Queens

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Queens is a Xenogears fanfic. I own no characters, save the ones that are not in the game. Everything belongs to Squaresoft.

Italics mean thought, and change of setting will be indicated by the five equal signs, like the ones up at the top.

= = = = =

"How do I look?' Bart asked Sigurd breathlessly, turning around once for the benefit of his Prime Minister.

"Fine, young master. Not a hair out of place." Sigurd replied with a smile. "I'm so very pleased to see that you're taking this formal goodwill visit to Nisan so seriously. You even got into your royal robes without me asking."

"Yeah, well, I know how these things work." Bart tugged self-consciously on the high collar of his inner robe, straightening it even more than it already was. He smoothed down the surface of his clothes, making sure that the circular pendant with the decoy `Fatima Jasper' was in place on his chest, loosely pinning his outermost robe at just the right degree of open. Sigurd watched his young master's nervousness with amusement.

"Young master, calm down. You've appeared in front of crowds before and were never this nervous; what's wrong?"

Bart tightened the wide golden sash around his waist. "What? Nothing, nothing at all."

"Come now, something must be troubling you."

"Honestly, no."

"Young master, when you answer in that tone, I know you're hiding something.'"

"Sig, I am NOT nervous about visiting Nisan, since I know that's why you're implying, even when this is the first time I've worn royal robes and had to go through all the formality and see Margie in over a year..."

Bart turned around and looked over his shoulder.

"Can you see the Fatima crest on the back of this?"

Sigurd nodded.

The blonde man turned back around and continued to talk. "I mean, I always meant to visit. I promised her I would. But you know, things stack up when you're a king and BAM! A year's gone by before you know it!"

Bart straightened his sleeves.

"It's been over a year since I saw Margie, and I've come visiting just NOW. I'm not even coming as me; I'm coming as King Bartholomew Fatima, not cousin Barty from Aveh."

"Barty?" Sigurd smirked.

Bart shot an annoyed glance at him. "Yeah, Barty. I call her Margie and she calls me...well, used to call me, Barty."

"Ah. I see."

Bart compulsively checked his hands, making sure they were clean.

"Sig, since I'm visiting just now, it'll look like I just came because I HAVE to, not because I want to. Really, really, want to."

Sigurd nodded.

Bart suddenly grabbed fistfuls of his hair. "Aaargh! Our first meeting in over a year and the SECOND she gets me out of the public eye, I'm in ten kinds of shit! She's gonna be SO MAD!"

Sigurd's eyebrows rose. "Young master..."

"She's gonna ask why didn't I visit? Why didn't I at least drop a line?"

"Young master!" Sigurd said loudly.

Bart stopped his ranting and looked at Sigurd in surprise.

"Young master," Sigurd said in a much gentler tone. "I believe you have Miss Margie figured out all wrong. She wouldn't hit you."

"Ohohoho..." Bart's chuckle was unmistakably one of `you don't know jack'.

Sigurd walked forward and smoothed down Bart's hair. "She won't hit you. Miss Margie may be initially annoyed that you didn't come earlier, but she knows of your responsibilities. She has the same ones, and perhaps more of them. Nisan IS still the gathering place of Wels and other mutated humans."

"Yeah..." Bart agreed thoughtfully.

Sigurd frowned; no matter how much he patted down Bart's hair, it always sprang back up. His eye fell on the strap of Bart's eye patch; there was the problem.

The dark-skinned man slipped his fingers underneath the band and pulled the eye patch off, throwing the object onto the nearby pile of Bart's normal clothes. Bart blinked, then self-consciously covered his eye.

"Hey..." He looked up at Sigurd, surprised and a little offended. "I don't exactly want anyone to see this."

"It's all right, young master." Sigurd said soothingly. "Your eye is fine, albeit sightless."

"But...it's not normal."

"Only those within five feet of you can tell that. Besides, young master, don't you want to surprise Miss Margie? It might lessen her annoyance if she feels that her wait has been justified."

"Huh?" Bart blinked, puzzled.

Sigurd explained in simpler terms. "If you appear nicely, she might feel that waiting for you for a year was worth the time."

"Ohh...you think so?"

Sigurd nodded.

Even if no one else had detected it, Sigurd was aware of a very powerful romantic longing between Bart and Margie. Sigurd knew that they denied having feelings for each other, but it was obvious that even they themselves were not aware of their attraction. After all, Bart couldn't see the misty look in his eyes whenever he talked about Margie. Margie couldn't see the ever-so-faint blush that arose in her cheeks whenever she was with Bart.

If the two of them got married...Sigurd smiled, unable to stop himself. What a cute couple!

Bart noticed his Prime Minister's smile and frowned. "What so funny?"

"Hah? Oh...nothing. Well, we're almost there, young master. Get ready."

= = = = =

Margie felt an itch on her arm, and she scratched it through her sleeve. Damn this dress! It was so tight that Margie couldn't even roll up a sleeve to get to a really annoying bug bite.

Not that anyone would think that the dress of the Great Mother of Nisan was tight. It was a plain white dress with a short, waist length cape called a pelerine and a long outer cape that was more of a decorative train than a functioning cloak. Margie loosened the bronze silk scarf that tied her pelerine down; it was choking her.

Margie checked her hair, which she had grown out just for this occasion. Her shining dark brown hair was just at her shoulders now, but Margie wished it was a little longer, so she could at least put a ribbon in her hair. Margie sighed; no use wishing now. Bart would arrive (she checked the clock by her bed, a present from Kaiser Rico on her seventeenth birthday) in about half an hour.

"Well, here we go. Time to get checked by the sisters." She smoothed down the soft folds of the long white dress, making sure that it was straight.

It amazed everyone, even Margie, that she was making such a big deal about Aveh's goodwill visit. She had gotten into her Great Mother dress, a dress that she often refused to wear because of multiple reasons, without complaint and without help. She had put on all the other garments (the pelerine and the cloak) and even put on a little makeup. Why? Margie knew she didn't like dressing herself up, ESPECIALLY not as a Great Mother, an office that had become steadily harder and harder to manage as time when by. Why was she primping and preening like some girl out on a date?

Margie sighed; she knew the answer. It had four letters, and a single eye missing.

Bart.

She sighed, wistfully this time. She had only started admitting the truth to herself recently, but it was still hard to cope with her feelings, especially since she had to deal with them alone. She COULD tell Sister Agnes, but the nun, covenanted though she was, loved to talk, and within no time the whole of Nisan would know about Margie's affection. Margie had tried to tell Elly, but it just felt too weird telling her that she was in love with her own cousin! All right, second cousin, but still! Margie had the feeling that the older girl wouldn't feel entirely comfortable about something that bordered on incest.

Margie made a face. Where had THAT come from? She and Bart shared common great-grandparents; they could get married if they wanted to, and not have to worry about inbreeding, and all that other nasty stuff. Margie sighed a third time.

Of course, it all boiled down to whether Bart wanted to marry HER.

She walked over to her bed and sat down, resting her chin in her hands. What if Bart only saw her as his cousin, the one he had to save all the time? What if he thought she was a helpless baby, and a dead weight too, since she hadn't helped all that much during his adventures last year? Margie felt a pang of worry; what if he was already in love with somebody else?

She shook her head wildly. No! She had to think positive, if not get lost in her dreaming. Bart was not...might not be in love with someone else. She hoped that was true.

Margie glanced at her clock; twenty-five minutes. She rose to her feet, smoothing out her dress once more. Well, now was as a good a time as any.

"Sisters!" She called loudly. "I'm coming down!"

= = = = =

The Nisan autumn dawned cool, but pleasant, with a slight breeze coming from over the mountains and the lake. Bart took a deep breath and let out a satisfied sigh.

"Why can't Aveh have weather like this?"

He felt much better since his talk with Sigurd, although he realized that he HAD been babbling. Well, babbling was better than nothing. At least he'd got his anxieties out into the open.

Sigurd, on the other hand, seemed somewhat pensive. It wasn't unusual for Sigurd to be thoughtful, but Bart couldn't help but notice that Sigurd seemed to be brooding about something, especially since the call from Old Maison that he'd gotten a mere five minutes before. Of course, it was hard to tell what Sigurd was thinking, especially in his `Knight of Aveh' costume.

Bart looked at Sigurd's suit enviously; it looked SOOO comfortable. Sigurd didn't have to wear three layers of heavy brocade and gilt thread. He just had to wear a tunic, pants, and a cloak that he had thrown stylishly over his shoulder, so the jewel-studded ceremonial sword, the only source of color in his entire costume, would show to the ground. Sigurd's face, which looked like a desert traveler's with its dark tan tone, was obscured slightly by the hood of his white cloak, and marked further by a scarf that came halfway up his face and let only his eye and eye patch show. At the moment, Sigurd's blind side was facing Bart, so the young king wouldn't tell what his Prime Minister was thinking. Bart would dearly have loved to ask, but they had entered the limits of Nisan now, and he would have to act like a king.

= = = = =

Margie stood on the steps of the cathedral, squashing the urge to jump up and squint so she could see Bart coming. She knew they were; she could hear the glad shouts of the Nisan people at his approach. It was wonderful that they liked Bart so much, but Margie couldn't help but wonder if they were getting in his way, stopping him from coming to the cathedral with all haste.

At her side, Sister Agnes nudged her slightly and smiled when Margie turned to look.

"He'll get here, and on time too. Don't worry."

Margie smiled a small smile, grateful for the sister's words. She turned back to look down the main road. Margie frowned; were her eyes deceiving her? Could she actually see Bart coming?

The Avven procession neared and it wasn't long before Margie could see him without straining. The instant she could see him, her breath died in her throat and her heart opposed its natural function for a few beats.

Bart wore sapphire robes that were intricately embroidered with a thousand differing shades of blue, so it seemed that the very sky was woven into the elaborate garment. The blues of his outer robe were embroidered with a thick band of gold and bronze thread, which set off Bart's fine golden hair. At his chest was a circular gold pendant, its center set with half of a huge blue cabochon, the false `Fatima Jasper', that perfectly matched the hue of his and Margie's eyes. He wore no crown on his head, but today Bart looked every inch a king. Something was different about him, but Margie couldn't place it.

Stopping ten feet from the cathedral steps, Bart gracefully dismounted from the huge black horse he rode and strode up to Margie, his steps measured but swift. As he neared, Margie jumped slightly as she saw that he was not wearing his eye patch. That was the different thing.

"He looks so serious." Margie wondered. She was little intimidated; she had never seen this regal side of Bart before.

Sigurd dismounted in a flash of white, stepping up so he was level with Bart. In a stylish furl of his cloak, he dropped to one knee, and bowed respectfully.

"Great Mother Marguerite of Nisan, it is good to see you well."

He rose smoothly to his feet.

"I am Sir Sigurd Harcourt, of the Knights of Aveh. I present to you my sovereign, King Bartholomew Fatima I of Aveh."

He swept one arm at Bart, and Bart nodded somewhat stiffly at him. Margie hid a smile. So, Bart was nervous. Well, he wasn't the only one.

Bart looked at Margie, his eyes a little wide although he could only see through one of them. She wasn't the only one who had been stunned. Bart was in awe; a year had really done wonders for his cousin. Her dark hair brushed her shoulders now, framing her cute face in falls of multihued brown. In stark contrast, her dress was a blinding shade of white, making her dazzling to look at in the afternoon sun. Margie looked so pretty, so pure, and for some reason, Bart suddenly felt ashamed of his piratical behavior, and his malformed right eye. He almost reached up to cover it, but stopped himself just in time.

He stopped a few steps in front of Margie, wondering what he could say to her. Luckily, he had a planned speech to give.

"Great Mother Marguerite, I am glad to see you well." He spoke, and although his voice was not loud, it carried through the multitude that had gathered at the cathedral doors. "I have come in peace, to present the goodwill of my people toward yours."

"Your kind actions are gratefully received, King Bartholomew. I and the whole of Nisan thank you." Margie bowed from the waist, and for a moment, she was level with Bart's gaze. Cheekily she winked at him. He blinked in surprise and his eyes became so wide that Margie could barely stop herself from laughing. She settled for a smile instead.

"Ah, it is my pleasure to be allies with your country once more." Bart said, almost a little too quickly. Now came the part that made him really nervous.

"Here goes..." He thought.

As Margie straightened, Bart reached forward and grasped one of her hands lightly in his own, surprised at how soft it was. Bringing it to his lips, he kissed her hand lightly, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. A smile curled his lips as he lowered her hand; she was actually blushing. How cute, and just like her, too. Bart suddenly felt more at ease.

"I do hope that in the future, our countries will joined as one in eternal peace."

On impulse, he gave her hand a quick squeeze before dropping it. Again, a delightful blush colored her cheeks, and Bart couldn't help but grin.

Down at the foot of the stairs, Sigurd was glad that half of his face was covered and that the people closest to him were on his blind side. It gave him freedom to grin hugely.

"They're flirting with each other! Ah, if only Maison could see this. He would die happy."

Unaware of Sigurd's thoughts, Bart and Margie went through their planned speeches, finishing only when Margie invited Bart and the delegates from Nisan into the Cathedral so things could be discussed in a cooler place. It was an invitation most graciously received-Bart privately felt he was going to stew alive in his robes. Gladly he took the room Sister Agnes showed to him-never mind he was sharing it with Sigurd, who entered a second after he did. Without even waiting until the door was shut, he began to shuck off his brocade robes and toss them into a nearby chair.

"Ahhhhhhh.." He breathed a great sigh of relief as he pulled off all three ceremonial garments and stood in just pants and a shirt. "Much better."

Sigurd took off his long cape and scarf, laying them off to the side before shedding his ceremonial sword. Bart suddenly became aware of him laughing.

"Heheheheheheheh..."

Annoyed, Bart looked at Sigurd. "Knock it off, Sig. You're freakin' me out."

"Heheheheheheheh."

"I said quit it!"

"Heheh..." Sigurd stifled his laughter and turned around, smiling. "Sorry, young master. I am simply imagining the look on Maison's face when I tell him about your flirtation technique."

Bart looked something like horrified. "WHAT!?"

"Your courtship of Miss Margie this afternoon." Sigurd said wickedly.

Bart actually backed up a step. "Courtship!?"

"Yes, courtship." Sigurd grinned.

"I wasn't courting her!" Bart denied vehemently.

"Mm-hmm." Sigurd nodded, still grinning.

"I wasn't!" Bart exhorted.

Just because he could, Sigurd began to sing. "Bart and Margie, sitting in a tree,"

Bart flushed a brilliant red. "SHADDUP!"

The nuns passing by the room that the King and the Prime Minister were sharing looked at each other in surprise before breaking into giggles and moving on as a loud THUMP against the door revealed that the King was losing his royal temper.

"Sister Cleo? Sister Mañelle?" Margie queried as they came around the corner. She had changed back into shorts and a plain shirt, but had neglected to don her cape and hat. It was well known that Margie would NOT eat in the Great Mother dress, formal or not. "Have you seen Bart?" She asked.

Mañelle, the taller nun, replied first.

"He's in his room, Margie."

Cleo nodded.

"But you might want to wait a while."

Margie frowned. "Why?"

Cleo opened her mouth, but Mañelle elbowed her in the ribs and the shorter nun fell silent. Then, to Margie's surprise, they both burst into giggles and moved on, leaving her in the hall.

"Wonder what all that was about." Margie thought. She walked down the hall, turned the corner, and faintly heard the sound of Bart's voice. He seemed to be shouting at someone. She found the door with ease; it was, after all, the only one with swear words coming out of it.

"Honestly." She said, putting her hands on her hips. "He's in a cathedral!"

"Bart!" Margie knocked on the door. There was no reply, only a fresh barrage of swears and a burst of masculine laughter. Margie knocked harder. "Bart!"

Again, no reply. Margie put her hand on the doorknob. "I'm coming in!" She called.

There was no answer yet a third time, so Margie shrugged and opened the door. She never saw what hit her as a huge white something hurtled at her and slammed right into her face. Margie fell onto the floor, momentarily dazed.

"Holy shit! Margie!" Bart sprang off Sigurd's bed, running to the door. Sigurd, who had rolled free of the pillow, scrambled over to Margie, reaching her a split second before Bart did.

"Now look what you did to your lady love." Sigurd added, glancing at Bart.

Bart slid one arm under Margie's neck and picked her up, holding her against his chest. "HEY! If you had just stayed still, Sig, this wouldn't have happened!"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Should I have let you peg me with that monster of a pillow? And at the velocity you were throwing it?"

The older man picked up the pillow and weighed it in one hand.

"Hmm. Goose down. Quite heavy."

Bart scowled at him. Sig had be sarcastic and mean, in short, act like an older brother, NOW, NOW of all times. He felt Margie stir in his arms and he looked down, instantly concerned.

"Margie? Margie, I'm so sorry! I had to duck the pillow that Sig was throwing at me!"

Sigurd's jaw dropped, but Margie looked at Bart with a flat expression.

"Can't fool me, mister. Honestly, you're a king. How could you blame something on your Prime Minister?"

Bart grinned sheepishly. "Well, it was worth a shot."

"Hmm." Margie suddenly noticed that her head was leaning against Bart's chest and a sudden blush arose in her cheeks. With a small shriek she pushed Bart off, knocking him into the doorframe and throwing herself into Sigurd's arms.

"OW!" Bart cried as his head hit oak. He looked at her reproachfully, rubbing his head. "Jerk. Hey, how come Sigurd gets to hold you?"

Sigurd smiled, and as he was already against the door, he didn't have his head slammed into it as Margie quickly pushed away from him. She meekly sat on the floor between them, looking at Bart with guilty eyes.

"Sorry."

"Better be. That hurt." Bart grumbled. Margie noticed that he still wasn't wearing his eye patch.

"Why'd you take off your eye patch?" She asked, changing the subject.

Bart blinked, and his left hand moved slowly up to cover his eye. "You want me to put it back on?"

"No! It's fine!" Margie said, protesting a little loudly.

Bart held his hands out in front of him. "Okay, okay. Don't blow a gasket."

Sigurd stood up. "I'm going to change into my normal clothes for dinner. Young master, your eye patch is in your bag if you want to get it."

"Nah. Go for it later."

Sigurd nodded and walked into the room, shutting the door behind him and leaving Bart and Margie out in the hall. Bart looked at his younger cousin.

"So, what's up?"

"Huh? Oh...nothing much."

"So you just came around for the heck of it?"

"What?" Margie frowned and recalled the reason that she had wanted to visit the room. "That's right; Bart, you don't have to wear your robes. It's just us, the sisters, and Sig."

Relief spread across Bart's face. "Thank GOD. Those things were hot."

Margie grinned. "Tell me about it. That dress I was wearing; it was so tight that I got stuck getting into and out of it."

Bart laughed. "Damn! I thought I had troubles."

Margie shrugged, grinning at him. "Yeah, well, now you see what I have to deal with."

A silence fell on them. Finally Bart spoke up.

"You know, Margie..."

"Yes?"

"You looked good today. Very...good."

Margie blinked and tilted her head in amusement as Bart suddenly looked away and scratched the back of his head.

"Well..." She looked down at her lap and pulled a goose feather off her shorts. "You looked good too."

Silence once more. Margie started this time.

"So...that kiss..."

She was amused as Bart's face suddenly turned an alarming shade of red. "Sig and Maison put me up to it! I'm sorry if,"

"Don't apologize!" Margie said quickly. Bart stopped ranting to stare at her, his eyes wide in surprise.

"What?"

"Umm...you don't have to be sorry." Margie looked down at her lap again. "But..."

"Oh boy. What's that `but' about?"

Margie's own face turned red and for a long moment, she simply stared down at her hands and did nothing while Bart waited expectantly.

"Come on, come on!" Margie thought furiously. "You've led the conversation this far! Finish it! Finish it!"

She gulped nervously, then said in a very small voice,

"But...I wouldn't mind if you tried higher up...?"

Warring emotions nearly tore Margie apart. One part of her, a very large part of her, wanted Bart to get the hint. The other part of her hoped he would not understand what she was asking, and just let things go on the way they had before. At least she would still be able to nurture her crush in private then. Margie's soul was a battlefield as she looked up at Bart, waiting for some sort of emotion to flicker in his eyes.

A second passed, then ten. Just as Margie was ready to jump and run down the hall, Bart suddenly took a deep breath and looked at her with eyes that looked startlingly sharp and hot. Margie felt like she was being threatened by twin pokers.

To her surprise, Bart reached forward and touched her face gently with one of his large, callused hands, running his knuckles gently down her cheek before pausing at her lips. Margie's breath came short and fast as he touched her slightly open mouth carefully with his thumb, running over her soft lips as if he hadn't seen them before. His eyes narrowed slightly, and when he spoke next, it was in a much quieter and deeper tone than she had ever heard him use before.

"Here...?" He asked softly.

She swallowed nervously, nodding very slightly.

Bart slid over, moving quietly over the wooden floor until his knees were touching hers. Even sitting, he was still a head taller than she was, and towered over her as he unconsciously pinned her against the second story railing, both with his body and his burning gaze. Margie was frozen in her face, only able to look up at him with wide blue eyes.

He smiled slowly, and his hard face softened, becoming gentler and more familiar. Margie gasped softly as his other hand came up to gently cup her face in his palms. He leaned down, closing his eyes as he felt her warm, quick breath caress his face and mouth. As he touched his forehead gently to hers, he murmured.

"I was afraid I'd have to make the first move."

Margie vaguely remembered to close her eyes as Bart lifted her face upwards to meet his lips. She could feel the warmth of his face coming closer, closer, until she could almost feel his touch...

BAM.

"WHERE IS HE!?"

"AHH!" Margie shrieked, startled by the loud, intrusive noises. Bart dropped his hands and reared back, equally shocked.

"Please, this is an abbey!" A nun placated.

"I need to see the King of Aveh!"

Margie looked through the bars of the railing, glancing down at the floor. However, the only people she could see were the nuns. The person they were addressing was underneath the rail.

Bart suddenly lunged at the rail, moving so quickly that Margie thought he was actually trying to throw himself off. She saw his eyes widen in shock and mouth drop open as he hung precariously halfway over the rail, spotting the person who had interrupted their moment.

"Holy shit..." He moaned, and for once Margie didn't chastise him for swearing in the cathedral. The blonde man swung back onto the landing and clapped one hand to his face. Without a word he turned on his heel and sprinted down the hall.

Margie jumped to her feet, stunned. "B...Bart?!" She ran after him just as the door to Bart and Sigurd's room opened. Sigurd ran out, looking alarmed.

"Was that...?" He asked no one in particular. It was fortunate Margie wasn't there; Sigurd leaned over the railing, hanging even more dangerously than Bart had. However, unlike Bart, his eye narrowed and as he swung back onto his feet, he snarled softly.

"Maison was right. Damn!"

He sped back into the room to grab his weapon.

= = = = =

"Fuckohfuckohfuckohfuck..." To the idle observer, Bart would have sounded like a motor as he sped down the stairs, running as fast as his legs would take him. He knew that he really shouldn't be swearing in a cathedral, or even be running. But this was an emergency, and he felt that his liberal use of the F-word perfectly fit the situation. It certainly fit his mood.

He sped onto the ground floor, tearing across the cathedral before yelling, "STOOOOOOOPPPP!"

The nuns turned in concert, surprise on their faces. Bart skidded to a stop and leaned on his knees to catch his breath.

"Bart!" A delighted female voice purred.

He barely had time to look up before the woman who had so rudely burst into the cathedral strode forward and embraced him, pressing her chest and lips against his. He was too winded to even make a muffled `mmm!' of protest.

She pulled back from him and tilted her head, her eyes narrowed slightly as she regarded his flushed face. Lightly she ran her fingertips down his left cheek, tickling his skin with her long, elegant fingernails.

"And here I thought you kept that eye patch on for cosmetic reasons. You should go around without it more, you know."

Margie popped out of the stairwell and gasped in shock, her astonishment banishing her fatigue. Anger rose high and hard in her chest and ran forwards, wrath burning in her icy blue eyes.

"Get your hands off him, you floozy!" She shrieked, losing all her composure.

The sound of her voice was enough to make the woman detach herself from Bart and look at her with chilly gray eyes. A weaker girl would have run screaming from the venom in the woman's narrow, snakelike eyes. As it was, Margie felt fear race over her skin. However, she was too incensed to pay attention.

"Step away from the king!" Margie ordered, advancing on the woman with great strides.

"Bart, who is this?" The woman growled, glancing at Bart out of the corner of her eye.

Bart blinked, seeming to come back to Earth. Quickly he stepped back from the woman, freeing herself from her embrace. Margie was gratified to see that he stepped back to her, and placed one hand on her shoulder.

"Saumarissa, this is my cousin Margie. Margie, this is Saumarissa, the Queen of the Desert. She's a pirate, like me...like I was, I mean."

Margie sized Saumarissa up, knowing very well that the flame-haired woman was doing the same to her. She was as tall as Bart, and as tough as one of the whips he always carried. Her skin was tan like Bart's, but not so dark that she looked burned by her fire-red hair. Her pants were a dark brown, but on side had been cut off, so her left leg was free to reveal a shocking array of gleaming white scars. Saumarissa wore black combat boots that came up to her knees and shielded her shins with a shiny black layer of armor. Her white tanktop was short and left her midriff bare. All of her clothes looked like they had been painted on, and there was almost nothing left to the imagination.

"Well...I suppose I will forgive you, since you're Bart's cousin." She almost sneered. Her voice was low and feral.

Margie's eyes narrowed. She didn't like this woman, and felt that the feeling was mutual.

"Well, good for you. What were you doing, smooching Bart in the Grand Cathedral of Nisan? Don't you know this is a sacred place?" Margie demanded. She winced as Bart squeezed her shoulder hard.

Saumarissa hmmph'd and pointed at the two one-winged angel statues toward the cathedral's back. "Love is sanctioned here. Or have you forgotten your own teachings, Great Mother?"

Her full ruby lips twisted Margie's title jeeringly and Margie suddenly felt the overpowering urge to hit her. But instead she looked up at Bart, her eyes narrowed but not threatening.

"You're in love with her?"

Bart shook his head. "NO."

Saumarissa spoke louder. "YES."

Margie was more inclined to believe Bart than Saumarissa, who shot Bart a questioning glance. Suddenly, her gray eyes flicked from Bart to Margie and back again, with increasing speed. To Margie's surprise, she took a step back.

"So..." Saumarissa's eyes became dull, but no less hard. Her voice hissed out between her teeth and Margie was suddenly reminded of the snakes that Saumarissa's name had put her in mind of. "I see how it is. Well, Bart, I came to ask whether you wanted to come back with me, but it seems you have made your choice, have you not?"

Bart said nothing, but he simply pulled Margie closer to him and narrowed his eyes. To all present, that was clearer than any great declaration of love.

Saumarissa turned away as if she had been struck, but her eyes slid over to Margie. Once again, Margie felt a chill of fear.

Suddenly Saumarissa lunged, her teeth bared in a snarl and her hands flying over her back to reach for the twin swords there. Margie shrieked and Bart threw himself over her, but a pole suddenly flew out of nowhere and slammed into Saumarissa's ribs, throwing her out of the air. An audible snap echoed throughout the cathedral, mirrored by the lady pirate's cry of pain. Everyone twisted around to see where the pole had come from.

Sigurd switched his grip on his glaive so the long, curved blade was just at Saumarissa's throat. With his head held high and his gaze hard and cold, he looked like he was capable of anything.

"Get out." He growled softly. "I don't care if this is a cathedral, I'll kill you if you attack Miss Margie again. Do I make myself clear, Saumarissa?"

"Sigurd." She spat at him and her formerly cool eyes now burned with hate. She rose awkwardly to her feet, clutching her injured side.

"Do you understand?" Sigurd asked in the same soft, deadly tone, touching her throat with his glaive so he lifted her gaze to his with the blade of his weapon.

For a long moment, they simply glared at each other from opposite ends of the polearm. Just when Margie thought Sigurd was going to lose his temper and slit the lady pirate's throat, Saumarissa stepped back and snarled at him. A thin line of red stood luridly on her pale neck.

She looked at Margie, and to Margie's disquiet, actually grinned at her, turning her otherwise lovely face into a visage of saturnine evil.

"Oh, I'll be back for YOU, girlie. Just you wait."

An odd, unnerving chuckle arose in her throat as Saumarissa backed slowly away, her eyes still focused on Margie. Despite Bart placing his other arm protectively around her and Sigurd advancing with his glaive upraised, Margie felt no less comforted. Unable to take the combination of both Saumarissa's laugh and gaze, she buried her face in Bart's chest.

"I've had enough!" Sigurd suddenly roared, losing his temper in the face of Margie's fear. He lunged at Saumarissa, swiftly tapping at her feet with the point of his glaive. She danced back, wincing in pain but oddly enough, still laughing. Sigurd, enraged now, swung his weapon at her. She jumped back, and with a final peal of unearthly laughter, disappeared out the cathedral door.