Journey to Water's Edge
Authors Note: This was written for and inspired by the amazing Blue Pin and her incredible art work that she did for my story A Tale Of Two Princes. I hope that this is all that you wanted and more!
Extra Note: I am dedicating this story to the victims of the African Horn Drought and Famine. To all my readers, I encourage you all to do something to help those suffering in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Every little donation does make a difference. Think that of the bottle of water that you just bought for $2 and think that even that could be enough to save someone's life there. Please do anything you can to help them.
The Great King Xemnas sat on his throne, staring out over the empty audience chamber. Very shortly the room would be filled with members of the court, each demanding answers to the same question, answers that the king did not have. Everyone was concerned about the drought that had been plaguing the Kingdom for several moon cycles now, and now that they were approaching the middle of summer, his subjects were beginning to suffer more than ever. This was the hottest summer that they had ever had and if the rains didn't come soon, people and animals would begin to die along with the crops.
He was a king, not a miracle worker. It wasn't as if he was able to spread his arms wide and produce a rainstorm. The true magic that would have allowed that had been lost to his people for generations. According to his weather witches, who had the only magic that remained in this kingdom, there was no rain in sight and the annual rains were coming later than usual this year. At this rate, things would be getting worse by the day. That was something King Xemnas did not want to deal with. Complaining courtiers was not something that he wanted to have to handle.
The sound of footsteps across the sleek marble floor broke the king out of his thoughts. There was only one person who would have dared to interrupt him like this. Raising his gaze, the silver haired monarch saw his advisor walking through the otherwise empty room with purpose.
"My King," the tall man of blue hair said as he stood before his lord and liege, bowing slightly with a hand placed over his heart.
Waving his hand, King Xemnas motioned for the man to rise, "It's too hot to be bothered with formalities, Saïx. Just tell me if you have learned of a way to end this drought."
Saïx rose to his full height once again, the stoic man appeared not to be effected by this extreme heat wave at all. "Your highness, the team of chroniclers has come across the mention of a water temple older than the Kingdom itself. There is documentation that your ancestors would send a prince to pray at the temple in times of drought or flood, and the outcome has always been beneficial to the kingdom."
The king looked at his advisor with a sceptical look. If Saïx hadn't been the one to tell him all of this, Xemnas would have thought this to be some sort of a joke. But his advisor was known for, among other things, an utter lack of a sense of humour. So as crazy as this idea sounded, the King had to give it merit. Saïx would have looked into it as much as possible before bringing it to his king. "So where is this magical temple?"
"We're still looking in to that, Majesty. The location has been lost for centuries," the blue haired man explained.
"Then fetch my sons. We shall meet in the war room to discuss this. Then see if you can locate someone who knows the location of this temple. Offer a 500 guilda reward to anyone who has any valid information, 1000 for a guide."
"Sire," Saïx answered with a bow. "What shall I tell the courtiers that are waiting to come in for the afternoon audiences?"
One side of the monarch's lips turned up into a smirk. Maybe he would be able to use this as a way to deal with two problems. "Tell them that we are looking into a solution to this drought and that due to it, we are calling a summer recess. They can all head to their homes and tell them that court will not resume until the rains come. Then they won't be bothering me."
Xemnas entered into the war room, glad that this stone room was deep in the heart of the castle with no windows, meaning that the unbearable heat had not yet penetrated this far into the castle. Sitting around the circular table that was the only furniture in the round room were his six sons, each of them looking over at him and bowing their own silver haired heads at their father's arrival. Though the table was round, as soon as the king took his proper seat, it turned into the head of the table with all the attention focused on him. Xemnas took a moment to look at each of his sons in turn, mentally assessing their abilities and wondering if his choice was the proper one.
Sephiroth say immediately to his father's right, as cold and as imposing as the father he was raised by. Though he was the eldest, Sephiroth had already forfeited his claim to the throne in favour of becoming a general in the kingdom's army, a position he had both earned and flourished in. Every solider that trained under Sephiroth both respected and admired him and his skills. There was no one in the kingdom as proficient with as many weapons as the great Silver Wolf General, or so they called him.
Next to Sephiroth sat Riku, the coronet of the heir perched atop his long silver hair. Born of the same mother as Sephiroth, Xemnas' first queen who had not lived to see her younger son's first year, Riku had every quality that would make him into a perfect king someday. Though he was young, he was ambitious enough, but knew when he had moved beyond his limits.
Next came the triplets: Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz. King Xemnas' second queen had delivered them nine months to the day after their wedding, but the birth had been too much for her to handle and she died soon after. Though they had been all been born together, each of the triplets were completely different.
Kadaj was currently working his own way up the ranks of the army, intent of living up to Sephiroth's reputation with aspirations of being his brother's second in command one day. That day would be sooner than later. The biggest difference between Kadaj and Sephiroth's methods though was that Kadaj was absolutely ruthless when trying to get what he wanted.
Yazoo would soon become an advisor to Riku once he became king. An amazing tactician, he had no equal when it came to strategy and made up for anything that Riku lacked. He was already assisting Saïx and would be as much of an asset to Riku as Saïx was to his father. In fact, Xemnas already trusted his son's words and advice as much as his advisors.
The youngest of the triplets, Loz, was merely an imposing sight. He was a mass of pure muscle, but had very little intelligent thought in his mind. He played a role that didn't fit his noble heritage: that of a body guard. Not to the king, but to the heir. Riku didn't particularly enjoy being constantly followed by his brother, but no one would try and attack him with Loz keeping watch over him.
That left Zexion in the chair immediately to Xemnas' left. The youngest and only child of Xemnas' current Queen, Zexion had no ambitions for the crown, much preferring to assist the chroniclers and historians of the Kingdom. He also was a skilled in apothecary. King Xemnas wouldn't be surprised if it was his youngest son who had made the discovery about the water temple, as he knew that Zexion had been working night and day trying to find a solution for the drought.
"My sons, as you have heard, we have a new lead on something that may help us bring an end to this drought. There is a temple that is said to lay deep within the Aqualacia forest that is rumoured to be the home of the great water gods. It requires the prayers of a prince of Orgida to end this drought."
At their King and father's words, Riku, Kadaj and Yazoo all began to stand, obviously wanting to volunteer for the quest. A wave of the King's hand had them all sitting down again just as quickly. As eager as those three were for this, it was not for them. While his sons had been summoned, King Xemnas had taken it upon himself to find out more about this mysterious temple and it had made clear exactly who his choice must be.
"Which of us shall you be sending?" Sephiroth questioned, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. Though he was putting on a mask of indifference, Sephiroth was slightly concerned with what would happen to any of his younger brothers as they travelled through that forest. It wasn't known as the Black Wood without good reason.
Xemnas looked over at his eldest out of the corner of his eye. The General had definitely developed a sharp eye. "After due consideration, and comparing all of your skills and abilities with what is said to be necessary to access the temple, I have determined that Zexion shall be the one to go on this journey."
Kadaj was obviously not pleased with the decision as he once again rose to his feet, slamming his hands down on the table. "Why him? He has no experience handling all the things that he will come across in the Black Wood!"
Xemnas knew that Kadaj was likely to be the most vocally opposed to his decision, and he was prepared for that. "After looking through all of the information we could find regarding the temple, it seems that intelligence and logic will play the largest factor in actually locating and entering it. That is something that Zexion has that far surpasses any of you. Therefore, my decision on this matter is final."
Riku looked over at his youngest brother with outward concern. Zexion was the one of his brothers that Riku got along best with, and he hoped that nothing would happen to him during the quest. Yazoo held similar concerns, having always had a soft spot for his youngest brother. Loz just sat there, a look on his face making it seem as if he was still trying to process the information that he has just been given. Sephiroth retained his look of indifference, while Kadaj sat back down with a thump, disgruntled beyond belief.
Zexion himself sat at the table, unable to look at any of his brothers nor his father. He had been expecting this appointment since discovering information about the temple, and had predicted Kadaj's reaction. There had always been an unspoken rivalry between the two of them and that was never as apparent as it was now. Zexion would not be unhappy about leaving him behind.
"I accepted this quest for you, Father-King," Zexion said, placing a hand over his heart and bowing slightly. "I shall go and began my preparations for departure immediately."
Xemnas once again raised a hand. "Wait. The journey will be long and perilous, and as Kadaj has pointed out, you have little experience dealing with the things that you may encounter in Aqualacia Forest. Therefore I have located you a guide, someone who claims to have been to this temple before."
Zexion let out a sigh as he reined his palfrey along the road that led out of the Kingdom's capital. Of all the people that he could have been given as a guide, he was travelling with the minstrel from The Drowned Nymph, the largest tavern in the capital, known for its music. The man was the kind of person that Zexion had the hardest time dealing with. Myde was outgoing, loud and had a tendency to sing spontaneously. When he wasn't singing, he was talking. Non-stop chatter. Zexion more enjoyed quiet and peacefulness, and found the constant noise more than a little unnerving. He had to wonder if this was the true test for him, having to deal with this man for the three weeks it would take them to travel to the temple of the water gods and back. As much as Myde had been hired as a guide, he would also be playing the role of protector, having matched blades with Sephiroth and being deemed skilled enough for that additional responsibility.
For the first day, the prince just tuned the other man out, ignoring everything that he said. It wasn't until the first night after dusk had settled over them and the light to travel by began to fade that Zexion realized that he would need to actually communicate with the lanky man of dirty blond hair at least a little.
"Shall we make camp here for the night?" Zexion questioned, interrupting whatever long winded tale about the ancient gods and their rituals that Myde was currently reciting.
The minstrel finally stopped talking, turning to face the prince, this being the first time hearing the other man's voice since they had left the castle at Heartial just before midday. "Yes, highness," Myde said, bowing his head slightly to hide his smile. He reined his mount off to the side that the prince had indicated towards, a clearing off the road that had probably been used for this purpose many times before in the past.
Silently, much to Zexion's relief, the two men began to set up camp despite the overwhelming thirst and heat that plagued them. Between the drought and the midsummer heat, Zexion wondered if they had any chance of making it to the temple without dying. How Myde had been able to talk like he had all day with only their rationed water supply was beyond the prince. Their first job was to tend to their horses, Zexion instantly finding the curry comb in his saddle bag. After removing Illusion's saddle, he began to brush the dust that had gathered on her onyx coat during the journey today. The slate haired prince could easily feel the sweat she had produced and lamented that he had no additional water for her. Even their horses had to deal with water rationing.
Suddenly, Illusion began to wicker, bobbing her head up and down before nosing at Zexion's pocket. The action caused the prince to chuckle as he gave her nose a few long strokes. "Is this what you are looking for?" he whispered with a gentle smile, reaching into his pocket and pulling out several sugar cubes. Illusion whinnied loudly before devouring the treats eagerly. Unable to control it, Zexion chuckled a little and leaned his face on her neck. After only a few moments like that, the slate haired prince felt a nudge at the small of his back. Turning around, he wasn't all that surprised to see Melody, Myde's golden blond mare, suddenly trying to search his pockets as well. Laughing outright now, Zexion pulled out a few more cubes, allowing Melody to take them from his hand. "You two are greedy little girls," he said with laughter still in his voice, patting them both on the nose as they tried to search for more treats.
A second voice chuckling caused Zexion to freeze his movements, looking shyly over at the minstrel who was now putting Melody's grooming supplies out and pulling out a few things for their camp. Myde looked up and gave the prince a broad smile, "I didn't know that you had such a fondness for horses, your highness."
Blushing a little, the slate haired prince turned away from the intense gaze, instead beginning to pull his own things for his bedroll out from his packs. "My father breeds horses. I've been around them and riding since I could walk," he said simply. After seeing that his bedroll was situated to his satisfaction, the prince began to pull out their food and water supplies, once again ensuring that Melody and Illusion were tended to first. "I wish that we had a little more water for them, though. They are doing so much more of the work. I hate having to ration their water."
Myde once again smile. "See, was that so hard?"
With confusion plastering his face, Zexion turned to face the minstrel as he passed over some dried meat and berries. They didn't dare build a fire with how dry the leaves, trees and grass were. "Was what so hard?"
"Talking," Myde said cheerily, "We're going to be travelling together for almost a moon. We might as well try and give each other a chance."
The young prince paused all movement at the words. Myde spoke the truth. Zexion really hadn't given the young minstrel a chance, simply because he was just that- a minstrel. Not someone of noble birth who he was used to riding with. All his life, Zexion had been raised with people of high social class, and told that he was better than other because of his parentage. He had never been taught that low born were people too. Feeling the way that Melody had been groomed, which was as well if not better than the way Illusion had been made the prince realize that he had been rude to the man who had only tried to be nice to him. Out here, prince or pauper, they were on the same level. He would have to get used to this man sooner than later if this journey would be successful.
"Myde…"Zexion whispered as he continued to stroke both Melody's and Illusions.
"Shh…" the blond whispered, holding one hand up to quiet the prince.
Normally the slate haired royal would be offended by such a snub, but something about the way that the minstrel was looking around made Zexion realize that Myde was searching for something by sound. Knowing from all his experience hunting that he couldn't add to the noises, the prince said nothing, sitting still, frozen in place. Finally the minstrel looked over at his travel companion with a wide smile. "Do you hear that?"
Raising a single eyebrow, Zexion allowed himself to focus on the sounds of the wilderness around them, unsure of what he was supposed to be listening for. Nothing stood out to him as being out of the ordinary, "What am I listening for?"
"Come on!" The blond exclaimed, making sure that Melody and Illusion were both tied to nearby trees, Myde then began to pull Zexion off in the direction of the sound, and judging by it, it wouldn't be far away. The prince allowed himself to be pulled along, silently questioning if his father had searched into Myde's past. What if he was a thief or assassin? Blindly, he trusted this strange minstrel though. After no more than a few moments of being led through the forest, Zexion began to notice something odd. While every other leaf and plant that they had passed this far had been crispy brown, these plants were beginning to look greener. Suddenly, Myde stopped in front of what seemed to be the healthiest looking of the foliage. Zexion came to a stop right behind him, looking around.
"Is that…?" the slate haired man whispered, finally hearing the sound that the blond had been hearing from so far away. Looking around, the prince couldn't believe that they could still see the faint outline of Melody and Illusion from here even through the dusk.
Nodding excitedly, Myde pushed the green plants out of the way to discover a small, but steady stream of water washed over the side of the rock face, gathering in a small but clear pond beneath it. "Water!"
Zexion let out a sigh of relief, reaching a hand out so that he touched the cold stream. After a long day of riding with only minimal water, something that they would have to get used to, the liquid felt amazing against his heated skin. As much as he wanted to just splash the mountain water all over himself, there was a thought that struck the prince.
"Myde, do you think that we would be able to safely bring Melody and Illusion here and make our camp here instead? I'd love to be able to let them drink their fill tonight. It was a hard journey for them today through the heat."
The minstrel just smiled a smile that sent a shiver up and down the slate haired royal's spine, having nothing to do with the cold water that he still touched. "I think that's a good idea, my prince. Shall we go fetch them?"
Zexion nodded, "Yes, but I do have a request to make of you, Myde."
"Yes, your highness?" Myde said in response, his bright blue green eyes shining in what was left of the day light.
"While we were on this journey, I am no longer your prince. I am your equal, no more, no less and I wish to be treated as such."
The next morning, when the sun rose, so did the young prince. Looking around, a wave of panic ran through him when he could not see either Myde or their horses anywhere. And even though it was still only early, Zexion already could feel the heat in the air. He had taken the first watch last night at Myde's insistence, but now where had the minstrel gotten off to?
"Myde?" he whispered, sitting up and looking around. The first thing that he noticed that the little stream that they had found last night had already dried up. not that Zexion had been expecting any different, water was drying up so quickly around here, but he had been hoping that they would have been able to have a little more of the refreshing water before setting out today. Thankfully though, they had filled every bottle, jar and basin that they had to save water for this morning. The prince was also glad that he had taken the blond's advice to wash up before going to sleep. Even with only one day's worth of sweat and dust, he had felt disgusting. Melody and Illusion had both drank their fill last night, something that Zexion had been very glad of. He could manage if he had to cut his water ration, but he hated the thought of their horses not having enough.
"Your highness! I didn't expect you to be awake yet," Myde said suddenly from somewhere behind the prince's bedroll.
Zexion startled, turning around to see the minstrel come out from behind a large patch of foliage, leaning both horses by their reins. "What did I say about the formalities, Myde? While we travel to this water temple, we are equals," he said, pulling himself off of his bedroll with a sigh. Once he had realized that he would need to treat Myde with respect if he wanted any in return, he would need to first give it; it wasn't so hard to speak with the blond. He had even been favoured with a song last night, and once the prince had actually listened, he had been blown away by the talent that the minstrel possessed.
"Sorry!" the blond apologized quickly as Illusion trotted over to her master, lovingly nudging his head with her nose. Myde let out loud laughter before slapping his hands over his mouth in fear of offending his royal companion. Much to his surprise though, the prince chuckled softly, standing up.
"Good morning to you too," he said as he rubbed her nose. "So, where were you?" Zexion then walked over to his travel packs, looking for something to change into for the day ahead of them. The entire time, he thought about how easy it had become to talk with the other man in such a short amount of time. The prince was normally a man of very little words and spoke very few willingly. In fact, the slate haired prince couldn't even consider most of his brothers in with those he spoke with regularly. Riku and Yazoo were really the only ones he liked. So how was a minstrel able to become one of those few that Zexion felt comfortable talking to?
Myde just turned around to give the prince some privacy as he changed into his clean travel clothing. "We just went around to the other side of the hill here for grazing and to put on the tack so that we wouldn't disturb you, your high- I mean Zexion."
The slate haired man just nodded, splashing only a few drops of water from the basin on his face, leaving the rest for the horses and for them to take with them. "Did anything happen during your watch?" Zexion questioned as he began to pack up his bedroll and the few other possessions that he had taken out last night. He could see himself becoming easily acquainted with travelling with Myde like this, a strange though about someone he hadn't known for more than a day.
"Nope, nothing at all. I let the girls drink their fill already this morning before the spring finally dried up. It started to slow and die down just before dawn." Zexion nodded again in response, surprised that Illusion was saddled exactly to his standards. Who in the name of the seven heavens was this man?
Accepting the journey bread and strong cheese that was offered to him, the prince discretely began to watch the blond as he continued to pack up the last of the few things that they had used in their camp. He would need to keep an eye on the blond. Though, that wouldn't be too much of an issue, because it seemed that once he began to look at Myde, he had a hard time looking away.
The next two days passed much like the first, neither man talking much in the saddle. The time was passed mostly through Myde's songs, something that Zexion had begun to appreciate so much more now that he no longer held an unjustified hatred for his companion. Maybe it was just the heat of the day, but Zexion soon found himself comparing the minstrel to the waters that he craved so much. The blond moved with the grace of a mountain stream, while his voice calmed the prince like the song of a babbling brook. And the only way to describe Myde's personality was like a river. Depending on the moment, it could be like rapids, fast and tumultuous, or it could be calm and smooth. Normally, it was a good balance between the two, but sometimes Zexion wondered which side passion would fall on…
"Zexion?" Myde's serene voice said, breaking the slate haired man from his thoughts again.
The blue eyed prince looked over at his companion. Over the past few days, occasionally Myde would ask him a question to start a conversation, but Zexion often found it tiresome and tedious to continue on after only a few answers. It had nothing to do with the minstrel's birth status, but everything to do with the insatiable thirst that plagued him. How the blond was able to speak so much remained a mystery. "Yes?"
"You have yet to drink your noon ration of water. The day is reaching its peak and you should drink it before it becomes too hot to bear," Myde said, barely over the sound of their horse's hooves along the rocky trail.
Sighing, the prince had hoped for that to go unnoticed. "I'm fine," he insisted, looking down at Illusion's dark head, hoping that the minstrel would not push the subject much further.
Myde looked back over at his travelling companion with a raised eyebrow. Today had turned out to be the hottest day thus far of the drought. Both men had been careful to dress in their lightest tunics and breeches in order to stave off heat stroke, but with the sun beating down on them, it did little use. "But this heat is too extreme for you not to have water."
Zexion shook his head gently, ignoring the sweat trickling down his neck. "No, I'm fine. I can go without water until the evening rest. I'm going to give my noon ration to Illusion."
As the last word left the prince's lips, Myde decided he had had enough. Reining Melody in, the blond stopped in the middle of the path, Illusion automatically stopping beside her. "I don't think it is a good idea for us, or the horses to be travelling in the heat of the nooning. We should stop until the sun has passed its zenith. We'll die of exhaustion if we don't."
At the words, the slate haired man looked up, startled. "We can't do that! It would add another day at least onto our journey. We need to reach the temple as soon as we can," the prince protested.
The blond man sighed, before reaching for his water skin at his belt. "You won't make it to the temple if you don't drink your water rations. What good you be if you died before even reaching the temple?" he said softly, passing the half-filled skin over to his companion.
The prince's bright blue eyes went impossibly wide as he realized exactly what Myde was suggesting. "I can't take your water!" his voice actually sounded scandalized at the mere thought as he pushed the hand away.
With a chuckle, the minstrel led Melody over to a shaded area that could cover both men and their horses from the harshest hours of sunlight. "Then we will rest here for a little while, until the heat has subsided a little. And I will insist you have a few mouthfuls at least."
The tone of Myde's voice left no room for argument and Zexion couldn't do anything but listen. He couldn't continue on without his guide anyway. Dismounting from his ebony mount, he removed the bit and halter from her, allowing her to graze on the dry grass, Melody following her. In a little while, he would pour the ration of water they had for the horses into the basin they carried with them. Hopefully they would come across a river or stream that hadn't dried up completely soon.
"I have to admit, you're unlike any other prince I've ever met, Zexion," Myde said as he peeled off his tunic in an attempt to cool himself a little more.
The prince raised a single eyebrow as he turned to face the minstrel. The blond pulled out his lute and began to tune her up, all the while completely aware of those intense blue eyes that were focused on him.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Zexion questioned, slightly confused.
Myde sat on the dried grass, leaning up against a tree as he began to pick out a simple tune on the instrument, the beautiful music filling the air. "You care for animals with an unmatched compassion, you are refusing to be called by the titles that you were born into, and you genuinely care about the fate of every single subject in your kingdom. Most princes have unmatched egos and arrogance in abundance. I'm surprised that you aren't like that. No offence."
The prince sat down in front of the minstrel, focusing on the fingers that danced over the strings so intricately. "Well, I don't have the same pressure on me that the true heir does, and honestly, Kadaj and Sephiroth have egos and arrogance in abundance," he shrugged, knowing that that really wasn't a good answer. At the confused look on the minstrel's face, Zexion knew that he wouldn't be able to leave it at that. "You see, I'm sixth born. Chances are I will never be in position for the throne. Though, if my father could choose, he would make me third in line after Riku and Yazoo. Kadaj is too power hungry for the throne with a touch of blood lust, so he wouldn't make a good ruler. Loz would just be too influenced by anyone and everyone around him. Sephiroth has already forfeited his claim, so technically I'm fifth in line now."
With a smile, the blond continued to strum, noticing how now that the slate haired royal had begun speaking, he had fallen into an almost hypnotic trance. "If the throne will probably never be yours, why are you so concerned with the wellbeing of the people? It's not a bad thing, but shouldn't that be more of a concern for the heir?" he continued, interested in what sort of answer he would receive to the question.
Shrugging, Zexion seemed to be looking at a point just beyond the blond. "Why wouldn't it be my concern? Borders are not what make a kingdom. It's the people. Even if I will never be king, I am still part of the royal family. That's the reason I am so interested in the chronicles, to see what has been done in the past to advance the kingdom. I have the power to help, and have an obligation to do all that I can for them. I just don't believe that I have all the necessary skills to rule, so I'm doing what I can."
"You're a very interesting man, my prince," Myde smiled in the barest whisper. Apparently done with his song, the lute was then leaned up against the tree trunk next to the blond.
At the end of the music, the slate haired prince shook his head a little, "Did you just say something?" Zexion questioned as he began to pull out a pouch from his saddle bag containing a dried grain and berry mixture for them to eat.
With a secretive smile that danced in his aqua green eyes, the minstrel just shook his head. "No. I think we should stop like this during the hottest part of the day from now on. It's safer for both us and the horses. We can make up the time in the early morning and by riding a little longer after sunset."
Zexion actually nodded his agreement, realizing that it would be hard to travel in this heat. "I think that would be wise. So tell me, how did a minstrel like you come across a temple that has been lost for centuries?"
"Random travels," Myde smiled broadly. "I had heard rumours of it, and one day after searching, I finally came across it."
"Why didn't you report its location then?" The prince was actually curious to who exactly this minstrel was. He had never met his like before.
"Temples like that often have reasons that they are hidden. I'm sure that this one is no different."
Nodding, the prince finally took the offered water skin reluctantly. He disliked the idea of taking the blond's water, but knew that Myde would not accept it back until he drank at least a few mouthfuls. They would come across a village tomorrow that claimed to have a well that still held water, so hopefully they would be able to restock their supplies there. And even if it had been reused, Zexion would be glad to have a chance to wash. Dust was almost caked onto his skin, and for someone who was used to washing twice daily, it wasn't a pleasant sensation. "So, how much longer do you think it will take us before we reach the temple?"
Myde closed his eyes in thought for a moment. "I'd say about 9 more days, factoring in the additional time for the noon rest."
The prince let out a sigh as he sipped sparingly at the water skin. "I was afraid it would take that long. I'm hoping that the people can hold on that much longer."
As their journey continued on, the heat was more relentless than ever. The two villages that they had ridden through had welcomed them graciously, and despite having enough for them to replenish their travel supply, water was becoming more and more rare. And the land had begun to feel and exhibit the effects. The travel companions had started seeing livestock dead in the fields, the corpses drying out within a few days, leaving almost skeletal remains. Crops were fairing even worse than the animals. No fields were green anymore; everything that had been planted in the spring had become brown and brittle. Unless the drought ended soon, the kingdom would be still suffering long ager. Harvests that were meant through the winter were turning to dust in the fields. It would be a hard winter this year.
"Don't worry, Zexion. We will get to the temple in only a few more days," Myde said, trying to ease the worry and borderline fear that had enveloped the prince since they had left the last village less than a day ago.
"I just wish that there was something more I could do for them."
Before the blond could reply, his attention was caught by a sound from somewhere to the left. They had now come to slightly easier portion of their journey, travelling through the forest itself and despite most of the leaves on the trees being far beyond dead, they still provided some protection from the severe heat. Pulling Melody to a stop, the minstrel held a hand up to keep Zexion silent. He did not have a good feeling about this.
Zexion looked over at the blond, curious as to the reason he was acting like this. Before he was able to say or do anything to sate his curiosity, a dark shadow appeared in the forest directly behind the minstrel, moving in fast. "Myde!" he exclaimed, drawing the long sword that was sheathed along Illusion's side. Before the blade was removed from the scabbard, an unmoving body of a man soared by him. Eyes went wide as he saw Myde wielding a long dagger bearing the blood of the now dead man.
"It's an ambush!" Myde said, panic in his voice. "We've got to get moving!"
Melody and Illusion stood unmoving side by side as they felt the presence of several others moving in closer around them. Myde hung his golden dagger from a loop on his belt, retrieving a bow and quiver, his weapon of choice, from behind him, nocking an arrow and aiming into the words.
"Atche ue vonte eaul!" Several of the dark figures cried as their shapes began to form not far from the two men in the surrounding woods. Zexion was finally able to make out the gaunt figures, each with a weapon drawn and poised to attack.
"What are they saying?" Myde whispered, unable to understand the strange northern language. He sighted his arrow at one of the closer figures, hoping that he wouldn't have to loose it.
The prince cursed lightly under his breath. "Water bandits from Tawitunew. They want our water," he explained softly. He knew that the water was getting scarce, but he had not realized that people had gone so far as to begin to attack travellers. He knew that the man that Myde had killed was aiming to do the same to them, the sight of two blades not far from dead hands proving his thought. They wanted no trouble. "Tes Vonti!" he called back in response, his long sword still held high at the ready. He wanted to be prepared for anything. He knew they were outnumbered at least four to one, and neither he nor Myde was wearing any sort of armour as it had been too hot for it.
The bandits began to close in on them and Zexion could see that they were all only wearing leather vests and the odd bracer. They held an assortment of weapons: maces, spears, short swords and daggers. This was not going to end well. They were out to kill, not maim. Though none of them were wearing proper armour, which levelled the field a little, the prince was worried.
"Atche ue ta eil! Ketsi!"
The prince then reached behind him, not wanting to take his eyes off of the man who seemed to be acting as a leader. He unhooked the largest of the water bags off of Illusion's saddle, barely lamenting the loss of the precious liquid. "Lepta! Tes vonti!" He then tossed it towards the leader of the bandits, wanting to avoid a confrontation at all costs. None of the men scrambled towards it like expected though. "Myde, give them the water. I'm sure we'll find some more soon."
The minstrel then grabbed his own bag of water, having to lower his bow to do so. He then tossed it to land beside the one that Zexion had thrown down. The bandits still never moved to collect their bounty, which had the prince on edge. Suddenly, Myde cried out in pain as an arrow shot through the air, imbedding in his upper arm. An archer appeared, jumping down from a tree adding to the number of bandits.
"Eil! Ij lits ta eil!" with that, the bandits began to close in on the two men, battle cries filling the air.
Hearing the pain that laced the blond's breaths sent an unnamed wave through the young prince. He had no idea what was causing him to act like this. He then vaulted off of Illusion's back before she bolted, his sword still held at the ready as had been trained into him over and over by his oldest brother.
Steel clanged together as his weapon struck another, stopping it only inches from his own neck. Pushing his assailant back, the prince sent the man flying into another. Unable to spare a moment to see how Myde was fairing, the prince continued to swing his sword with a fluid grace, aiming to main, not kill even though he knew that he was the only one who held those intentions. He was finding himself tiring easily in the heat due to his persistent thirst, but knew that he would die if he didn't continue. Two more bandits fell at his hand as his sword sang through the air. Though he was quickly losing his energy and momentum, his assailants were fairing no better. Zexion had been drinking rationed water, these men had not been. He could see the desperation and exhaustion behind the craze in their eyes, and that was the reason the prince had been pulling his blows.
A third bandit then met his end by the prince's blade, though there was no way for him to stay his blow. The tip of the sword thrusting deep into the bandit's torso, showering Zexion in a spray of blood. As soon as the man fell, the slate haired man pulled his sword out, spinning around in a wide arc, the long sword then slashing deeply along the unprotected arms of another bandit, causing him to cry out, dropping his weapon and running back off into the dry forest. When no more bandits attacked him, Zexion began to take a survey of the scene.
His eyes automatically were drawn to Myde, his bow slung over his body, while the blond wielded the long dagger with an amazing skill. His movements weren't hindered at all by the injury that bled continuously through his sleeve. At least two more of the bandits had been killed, three others rendered immobile by the minstrel. Myde was currently engaged in battle with the final bandit, the man had been acting as the leader, with the man who had shot Myde laying dead at his feet. The golden dagger slashed through the air, the serrated edge slicing easily through the bandit's wrist, severing the hand at the wrist, the man's mace falling to the ground with the hand still holding it as the bandit let out an ear piercing cry. He crumpled to the ground, holding the bloody stump of his hand to his chest as he whimpered in pain. They all knew that the battle was now over.
With heavy pants, the minstrel then dropped his dagger to the ground, reaching up and clutching his own injured shoulder, as if just remembering the arrow head. Zexion did not miss the action, and hooking his own weapon to his belt, ran over to the blond, helping him kneel to the ground. As if summoned, Melody and Illusion came back over to their masters, ignoring the littering of bodies and wounded. The prince was grateful beyond belief that they hadn't bolted and had been able to say out of the foray. He reached into Illusion's saddle bags and grabbed a small water skin and a roll of bandage. This was going to have to do for now until they were able to get somewhere safe for him to properly care for the wound. There was one thing he would have to do before tending to it though.
"This may hurt," he whispered as he tore the ripped sleeve of the light tunic right off of Myde's arm. Receiving a nod from the blond, the prince grabbed hold of the broken arrow shaft that stuck out of the flesh, his hand slipping several times due to the blood that coated it. When he finally got a good grip, Zexion pulled. He met very little resistance from the arrowhead, slipping it out. To his credit, the minstrel never cried out, just gritted his teeth through the pain. The arrow came free, and before doing anything else, the prince poured the entire contents of the water skin over the wound before binding it tightly with the bandages.
"We have to keep moving," Myde said, pushing some of his blood spattered haired from his face, pain easily heard in his words.
Still feeling in a slight state of shock, the prince just nodded, standing up, wincing as he did. He walked over and picked up one of the large water skins from the ground, surprised that it had not been damaged through the skirmish. He left the other one on forest floor. The bandits had lost several of their men for this water. They at least deserved something to show for it. It wasn't like this was the first time that Zexion had killed a man in battle; it was just the first time over something like water. It just drove home the need to get to this temple as soon as possible to avoid more deaths. This could have been avoided if the bandits hadn't been greedy and demanded all of their water, which made the prince even heavier hearted. Ignoring the fallen men around them, the two travellers mounted their horses, hoping that they hadn't been too spooked by the battle.
"Where will we go?" Zexion questioned, sheathing his sword after cleaning the blood off of it using the ripped sleeve of Myde's tunic. He knew they had to get moving soon before someone came looking for the bandits.
"I know a place," was Myde's only response, his voice greatly different than the jovial minstrel the prince had gotten to know over the past week. With one final look back at the bandits as they attempted to regroup and take care of their wounds, Zexion allowed Illusion to follow Melody through the dense trees. He could tell that they were still heading in the same direction that they had been following to the temple, though they were veering a little more to the south then they had before. Zexion didn't say anything, knowing that he could trust Myde to take them somewhere safe.
It took a full half day of slow riding before the minstrel began to rein Melody in, Zexion following suit. Neither man spoke at all during the ride; it was through that silence that the prince could easily hear the laboured breathing of his companion. Was Myde hurt elsewhere? Zexion himself knew that he had a large gash along his left leg that would need attention, as well as a bruised rib from where one of the bandits had gotten in a lucky shot with the pommel of his dagger. That caused riding to be painful, each step that Illusion took sending a lance of pain through the prince's chest. They would need a safe place to rest for the night, and possibly into tomorrow. They were in no shape to do any more major travelling until they were tended to.
"Here it is," Myde said finally, stopping in front of what looked like a sheer cliff of the mountain side.
Before the slate haired man had a chance to ask how this was supposed to be a safe place to recuperate, Myde dismounted stiffly from Melody's back, approaching a small crevice in the rock face. In a seemingly random pattern, he began to reach into the cracks of the wall with his uninjured arm. Hearing a light sigh of relief from the blond, Zexion couldn't believe it when he saw a large piece of the cliff begin to slide away, leaving a good sized opening in the Cliffside.
"What on earth?" the prince muttered, a little confused.
Myde looked back at him with a wide smile. "I found this place the first time I found the temple. I think it was used as a sacred spot for people on pilgrimage to the temple. I had been planning on leading us here tonight, and I'm glad I did." Taking Melody by the reins, the minstrel then began to lead his horse into the cave, Zexion automatically following him, trying not to limp with every step due to his injured leg. The instant darkness that greeted them proved to be a huge relief from the extreme heat that had been beating down on them all day and was an immense relief for both them and their horses. It was almost cool inside this cave.
They walked only a short difference into the mountain darkness on the oddly smooth floor of the cavern before a light began to shine from somewhere deep within. The light grew brighter and brighter with each step until they found themselves in a large room. Zexion began to look around in awe, wondering if this place was real. There was a single opening in the ceiling, allowing a shaft of light to illuminate the wide room, but it did not allow the heat to penetrate this deep. The room itself had been carved out of the rock, spacious enough for both men and their horses to remain here comfortably overnight and into the day if necessary. The walls were covered in faded paintings and glyphs, all of them having some representation of water in them. In the centre of the room beneath the beam of light was a circle of rocks with charcoal in the middle for a fire, a stack of dry wood beside it. But best of all was what was off to the one side.
"Is that?" Zexion whispered in awe at the sight of a hollow in the centre of the floor, filled with crystal clear water. A second, smaller pool was beside it, and it was then that the prince noticed that the floor of the cavern had a slight tilt to it. This was all collected rain water, and thanks to the lack of heat in here, it hadn't evaporated yet. It looked amazing.
Myde just nodded as he began to unsaddle Melody, wincing every time he moved his arm even the slightest amount.
"Why don't I do that for you?" Zexion said, placing a hand on the blond man's wrist. The touch caused the minstrel to look into the prince's face, their eyes locking and holding for a few moments before the slate haired royal blushed and had to turn away.
"But…" Myde trailed off before being interrupted.
"No buts," answered Zexion when he finally found his voice again. "You're injured. I will make a salve for us in a few minutes, but you shouldn't strain yourself. Why don't you start a fire and start boiling some water. Then you can clean yourself up a little."
Myde gave the prince a soft and gentle smile that sent a mysterious chill up and down the smaller man's spine before stepping away from the prince with a slight bow. "As you wish."
The slate haired man then turned back to Melody, trying to hide the sudden rush of embarrassment that he was feeling. What was happening to him? What was causing him to become so flustered? Instead of dwelling on those thoughts, the prince continued to groom Melody, taking extra time so that he wouldn't have to see Myde cleaning himself up. He could hear the splashing of water behind him, and wanted to give the blond some privacy. Despite the throbbing pain that was shooting through his leg and the sharp stabbing in his chest, Zexion felt oddly relaxed here for the first time sing beginning this journey. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the air was so cool in here, or that they would be able to have a fire and cook a meal, or that there was plenty of water for both them and their horses. This cavern almost seemed too good to be true.
"I'm just going out to scout around outside and make sure that we weren't followed," Myde said, breaking the prince out of his thoughts. Turning around, Zexion was surprised to see that there was already a fire with a pot hung over it, and the minstrel was now cleaned of blood, the water still shining on his skin. The prince was also surprised to realize that he was no longer grooming Melody, he had absentmindedly moved onto grooming his own mount, Melody already drinking out of the large pool.
"Don't push yourself," he responded as he trying to concentrate on cleaning Illusion and not the man beside him.
The musical laughter echoed through the large cavern as the minstrel located his bow and quiver. "I've had worse than this and lived to tell the tale," was Myde's response before he headed back to the entrance of the cavern, leaving Zexion along with his thoughts and the two silent horses.
After giving Illusion a few more strokes and the necessary sugar cubes, the prince allowed the horse to go over to the water pool as well. He then grabbed a smaller saddle bag from the pile of tack, taking it with him as he sat down halfway between the fire and the water pools. From the small bag, he pulled out a kit that held his apothecary supplies, the different herbs all giving off unique scents. A marble mortar and pestle followed along with a short dagger. Soon Zexion was opening the different packets of herbs, pouring various amounts into the mortar along with a little of the clear pool water and began to grind it into a paste.
Knowing his thoughts were not needed to make the salve that he had prepared so many times in the past, the prince allowed his mind to wander. What were all these strange thoughts that he was having about a man he barely knew? There was no lying that the minstrel had been the main focus of his thoughts since the first night of their journey together. There was just something about the blond that attracted the slate haired royal. Attraction to another man was not a foreign concept to Zexion, and he knew that his brother Riku often had the same sorts of thoughts, especially about a single brunet noble that had recently begun attending court. But unlike Riku, it would not be forbidden for the younger prince. With no pressure on him to produce an heir, Zexion was somewhat free to love who he wanted.
But why was he feeling attraction to this blond minstrel? They had so little in common, but the prince could only feel respect for a man like Myde who fought like he did today, and who had become more than just a guide on this journey. Myde had become so much more than just the simple low born minstrel that Zexion had begun this journey with, now he had become a man that the prince wanted to know more about. A curiosity had been lit inside him that would not be sated until he knew everything. For the first time, the slate haired man found himself almost hoping that they would need more than just a single day's rest here, if only to add time onto the duration of the journey. But then the thought of all those people suffering without water caused Zexion to chide himself. He could not put his own desires before the needs of his people.
Shaking his head, the prince reached down and grabbed the small knife, using it to cut away his breeches from the knee down, exposing the wound. It didn't look as bad as he had feared. Taking a clean cloth out from his kit, the prince dipped it into the boiling water in the pot above the fire, wincing at the heat. With care, he began to dab at the wound, cleaning away dried blood, dirt and other things he didn't want to think about. Zexion winced every time he had to put any pressure on the wound, but continued to do it, knowing it would be worse to just leave it. After being sure that he had cleaned it as completely as he could, the prince began to spread the thick paste onto the gash, using the roll of bandage to bind it on tightly.
"Zexion?" Myde said, entering the cavern once again. The prince was startled by the sudden appearance, but hid it well as he looked up, completely surprised more by the sight of two fat hares in the minstrel's hands. "Look what I caught while scouting! Dinner!"
The slate haired man couldn't stop his mouth from water at the sight. They hadn't had fresh meat since leaving Heartial, never wanting to light a fire in fear of burning down the forest. Even the villages had been unable to provide them with fresh meat due to the death of so many animals. And fires were just as dangerous in the villages as in the forests. Here in this mysterious cavern though, it was fine to do so. With a clean source of water and the heat of day almost forgotten, this cave seemed almost a little too perfect. Zexion would have a hard time leaving, especially if Myde wanted to stay as well.
"I didn't think any small game would still be around. This is a pleasant surprise. I have the salve all prepared now too, so why don't I help get your arm bandaged up then we can prepare them," the prince smiled softly, unused to the gesture. He stood up, testing to make sure that he hadn't wrapped his bandage too tight. There was nothing to be done about the pain in his chest though. That would only heal with time, but it was something he had survived through before.
Nodding, the minstrel deposited the hares on the floor near their packs, stopping to give Melody and Illusion both a soft pat as they continued to greedily drink the water of the pools. He then moved over to sit where Zexion had just been next to the fire. Kneeling back down, careful not to disrupt his bound leg, the prince then began to unwrap the hasty bandage around Myde's arm, being mindful to not aggravate the wound any more. As expected, the blond winced several times as the wound was exposed to the air once again.
"Let me know if it begins to hurt more than you can handle," Zexion whispered, somehow finding his voice lost again. He took the cloth in hand again, and after rinsing his own blood from it, dipped it back in the boiling water, carefully cleaning out the wound on Myde's shoulder.
"Why are you always so concerned about hurting me?" the taller man asked with a laugh. "Obviously I am no stranger to pain."
The prince could do nothing to hide the blush that began to appear on his cheeks. "I just don't want to hurt you even more than you already are."
At the words, Myde turned to face the slate haired royal, aqua green eyes locking with cobalt. Neither man said anything as they just sat there, starting at one another, frozen in place. When the minstrel finally gave the smaller man a soft and gentle smile, Zexion coughed a little, instantly breaking their eye contact. He reached down and picked up the mortar, spreading the salve over the wound, hoping that it would do its work on their bodies tonight, allowing them both the need to be stitched up.
As soon as the salve touched the wound, Myde groaned a little in relief. He didn't want to admit just how much the arrow had hurt him. Instantly, he could tell that the prince had all the skill of the apothecary that he had boasted about and more. "Is that shaderoot in the salve?"
Zexion raised an eyebrow at the comment. "I'm surprised that you recognized it. I wasn't sure if there was anyone outside of the royal family that knew its scent due to its rarity. I was in the belief that we have the kingdom's only plant in our palace gardens. And I'm the only one who has access to it."
The light in Myde's eyes suddenly dimmed as he developed a slightly faraway look on his face. "It was an incense that my mother held sacred. It was always burning around her in the temples."
Temples? What did the minstrel mean by that? Zexion knew that shaderoot had been extinct for centuries, had been harvested out of existence for its healing properties. Now it was the rarest of commodities. Even with all his research, the prince had never been able to find mention of another living plant other than his at the castle. Apothecaries sometimes paid their weight in gold and jewels in order to have only a draml of it, and sold it at a price that left the buyer with nothing. If his mother had had access to enough of it to burn it as an incense, it once again raised the question:
Who exactly was this mysterious minstrel Myde?
Cliffhanger! Sorry. I think, lol. There is going to be another chapter of this story, I promise! It should be out in the next two weeks or so. I just had so many ideas for this story, and none of them wanted to be cut out, so I decided to make a two shot of it. Because 20 thousand words might be a little too long for a oneshot, even for me, lol. Thanks again so much to Blue Pin for creating such amazing artwork to inspire this story! To my Pahoyhoy, you have the cutest little baby in existence, I miss you and love you more than ever right now!
I hope everyone liked this story, and is eagerly awaiting the concluding chapter. Who exactly could Myde be? I'd love to hear all your thoughts on it! Until next time!
Here's a translation of what exactly the bandits were saying:
Atche ue vonte eaul – give us your water
Tes Vonti – It's Yours
Atche ue ta eil! Ketsi! – Give us it all! Now!
Lepta! Tes vonti! – Here! It's yours!
Eil! Ij lits ta eil! – All! We want it all!