A Vow to Cait Sith

Red Mountain stared at the strange creature descending the stairs toward him, a knee-high mannikin with feline features. It wore nothing but its own black and white fur, and a crown-like headpiece. It blinked at him with its large yellow-green eyes. "A child of Altana. Yes, of Altana. One of her elder children." The voice was sweet and bell-like.

She came closer, stretching out her paw toward him. "I can feel it.. There is so much love in your heart, and sympathy too. A heart full of love and sympathy."

She came right up to where he was lying and looked into his face. The tiny creature took Red Mountain's head in her delicate hands, looking right into his deep brown eyes. "A heart full of love and sympathy," she repeated. "This war will spread to consume Vana'diel in a tidal wave of tragedy. You must help me stop it."

The Crystal War. From what he had read in the history books, and from what he had seen so far, he knew the creature did not lie. "I am but one man. What can I do?"

"I hope to shrink this tidal wave of tears, if only by a little. By a few drops. Bring that love and sympathy to those of your past. Dry their tears and ease their suffering. Give them hope and encouragement" She released him and and struck an apologetic pose. "It will be difficult, thankless work though."

Red Mountain thought of all he had done for his compatriots, all the difficult, thankless work he had undertaken for them. "I will."

Cait Sith brightened. "You would be up for the task?"

Red Mountain nodded, still entranced by the strange fairy-like being. "Of course I will."

"You vow to help me with this grand plan of salvation?"

"I give you my word."

Delightedly Cait Sith danced a circle about the Galka as he rose to his feet. "Child of Altana, your heart knows few equals in generosity." She waved her hand at him. "Go now. The fate of the age rests on your shoulders. So much rests on you."

Chapter One – The Visitor

"Where did you get that?" asked Striking Bull, eyeballing the young soldier enviously. It was a damp day in Rolanberry Fields, and unusually cold for the spring.

The grenadier pointed behind the fortification and swallowed the rest of the mouthful he was chewing. In his pale hands he clasped a half-eaten pie full of stewed meat and thick gravy. Steam and an irresistible aroma wafted forth from it. "Around the back. Some guy brought a whole bunch and is handing them out." He reached into his satchel. "He gave me a popoto too," he said, displaying the parchment-packaged tuber.

Without another question Striking Bull hurried off to the place indicated, hoping that this "some guy" had brought enough for everyone, or at least enough that he had not missed out. It had been a long time since he and his men had been sent any decent rations.

He found the place quickly. A dozen or so grenadiers stood in a cluster, where another Galka was handing out hot pies and baked popotoes from a large hamper. There was much excitement in the air despite the wet weather, and for the first time in a long time he heard laughter.

As Striking Bull reached the group he saw that the man with the food was what they called a "Visitor," one of the many strange mercenaries that had suddenly begun appearing one day, just as the war had begun to look hopeless for the allied forces. They wore unusual armor and talked using strange tenses. Whispers spoke of them having come from another time. And while the governments had welcomed their services with open arms, they had forbidden interaction between the Visitors and the people. Soldiers and civilians alike were not to socialize with these mercenaries—not to ask questions, not to inquire, only to work and fight together for the common good.

So it was with some nervousness that Striking Bull stepped up and held out his hands to receive part of this sudden, tantalizing bounty. But what harm would there be in simply receiving a much wanted and needed hot meal. As the Visitor reached to put the paper-wrapped pie into Striking Bull's hands, he paused and peered at Striking Bull's face. There was something of a light of recognition in the Visitor's eyes and a flighty smile. And then he placed the heavy pie into the waiting hands and said, "I see you're the captain of this unit. I have something special for you." And then bent down and took up a smaller basket, handing it also to Striking Bull.

Striking Bull received it, studying the fellow Galka's face. He seemed familiar but could not place him. He was young, perhaps a few decades his junior, and handsome, save for a faint scar running down his forehead and crossing his cheek. "Thank you. This is very kind of you."

"You're welcome," said the Visitor warmly. "You looked like you could use a good meal."

Striking Bull nodded. "We don't get much meat in our rations."

The Visitor laughed. "You said something about stale army biscuits the other day when I was here."

"So that's where I've seen you before. Well thank you for thinking of us."

Striking Bull thanked him again and returned to his post near the Campaign Arbiter. He sat down with the basket and began to eat. On unpacking the basket he found it filled tightly with all sorts of things a soldier could use in the field. There were preserved meats and fruits, as well as bandages, soap, salt, chocolates, healing balm, a pair of socks, and a book of poetry written by the ancient Altepan poet Dolakk. Tears began to pool in his blue eyes. In all his years, no one had ever given him such a thoughtful gift. And this one had come from a stranger, a Visitor at that, who appreciated the work of the heavy infantry.

Striking Bull thought often of the stranger and hoped to see him again to thank him once more for the gift. And on a hot afternoon in the middle of a grueling battle he did. The Visitor was there in the robes of a healer, throwing spells alongside the Field Woundpatchers. Nearby, apparently with him, were a Mithra Bard and an Elvaan Dark Knight—Visitors as well. The trio fought beautifully together and did much against the onslaught of Quadav. And eventually when the battle ended, Striking Bull took the arm of the Visitor and pulled him aside. "I wanted to thank you for the basket of supplies. It was the nicest thing anyone has ever given me."

The Visitor smiled bashfully. "I'm glad you liked it."

"Hey Red! We're taking off!" called the Mithra.

"All right. I'll be right there," called back the Galka Visitor.

"Your name is Red? Kinda ironic for a White Mage."

He chuckled. "Red Mountain, at least that's what they call me."

"I'm Striking Bull, captain of the Second Division Heavy Infantry...the Second Grenadiers." He held out his hand in greeting.

Red Mountain took it, feeling the strong arm of the captain. "Red Mountain at your service."

"The way these battles have been going lately, we could use a lot more of your help. I'd like to see more of you...meaning, of you Visitors."

"I'll pass the word along."

"And thank you again. Your gift meant a lot to us here."

Red Mountain smiled his bashful smile once more and warped away.

In the days that followed, the three Visitors spent much time in Rolanberry Fields, camping not far from the fortification. They sometimes brought food for the grenadiers, hearty meals of meat and stew. Often there was a basket of popotoes or other baked vegetables to go with it. And on these occasions an additional basket of goods would appear next to the Campaign Arbiter for Striking Bull, always anonymously, but the origin was obvious.

The Trio, as they had been dubbed, would hunt Goobues and stray Quadav, but when a battle began, they were quick to appear on the battlefield to lend a hand. The Galka White Mage proved himself a fountain of healing power. Striking Bull found himself taking confidence from the Trio, and strength from just the presence of Red Mountain. A glimpse of him lifted his heart, knowing that he was there in the background easing the trauma and keeping everyone going. He wanted to say more and talk to the strangers, but in accordance with the official orders, both sides kept to themselves, exchanging no more than greetings and thanks. And he could not disagree with those orders, for as suspected they were from another time. He knew for certain now. Carelessly left in, the printer's page in the book of Dolakk's poetry gave a publishing date almost twenty years into the future. Shocking at first, it had later given him hope. The Galka race and something of their culture would survive this war.

The days became weeks, and a month passed, Striking Bull found himself longing for more contact with Red Mountain. The glances across the battlefield had grown longer, and the mage seemed to stand closer to him with each fight. Questions rose. There was so much he wanted to ask, but not about the future or the world ahead, but about Red Mountain himself. He longed for more than presence, but closeness and contact.

And sometimes he found the Galka Visitor in his dreams, where he took the mage into his arms and held him safe from all foes. There were caresses and sighs, and there came such a sweetness to the forbidden friendship. When he could, he allowed his thoughts to linger in these dreams, savoring the imaginary companionship. In these dreams they explored each other's worlds, escapist fantasies that ranged across the land. Red Mountain took him to the future and showed him what was to come, the wonders that lay ahead long after the Shadowlord had been vanquished. And Striking Bull showed him what the past had been, the lands his people no longer knew, the things that would disappear in the ravages of war. But always they were together, friends inseparable.

After a couple of months Striking Bull could bear the dictated separation no longer, and so began to plan a clandestine meeting. Surely the mage would come, for he saw the same longing in Red Mountain's eyes in the battles they shared. Perhaps the Visitor was dreaming the same dreams.

He plotted long hours, wondering what would be best. They could not meet within Bastok, but outside would be fine. People rarely left the city for fear of attack by marauding Beastmen. And eventually he decided upon a secluded low bank of the Obere Creek, easily found but far from the road and hidden from passers by. He could leave the city anonymously in mining clothes for a few foolhardy persons still braved the dangers to mine ores in North Gustaberg. There, beside the creek, they could meet and talk privately. When he felt sure of his plan, he penned a simple letter, folded it into a small size, and slipped it into the orders pocket in his breastplate to await the right opportunity.

Near the end of the next battle the two saw each other at, as the Second Grenadiers were mopping up the last of the Beastmen, Striking Bull quietly passed the letter to Red Mountain with a whisper for silence. Later, when alone, Red Mountain unfolded it and read the unsigned missive.

"The time for shyness is past. Meet me tonight in the darkness. I'll wait for you next to the Obere Creek where it emerges from under Vomp Hill."

Red Mountain anxiously followed the instructions, and found Striking Bull where the note had said. Instead of his blue enameled armor , Striking Bull wore a simple tunic of light brown homespun, the front open to the waist. Beside him was a workman's apron and a supply of pickaxes. Had Red Mountain not been expecting to find him there, he would have easily mistaken him for a prospector taking a break from his work.

As Red Mountain sat down beside him, he could see a thin chain of silver around his thick neck and smell the lingering freshness of a recent bath. Striking Bull smiled over at him and clasped his hand in greeting. "I've been praying to Altana that you would come tonight," Striking Bull said. He pulled Red Mountain's hand and held it against his chest. "I know we're not supposed to be doing this, but I can't help myself."

"You would defy orders to meet with me?"

"I would defy the president himself tonight."

Red Mountain chuckled. "You don't have to do these things to impress me."

"Would you be offended if I kept trying?"

The two laughed together, and then impulsively Red Mountain brought the other man's hand to his lips and kissed his fingers. "You've always been my hero. You impressed me long before I even knew your name."

"I'm honored to have been such a part of your life."

"You'll never know how much."

"You're a Visitor. It's best not to ask."

Red Mountain kissed his hand again, at which Striking Bull pulled him closer in a heavy embrace. "You share the feelings I have for you," he said softly. "Altana has answered both of my prayers."

Dawn came all too quickly, and Striking Bull hurried back to the barracks before the light grew, but not before Red Mountain made him promise to meet him at the same place again in a week's time. He spent the next eight days sighing and hoping and wondering if he would see Red Mountain in battle before that night. And his heart fretted when the days came and went without a glimpse, not even of the two women the mage fought alongside.

But on the designated night, Striking Bull found his anticipated one waiting for him beside the creek. Red Mountain took off the plain grey cloak he wore to reveal an elaborate coat of white velvet and black and gold embroidery, bordered with bands of black satin. Striking Bull was much impressed by the coat and told him so. "I envy you Visitors and all the beautiful things you wear."

"I have something beautiful for you to wear."

Striking Bull looked at the coat again and huffed as he set down his pickaxes. "You know I can't. They've forbidden it."

Red Mountain smiled, the moonlight catching his eyes. "They won't see this." From his pocket he drew a tiny bundle of blue-dyed Crawler silk tied with a silver ribbon. "If you'll wear this..." he said embarrassedly.

Striking Bull took off the heavy workman's gloves he had arrived in and took the package.

Red Mountain held his breath as the other Galka unwrapped it.

The silk parted to reveal a ring of Altepan gold set with four equally cut stones—a ruby, a sapphire, a topaz, and an emerald—the four revered stones of their ancient kingdom. The Humes called them "best friends" rings, but to a Galka they meant so much more. This ring represented the close bond between the two who shared the exchange. "Companion rings" were what the Galkas called them, and any jeweler worth his salt kept a small stock of them alongside the wedding bands.

Striking Bull held it for a while, simply gazing at it between his fingers. "I've never had one," he whispered, his throat tight and feeling completely overwhelmed by the gift. The faceted gold glittered even in the moonlight.

"Will you have this one? I know though that I shouldn't be giving it to you, so I will forgive you if you say no."

Striking Bull slipped it onto his finger. The embracing was followed by kissing and joyful laughter, followed by the meal Red Mountain had brought with him in the ever familiar hamper. And then they drank up the bottles of wine and fell asleep in each others' arms, knowing the comfort of having someone so close to one's heart.

When Red Mountain told his two dearest friends, the reaction was not favorable.

"You're an idiot!" Evoille spat. "You know what will happen if someone finds out." Her arms folded over her chest.

Red Mountain sighed. "Yes. They make sure we know even before we enter the cities."

"And you still went ahead with it! Idiot!"

"Don't be so hard on him, Evoille," sighed the Mithra Bard as she strummed gently on her harp. "You can't always help who you fall in love with."

"Yes you can!" the Dark Knight hissed back.

"I'm not in love. It's just closeness," Red Mountain defended, but Evoille wasn't listening, and neither was Paktih.

"You're just uncomfortable with it being another Galka. You'd say nothing if it were some Hume woman," accused Paktih.

"I'm uncomfortable with it being someone in the past, and not just any someone, but an officer." She brushed back her wavy blonde hair and leaned into the Galka's face. "Red, you've made some foolish decisions before but this tops them all."

Red Mountain hung his head shamefully. "No one knows but you two. I thought I could trust you with this." He twisted the companion's ring Striking Bull had given him around and around on his finger, a steel band inscribed with a Bastokan crest and four enameled cabochons. Striking Bull had apologized for the poor nature of the ring, its value but a fraction of the gold ring Red Mountain had bestowed. 'It's all I can get, and all I can afford,' he had excused himself.

"And what happens when someone eventually finds out? You know that at some point someone will. I'll tell you what happens, because I saw it happen in San d'Oria. He gets stripped of his rank and any honors and given the choice of either banishment or hard labor. Do you want that to happen to him? And you? You get sealed off from the past, never to return."

"We've been careful to keep it hidden."

"Couldn't you just bring him here, to the present?" Paktih wondered.

"People from the past cannot move through the maws. It's been tried. We tried. Besides, they need good soldiers in the past desperately. I couldn't take him away."

But despite the warnings and fears and hesitations, Red Mountain and Striking Bull continued to meet. And the months that followed were bliss for the pair. Striking Bull joined his beloved whenever he could. In time the Second Grenadiers came to realize the Galka Visitor had become their captain's companion. For he was always there when they battled in Rolanberry, healing Striking Bull as much as he healed the Mithra Bard and the Elvaan Dark Knight that accompanied him fairly often. And when the two women were not present, the White Mage became their captain's personal Woundpatcher, hanging as far back as possible so as not to appear suspicious, but everyone knew. The soldiers kept quiet though, not just out of respect for their leader, but also in knowing that the frequent gifts of food would stop should the relationship end.

Dangruf Wadi became the haunt of Striking Bull and Red Mountain, where they could meet alone in secret. The Moogles became party to their forbidden relationship and were sent with secretive messages between the barracks and the Mog Houses in Bastok. "Fine weather" was the code for a Dangruf rendezvous. Striking Bull would return to the barracks and ask the Moogle for a weather report. Whenever "fine weather" was mentioned, he could expect to find Red Mountain waiting in the wadi for him. A report of rain or sunshine or wind meant nothing.

In Dangruf Wadi Red Mountain inhabited a small camp hidden within a cave. He kept food and a cask of wine and a bed veiled with insect netting—a pleasant retreat where they could be alone. Red Mountain spent his waiting time writing poetry in imitation of Dolakk, as well as working on his smithing skills. The worms in the wadi proved an adequate source of ore for him, and Striking Bull often took ingots back to Bastok for sale to the armorers.

And whenever Striking Bull came to the wadi, they spent their precious hours together playing in the canyons, swimming in the mineral waters, and gazing at the stars. At night they slept in each others' arms, adrift in the intoxication of wine and love, trying hard to escape the war outside their little world.

And Red Mountain remembered his vow to the strange Cait Sith, to help her ease the pain of this time of war, and it was with much relish that he did so.

Next Chapter : The Aftermath of Battle

FFXI and all related concepts, characters, worlds, and events are property of SquareEnix. Original characters and story elements are property of E. Potter, writing under the pen name of Miratete.