spat. "You can't see the world for what it really is – the horrible truth of it all—"

"Richtor...I think the illness has colored your views of the world."

"Of course it has! I should've been riding with you! We should've been rivals and rode off together! But this, this..." Richtor dissolved into a fit of coughing. There was a red spot on the handkerchief, like the red of crushed berries.

"Leave!" Richtor commanded.

"Richtor..."

"I don't want you of all people to see me like this," Richtor said. His voice had gotten weaker.

"I'm sorry, but I can't." Durant said.

"Can't, or won't?" Richtor said.

"Both," Durant said.

"Damn you...." Richtor muttered. "It's the worst to be lifted up by you of all people...You're...the last one I wanted to see me this weak."

"You'd never let another take care of you," Durant said.

That was the last protest Richtor made as Durant carried him to the physician's hut. He was silent the rest of the way through.

22.

Richtor died before he saw his eighteenth birthday. Durant still visited his friend's grave often, though he never left anything but memories there. Richtor was allergic to flowers (besides, he would be infuriated to be given 'Pansies for pansies' as he would put it.)

But sometimes, when he was off duty, he read bits of Mallory at the side of the marker. They were not rich enough for a large marker, and what would they inscribe upon it? IHe lived a short life, and not half as much as he wanted/I? Because of that, it merely listed his birth date and death date, the years all in order.

Durant helped dig the grave and was a pallbearer. He'd thought that was something Richtor would've wanted, but perhaps he was being an idealist again.

.

The princess had in her time, turned into a young lady. She had thin, bird bones that looked as if they could break at the slightest of falls. He'd noticed with some irritation that some of the younger knights made comments on her beauty — some innocent, and some not. As he was now in a position of teaching, any comments were met with severe punishments. They'be on the worst manure duty he could assign them.

Captain Frall had told him once that at this rate, major division could be within his grasp. And Durant wanted nothing more. Wasn't that his dream? And the carrying on of Richtor's too?

Somehow it felt as if his aspirations had stretched, like a great oozing blob which had devoured the original intentions. He shook the thoughts free from his mind before they had a chance to settle. He made his way towards where he had been summoned some time earlier.

He came into another world of tapestries and woven rugs. It was a woman's world, one where soft fragrances wafted up from cachets kept in secret places.

"You called me, Princess?"

"Oh, there you are, Durant," she said. "Go on, sit down."

"Here, have a bite," she said. She cut her Sweetberry pie into a half and slipped the confection to the side. "I saved you a bit."

"Er, I couldn't," Durant began.

"But you love them too, don't you? Sweets are best when shared."

In the end, it was the look in her eyes that won him over. They were such a clear blue. He was reminded of looking up to stained glass windows, the light that shone through tuned the glass a lighter shade, a paler color than it had been before.

He bowed. "I accept. Thank you for your graciousness."

She smiled. "I'm glad."

"It's going to be my birthday soon," she said. "Papa's already making preparations."

"Fifteenth," Durant said. He nodded sagely and took a daring nibble of the confection.

"Nursie Rio was going to bring in someone to help me with my waltzing steps, but the partner she got is most rude. Your mother was a lady-in-waiting, did she teach you any steps?"

"I can waltz, passably," Durant said, albeit with hesitance. "However, are you sure don't think it's too improper.."

"Of course it's not. Why would it be?"

She looked up, innocent. She might as well have voiced the words that were so evident iWe grew up together. You're like a brother to me/i

Durant looked away from her, to the floor, the wall – any other object than her face that read all.

"Of course it wouldn't be," Durant said. "Merely that someone might misinterpret the scene if they came upon it."

She brushed that aside. "If anyone asks I'll merely tell them 'It's Durant' and that will settle everything."

"Of course...Princess," Durant said.

He was still taller than her, which made it some compromise, but he took her hand and held at her waist. She had grown from the girl who he stole berries for.

Who could control the whims of the heart? He was what tragic tales were made of, but he lacked the hubris to ever think of betraying his title and running off with the princess or to even besmirch her honor in the least way.

He kept the time and danced with her. Smooth, perfect ripples as they glided, he guided them across the floor. He could catch the scent that filled the room, what he had thought a cachet he now knew had been Liliac oil on her skin. one two three spin. Her hand was hot against his. He was aware of her, the slim curve of her waist, so much that he wished the dance had called for his arm to be at her shoulder – but then, he might have been too aware of the slope of that as well.

It was not the fault of the dance but of himself. He had failed her in her end, with his inability to keep impartial. Hadn't he committed a most grievous sin of a guardian? The worst treason imaginable?

As the dance came to a close, he looked at her and realized just how deep this betrayal went. He longed to touch her more, even, to kiss her. This was foolishness, the kind that would merely lead to his destruction, and yet...

"There was another step that I just can't seem to get," she said

"Forgive me," Durant said. "There is something I must attend to."

He broke away from her and all the things she was and could be. He left her looking on at him, alone in the makeshift dance floor, confused and quiet.

Durant did not look back.

Did she say his name as he left, after? Had he misread her implications?

He did not allow himself to linger on these questions.

24.

Durant's men fell about him. It was no matter of tactics for they were ambushed by axe users at night after losing all but one of their lanterns. It had been a massacre, with most of the knights falling before they could even get a fight in edgewise.

He hadn't been there during the coup that killed the king and most of the nobles in one fell swoop. He'd heard a few had changed their loyalty in exchange for their lives. It was such a shameful way for anyone to act, least of all royalty.

There was no end to the emperor Gulcasa's treacherous ways. Durant had heard the emperor had destroyed several of those traitors after he'd stolen their goods and razed what was left. Not only that, he wasn't merely content with leaving the razing to underlings; he felt the need for his scythe to taste blood too.

Durant thought of the innocents, and how his life would be the last as the knights of Fantasina fell for the last. He had failed the princess, even indirectly. They were being surrounded, steadily into the night. Even with day breaking near, there was little hope that the scant remains of his calvary could overtake the forces that surrounded him.

It was her that he thought of as he took that last charge, of what he thought to be the last of his life. Her, and Sweetberries and Richtor. The golden sunlight settling upon her as she read a book, Richtor as pale as death in his darkened rooms, and the taste of the tart berries on his tongue.

Being reigned to his fate, Durant didn't immediately see that the enemies that encircled him were falling, or that a pair was making their way to him. It was only when a silver

He knew it from sight, it must be the Silver Wolf,

"I'm here to return you something you've lost," the Silver Wolf said. He turned and saw her, and was speechless for a moment. She was mussed and dirty and worse for wear, though probably no worse than himself.

He was spattered with blood and wounded, but not wounded beyond repair. She looked as if she might hold more than a few bruises under those puffy sleeves of hers, but she carried it well.

"Durant!"

"Princess?! You're safe...."

His last charge was over, he'd been saved, and she, she'd lived after all.

Later on when they were eluding the pesky squad who had cornered his men and taken them out in the night – a most dishonorable time – and giving them a sound payback

He attempted to shepherd her off of the battlefield, only to find she'd grown more in the week she'd been missing than he'd thought possible. She held the holy sword with poise, even if she did seem to still stumble from its weight.

Even with that knowledge, he wasn't about to stop trying to protect her. It was his job to protect his liege, was it not? He merely took more interest in it than any other.

.

With the crushed berries gone, it was merely them within the tent. She leaned in too close to him, but there was no place to lean back to increase the distance. She didn't smell like Lilacs now. The scent of her was different, more metallic and rough hewn. She was a woman of battle now.

"You should rest, Durant," she said.

"Of course, Princess," he said.

She touched his forehead, faintly, briefly, so much so that she even seemed surprised by the contact, yet she did not break it. Her fingertips rested on his forehead even after no fever was found. When her hand finally returned to her side, it was with seeming reluctance.

"Princess..."

"I thought you might have a fever, or it might be infected," she said. "Or, something else.."

And for that moment the feel of her was just as forbidden and sweet as that tart fruit. Her lips parted, she licked them, as if to impart some knowledge, tell a deep secret, but stopped to what she was saying.

"I can't win Palatina back without you, so please, don't injure yourself needlessly. Though, I am grateful you guarded me, still—"

"It is my duty, as a knight," Durant said.

"Of course," she said.

"But, if you wish, then---- It would be against my honor to go against those wishes," Durant said.

She smiled, her hand on the tent flap, again her hair caught brilliant in the light. She looked at him a long moment before she finally broke the gaze.

"I'm thankful, Durant."

He would follow her wherever she lead. To the depths of hell, to the dark abysses and to the gates of heaven if she so commanded.

As you will it, as you wish it, so I will go...