Chapter 16 – Feel For You
Rinoa had a crush. She could no longer pretend otherwise. She had a huge puppy-love crush on Squall Leonhart and she was just extremely glad that she wasn't the constantly blushing type. Instead she was the 'I want to spend all of my time with you' type. She was worried that she was being too obvious about it, but then she was giddy to the point of not really caring. She made sure to spend as much of her free time with him as she could - sometimes dragging him back to the music rooms for privacy - and she only returned to the library when Squall was busy or because Merlin encouraged it. However, with the new academic year in April, came a change in her routine.
"You want me to start combat training?" Rinoa blinked up at Merlin as a tea set shuffled around on its own, preparing their drinks.
He looked up, a little surprised. "You are a sorceress, child; you need to know how to fight for your world. Why did you think you were learning offensive spells?"
Honestly? For control, but she wasn't going to object. She loved reading, but that was stories. She was no scholar and a lot of her studies were as much theory as practice. Even the practice part involved a lot of just sitting down and concentrating. Combat training would give her some variety, a chance to run around, be active and use her mind in a completely different way.
"Will I get to specialise in a weapon as well?" Her life was definitely taking an exciting turn.
Merlin waved the question off irritably. "Now why would you want that? You have magic superior to anyone's on this world. Why would you need a weapon?"
"I thought that that's how it worked?" She knew from Squall, his friends and Genesis, that after a year in the cadets they had to choose a weapon to specialise in.
Merlin sighed. "You read far too many stories. No, no, no, no, no. You won't need a weapon. Your knight should do most of your fighting for you and you will be his support."
"Ah," That was a little disappointing. Still, at least she would learn how to fight; it would give the illusion that she had more control over her life, "but does this mean that I can go out after dark? I'll be able to defend myself if anything attacks me."
"Oh, you're far too valuable to lose over something so silly."
She wanted to ask what the point of her training was if they were still going to lock her away, but reined herself in. Best not bite the hand that was feeding her. If she kicked up too much of a fuss then they might decide that she 'wasn't ready', or some other such nonsense. "When do I start?"
Merlin sat opposite her and with a wave of his hand, the teapot started pouring them both a cup. "This Saturday. You'll spend the afternoon at the training fields. Genesis will be your partner."
"Genesis?" She wasn't unhappy, just surprised.
Merlin watched a spoon tip three loads of sugar into his drink. "Yes, well, you are friends and he is a very talented soldier. He's already better than most of his seniors, despite only becoming a full-fledged guard last month. Yes," he muttered. "He is a very promising young man, quite the prodigy."
Rinoa wasn't stupid; she knew he was referring to more than his talent and her training. She found it… off-putting that people were already seriously considering her future knight, or indeed her future in general. To save herself from having to answer, she sipped her tea. She wondered if this was a test, not for her, but for Genesis. They would use this to see how well they worked together. If he passed would he be seen as being worthy of being her knight? But this choice was hers and hers alone. Maybe it was to get her used to having a knight at all. It could be a way of trying to manipulate her choice. It didn't matter; she didn't need to choose until she became a sorceress, which was two years away. She would not be pushed into thinking about it now. She'd change her mind every week if she did, or she'd work herself into a frantic worry about it.
"Are you alright?" Merlin frowned across at her.
"Of course I am."
"I thought you would be happier."
So did she, but all these underlying issues were ruining it for her. "I am happy," Rinoa assured him, putting down her teacup. "I'm just surprised. It'll be good to run around."
That and if they were using the training fields, there was a good chance that she may see a little more of Squall.
From the age of thirteen, residents of Radiant Garden were permitted to join the Guard Cadets. New recruits were taken in April and usually signed up through the schools. The biggest draw was the promise of weapons training. Squall and his friends were amongst those who were lured in and so it had been easy for them to slip into the training yards, even if it wasn't their day to be there. Finding the plot which Rinoa would be using was a little harder, but they guessed she would be using the private yard, more of a courtyard, rather than the actual training fields that the cadets used.
So they slipped in and sat around the edges, or more specifically the low wall that surrounded the grassed rectangle, and chatted merrily amongst themselves. They were giddy with the mischief of sneaking into the normally out-of-bounds inner yard, though it wasn't very impressive now that they were here. It looked like any other courtyard that was open to the sky. On the west side rose the castle, and high above them was the library, the windows too far away to hear any of the noise that would be created as long as they remained closed. The chambers lining the other three walls were a mixture of store rooms, offices and sparring rooms. The private yard itself was used for more vicious sparring and magic practice. Quistis claimed this was because it was easier to set up a protective barrier when there were already walls to define their boundaries…or something like that. It wasn't an area that Squall could pretend to be expert in.
The boy in question turned and grinned. "Sabin!"
An older boy, probably by a couple of years, was walking towards them. Squall had assumed that his blond hair was shorter than all of theirs until he noticed a small ponytail at the nape of Sabin's head. He wore casual loose white trousers, a navy vest, and a wide grin that would make Zell jealous. He knew Zell through their cadet training. When Zell had been adopted, he had started martial arts classes. Ma Dinct was a fan of teaching children to defend themselves and believed that all youngsters should have an active hobby, though Aunt Ifalna claimed that Ma Dinct was an even bigger fan of tiring Zell out. As a result of this though, Zell had been allowed to skip the first year of general weapons training and go straight to more advanced classes. Thus the friendship with Sabin, amongst others.
"Have you seen Master Yang?" the older boy replied.
Sabin stopped beside them, looking at the rest of the gang. "Are these your friends?"
"Yeah, this is Irvine, Quistis, and Squall."
Sabin's eyes lingered on Squall and the boy prepared himself for any number of the expected comments or questions, but instead the elder boy moved on. "It's nice to meet you all. Zell talks about you all the time." Irvine grinned and Quistis didn't look surprised. "Why are you here?"
"We're going to watch Rinoa start her training."
"Are you allowed?"
His friends looked to each other: none of them had really considered whether or not they would be allowed. They simply assumed that if they were already there, they would be permitted to stay. They turned to Squall, as if he could magically produce an answer. How should he know? It hadn't occurred to him that they wouldn't be allowed either; he had been more concerned about whether Rinoa would want them to be here. If he was in her place, Squall knew that he would be uncomfortable with all his friends watching, especially on his first lesson. However, he also had to admit that Rinoa wasn't half as self-conscious as he was.
"I don't think we're not allowed," he replied. "Nobody said we couldn't come and I mentioned it to my dad this morning. He seemed happy about it." But then, his father seemed happy about most things.
Sabin's eyes flicked up. "You're about to find out."
The friends turned round on the wall to face the inner yard and saw Genesis entering from the other side. Beside him walked his friend, Angeal. Upon seeing them, Genesis frowned, changing the direction of his stride. He was overtaken though. Rinoa ducked out from behind him and ran towards them, shouting their names. She staggered to a stop before them and, grinning, she exclaimed, "You came to watch!" Immediately, all of Squall's fears that she might be upset disappeared. She really seemed to be thrilled that they were here.
"We thought we'd come to cheer you on," Zell beamed.
Genesis appeared behind her, his scowl now replaced with a superior smirk. "I hardly think this is the place for you and your friends to 'hang out'." His eyes travelled over them all, but they settled on Squall. "This is a private session, not a show."
Rinoa's expression immediately fell. "They can't stay?"
Zell pointed a finger at Angeal. "If your friend can stay, then so can we. This is Rinoa's training, not yours."
Genesis shot him a glare and the boy shrank back. Feeling indignation for his bullied friend, Squall spoke up. "Zell's right. If your friend is here, then there shouldn't be a problem with them being here, especially if Sorceress Rinoa doesn't mind."
Genesis turned his cold gaze to him and Squall lifted his chin to meet it. He would not be intimidated. He would not be cowed by the older man, certainly not when he'd just rushed to his friend's defence. The air became tense and his friend's eyes darted between them, looking a little concerned while Angeal simply looked exasperated.
"Merlin!" Rinoa called, breaking the tension. Squall turned towards where the old wizard had been startled out of waving his wand and muttering under his breath. "My friends can stay and watch, can't they?"
"Oh! Well, I don't see why not, if you don't mind and they stay out of the way. In fact," his expression brightened a little, "I dare say it's a very good idea. We need to get you used to the idea of performing in front of others."
She grinned back at her friends, but Genesis was clearly unhappy about it. There was little he could do though; instead he turned his attention to Sabin. "You aren't a friend of Rinoa's."
"No," he lifted his hands in a pacifying gesture. "I'm just looking for master Yang."
"As you can see, he isn't here."
Sabin took the hint. With a quick wave, he was off.
"Is Merlin teaching you then?" Zell asked enthusiastically, apparently getting his courage back.
"No, that would be me."
They turned round to see a powerful looking brunette standing behind them. Her hair fell to curl up just below her shoulder. Her white fitted coat was sleeveless, showing toned and muscled arms. A sword rest against her hip and a patch covered one of her brown eyes.
Quistis was quickly on her feet, standing tall. "General Beatrix."
It was rare to see Quistis brimming with excitement and admiration, but seeing the female general in front of them now, he could understand his friend's reaction. This was the woman Quistis wanted to be.
Beatrix nodded her acknowledgement and turned to the training sorceress. "Rinoa Heartilly?" The tone was all serious and yet not unkind.
The apprentice sorceress, clearly not really knowing who the woman before her was, smiled politely and nodded. Squall could have sworn Quistis was glaring at the raven haired girl. Angeal stepped up and eased the girl's ignorance.
"This is Beatrix Steiner, one of the most respected generals in the guard. She isn't a teacher, but she's been kind enough to make an exception in your case."
Quistis frowned at the bluntness, most likely seeing it as ingratitude.
"They believe," Beatrix answered, "that you would benefit from my tuition rather than another's?"
This time, Rinoa looked a little confused. "How so?"
"You may prefer a female teacher." The girl nodded at this, not denying it. "I also have a great deal of experience in fighting as a pair, which will be an important part of your training. There are other reasons, but all that matters is that I have a lot of experience you will need to learn from… and I'm not dominated by hot-heads." At this point her eyes flicked to Genesis, and the group of friends sniggered.
Genesis stiffened, but Rinoa was quiet and thoughtful. She cocked her head a little, watching Beatrix. "Do they want to put you forward as a potential knight?"
Beatrix gaze was long and steady, examining the girl before her. Eventually she turned to Merlin. "At least she isn't stupid."
Merlin smiled. "Oh no! She most certainly is not stupid. She is my student-"
The woman didn't bother waiting around for him to finish. She started marching into the centre of the field, tossing a curl over her shoulder and ignoring Merlin's stammered indignation. "That's enough chatter, let's begin."