Author's Note: To new readers: welcome! To readers of Oracle's Wish: welcome back! I'm very excited to start this brand new Zelgadis/Amelia (and Lina/Gourry) story and I hope you enjoy it as well. This takes place after TRY but makes no reference to Revolution as I haven't seen it yet
A Little Opposition
Chapter 1. An Important Matter.
Seyruun City–the white magic capital of the world! The Big Starfruit, as it is locally known. Whatever you want to call it, Lina, Gourry, and Zelgadis were fast approaching it as they crossed over a grassy hill. The rural setting they were passing through, replete with haystacks and bored looking cows, seemed downright strange when you considered that a massive city block lay just ahead. But a massive city block needs feeding after all.
"Man, I can't wait until we're at the castle," Lina said, easing a crick out of her neck. "I deserve to sleep like royalty. None of this sleeping in ditches crap we've had to deal with the last few days."
"We wouldn't have had to sleep in any ditches if you hadn't blown up that tavern," Zelgadis reminded her irritably.
"Aw, come on," Gourry said. "You know how she gets when they're stingy with the portions."
"That's no excuse for lobbing fireballs at innocent waiters!" Zelgadis exclaimed. "Massive property damage costs money. That's why we don't have any!"
"Don't worry about it," Lina said with a casual shrug. "We can probably beg some money off of Amelia."
"Oh, that sounds nice," Zelgadis said, crossing his arms. "'Hi, Amelia! How've you been? Can we have some money?'"
"I wasn't going to put it like that," Lina said sourly, turning a sharp eye in his direction. "What are you so bent out of shape about, anyway? Aren't you looking forward to seeing Amelia?"
Zelgadis looked off to the side, but Lina noted the blush. "It's not that," he said. "I just don't understand why we're going to Seyruun in the first place. It's not as though we're likely to find my cure or a new sword for Gourry there. We don't have time for social calls."
Lina didn't really see why they didn't. It wasn't as though Zelgadis was getting any more chimeric, and Gourry was doing alright without a super-special one-of-a-kind magical sword. It wasn't like anyone was after them at the moment beyond a few irate waiters and all-you-can-eat buffet owners, and they don't really count after all.
"If we're going to figure out where we're going to go next and what we're going to do then we might as well do it in a place where we can get free rooms and food," she pointed out sensibly.
"I guess," Zelgadis said glumly.
"And don't even pretend you're not psyched about seeing Amelia again," Lina said slyly, sidling up to him and elbowing him in the side in a way that warned him that he wasn't going to like whatever came next. "I know you always have that little keepsake she gave you close by."
"I–That's not even—," Zelgadis began nonsensically. Damn it. How did Lina know about the bracelet? He'd always kept it hidden. Amelia had probably told her before she'd even given it to him with an energetic and only slightly anxious "so you don't forget me while you're out traveling the world!" he thought glumly. Girls are like that.
I mean, he thought, what was I supposed to do: not take it? He'd already snubbed her offer to stay in Seyruun with her for awhile and refusing to hold on to a bracelet would've been downright mean. It wasn't like it was any trouble. And it actually did remind him of her. …Which was oddly irritating. Alright, sometimes it was nice. But it just seemed like ransacking temples and breaking into libraries wasn't as much fun as it was before they'd parted last.
If he was going to be totally honest with himself, which he didn't even necessarily want to do, he was aware that Amelia had a somewhat… special regard for him. And well, just occasionally, in high-stress moments where death was close at hand, he acknowledged that she was somewhat… different from the others. At least to him.
On the subconscious basis that if these two acknowledged but unspoken truths in some way crisscrossed there could conceivably be… well awkwardness and all those other social problems that come with deeply entrenched relationships, he'd decided to completely avoid this issue (and, where that failed, ignore it) until the whole thing worked itself out. He was dazzlingly tactical that way.
Because this went on somewhere under the radar, he was always surprised at himself in how much he tried to avoid Amelia after they'd been separated for awhile. It wasn't that he didn't like Amelia or anything. She had her quirks, the same as Lina and Gourry, but she was a great person to be around. Unlike the other two, she actually cared about his quest to regain his human form. Lina and Gourry had some sympathy, but Lina mostly went along with him because she had some other errand that ran alongside his goal, and Gourry went along because Lina went along. Amelia possessed actual compassion. She took on other people's problems.
Which would've made her an ideal traveling companion during his search. And they had traveled together for awhile… but for some reason he always put up a gigantic fight against it. His arguments generally consisted of this being "his problem" and her "just getting in the way". Once he'd actually lost these exchanges, traveling with her was fine. She was helpful. Depressingly cheerful, but helpful.
And it was the same thing with the visits. He felt he would never be able to just come by on a social call. He had to have some purpose in going to Seyruun. Sometimes even then he'd make an excuse to avoid seeing her. Something about her wealth and connections just slowing him down? It certainly didn't make any sense when you thought about it clearly.
But again, once he actually stopped by, he wondered why he'd made such a big deal of it in the first place. Amelia was nice, obliging, and sympathetic. She rarely asked anything in return for helping him… she rarely asked anything at all (and when she did, she seemed to already expect her request to be turned down).
He supposed, in the more well-lit areas of his conscious, that it was down to a certain amount of pride. Sure, he'd worn make-up, dressed up as a woman and as a rabbit, stolen, peeled potatoes, and worked for no end of crazy people all in the name of his goal. But… even those slightly questionable practices seemed more prideful in his mind than just asking for help. And, in any case, he didn't need Amelia around to distract him from his quest.
…Not that I find Amelia distracting, Zelgadis thought slowly, with the hunted feeling that something from the back of his mind had just tried to slip to the front.
But yes, he'd just have to get over this bizarre instinct to avoid Amelia. It wasn't like he tried to avoid her when she was actually around. And it was, he reflected with a guilty twinge, somewhat mean to pass through Seyruun without talking to her. Whenever he did he felt terrible for days.
"That's not even what?" Lina asked, as it became increasingly clear that Zelgadis wasn't going to come back from his reverie without prompting.
Zelgadis felt a mental slap send him back into the real world. He took a second to focus on the conversation he'd been having before he'd gone on that little tangent and, once he'd figured out what she was asking, he scowled at her and said: "Any of your business."
"Fine," Lina said with a sniff. "But you could at least stop ignoring her. How do you think it makes her feel when you do that?"
"I don't ignore her," Zelgadis scoffed. The scoffing didn't work though. Lina gave him such an unconvinced look that he might as well have been a silhouette caught in a spotlight.
"We'll see," Lina said in a significant way that meant: we'll see me being right!
"Miss Lina!" Amelia called out, seeing her trio of friends approaching across the drawbridge and racing towards them.
"Hey, Amelia!" Lina said. "How's it going?"
"Good," Amelia affirmed as she reached them. "What are you all doing here?"
"Just passing through and thought we'd visit," Lina said, an idle hand scratching her head as she chose to avoid the whole out-of-money issue.
Amelia sighed. "I wish I could've gone with you guys," she said. "It's been too long. But…"
"Gotta do important princess-like stuff?" Gourry asked.
Amelia nodded grimly. "Daddy wants me to be more involved in the leadership process," she said.
Princess, Zelgadis thought, hanging back somewhat behind Gourry and pointedly not drawing attention to himself. It was so easy to forget that she was a princess. She certainly didn't act like any princess Zelgadis had ever heard of. Surely princesses weren't supposed to climb trees and punch demons to a quivering pulp. No, they were supposed to do things like attend cotillions and… and… Zelgadis groped uncertainly here, sleep on a mattress with a pea underneath it? Something like that.
Not that Zelgadis really wanted her to be the ball gown and glass slipper type. It wouldn't work. She always wanted to play the hero, but she'd been born into a role that tended to lean toward the damsel in distress. It probably all came down to that famous Seyruun family craziness. As far as he could tell Amelia was the most well-adjusted of the bunch, which was sad.
"And how are you doing, Mister Zelgadis?" Amelia asked, looking beyond Gourry to him with a smile. It should have been an ingratiating, slightly pitying smile. He was doing exactly what Lina had said he would… hanging back, not acknowledging her. The smile should have been a polite and slightly condescending nudge that socially well-adjusted people greet one another after a long parting. It wasn't though. It was a sincere smile. "It's so nice to see you again!"
"I'm fine," he said grudgingly, as always slightly uncomfortable with the fact that his presence seemed to make her happy unconditionally.
"Miss Lina?" boomed a mighty voice as the towering figure of Prince Phil stomped across the bridge to greet them.
"Phil!" Lina shouted after sighting him. "What's up?"
"Nothing too major," Phil said with a jovial smile as he reached them. "We've been lucky; things have been pretty quiet lately."
Quiet around Seyruun was something to be grateful for. There was always the completely correct sense that it wasn't going to last and should be enjoyed while available. What with royal family feuds, explosions from the magical quadrants, philosophers challenging each other to fisticuffs in the streets, and the fact that several of the surrounding nations hadn't necessarily adopted Phil's policy of pacifism and kept trying to nudge Seyruun into conflict… well… there always seemed to be some major catastrophe lurking around the corner. Phil was a great ruler for the most part, but he didn't always help this. He'd been reading which is no good in a monarch. Going on about the rights of man is one thing, but a ruler encouraging civil unrest is quite another.
"I was actually hoping you all'd come around soon," Phil said. "There's something I've been wanting to talk with you about."
"Does it involve a reward?" Lina asked, with money-bags glinting in her eyes.
"A good deed is its own reward," Phil countered virtuously.
Lina deflated and gave him a sharp look. "What good deed?" she asked flatly.
Phil looked around. "I'd prefer we didn't talk about it in the open. You understand."
"Sure," Lina said, thinking it must be another snatch for the crown.
Phil headed toward the door with Lina, Gourry, Zelgadis and Amelia trailing behind. Suddenly Phil turned back and gave Zelgadis and Amelia a worried look. "Actually," he said awkwardly. "This is something I have to discuss with Miss Lina and Mister Gourry privately."
Amelia and Zelgadis exchanged looks and tried not to feel snubbed. Amelia's suspicion turned back in on itself to cheer at her friends' arrival. "That's okay, I guess," she said, shrugging off whatever secrets her father wanted to keep from her until such time as he chose to reveal them. "I wanted to show Mister Zelgadis the new courtyard they've set up by the cleric's quarters. It's really nice."
"No!" Phil shouted so suddenly he made them all jump. He coughed and got a hold of himself. "No," he said more calmly. "You've got permits to approve for the road-works commission."
"I can do that later," Amelia said with a wave of her hand. "There's plenty of time."
"Sight-seeing is not a priority," Phil said in that special father-voice that isn't quite harsh, but will get there if it's not heeded. "You'll have to do the permits before anything else."
"But they just got here!" Amelia exclaimed, realizing with the bitter tinge of unfairness that she wasn't going to get her way.
"Your duties as a princess of Seyruun come first," Phil reminded her.
Amelia looked like she was going to start pouting, so Zelgadis did his best to defuse the situation. "It's alright," he said. "I wanted to check out the library anyway."
He had. Seyruun was a focal point of learning and deep thought on the continent. Therefore it had some of the best libraries. And, of course, the royal family could afford the very best collections of books. He'd been through the royal library before, but it was so expansive that he probably hadn't even been able to tour of tenth of it. On those dusty shelves might sit the book that contained the lead he was looking for… the cure to his body.
He had wanted to go to the library. He hadn't wanted to stroll around some stupid courtyard looking at the shrubberies and stone angels and whatnot. When Amelia had suggested it, he'd groaned inwardly. But yet… he couldn't help feeling a little bothered that Phil had shut out the option just like that. It seemed odd. Were road-works permits really so time-sensitive and important? He doubted it. What was wrong with Amelia showing him the grounds?
Something was up with Phil and he wasn't sure what. All he knew was that, at least at the moment, it was something he wanted to keep from him and Amelia.
Lina and Gourry followed Phil with great curiosity. Well, Lina followed with curiosity; Gourry just kind of ambled along with an expression of good-natured ignorance, which might look like curiosity to the untrained eye. Amelia risked a worried second-glance back at Zelgadis.
"Well, I guess I'll see you later then," she said, and then headed off to one of the many chambers that lined the castle hallways.
"Yeah," Zelgadis said vaguely. He plodded off in the direction of the library, finding to his great annoyance that he had absolutely no interest in books anymore and couldn't help but thinking that a stroll around the gardens might have done him some good.
"Excuse me? Miss Lina?" Phil raised his voice over the sound of relentless mastication from the other two at the table. "Do you think we could talk about the matter I wanted to discuss now?"
The sound like a chainsaw tearing into something fleshy ceased as Lina put down her fork. "C'mon, Phil," she said, picking at her teeth with a toothpick. "We just got here. Me and Gourry are starving! Right, Gourry?"
"You said it," Gourry said, slightly incomprehensibly into a drumstick.
"But you've eaten five chickens already!" Phil said helplessly.
"Yes," Lina said, fairly weighing this accusation, "but they were very small chickens."
"Please, this is important," Phil said beseechingly.
"Alright," Lina said, sitting up and looking suddenly interested. "So what is it? Is there another tussle going on for the crown? Is someone trying to tip poison in your ear as soon as you fall asleep? Is there someone going around who looks just like you that's claiming to be the real prince of Seyruun? Are vampires squatting in your castle?"
Phil looked at her dumbstruck, perhaps becoming aware that his problems weren't so big in the grand scheme of things.
"Geez, Lina. Just let him talk," Gourry said.
Lina gave Gourry a sulky look. She liked guessing.
Phil cleared his throat. "Actually, it has to do with your friend: Mister Zelgadis."
"What about Zel?" Lina said, sipping her glass of wine.
Phil looked around awkwardly, as though trying to communicate nebulous concepts in as few words as possible. "My daughter… talks about him quite a lot."
"Ah," Lina said. She had a pretty good idea where this was going, but wasn't entirely sure what Phil's take on it was so she figured it would be best to wait it out.
"I was wondering if you knew, because you're his friend," Phil went on: "how does Mister Zelgadis… feel about my Amelia?"
Lina set down her glass and gave her response due consideration. "I think," she said deliberately, "that he likes her." When no negative cloud came from Phil, she went on: "But he's just not the kind of person to go forward with something like that very quick. I don't know if you'd call it shy, or just plain anti-social, but there you go." Lina allowed herself some smugness here. She'd never be standoffish like that.
Phil nodded solemnly. "I thought it might be something like that," he said.
He steepled his fingers in front of him in a serious gesture that was only slightly marred as Gourry started to choke on a chicken bone. Lina thumped him on the back absentmindedly as Phil launched onward: "The thing is… I approve."
Lina looked dumbly at him as Gourry coughed pitifully from her side. "You do?" was all she managed to get out. Not every kingdom would be anxious to have a chimera marrying into the royal family. And let's face it, she thought, Zel didn't have a perfect track record when it came to the law. To be fair, neither did Lina, but she wasn't cozying up to anyone of royal blood. And if Phil was cool with it then what had that thing with the courtyard been all about? Just… just what?
"Why not?" Phil asked. "He's overcome many obstacles to fight on the side of justice. From what my daughter says he's very intelligent and strong-willed. He seems quite solid and dependable."
Rock solid, Lina couldn't help but thinking weakly. Phil forgets that not every one of his subjects is as open-minded about appearances as he is.
"And," Phil went on deliberately, "my daughter loves him and that is good enough for me."
Lina stared for a moment, and then grinned slowly. Good ol' Phil.
"But I'm worried," Phil said. "Amelia says that he is very focused on his quest to return to his human form, and she doesn't think he'll ever have time for her until he's done that. But it's very possible that that might never happen."
Lina nodded. Zel was downright obsessed, and someone as single-minded as him wouldn't be about to settle down and worry about love with something like that on his plate.
"And if that happens my poor daughter will suffer as well," Phil went on. "You might not understand this, but a girl's heart is fragile."
Lina bristled. She was a girl too!
"And when one as pure-hearted as my daughter Amelia gives her heart to someone, she'll never give it to another," Phil finished.
"So why the rush?" Lina said, still just slightly edgy from the shot at the relative fragileness of her heart. "Who knows? Maybe Zel will finally give up on his quest and decide to settle down. Maybe he'll actually find his cure and settle down. If you just wait long enough—"
"I'm in a bit of a difficult political position," Phil cut in. "You see, Amelia's getting close to marriageable age."
As far as Lina was aware, Amelia was a year younger than her. Either she was way off or something was wrong with that arithmetic. "Seventeen is marriageable age?" she asked disbelievingly.
Phil sighed. "It is when you're a princess. See, a marriage also acts as a political arrangement. It facilitates unions of land. And the kingdom of Seyruun is quite powerful. I've already received several letters from princes, dukes, and counts all asking for my Amelia's hand in marriage."
Lina blanched. Amelia was already getting multiple marriage proposals, while she, Lina, was only asked out by greasy men wearing eye patches? Life was hideously unfair.
"I won't sign my dear daughter's freedom off to some stranger for political expediency no matter who his family is," Phil said firmly. "But I can only stall them off for so long, and they won't be happy with refusals."
Lina thought about it. It was true, Phil must've be under a great deal of political pressure. If he chose to deny all the marriage requests, the would-be suitors could take offense and when royals take offense you're in for a world of hurt. So Phil was being forced to play the waiting game and hope Zelgadis would get his act together eventually. She couldn't blame him for wanting to speed up the process a little. It wasn't like Amelia had to get married right away, but an engagement would at least stop the suitors from hounding at her door.
"So… what do you want to do?" Lina asked. Her only idea consisted of creating some bizarre rule about only marrying the youngest daughter after the oldest was married. She was really hoping that Phil could top this. But she wasn't sure what they could do to get Zelgadis to spontaneously decide that romance was more important than finding a cure for his body. It would probably be a bit more complicated than just shoving them both in a closet together and locking the door for a few hours. Anyway, that was probably a bit of an indelicate suggestion to make to Amelia's father.
"I was thinking that in a case like this," Phil said with a mustachioed smile, "a little opposition might do the trick better than anything."