Little Black Dress
By: Manna


…---…---…

Her strength in battle was actually her speed. Nobody could argue that. Even Hector, who had beaten her twenty times in a row during sparring matches would grudgingly admit that she was faster than him. (It didn't matter, anyway. She would win the twenty-first match against that oaf for sure.)

She glared at her opponent. A large man with an axe that he carried resting against his shoulder. The air was loud with the sounds of both cheering and jeering. She really didn't like the atmosphere arenas offered, but…funds were low for those who fought under the banner of Caelin, and she fully intended to help as much as she possibly could.

On the battlefield, she fought defensively, but against only one opponent… She sprinted across the arena, ignoring the darkening overhead sky as she neared the man. He readied his axe, lifting it upward as she withdrew her sword from its scabbard. The steel weapon felt heavy in her hand, and as the axe fell toward her face, she turned away to avoid it, the skirt of her dress twirling out behind her. The back half of her skirt was pulled downward, but she paid it no mind to it or the vague sound of cloth ripping. It didn't even register in her mind as something of importance.

In one long motion, she finished her turn and stopped with her sword pointed at the man's throat.

He grinned at her as he held up his hands calmly, and her right arm wobbled a bit with the weight of her weapon.

She supposed that she should kill those who entered the arena and fought against her, but she didn't want to kill someone if she didn't have to. They were after money, and…so was she. They were not at war.

She opened her mouth to speak, but the man ducked beneath her sword and swung his leg out, kicking against the side of her knee hard enough to drop her to her back. She struggled to sit up. She had a weapon, he didn't. There's no way I can lose!

She got to her feet and dove toward his axe, where it had landed in the soft dirt of the arena floor. She blinked. A familiar cloth was lying beside the blade.

His hand reached for the handle of his weapon, and she realized she didn't have time to dwell on anything but the danger that had presented itself to her. She stumbled back a step and lifted her sword. A split second before it happened, she knew that he would swing his weapon down toward her face again, and she used both hands to hold her weapon as she tried to block his.

The man was strong—she had to give him credit. Even using both hands to hold her sword up to block his attack did not work very effectively. She could feel the heavy weapon pushing down on her. She had no choice but to try and slide out from beneath him, but in doing so, she risked being hurt.

It would be much better than being dead, however, and she loosened her grip on her hilt just the smallest bit to allow her body to duck and roll away while kicking out her leg to attempt to trip him. She didn't notice the blood that began to well up from a long, shallow cut that ran across the junction between her left shoulder and her neck.

Her heart pounded in her ears; the sounds of the crowd around her seemed to fade as she stood over her opponent, her sword held with both hands and aimed at his throat.

His hand shot out and grabbed her ankle, yanking her toward him. Even as the back of her skull hit the ground with a dull thud, her mind reverted back to the Taliver attack on her people, and she shuddered with the mixed feelings of terror and horror. The shouting of the crowd might as well have been the bandits from the mountains as they did everything they could to keep those of the Lorca from escaping.

As he crawled over her, pinning her and her left arm to the ground as his hands slid around her throat, she panicked and thrust her blade toward him, not caring where it hit, only hoping that it would. It went through his right shoulder, and he coiled back, effectively dislodging the weapon again, causing blood to immediately pour from his wound.

She scrambled backward, nearly dropping her sword as she got to her feet. Her hands felt numb from holding the heavy weight for so long. Her breath was ragged.

The man moved as if he might try to continue to fight her, but he finally just shook his head in defeat. "I'd feel bad for killing a little girlie like you," he said. "So you win this time." He pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket and waved it before lifting his axe from where it had fallen to the ground. Then he grinned at her and gestured off to the side, chuckling in what sounded like dark amusement. "You gave everyone an…interesting show."

And with that, he walked toward the exit.

With the match suddenly over, Lyn found herself feeling…a bit confused. Baffled. Her other matches had not ended with her opponent simply walking out of the arena… And her opponent had surely never spoken to her in any of her previous fights. She blinked, and then sighed, looking in the direction the man had pointed. There was that same piece of familiar cloth. She wandered over to it and bent down to pick it up.

The crowd cheered.

And with a start, she realized that the cloth was actually most of the back half of her skirt.

She had the decency to flush, both in anger and in embarrassment.

…---…---…

Kent paced.

And paced.

When he saw Sain approach out of the corner of his eye, he walked right up to him. "Where is she?"

Sain held up his hands in a placating way, grinning easily. "Hold on, partner. Why are you so antsy?"

The redhead coughed into a fist and looked away. "She's been gone since sunup, and nobody has seen her!"

"Who?"

"Lady Lyndis, of course!"

"Ahh…of course." Sain threw him a wink that made his eyebrows lower a bit in annoyance. "Of course you would be terribly worried for the safety of our beauteous lady when she has not appeared all day and it's nearly sundown!"

Kent sighed at his friend's exaggerations…though…they weren't too far off. Lady Lyndis was beautiful, and he was worried about her. "Have you seen her or not?"

"Actually, I have."

He brightened a bit at the news. At least someone had seen her. Half of the army had gone into town early that morning, and Kent assumed that Lady Lyndis had gone, too, though she had neglected to tell him that she would be doing such a thing. If he had known, he would have offered to escort her…

"Where?"

"She went with Lord Hector and some others to the arena."

Kent forced himself to take a deep breath. "To participate?" he asked calmly.

"Well, I would assume so. I doubt that Lady Lyndis would find much sport in watching others fight…"

"Why didn't you stop her?" He was absolutely aghast at the idea of his lady liege fighting in an unruly, uncouth place like an arena. She was quite skilled with the sword, and getting better at archery, but…

"You know how Lady Lyndis is, Kent. She's lovely but also stubborn!" Sain sighed. "You know that Caelin's funds have been dwindling, lately, and… I'm sure she does not want to ask for more from her grandfather…"

His friend was right. Lady Lyndis was stubborn. But to participate in something as base as an arena match! Oh, why hadn't she asked he or Sain to participate in her stead? For that matter, why had he told her about their funds? If he hadn't said anything, she'd have never known, and then she'd never have gone off to fight…

He would apologize profusely the moment she returned.

He waited—meaning, he paced—with as much patience as he could muster.

…---…---…

The prize was 7000 gold, and it was heavy. She accepted it quite eagerly and left the arena as quickly as she could, ignoring the various comments by passersby about her attire. It was probably a good thing she hadn't noticed her ruined skirt when it had actually happened—at the beginning of the match—because it would have thrown her completely off track and…she might have ended up losing.

Which would have meant no money, and possibly even death. She could still remember the feeling of the man's hands sliding around her throat. It would not have taken him long to kill her. It had been a close match.

"Hey! Hey Lyn!" She frowned as a familiar figure galloped up to her from behind and grinned.

"Hector," she said warily, turning slightly to see him. There was no doubt in her mind whatsoever that he would have something horrid to say to her after having seen the entire match. He'd probably gotten an eyeful or two, all things considered. How horrifying.

He lifted up a gold coin and dropped in on the floor by her feet. "Oops," he said, not sounding sorry in the least. "Blast, I dropped that. Could you pick it up for me?"

A glare was promptly sent his way as her boot connected with his knee. Of course, his armor prevented any real damage, and it seemed his little joke had him laughing so hard he was useless, anyway. The idiot. She would definitely win the next sparring match she challenged him to.

Ignoring both him and his obnoxious laughter, she headed out of town.

The army was camped a few miles away to avoid trouble. The others would probably stay at the arena for another few matches—either to participate or to watch—and she found herself traveling alone. That in itself was not entirely bad, but…considering some of the comments she'd gotten as she'd left town, she was halfheartedly worried that someone might follow her.

As the dark sky opened and let a light drizzle fall, she quickened her steps.

…---…---…

After getting on a few people's nerves ("Sir Kent, you're driving me crazy.")("Wow, watching you do that makes me feel dizzy."), he moved his pacing to the edge of camp closest to town. It had started drizzling almost a half-hour earlier, and then the drizzle had turned into rain.

His hair was soaked. His clothes were soaked. Even his socks were soaked, and they were inside his boots. If Lady Lyndis was out in the rain, she would be soaked through, too—more so, even, because she wore less!—and she could catch a cold or worse… And that was if she'd made it out of her arena matches without getting—

"Calm down, buddy," Sain told him. "I'm sure she's fine. She can take care of herself."

"I know that!" He finally stopped his pacing to snap at his fellow knight. Sometimes, he swore that Sain was dense. Even though Lady Lyndis was quite capable of caring for herself, that didn't mean she was invincible. One tiny mistake could cost her life, and her life was something with which Kent refused to gamble.

He forced himself to take deep breaths. He couldn't blow up on Sain. Technically, the man was on the same side. He worried about Lady Lyndis, too, didn't he? Perhaps not as much…and not as often, but…

"Ah, I think I see her!"

Kent whipped his head around so quickly that he almost felt lightheaded, and sure enough, the vague shape in the distance could only be their lady liege. He breathed a sigh of immense relief, resting his eyes for a long moment as he willed his blood pressure to lessen.

"Eh, I think…I'll go get Serra."

His friend's words made him glance up. "Why?" he asked, though he wasn't sure that he really wanted to know why. He was talking to Sain, after all, and Sain had quite a few strange thoughts.

"For Lady Lyn," he answered before trotting off.

Kent's heart constricted in his chest as he looked back toward his lady liege, watching her approach. She had changed her walk into a slightly off-kilter jog, and Kent cursed himself for not having thought to go and meet her with his horse. The closer she got, the more he saw; blood ran down from her shoulder, and one of her knees looked almost black. Her hair was mussed and her face was scratched. He swallowed, praying that she was not hurt anywhere else.

She was bleeding, and he'd made her walk so far! In the rain, no less!

He didn't even know what to say to her as she approached him, a large, heavy sack in her hands. She held it out to him; he had no choice but to take it.

"This should help, right? At least a little?"

He looked inside the bag. Gold. A lot of gold. He looked back up at her, his chest aching. "Why did you not send Sain or myself to the arena in your stead?" It was not her job—her responsibility—to secure funds for the journey. They had money. It…it wasn't much, but it would do. They could eat less, camp outside even when some of the others chose to stay in an inn. Didn't she know that they would follow her anywhere, under any conditions?

She started to shrug, but stopped as a pained look crossed her face. "I wanted to do it myself."

"Lady Lyndis… Please… Think of your safety above all else." He shifted the sack of gold to one hand and reached out to touch her left shoulder with the other. His fingers gently peeled back her dress where it had been sliced open. "What happened?" he asked, inspecting the cut. It looked relatively shallow, but it wasn't very clean.

She opened her mouth to answer him, but Sain's voice cut through the air before she could say anything.

"What he means to say, milady, is that he wore a path in the grass with his worried pacing!" The knight brushed his wet hair out of his eyes and grinned.

"Ack! Lady Lyn!" Serra flailed from her place beside Sain, lifting a finger to wag it at the older woman. "Look at you! You're soaked clear through, and you're bleeding! And your knee! What happened? You need to come with me right away. I'll fix you up in no time with my amazing skills!"

Lyn flashed Kent an apologetic smile and let Serra begin to lead her away.

As they walked by, though, Kent's eyes widened. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out for a long moment. When he finally pulled himself out of his stupor, he hurried up to her, ignoring the fact that Sain was still gaping. "M-Milady!" When she turned to look at him, his cheeks flushed and he lowered his gaze to his feet in embarrassment. "What… What happened to your dress?"

"What, indeed?" Sain wondered aloud. "Some lout didn't try to accost you, did he?" His expression turned serious. "Because if someone did…" The unspoken threat hung in the air.

Lady Lyndis's laugh made both men look up. "It was my skirt or my face that had to meet the blade of that axe," she said. "I'm glad it was only my skirt."

"Oh, absolutely!" Sain gleefully nodded, looking as relieved as Kent felt.

But Serra frowned. "Lady Lyn, that is very improper!" She had peered around Lyn to assess the damage of her fellow woman's skirt.

Kent agreed with the cleric, even though he'd almost die before admitting it. It was improper—very much so—considering what remained of her skirt only barely covered her. She was the noble lady of Caelin, heir to the throne…but her attire painted her in a light that was actually quite the opposite. All in one piece, her dress was unusual enough, and had elicited many an inappropriate comment from some of the knights under his own command, but if they were to see her as she was at that very moment… He paled, and then flushed. It…it would not do at all for others to look down on her…

"Serra," Kent finally forced himself to say, though his voice didn't want to work, and neither did his feet. "Would you be so kind as to find something else for Lady Lyndis to wear?"

"What?" Lyndis stared at him for a long moment before shaking her head and crossing her arms over her chest. "No!"

He was startled by her response and could only manage to blink at her. What did she mean, no?

Serra shrugged her shoulders. "We'll deal with that later. For right now, let me get you all fixed up." And with that, she dragged the noble lady of Caelin in all her soggy wet glory off to the medical tent.

Kent tried not to stare after her.

"She really needs to put something else on," Sain said.

"I know." He jerked his gaze away from her and ran a hand through his wet auburn hair. Oh, did he know.

People could easily get the wrong impression by looking at her. Even…even within their own group, some of the men might wonder…

Kent swallowed nervously. It wouldn't do for her honor to be corrupted due to no fault of her own. Maybe she was only being polite. After all, Lady Lyndis, though a lady, had no extra clothes. Maybe she didn't want to bother others with her problem, but Kent was certain that at least one of the other women in the army would have something for her to wear.

Then again, the reason…could be completely different. He watched his lady liege disappear into the tent that Serra and Priscilla used to treat the wounded, and he looked over toward Sain.

Who had disappeared.

He sighed.

…---…---…

Lyndis stumbled after the energetic young cleric as she led her to the largest tent in the encampment. The only person inside was Farina, who was bandaging her own leg. Lyn remembered that the other woman had fought in the arena, too, and had done quite well for herself, even without her trusty pegasus to give her the advantage.

"Sit." Serra pushed her into a chair and she had no choice but to comply. A curtain was drawn around her, and Serra began to help her undress so that she could see the actual wound. Her dress was covered in blood, smeared with dirt and soaked with rain; it really was quite a mess.

When she was finally free of her cold, wet clothing, she was offered a blanket, which she wrapped around herself both to cover up and to stay warm. As Serra began to poke at the shallow cut across the junction between her neck and left shoulder, Farina pushed her head around and inside the curtain.

"Thank the great Saint Elimine that you came back," she said. "I thought that Kent was going to walk a trench into the ground."

Lyn sighed. "He worries too much." It was true; the man really did worry far too much. Sain was not lying when he said Kent would grow old and grey before his time. She hadn't asked him his actual age, but he couldn't be older than twenty-five.

"Maybe so, but…last time I checked, you were a lady or somethin', right? So I guess it's only natural. Sain even said you didn't tell the poor bastard where you were going."

"Yeah, it's his job to make sure you stay healthy," Serra said. "Speaking of which, you can't wear that dress of yours. It's unsanitary, covered in blood and dirt and soaked through. It's not even proper!" She began to rinse the wound out with a bit of water.

"Proper?" Farina paused. "What happened?"

Lyndis flushed just a bit. "It was cut through in my last arena match." The walk back from the arena had actually been quite cold and a bit breezy. She had tucked the excess fabric into the sash around her middle, and most of the return trip had been spent attempting to think of a way it could be fixed. It hadn't been severed on a seam, after all.

"Darn, I knew I should have stuck around. It would've been much more exciting than watching Sir Worrywart wear a dirt path in the grass." Farina tsk'd and crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned her weight on her good leg. "You'd probably be better off with a shorter skirt that couldn't get in the way so easily," she said. "Maybe Lady Louise has an extra dress…"

Serra scoffed as she smeared a bit of the vulnerary salve into her laceration, "Lady Louise is too full-figured! It would sag off of her!" She paused and started to wrap a clean bandage around Lyn's injured shoulder. "Maybe you could find something from someone else, though? Kent asked me to do it, but I'm busy."

Lyn opened her mouth to protest, but Farina spoke before she could say anything.

"Kent asked you to? Kent?" She started incredulously. "Hmm, well, I'll see what I can do!" With that, the pegasus knight limped off.

Serra finished binding her injury and gave her a brilliant smile. "Now, Lady Lyn, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"Thank you, Serra."

"You're quite welcome. Now, you rest here while I see what I can do about your dress, all right?"

"I want to wear my own clothes."

Serra laughed and waved her finger at Lyn. "Don't be silly," she said. "The men will have a lot to say about this one, considering the state it's in. I'm sure someone in this army can sew and fix this right up as soon as it dries, so you'll only have to borrow someone else's clothes for a short while."

And with that, Serra disappeared.

Lyn frowned. She really didn't want to wear someone else's clothing—at least, not one of the other women's dresses. She felt awkward just imagining it. They wouldn't fit properly. It would be almost as bad as wearing one of the fancy ball gowns that sat in chests back in Caelin.

It just wouldn't feel right.

She should have just asked Kent if she could borrow his extra clothes. The thought made her smile. It would have embarrassed him something terrible… Her head ached from where it had struck the ground, and with a groan, she got to her feet and padded over to one of the bedrolls that has been laid out on the grass beneath the tent. Once she'd settled in a bit, she curled up on her right side and let her eyes close. Sleep claimed her just as the rain stopped falling outside.

…---…---…

Serra hummed a bit to herself as she walked out of camp and down toward a small creek that ran around the little hills they had camped between. She felt rather cheerful, all things considered. The only injuries in the army belonged to that of Lady Lyndis and Farina, and both were fairly minor. Perhaps things would continue on so well. She could only hope.

For the time being, things were looking up.

She immersed the lady of Caelin's dress in the chilly water of the creek and scrubbed it as best she could. The garment was so worn, she couldn't help but wonder how it hadn't fallen apart at the seams.

"Serra?"

She recognized the timid voice right away, and looked up to wave at her friend. "Florina! Did you hear?"

Did you hear? in Serra-speak meant that something had happened that was interesting enough to share with…well, everyone. Florina trotted over curiously and stared in horror down at the dress in the creek.

"L-Lyn!" she cried, crouching down beside Serra. "Is… Did something happen to her?"

"Well, she's all right." Serra went back to work, attempting to rid the old dress of its recently acquired bloodstain. "I guess this morning she ran off to the arena with some of the others and didn't tell one particularly important person…"

"Ooh." Florina smiled. "She didn't tell Sir Kent?" The knight wrapped her arms around her knees and giggled. "I t-teased him about her the other day. A little bit."

"And you didn't tell me?" Serra faked being hurt, but she couldn't help but grin. Florina had really started to come out of her shell, and the woman inside was caring and sweet and far braver than anyone gave her credit for. "What did you say?"

"W-Well, he was watching her sleep, and I said, "She sure is pretty, isn't she?" and before he could stop himself…he said that she was." Florina gave a wistful little sigh and squeaked happily. "I didn't tell L-Lyn about it, though. That's his job. B-But I'll bet she'd be really happy to know he thought so…"

Well, it wasn't really teasing, but it was pretty cute…and progress. "He's doing better, then. That's good. Before you know it, he'll be on his knees confessing his undying love, right?"

"D-Do you really think so?" The girl's eyes were wide.

"Have I ever steered you wrong?" Serra puffed out her chest proudly and gave Lyn's old dress a firm twist to rid it of some water before she shook it out. "Anyway, because his esteemed lady liege didn't tell him where she was going, he spent all day pacing, panicking…you know how he works."

She nodded. "Yes."

"And when she finally came back…she was bleeding, bruised, scratched, dirty, and soaking wet. You know he blames himself, of course."

"Y-Yeah, he still blames himself for the attack on Caelin by L-Laus."

"Hmm, yeah, she was hurt pretty bad that time."

"N-No, I mean… Not just that, but… A-Also Lord Hausen… And the men under his command that died…"

Serra tried to smile for her friend. "Okay, enough sad talk! I'm sure that something good will come of this!"

"O-Okay."

"Remember what I said? On his knees confessing his undying love."

"Undying love…" Florina echoed.

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. At least a few people in the little makeshift army saw right through Kent's attempts to disguise his feelings for Lady Lyndis. Of course, the way he hovered around her and cared for her in small ways told them everything.

"Oh, while I'm thinking of it," Serra murmured, wringing out the dress again, "do you know why she would refuse to wear something other than this?"

"D-Does she have to? What's wrong with it?"

Serra turned the dress around and showed her the large piece of fabric that had been cut right off the back of the skirt. "Some axe-wielding maniac accidentally got her skirt instead of her in her very last arena match," she said. "I think it can be fixed, but it will take some time…and she has nothing to wear and says she doesn't want to wear anything else. But she can't run around wrapped up in a blanket. What if we're attacked?"

Florina bit her lower lip and sighed. "W-Well, maybe I can convince her to wear something else," she whispered. "But she probably doesn't want to wear anything else because her mother helped her to make that dress many years ago."

…---…---…

The air was cool, and the sun had not yet fallen in the western sky when Kent decided to go to Lyndis. He certainly owed her an apology. And he knew that if he didn't see her looking better, the weight in his chest would never lighten.

…Not that she had looked bad earlier, of course. She had been, he recalled, a mess. A beautiful mess, but a mess.

She had been injured, and that was really all that his mind would let him think about. He had mentioned that they were low on funds. He hadn't been paying attention when she'd left to go to town. He hadn't gone to look for her. He hadn't even waited for her outside of town to offer her a ride.

He had let her hurt herself for the sake of all those from Caelin, though, and he could not forgive himself for it.

The flap to the tent fell behind him with a quiet swoosh as he walked inside, and in the semi-darkness he spotted Lyndis's form curled up only a few yards away. As softly as he was able, he made his way over to her and kneeled.

"Lady Lyndis?" he murmured, but she was fast asleep. He noticed that she had a blanket wrapped around herself to attempt to protect her modesty, and he left her side for just a moment to find another blanket. When he returned, he draped it over her, noting the fresh, clean bandage across her left shoulder, and the fact that her hair was down.

The dark, damp strands curled as they began to dry, and he couldn't help but gently brush a few out of her face. He withdrew his hand before he could trace the small scratches that he saw across her cheeks and nose, and found himself content to simply watch her for a while.

Even though he knew that she was injured, and that fact had been plaguing him since her return, he felt a little bit of peace in seeing her at rest.

Her eyelids began to flutter, and so, too, did his heart.

"Lady Lyndis…"

"…On his knees," a voice behind him said, and he turned to see a wide-eyed Florina prodding an equally wide-eyed Serra.

"Sorry to interrupt," the cleric said flippantly after a moment, shaking her head as she moved to hang Lyn's presumably clean dress to dry across a short length of rope that was tied between poles.

"It's fine…" he said, hiding his disappointment completely. He had hoped to have some time to speak with her, to tell his lady that he was sorry for everything that had happened that day. There were other things he would have liked to say to her as well, but…he probably would not have had the courage to say them, anyway.

"Kent…" she mumbled, struggling to sit up with a blanket wrapped snugly around her.

The blanket that he had brought for her fell into her lap, leaving her neck and shoulders bare but for the bandage that hid the wound on her left shoulder. His hand went to the middle of her back to help her sit, and once she was settled, he reluctantly pulled away.

She gave him a tired smile, "What are you doing here?"

He paused. What was he doing there? He had…had wanted to speak with her, to ask her forgiveness, but… He had watched her sleep, had covered her up, had brushed her hair from her face…

"I… I only wanted to see that you were well." It was not an all-out lie. He had wanted to see for himself that she was well.

"I'm fine," she said, covering a yawn with her right hand.

"Forgive me my impudence, milady, but this," his hand lightly brushed at the edge of the bandage covering her shoulder, "is not fine."

A silence settled between the two of them, and for a moment, he forgot that others had entered the tent. She bit her lip, and he knew that she would not admit to being anything other than fine. But really, she wasn't. There was nothing fine about her being injured, no matter how trivial the wound seemed to anyone. The fact of the matter was that she had been injured in the first place, and that was inexcusable.

"Lyn!" He was spared having to continue the conversation when Florina thought to approach her friend from the other side, wrapping her arms around her in a loose hug. "I-I mean, Lady Lyn… You need to be more careful!"

"You and Kent, two of a kind… You both worry too much!" she said, giving the younger woman a one-armed hug in return.

Kent wanted to ask her if it was really possible to worry too much. Hadn't his worrying served them well in the past? It had kept them from taking certain paths, from returning to retake the castle without backup, and it had kept them all alive. He was far from arrogant, but if his worrying wasn't worth something, why had he been made a commander? And why was Lady Lyndis's safety entrusted to him over that of anyone else from Caelin?

He chose to say nothing as Florina playfully scolded her liege—and best friend—for making people worry.

Perhaps it was not just worry that he felt. It was only natural that he would worry about Lady Lyndis when she left his side. Her very life was placed under his guardianship! His purpose was to keep her safe and well. He knew that she could not always be healthy, as wars and the battles that raged on because of them had the tendency to separate allies and most people did not walk away unhurt.

Despite his personal feelings, he made decisions on sound judgments only. When Lady Lyndis left his presence, and therefore his protection…he felt…

He was not sure. A mix of emotions liked to assault his senses in such times. By rejecting the safety he offered, was she not, in turn, rejecting him—as a person, as a man?

But didn't he have a right to worry? At least a little?

She was his liege. Protecting her was his duty. And more than that, he hated to see her suffer, no matter the degree of severity. A woman of her integrity and beauty—her title and station notwithstanding—did not deserve to feel pain.

Duty? It was hardly such a thing to him any longer. Perhaps the definition of the word had changed, somewhat, since meeting her. He had gone above and beyond without even realizing it. He was entrusted with her safety, but he found himself doing little things for her—trying to find food that she enjoyed, offering her his horse when she started to tire, bringing her an extra blanket if she looked cold—things that he didn't have to do, but that he realized he wanted to do.

When she left him behind, he felt…helpless.

His biggest fear was that he would fail in his duty.

One day, he worried, she would leave his side, and she would not return.

If he failed in his duty… If he failed…he would lose her.

Wholly.

Completely.

To death, the mere thought of which made his insides churn and his head pound and his heart hurt.

Kent did not like to worry about the what-ifs, but…she could have died in the arena. The axe that ruined her dress could have just as easily taken her life—taken her away from him—from them—from Caelin and all those who waited there for her return.

"Hey, Sir Serious, wake up."

Farina's voice shook him out of his rather…deep thoughts, and he blinked to clear his head as he looked up. She was standing over him, and she dug the toe of her boot into his side.

"Good. We've gathered some clothes from the other ladies, and Lady Lyn must decide which she'll we—"

The lady of Caelin crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin defiantly. "I'll wait for my own dress to be fixed."

Kent could tell the motion pulled at the laceration across her shoulder and neck, but other than a small twinge of pain that crossed her face, she gave no other indication that it bothered her. He remained silent.

"L-Lyn, you can't wear it yet...."

"Don't worry," Serra said smugly. "Sain informed me that Priscilla is actually quite talented at sewing, and she'd be delighted to assist you. However…"

"I-If we get attacked, it would leave you very vulnerable…" Florina's soft words made Lyndis's eyes harden.

He knew that was one thing that Lady Lyndis never wanted to be, ever. He watched her turn the thought over in her mind. "I…" She paused, and bit her lip. "Just this once," she said.

Farina grinned. "Good, now all of the women—except Dame Vaida, of course—have been thoughtful enough to lend us their extra clothes." She held out a small article of clothing, "I think it's safe to put Nino's dress aside, don't you?"

Kent nodded absently along with the others. Lady Lyndis was a small woman, but Nino was tiny.

The dress was laid aside.

"And then we have Priscilla's extra dress…"

"No way," Lyndis said, making a face, and interrupting Kent's attempt at imagining what she would look like in the light, flowing skirt. "Next."

"Lady Louise?" The dress would be far too loose.

"No."

"Serra?" She would never accept a dress that would only restrict her movements.

"No."

"Florina…?" Kent could tell that Farina was getting impatient with the Sacaen woman having rejected so many dresses without a second thought.

"Hmm…" Surprised, he watched his lady's expression. She seemed to actually consider the short-skirted white dress that seemed to be popular among pegasus knights.

"No," he said aloud without intending to. Though it would probably fit in most areas, Lady Lyndis was certainly a few inches taller than her smaller-than-average friend. The skirt was short enough on Florina… If Lyndis wore it, it would no doubt be shorter than the skirt of her own ruined dress.

"No?" she echoed along with the other women, their voices ranging from confused to amazed.

He suddenly felt…very out of place. He hadn't really noticed that he was the only man present. His face flushed with embarrassment.

"Why not?" Farina asked, dangling the dress in front of his face.

He leaned backward. "Ahh…" How to answer her question…without sounding like his mind was in the wrong place… "It would…not look right." He was not pleased with his response, but if he tried to correct it, at least one of the women would accuse his mind of wandering to impure thoughts.

He flushed again as he felt Lyndis's stare on him.

Farina raised an eyebrow and leaned over him, far too close for comfort. "Are you saying that Lady Lyn would look bad in this dress?"

"N-No…"

"Then y-you're saying she would look good?" Florina's hopeful voice made him hunch his shoulders forward a bit.

"No…"

"So she would look bad." Serra clucked her tongue at him and sighed. "How rude to say such a thing."

"I would never speak such a lie!" His face was red with annoyance and a tinge of embarrassment. "Lady Lyndis would look g—"

"Serra, Farina, leave him alone. The skirt would be far too short." Lyn sighed. "Next."

Farina rubbed Kent's hair roughly before standing. "I know," she said smugly.

Her words only served to make Kent wonder what it was she had been up to. Nothing good, obviously.

"I won't even ask you about Ninian, since she doesn't have any extra clothing… There's Fiora…"

"Who you probably had to drug to get you to loa—"

"Oh, she does not hate you." Farina smirked. "But I don't think she loves you, either."

"She's too tall…"

"My, my, aren't you picky?" Serra had moved aside to roll up some clean bandages that had been hung to dry earlier in the day. "So what if it's a little loose?"

"I-It'd be a lot loose." Florina flushed lightly. "I know it's hard to tell, but…she takes after our m-mother." The small girl glanced down at her chest. "Obviously I don't…"

Lyndis chuckled as Kent flushed. All of the pegasus knights wore armor over their chests to protect them, so he hadn't ever given such things much thought.

"The poor woman," Lyndis said. "Maybe that's why Sain bothers her so often."

"Heh, he can probably guess better than most men." Farina grinned and held up the last dress. "I think that only leaves me."

The pegasus knight was holding up an extra black dress. It was fairly modest, he thought, and the dark color matched that of the shirt Lady Lyndis oftentimes wore beneath her own dress. The skirt looked a little longer than that of Fiora and Florina's dresses…

"I heard somewhere that little black dresses were going to come into style," Serra said.

Florina giggled. Serra did have some wild ideas as far as fashion was concerned…

Kent had never really noticed that Farina and Lady Lyndis were of similar build. They were both fairly small women compared to some of the others.

"Are…you sure it's okay?" Lyndis asked quietly, fingers reaching out to touch the material.

"Yeah, it'll be fine." The dress dropped atop the lady of Caelin. "Give it back whenever you get around to it. I'm not in any hurry."

With that, she left, and soon after, Serra followed her, still winding the bandages into a roll. It was amazing how many they went through every time they fell under attack.

"S-Sir Kent…" Florina hesitantly poked at him. "Y-You should probably, uhm, leave…now."

He blinked and turned to look at her.

"I'm going to get changed," Lady Lyndis informed him, in case he had somehow forgotten.

"A-Ah, of course." He scrambled to his feet.

"Unless you want to…help," she said, a wide smile on her face as she slowly started to unwind the blanket from around her.

His heart thudded in his chest and he hurriedly shook his head before exiting the tent. Of…of all the strange things she could have said! He closed the tent flap behind him and let the cooler wind outside douse the fire that seemed to have spread across his cheeks. Help her change, indeed! He knew she was only teasing, but… He swallowed. It would be best to think of something—anything—else.

…---…---…

"Of course not…" she murmured as Kent left the medical tent in a hurry. He never had taken any sort of teasing very well; she should have known better.

"L-Lyn, you didn't really think he would stick around, did you?" Florina reached over to help her unwind the blanket so that she could get to her feet.

"Well, no," she said. "But… I mean, the blanket is wrapped around me only ten times. I can't believe I embarrassed him so badly."

"You really like him, don't you?" the smaller woman asked as the blanket fell to the floor.

Lyndis thought as Florina helped tug Farina's dress over her head so that she did not have to move her left arm—and consequently, her shoulder—too much. Did she like Kent? Of course she liked him!

"He works so hard," she said quietly. "He's reliable, and he's handsome…" Her smile turned downward and she stomped her foot in irritation. "But he worries too much!"

Chuckling, the small pegasus knight tugged down on the skirt of the borrowed dress, making sure that it was all where it was supposed to be. "I-I'm sure he's not trying to be overbearing. He must r-really like you to worry so much…don't you think?"

Biting her lip, Lyndis considered her friend's words. Maybe she was right. After all, nobody worried about her quite as much as Kent did. And it was his job to keep her safe. Did he think of her as more than a lady of Caelin? She knew that he did; he had said as much, himself. But as more than a friend? Little signs pointed to it, but she could easily be mistaken...

She hated to make people worry, but sometimes she felt that Kent's worrying was unnecessary. She was fine—it was only a shallow cut, and it would heal in time. But…

"You're right," she conceded. "He probably does not intend to seem overbearing. I was wrong to leave and not tell him where I was going. In doing so, I interfered with his ability to perform his duty."

And wasn't that the truth? His duty was to protect her, and whether he was acting on that duty only because he had to, or even because he wanted to…she had rendered him unable to do so for any reason.

"W-Well, Lyn… Maybe you should apologize to him?" Florina folded her hands and turned pleading eyes to her. "Not for interfering with his d-duty, but for…for making him worry so much."

"Yeah…" she said, hating the idea, but knowing that doing so would be for the best.

"Good." Her friend handed her the belt and sword that had been left, and she fixed them across the dress, settling her sword at her hip again. She felt much better having it there.

"I'll see you later, then," she said, walking slowly toward the tent flap. She hadn't realized just how bruised her knee was until she had began to walk on it. She'd been kicked pretty hard and…she supposed that she had deserved it.

"I want details!" Florina called cheerfully from behind her.

How odd. Now why would she say something like that?

Outside, the sun was setting in the western sky, and people milled about the encampment, preparing to stay another night. The next morning, they would be pressing onward, and everyone seemed to be in a hurry to retire early; they would need all of the rest they could get.

Even though Eliwood was gentle and kind, he always pushed the little army to travel long and hard. More was accomplished by doing so, he told her once, even though the men and women grew weary. If they stayed in one place too long, they would invite rumors and gossip, and unfortunately, an attack, if not for their lives, then for their gold.

She felt…different in the dress borrowed from Farina, though truth be told it was comfortable. The fabric was worn and soft. It was strange to not feel the hem of her skirt skimming across her legs, but she brushed the thought away. Priscilla had been kind enough to offer to fix her own dress, if it could be fixed. No more than a day or two would pass that she had to borrow the clothes of someone else.

She wandered around the camp, keeping an eye out for Kent. He couldn't be far.

After a time, she spotted him down by the creek, and she padded in his direction, pretending that she couldn't feel the cool wet grass beneath her bare feet. Her boots were still soaked from the rainshower earlier in the day, and she wasn't about to wear them.

"Kent?" she asked hesitantly as she approached him. He was washing up.

He tried to wipe most of the cold water from his face and turned to look at her. "Yes, milady?"

She couldn't help but stare as a drop of water slid down the side of his nose and hung over the edge of his lip, eventually falling off its precarious perch when he tilted his head a bit.

"I… Can I talk to you?"

He looked wary, "Of course, Lady Lyndis."

She did not kneel or crouch down, knowing the action would put too much stress on her already hurting knee. Instead, she remained standing, and it wasn't long before Kent joined her, bowing his head slightly.

For the first time in a long time, she had trouble looking him in the eyes. "I apologize for causing you worry today." She swallowed thickly and added, as an afterthought, "And for any time previous."

"It is…fine," he said, and when she looked at him, she noticed that he was not looking at her, either.

She smiled, an idea coming to mind. "Forgive me Kent, but this," her fingertips gently brushed across his forehead and lingered on the lines at the corners of his eyes, "is not fine."

Startled by her touch, he turned his gaze back to her. "Milady?"

A small sigh passed between her lips and she gave him half a shrug. "I know that your position requires you to watch over me, but I wish that you would not worry so much for me."

"Lady Lyndis," he started, his voice lowering in volume as he continued, "You know I do not worry about your safety simply because of either of our stations..."

Her heart fluttered hopefully in her chest, but she didn't dare encourage it further. He had told her before that he cared about her, but he had never said how much, or even in what way.

"Is it not enough," he began slowly, his fingers twisting in the fabric of his own shirt as his face reddened, "that I risk losing you when you are still within reach?" He did not take back the word I, to her absolute delight. "Lady Lyndis, I do not doubt your skill with the sword…but I do not want to underestimate the skill of any opponent you may find yourself facing, either."

"I… I understand." She whispered her response, moving her hand to rest on his shoulder. He did not want her die, she thought. Of course he didn't! That had always been obvious. But that he feared her death so keenly was…odd.

He seemed to toy with something in his mind before he took her free hand in his and lifted it to his lips, letting them press lightly against her knuckles before he pulled it away again, giving it a squeeze. "Lyndis…"

Her name sounded strange without its title when he said it, but she found that she rather enjoyed hearing it. "Yes?" she asked, tugging her hand out of his grasp to wrap it around him in a loose hug. He needed one, she decided. He deserved one. Especially after she had made him worry so much.

"It would kill me to lose you."

Kent never said something he didn't mean, hadn't turned over in his mind beforehand. He did not act or speak with irrationality, and he was always, always honest.

Her eyes felt a little watery as she squeezed him to her and he returned the gesture with some measure of hesitancy attached.

So, he really did care, she thought. Just as a friend?

No, Florina was right. If he only thought of her as a friend, would he go to such lengths for her sake? Certainly not. She had not heard him say that he loved her, but…

She pulled away from him with a mischievous smile on her face. He looked a bit taken aback. "To death or to another man?" she asked coyly in response to his statement as she lifted his hand to her mouth and pressed a kiss to each of his fingertips.

She knew the way she looked up at him though her eyelashes made it even harder for him to answer. He was confused. She watched as he shook his head to clear it and gently took his hand back.

"I… Milady, death would be much worse, but…"

"But…?"

He let one of his hands rest on her uninjured shoulder, gently squeezing it as he spoke. "I would prefer to lose you to neither another man nor death."


…---…---…

Author Notes:

This was written for the lovely, awesome, amazing, fantastic Qieru, whose birthday is today. I spent a long time writing this plotless, pointless piece of crap. But you know how we Kent/Lyn fans love our crap. Feedback would be great!