A/N: So, I finally managed to get some work done. I know I keep saying it'll take less time, but it doesn't seem to. Your patience is always appreciated. I was originally going to post this for Thanksgiving, but then I thought all my readers might be passed out from all that turkey. So, here it is.

Enjoy


Chapter VI: Fight and Flight

Lucia came to the guest room that was reserved for any one of the visiting noblemen, but on this occasion housed the Duke of Felirae. Knocking on the door, she was quite expectant to see Percival emerge from his room, for he was not often given to the need to go far. She had known him to stay in his assigned quarters more times than not, even though other places within the palace likewise held his attention. When the duke did not appear, Lucia again knocked. Again, he did not come.

The lady wondered if she should dare to enter. Though they were quite familiar with each other, the ears of the royal house would no doubt hear of her visit to his room, and though it was only in the middle marks of the afternoon, it would surely cause idle talk among them. Lucia had no intent to bring further harm upon the lad or the name he was unfortunate enough to bear. If a poor word should reach the ears of her brother, Lucia had little doubt that he would act as her shield, even if he had no cause to do so. With such a thought at the forefront of her cares at this hour, she departed.

Though Percival was not prone to wandering, she knew that his steps would indeed carry him to only two other places. As she walked the halls, Lucia sighed heavily in pity for the youth. She wondered what cause, save for his bloodline, the other noblemen of the country, and yes, even Geoffrey, had to hold any offense against him.

"They held Daein's King Pelleas in contempt because of his family line," Lucia wondered aloud, though she kept her voice from reaching any tone beyond a gentle whisper, "He was the son of Ashnard, and Percival has only a trace of Ludveck's blood in his veins. How is it that they consider both men the same? If anything, they should consider them fine examples of royalty and nobility."

Even now, the dire warnings spoken by Geoffrey echoed through her thoughts, unwelcome as she found his advice concerning this matter.

"He does not? Then why would he insist that you alone would train him? I speak only as your brother, Lucia. Please, take my words to heart and don't go to him."

Lucia spoke again, hoping to quiet the troubled yet clearly ill-natured words that would not cease, "He does not think of me as my brother believes. He is not as Ludveck was towards me; no, he is twice the man his kinsman was."

And yet, when Lucia recalled that night in the library when he had gazed upon her with such a strange look in his eyes of brown, the lady pondered if by chance her brother had spoken rightly. She was not at all unfamiliar with looks of admiration, adoration, and even on the occasion desire from men, even those whom she had served with in the days of Ashnard's occupation, and she had thought little of each and every glance given to her. She knew well that she was found lovely by many; perhaps in some way, Percival thought of her in such a way.

"But surely he would not," said she, again hoping the doubting whisperings would fade. "Surely, he is a better man than to think such things of me." Lucia said those words until she believed that her tongue would not abide with her any longer, and so she silenced herselfm if only to prevent its escape.

At length, she came to the doors of the library. It seemed strange to her to return to the vault of wisdom on a day that she resolved not to permit those same plaguing images to return to her eyes. She had hoped to shut herself away if only to learn their causes, and now she returned for another reason altogether. Even so, Lucia found that the great archive seemed too reminiscent of days not long ago that she wished not to recall.

She wondered if she should instead inquire to any of those whose steps would lead them here if Percival sat among them, but she soon found the thought childishly foolish. She was not a girl frightened by what was not there, as she knew some children to be. Still, she could not easily cast away the fearful remembrance And so, with an unnerved swallow, Lucia entered.

Again, Lucia paid little mind to the apprentices in the magic arts and hopeful scholars that scurried from shelf to shelf like honeybees to new flowers or idly spoke with their instructors about matters the lady cared not for. She did not have to look far to find the youth she sought. As he had always done, Percival sat alone at a single table. She recognized many of the books that he gathered, for most of them were the same texts that he had brought with him when he happened upon her in the library those four nights previous. Smiling slightly, Lucia neared the duke.

She took this moment to observe him, though she wondered why. Perhaps it was because she had not done so before, despite the familiarity he shared with the lady. He seemed quiet and uncaring for the comings and goings that went on around him. His brown eyes showed concerned only for the task at hand. Yet, as she watched him, on occasion, he seemed to reach for his only companion, the rapier Cybele, which hung at his side as it always had. She wondered if he knew what he did or if his hand took its leave of him.

It struck Lucia as strange that he should give himself entirely to the reading of his selected volumes, and it also did not please her as his instructor. Often had she taught him to mind his surroundings, especially if he intended to take up the sword. Remembering her purpose at the thought, she came to his table.

"Lord Percival," said she, catching him off guard as he once did to her. The duke, in haste, overturned a few of the books he had set aside, and Lucia thought he might have fallen to the floor had he not caught himself. He did rise and then stoop in order to retrieve his fallen volumes. He looked up with astonished eyes.

"Lady Lucia," he answered, still unsure of the visit. "Are you well today?" he added, after a degree of silence.

Though she did not show it, the swordswoman took a slight offense to the question. Its words, innocent as they were, brought a bitter twinge to her heart as she thought of the question that many had put to her of late. She did not wish to answer it, for she thought doing so would cause her to think back to the occasions where she had not the strength to give a reply. Yet for the sake of her courtly upbringing and appearance, she replied.

"I am well." She bent her knee to aid him in gathering up the scattered tomes. Perhaps if only due to the words of her brother, Lucia noted the hands of her pupil as they flitted here and there looking for another overturned book. Did they seek the company of her hands? Did they seek solitude to stave away some ill rumor? Lucia did not notice that her own hands took great efforts to avoid those of Percival, as they might in a tale told by the wandering bard. At length, the last of the books were again upon the table, and the two stood.

The same discomforting stillness that Lucia had felt in his presence those four nights ago fell again over the lady and the duke. It seemed to her as though she had come to him with no intent. As they looked upon each other, she could not permit even a single word to leave her closed mouth. Percival lightly kicked his foot against the floor, and he repeated the motion with the other.

Lucia paused, holding her hands behind her back. What had she come for? If only Geoffrey had not said such words concerning the youth; such untrue yet distracting words. Her eyes slowly drifted to Cybele, and at once, she recalled the purpose that brought her steps to him. Her pupil, however, managed to find his voice before she could speak even a single word.

"What brings you here?" he asked. "I am sure you did not come here only for us to stare at each other."

"You would be right, Percival," Lucia replied. "The council has ended, and I can think of nothing else that I must do today. I thought that perhaps you would care to spar, since you had asked me the day before yesterday. But if you are too occupied with your books," she added, stealing a small glance at the stack upon the table, "then your swordplay can wait. I have no doubt that the nobles will be staying a day or two more."

Percival likewise glanced at his books, with a look upon his face as one might wear if they were to be roughly pulled from the company of a friend. He then looked to his teacher, and with a smile, he stepped forward. "I think the books will not wander far. I would be glad to continue my lessons with you. At least your swordplay teachings don't unsettle my belly."

"If you were to fight with a blade, I have no doubt that you would find it most unsettling," Lucia remarked rather soberly. She spoke with truth, but she knew not how to describe the sight of glistening silver running red or the sight of a man slain by the sword. "But enough of that," she said quickly, waving her wand to dismiss the unpleasant talk, "we shall meet in the training hall in one mark. Don't be late."

She pointed her finger towards the duke in a stern and sharp manner as she would if he were but one of her recruits, for she held the sword as she held her station. Few men of his position would abide such talk from one beneath them, but Percival knew her well enough to take no offence to her words. When he answered with a simple nod, Lucia left him. She did, however, turn her head to allow him to glimpse a warm smile.

And then Lady Lucia took her leave of the library.


The training hall of the palace was not at all large, for Crimea was not a nation of war as her neighboring Daein had been. Still, it was of a fairly generous size. It was a rounded room with eight walls, and all manner of device and instrument to make ready those who would one day take upon themselves a place in the army of the realm. It was a place Lucia knew well.

As she entered, her eyes fell upon the series of circles in the middle of the room where those who tired of wooden man and wooden sword could take measure of their skill with their peers. To the left of the training circles, a single row of four wooden poles dressed in the manner of soldiers awaited those who had only begun the art of swordsmanship, and to their left was all manner of weaponry, from dulled and wooden blades to sharpened iron blades, axes, and shields all held in racks. At the lady's right hand was the great carved horse for those who sought the instruction of her brother. With a contented smile as she observed the room, Lucia stepped inside.

She crossed the training circles as she turned her steps towards the shelves. She thought well of this place; Lucia had tested many and had herself tested in these very circles. The lady thought of the bruises she had given and some that she had gained in mock combat. She knew not why, but it pleased her to think of those times, even the pain that it had given her on some occasion. She supposed it was because she thought of the comrades she had gained and the knowledge she had passed on to others. To have herself bruised was quite trivial to her when she recalled the happier times that had come of it.

Lucia set her gaze upon a single pell, and she selected a wooden blade not unlike her own. She had done this many a time, and her ability was far beyond that of those who would often fight against these false men. Yet, to pass the time, she thought it might suit her well to backtrack in her swordplay. She had also reasoned that she would do well to perform her daily repetitions if only to further repel the nightly faces before they could dare beset her again. She had resolved this day that she would never permit herself to give into the same fear that had stolen her sleep for night upon night, and though she had also taken up her training earlier before the council, it pleased her to do so again.

Feeling the weight of the blade in her hands, Lucia struck hard and fast at the pell. She had little doubt that she would have not the strength to meet her pupil when he should come to her, for she had tested her own resilience to such a point that many had spoken that she could surpass even a man. Yet for the sake of Percival, when she felt her breaths grow long and her face warm, she would stop and replace her false sword. She did not know how long she had waited, and so she left the room only briefly. When she had returned, he had still not yet come. Unwilling to tire herself too quickly, Lucia took to idly walking the room.

Once or twice, the lady thought she heard a wicked laugh, like that of the rebel mob or Boldan himself, ringing about the walls. She halted her steps and peered about, looking to see if she was not alone. Lucia held her breath, as she clenched her teeth and covered her ears in defiance against what strange thing had now come upon her.

"I will not give into whatever childlike fears have haunted me," she declared. "I will not." When she again heard nothing, Lucia allowed her shoulders to ease, for they had earlier tightened as if they were about to receive a blow. She held her belly and took deep breaths if only to still her heart. The lady straightened as the creaking of doors reached her ears. Lucia looked to see Percival entering at last. Smiling, she crossed the floor to meet him. "I am glad you came," she said, with a rather cheerful tone. "I was tiring of fighting wooden men."

"You were, Lady Lucia?" he answered back in a voice that Lucia found strangely pleased at her words. "May I ask why?"

"Wooden men don't fight back. If I must win a fight, I would prefer it if my opponent at least resisted," she countered in humor. Master and student shared a familiar laugh.

"Then I should tell you that I have practiced during my time in Felirae. I should be able to challenge you then. If nothing else, I would suppose that I will have you on the floor this time."

"We shall see, Percival. Yes, we shall see. But I won't have you fighting with that, at least not yet," said Lucia, pointing to Cybele.

"I see you fight with your sword quite often," the duke protested. "Why can't I do the same, now that I have more experience than when you first agreed to teach me?"

Lucia nodded at his question before speaking again, "Your arm has grown strong, and I don't doubt that you have practiced each and every technique I have taught you. But your arm is not strong enough yet, and I would not dare let you put a real sword in your hand now. I've known men who only harmed themselves rather than their opponents. If they were fortunate, they only lost part of a finger. And yes, I practice with my sword, but my sword is not here," she added, pointing to the absence of the scabbard on her belt. "Now, come, we'll find us both suitable weapons for a sparring match."

Lucia led Percival to the racks where he selected a wooden broadsword. Lucia chose another such blade for herself, and she led the duke into the center of the room. She bade him to stand still while she took another two steps from him. When she stood upon her mark, Lucia turned to face her pupil.

The lady took a moment to examine the posture of the youth. His stance was firm, as was her own. Yet Percival held his sword with both hands. Lucia wondered when he might find the strength to duel with only one hand as she did. She supposed that if he could come to Melior more than he did, he might have learned to do so sooner. Though she had long been his teacher, she had not found the occasion to teach him often in its coming. At length, she spoke again.

"I would prefer if we began with some simple techniques. While I am sure you've practiced, I would rather see how you have learned what I have taught you."

The Duke of Feliare shook his head. "I am more than prepared, my lady. If you doubt it, then test me." Lucia had to smile at the fortitude in his words. Percival was not a skilled swordsman in her eyes, but he was dedicated and eager to learn. In her years, Lucia had come upon men and women who had taken up the sword with talent alone and no heart behind such ability. It pleased her to find one who did not yet know the ways of the sword but who would not rest until he could have such knowledge. She secretly wished that all those who came under her tutelage would share such resolve.

"Very well then," she conceded, "but do not expect that I will not go lightly on you. If you wish to be tested, then I will do it. If you should end up nursing a large bruise on your side, then do not hold it against me."

"I will not," said he. Without another word, Lucia came at him. The duke was quick, and he managed to parry her strikes with his own. When she stepped to one side, he followed. When she dodged him, he pursued. She took a step back, and he met her by taking one forward. Again and again, the two of them came upon each other. Blade met blade. Lucia was indeed surprised at how well her strikes were matched by those of her pupil. Back and forth they stepped. Side to side, Lucia darted, and Percival kept pace. Just then, the duke and the lady rushed towards each other. Percival raised his sword high for a strike that would surely end this match in victory, but Lucia's blade was the faster of them. With a quick thrust, she struck her pupil squarely in the chest.

Percival bent over and lowered his blade. With a pained look, he dropped the sword and began to rub the place where he had been hit. Lucia likewise set her weapon upon the floor.

"You would be a dead man here and now if you had fought a true enemy," Lucia cautioned, setting her sword down upon the floor. "Are you hurt badly?" she added with concern.

"No, Lady Lucia," the duke panted, "although I am sure I will have quite the bruise. As for any injury, I think only my pride has been wounded. Tell me, Lady Lucia, how is it that you can bring your sword over your head and bring down a man, while I do the same and am brought down by my teacher?"

"I rarely leave myself so vulnerable as you did, in the first place. What you did was nothing but a foolish mistake. In the second place, if I were to raise my sword so high, I would do it quickly, and I would bring it down just as quickly. Think back to my earliest teachings: the strongest arm can be defeated by the faster one." He repeated the saying along with her, and it brought a cheered smile to Lucia's face. "At least you have paid careful heed to your training," she said, with praise and a touch of good humor in her words.

"Yes, I should know your words," Percival replied with the same good humor. "You never spoke of anything else during the beginnings of my time as your student. I believe I even repeated that very saying in my sleep. But see now, how long have we been at this match?" He asked for he could see her reddened face, and he noted the shallow rising and falling of her chest. Indeed, he, too, had a crimson flush to his cheeks and likewise breathed heavily upon the ending of their mock duel.

"Perhaps, I would care for a drink and to rest," Lucia said, pointing to the bucket of water that rested near the wooden horse. She knew that it was often filled and filled again throughout the course of a single day, so that no one should taste a warm and stagnant brew when they hoped for a cool and crisp mouthful. And so, the duke offered his hand to the lady, and they walked to the spot, leaving their swords where they lay. He drew a ladleful of water and handed it to Lucia. She protested, saying that he should drink first, but upon his insistence, she lifted the dipper to her mouth. When she had drunk, Percival filled the ladle for himself. They rested against the wall and slid to the floor.

The two said nothing for some time. Neither he nor she looked upon the other, although Lucia did wonder if he did turn his eyes towards her. Despite the bond she held with her pupil, the lady began to feel ill at ease with him so near to her, for again, she wondered at Geoffrey's warning. She noted that he did not sit beside her as Elincia might do if she were in her company. Lucia searched for some word she might say to break the silence that now seemed to sit between the master and student. For though she knew not what she could say, better she thought to speak what might come to mind than allow the stillness to have its way with her thoughts. She did not have need to find any word, for Percival spoke first.

"Tell me of the council," he asked, rather lightly. "Since I was not there, I wonder what the will of the crown decided upon." Lucia allowed her posture to slacken, and she turned her head towards the duke as the reply left her mouth. She began to tell him of what was said and done not more than a few marks ago. And when she had spoken of Kieran and the lord of Canteus making ready to depart at the moment, Percival could not contain a laugh.

"What do you find funny?" Lucia asked, with a light and nearly-amused voice herself.

"I find the thought of your deputy-commander riding side-by-side with a man with the disposition of Duke Horace. One is quite near to a fool, and the other cannot suffer a fool in the least. For that matter, does either of them believe that they could assemble a fighting force so quickly? I doubt the soldiers have finished spending their wages and filling their bellies with drink and food. If any man who has just arrived can even stand, much less march, I do believe we will see a miracle. If not, we will see Lord Horace in quite a fit."

At this both of them saw fit to laugh as they realized the humor of the truth in the words Percival had spoken. The image of the Duke of Canteus red-in-the-face and shouting at deafened ears seemed quite amusing indeed. At length, when their laughter had subsided, the duke turned his words to the duel that had ended for the time at hand.

"I want to thank you for coming today," he said slowly and carefully in a tone of voice the lady could not discern. Was it the words of friendship he spoke with or even as the close camaraderieof pupil and teacher? She could not tell, despite her wisdom in such matters. She supposed she owed the dulling of her wits to the past few days. Still, she wondered what reply should she give.

"You're welcome," Lucia answered at length. She began to once more think on Geoffrey's words, for his gratitude seemed very peculiar to the lady, though she did appreciate it. Why should he thank her as if she had granted him alms? She knew not why, but she thought it best to say more, "You did quite well today."

"Thank you," Percival replied, though his eyes now faced forward and did not bring themselves to meet hers as they had done earlier. Lucia found it curious that he should not look upon her now when he had so eagerly sought her company since the day of his coming to Melior.

"Yes, it seems that you did practice while you were away. Aside from a single fault, you have matched me."

"I owe it all to your training, Lady Lucia."

"Do not be so modest, Percival," she admonished gently. "And you don't need to be so formal when we are alone. You may call me by name if you wish. I call the queen by name when we are alone," she added with a slight shrug.

"Well then, Lucia, perhaps you would care to answer a question," he said. In his voice, Lucia could discern the heavy words of one with much to ponder and much that could not be found an answer. Truly, she thought that a matter weighed mightily upon his thoughts, and Lucia found herself wondering if, by some unhappy chance, his days were filled with some great concern that was in some ways not unlike her own. And when she nodded her assent, he went on. "What has changed in you today?" he asked. "These past few days you were so unlike yourself that you did not seem to even want to be in my presence, much less spar with me. So what has changed?"

Lucia thought to herself that it was not the question he had intended to put to her. His voice seemed to change as he had spoken. She, at first, found herself rebuking him silently for again bringing up an affair that was not in his place to concern himself. Aside from that, she had hoped that her welfare would not be the subject of persistent inquiry, and she had earlier found herself relieved when it had not. But he had asked her now, and Lucia thought it best to answer.

"The past few days have wearied me. The councils and the concern over the fate of Boldan have weighed heavily upon me and also the last words of the dead Count Okale. I have not spoken of them to you, Percival, but it seemed as though he prophesied against Crimea. All of it has robbed me of rest. But today, I woke at ease. So, put it out of your mind. Rest was all I needed, and rest I took."

It was not entirely a lie, yet Lucia already felt her face warm as the untruth of the matter reached the ears of her friend and student. She had not mentioned how she had forced herself into slumber by the numbing company of draught. If Lucia could work her will, she would never have need to mention it.

"I am glad to hear it," Percival replied. "I and several others had noticed the change in you, but if you owed it to the pressures of your position, then it's not a matter worth mentioning. I only hope for the sake of your health that you learn some balance in your life."

"I will try, but as the queen's protector, I have little time for it." Lucia found a curious thought coming to mind. Though she held no regard for the cautions of Geoffrey, she wondered if, by some careful words, she might silence her brother's worryings once and for all. Silently, she gave herself approval for the question she was about to ask. "But enough of that," she said at length, "since you have asked me of my well-being, I think I have the right to ask something also."

"And what do you want to ask me?"

"I am honored that you should choose me as your tutor. Make no mistake about that. Still, I suppose I do wonder why you, of all the people in Crimea, would want to take up the sword." Percival looked upon her with a pained face. Lucia knew all too well the look he wore, for it was the face of one who is wounded in the heart. At that instant, she wondered if perhaps her plan was folly rather than wise.

"You doubt my intentions as well, Lucia?" he asked.

"Of course not," she answered quickly, "but I do wonder why of all honorable callings, why choose the sword? Do you hope to become a knight?"

"I hardly hope to take on another title. I am already a youth of mockery and contempt because of one title, and I doubt that any other will gain me respect among my peers. As for your question, at first, it seemed strange to me, but I suppose it's a fair one. I asked you to teach me so that I may use Cybele."

Lucia turned her head at the mention of the rapier, "I thought it was a family heirloom of yours."

"It is. It was passed down to my father, his father, and his father before him, and before I lived as Ludveck's heir, it was passed down to me."

"Then why would you want to use it in battle? Swordplay takes a heavy toll on the blade."

"I never said I intended to fight with it. I only wish to learn how to use it. My father was a swordsman, and I have no doubt that he would have taught me. But my father is dead, and I have no instructor. Does that satisfy you?"

Lucia nodded. At this, Percival motioned with his hand back to the training circle, but the lady shook her head. She was not yet ready to fight him again. Though she trained herself with many exercises, she felt quite content to rest for the moment. Perhaps, she reasoned that it would aid her to silence further talk over her conduct of late, and so she persisted, "Maybe you should," she mentioned aloud. Percival turned to meet her eyes again.

"Maybe I should do what?" he asked.

"Maybe you should devote yourself to the call of knighthood."

"You must surely jest," the duke answered with a wide smile upon his face. He looked the lady in the eyes until it became apparent to him that she had not spoken in humor. When the realization came upon him, Lucia's face clouded as his smile slowly vanished and became an unpleasant look of fear. "You cannot be serious," said he. "Lucia, I am not about to become a knight. Did you not hear me when I said that one title has given me nothing but trouble? Why should I want another?"

"You have the heart of a knight, and perhaps you may prove yourself to your peers. If they knew you better, then I am sure that they would come to see you differently."

The smile that Percival had earlier worn returned, but it seemed far warmer to Lucia. She thought it very much like the smile of Elincia during the happier days that they had shared before now. It strangely stung the lady to see such a face, for she recalled that, though she had convinced the queen that no trouble had come to her, she had still deceived her. Lucia wondered if she might explain her conduct to her milk-sister on some far-off day when it no longer pained her.

"You are kind," said Percival. "But I shall never enter into knighthood. In the first place, your brother would take charge of me, and of all those who despise me, he is their king." At those words, Lucia rebuked him.

"Geoffrey does not hate you. Friend or not, I will not allow anyone to slander the name of my brother."

"I have no need to slander it, nor do I wish to do so. Forgive me for saying so, Lucia. Still, it is quite true. Tell me this: you know of the garrison that he has left in Felirae?" She nodded and no sooner did her head cease its bobbing that he continued, "Does he tell you how his men behave while they are in my house?"

"He does not."

"Then permit me to tell you. Every morning, I wake to his soldiers roaming about the halls. Every day, I find them sneering at me, and what's more they spy on me. When I open my doors for the people as Elincia does, I am forced to consult them before I may make any judgment. I find them in my quarters, and they all but ransack it. And every night, I go to sleep to the sound of their patrols, and their contempt shares my bed. They look for wrongdoing in every corner, and I have no doubt that they do so on Geoffrey's orders. When I am here, I fear the man himself watches my every step. Forgive me again, if I dishonor his name, but it is the truth."

"He is protective of me," Lucia answered. "As for the state in Felirae, I find it hard to believe. I do not think you would lie about such things, but you speak as if the royal knights carry on like thieves. Many of the men are honorable, and some likely share my brother's fear for me. But if this is true, I shall go to the queen herself and speak for you. Still, I see no reason for you to fear. You have do no wrong, and you had no part in the doings of Ludveck. Even if he sought it, ny brother could not expect to find any proof of ill conduct."

"Then he shall simply claim that he has found it. As long as he can depose me, he will be pleased."

A sudden flash of anger appeared just then in the eyes of the lady. Her hand tightened out of sight of her pupil, but her voice would not be given to discretion. "Now, that, I will not tolerate," Lucia answered with a sharp tongue, though she did not mean to wound the duke with her words. "My brother is watchful over me, yes, but he would not resort to such a thing for the sake of his own satisfaction. If you doubt his honor, then you should know that he can do no such thing. His authority is limited to the royal knights. He has no power over you."

"That shall change, Lucia," he said soberly. "He may be a general now, but in a matter of time, he will make himself a prince. It is inevitable; every man at court can see it. Your brother will be the husband of the queen. Then he will no doubt have me banished. Or perhaps, he will have a noose around my neck as a traitor." At once, Percival's hand leaped to cover his mouth when he heard the words he had spoken. "Forgive me, Lucia," he quickly added. "I did not mean to say such a thing." He continued with word upon word of regret.

Lucia let a soft growl sound in her throat, though she was glad that her companion could not hear it. In her thoughts, she wished to shout at him for carrying on as if she were so fragile. She did not consider herself so vulnerable that to even hear a mention of the fate she faced at Fort Alpea was to be avoided. She had long since tired of those she knew taking great effort with their words to keep her from distress. But she merely closed her eyes and bent her head only slightly, and when she spoke, Lucia showed no sign of what thoughts she held.

"It is quite all right, Percival. You did not speak wrongly. As for what you have said, I think you fear what you have no cause to fear. Geoffrey is not a man given to vengeful notions. He may seem to, but only for my sake. He would not take such action against you, and what's more, even if he were to marry Elincia, she would not allow it. Talking of which, I do not think that my brother will be able to take her as a wife. I have known Geoffrey for far longer than you have, and I have known the queen as well. They would surely find it too strange having known each other since we were children. So, do not fear for yourself."

"Thank you, Lucia. Still, I am sorry for speaking so hastily." With his hand, he motioned to the door, "If you wish, I will leave."

"No, no," she answered. "I think that I am ready to continue our lessons."

Percival stood, and he offered a hand to Lucia. With a slight tint of red in her cheeks, she looked towards the door, before accepting. She wondered if, by chance, Geoffrey was watching them through the door. It seemed closed tightly enough, and so she put the thought aside. Though she said nothing of it to her friend, she had known that her brother did often watch her when he could find a moment to pull himself away from his own duties. She was certain that while he may not seek to avenge himself for her sake, the general might try to dissuade her again if he saw her take his hand. When she stood, Percival released her hand, and they walked back to the training circles.

Taking her mark, Lucia picked up her sword and waited for the duke to take his. When they faced each other once again, Lucia nodded, and Percival did the same. With a cry of battle, the swordswoman charged at him. Their blades clashed together, parted, and then met again. The room filled with the sounds of wood upon wood. On one occasion, the lady hoped to force her opponent's sword from his hand. Yet, Percival's grip was strong, despite his thin stature. The two again came at each other. Each combatant attacked and then parried. Lucia found herself thinking that on this day, she might, at last, be surpassed. She noted that her pupil guarded himself with care. She struck quickly, hoping to force him to lower his defense. He managed to dodge her. Lucia struck again. This time, he held his blade, and their swords met. Percival stepped backwards. Lucia took a step forward.

Lucia struck, and Percival did the same. Their swords met, but did not part. Beads of sweat that had earlier formed upon their brows now slid down their cheeks, and some occasionally trailed into their eyes. They stood still upon their marks, each pushing with what strength they had against the blade of the other. Lucia clenched her teeth as she hoped to force Percival to relent. She saw the duke's hands quiver and falter, but his sword did not give way. Lucia thought much of him as he managed to hold his ground, though she knew he would soon learn the time to withdraw. The lady happened to find herself looking over the shoulder of her opponent, and at once, her eyes widened.

Her eyes fell upon the sight of a man standing by the door. He was garbed in the silver armor of Crimea, and the patterns of gold were laid in the manner of a general. Lucia recognized the vile look upon his face, the face of the Blazing Iron himself. Their eyes met across the room, and then he was gone as if he were some phantom. Lucia gazed upon where Boldan had stood, and in that moment, she allowed the force upon Percival's sword to slacken, though she knew it not. The duke did not notice the distant look of his teacher, and so he continued to push against her blade. Lucia was forced backwards. Her legs blindly stepped about, and the heel of her shoe took hold of a small crevice in the stones of the floor.

Lucia fell.

Her hand released the sword, and she heard it land with a thump on the floor. It sounded very distant to her ears, as were the worried cries of Percival. It seemed to her that she was falling very slowly. The sight of Boldan still lingered in her sight. Lucia closed her eyes so that she would not see him. By instinct, she lifted her head. She felt her body come swiftly to a stop as pain coursed through her back. She knew she had not struck her head, but it was of little comfort to her. Her eyes stayed shut. Her heart thundered like the hooves of maddened horses. Even without sight, Lucia could see him. Boldan still stood unmoving before her, though his form seemed to bend and distort, as if he were becoming another.

At once, Lucia became aware that her body was moving but not of her own will. The Blazing Iron vanished yet again, as she felt a pair of hands upon her. Slowly, her eyes opened to see the fearful face of Percival above her. His hands rested against her shoulder and her back. His voice called to her, and he seemed to be shouting her name. Her head turned, and Lucia looked towards the spot where she had seen Boldan. But the general was not there.

"Lucia," Percival cried, "Lucia, are you hurt?"

"I have to go," the lady mouthed as a terrible thought fell upon her, like the bitter winds to her skin those many nights when she was driven from her bedchamber. Percival took no notice of her mouth slowly moving as she said the words again.

"Lucia," he cried again. With a shake of her head, the lady turned her face towards him.

"I am not dead," she said. "I may be hurt, but it is nothing to concern yourself over. My back will be sore. Now, move away." Her command seemed harsh, and Percival quickly took his hands away. He offered to help her stand. Lucia paid his kindness no mind at all, and she stood, wincing slightly at the twinge of pain as she got to her feet. It soon became a dull ache, though Lucia cared not for it. "I must go," she uttered quickly.

"I am sorry," Percival called out to her. "Please do not leave because of me."

Lucia heard his words, but she did not give a reply. She hurried to the door, though she took care to ensure that he did not see her leave too quickly. She did not even retrieve her fallen weapon. As she opened the door and left the training hall, Lucia continued to mutter, "I have to leave. I have to leave."


A/N: Looks like Lucia's resolve just took a pretty big beating. I figured that this is something that you really can't just will away. I'm not an expert in the field of PTSD, but I do figure that sooner or later, Lucia would probably start seeing things even when she's not asleep. I also hope she seemed in character, especially during her little exhange with Percival. I figured that she wouldn't like anyone insulting her brother, no matter who it is. Blood is thicker than water after all.

And yes, you read that right, when I had Percvial say that Geoffrey would become a prince. Now, you may be asking, since he eventually marries Elincia, wouldn't that make him a king. After all, if a king marries a woman, she would be called a queen, so wouldn't the same apply? Actually, no. If a queen by birth marries a man, he would be called a prince because if he were to be called a king, he would outrank her. Case in point, Queen Victoria's husband was called a prince because he have outranked her otherwise.

Anyway, besides all the turkey, I'm thankful to all of you readers. I've always said that it's because of you that this is worth all the effort, and it's still true. So thank you for reading and reviewing. And a special thanks goes to HaveAHeart0301, who continues to beta read for me. I couldn't do it without her.