Stealing the Moon

Chapter One

The dream is always the same.

A nightmare blend of blazing buildings, beating drums, a blood red moon in the sky above. Screams of terror or agony, a sense of terrible, soul crushing loss. It's always the same.

Sometimes the details are hazy. Sometimes, they're painfully clear, as if I'm watching a movie in my head. The steady thud of tribal drums and people dancing around a bonfire in celebration. A lunar eclipse. A prick of pain in the palm of my hand. Men on horseback brandishing swords. Chaos. People running in fear for their lives as everything begins to burn. Blood and pain and death everywhere I turn.

I always wake with the scent of smoke in my nostrils and screams of panic in my ears. It's never real. It takes a while to shake it off, to convince myself there is no crisis, no fire, no bleeding moon in the sky. I get out of bed and check the windows, the door, the Princess sleeping peacefully in the next room.

It's never real.

In the beginning, I convinced myself this dream was born of a guilty conscience. I have killed more men than I can count and conquered nations for my King. Yet, I have no true loyalty to this Kingdom or His Majesty. This place is all I've ever known, but it is not my home.

There is enough blood staining my hands that they will never come clean. Not in this lifetime. Not in the next.

The dream does not inspire guilt, but terror and grief. As if I've lost something precious to me.

But, I am a woman with nothing to lose.

The day dawned cold, gray and wet, but the streets of Dollet were already teeming with people. All along the main road to the castle were vendor booths, peddling wares from all over the world, along with some of the local vendors who were always present at the daily market. Despite the wind and the rain, it seemed the entire kingdom had besieged the streets of the city and the air reverberated with the cries of the merchants, each proclaiming their wares the best to be had. Quistis, the attendant of the Princess of Dollet, ignored both the rain and the merchants as she made her way along the dirty cobblestone streets. At her side, a girl dressed in servant's rags stared at everything in unabashed awe.

"So many vendors," the girl muttered as she gazed around.

"Of course there are. It is a market," Quistis reminded her. "And stop staring. You're supposed to be a kitchen wench, not a spectator."

"My apologies, your grace," the girl said in a mocking tone. "You forget, I've never been here before. This is so much fun!"

"Yes," Quistis said. "But please, for the love of all that is holy, calm down. Your father will have my head if someone recognizes you."

The girl sighed, as if extremely put upon by the world.

"I don't understand why I'm not allowed to leave the castle," the girl complained. "He expects me to live like some canary in a cage. Like I'm some precious little ornament too fragile to handle. I'm not delicate!"

"The world outside is dangerous," Quistis said. "He's only thinking of your safety."

"Please don't patronize me, Quistis. That man has no interest in me. To him, I'm just something he can trade away for more land," the girl said.

Quistis was surprised by the bitterness in the girl's voice. She had never heard her charge speak this way. If anything, she was an eternal optimist, and not one prone to thinking the worst of people. Quistis didn't understand the sudden lack of trust, nor the girl's tone.

"I'm sure you are more to him than that."

She favored Quistis with a weary and humorless smile. This, too, was unusual.

The girl was no kitchen wench, but the Princess Rinoa Heartilly Caraway, who had stolen from the castle dressed as a kitchen wench so that she could finally visit the market. Quistis had hated the idea, but Rinoa could be surprisingly persistent when she wanted to be. She had pleaded for weeks on end, until Quistis gave in. Now that they were outside, Quistis was beginning to regret going along with it. This was not a discussion she wanted to have out in the open where they might be overheard.

"He is, at this very moment, bartering me away in exchange for Winhill," Rinoa said. "I'm to marry Vinzer Deling, whether I want to or not."

Though she didn't say so, Quistis knew of a planned trade with Galbadia, though she hadn't been aware that Rinoa was the price to be paid for the Winhill Territory. She had never quite understood the reason behind King Caraway's alliance with Galbadia. If anything, Galbadia should have been Dollet's most troublesome adversary, being that Galbadia was just as hungry for world domination as Dollet was. Deling and Caraway were old friends, but it had always seemed to Quistis that the two should be enemies.

"The idea of marrying Deling makes me sick," Rinoa continued. "Can you imagine?"

"Maybe you were misinformed."

"No. That man told me himself," Rinoa said. "What am I going to do, Quistis? I can't marry him. He's disgusting. And old and I don't love him!"

"Calm down," Quistis ordered. "First of all, those in your position don't marry for love, they marry for power and wealth. Second, what choice do you have?"

"I don't know, but I can't marry him! I'd rather die."

"Keep your voice down," Quistis hissed. "If we get caught, the King might have a worse fate in store for you than marrying Deling."

Though Quistis empathized with Rinoa's plight, she knew how things at court worked. Daughters were bargaining chips, ornaments and tools to carry on the family name. Nothing more. She wondered, how had this fact escaped Rinoa all these years? True, the women at court pretended their lives were all about parties and beautiful dresses, but in reality, not one of them had married for love. In Dollet and Galbadia, only the poor married the person of their own choosing.

"Where's the cloth vendor?," Rinoa asked, sounding defeated. "The Princess will need a new dress to impress her future husband."

Quistis lead Rinoa to the best cloth vendor in the square, thinking that a move to Deling City might be the best thing for the Princess. She'd never been allowed to leave Dollet. Exposure to another city might do her some good, even if she was marrying a pig.

While Rinoa examined the many bolts fine velvet and brocade fabric, Quistis watched a group of soldiers standing outside the Tavern, which was only a few paces away. It made her nostalgic for the days she had been one of them.

It wasn't so long ago that she had been one of the King's Elite Knights, a small, select group of the best soldiers in the King's lists. Quistis had been the only woman, and arguably, the best among them. She'd fought without fear, without question, and Caraway had often called her his secret weapon. An assassin of the highest caliber, none had seen Quistis Trepe coming. She was quick, deadly and efficient. In and out in a matter of minutes, the assigned kills made without hesitation or remorse.

Unfortunately, the King had forced her out of the Knights after she was injured two years ago. The Dollet Army had conquered the Timber resistance and had set up camp on the outskirts of town. Despite heavy watch, they had been attacked by a heavily armed group of rebels in the night. Quistis and three others had been wounded. Two had been killed. Once she'd healed, the King had assigned her to guard the Princess. Sadly, today's antics were the worst danger the Princess had ever been in. The rest of her days were uneventful.

Quistis sighed. She missed battles. She missed the camaraderie she'd shared with the other Knights. They had been her friends and her drinking mates. They had respected her as a fellow soldier, and treated her no differently than any other man in the battalion. While she now enjoyed all the benefits of a courtier, she was often treated as nothing more than an ornament. Just another pretty face in a lovely dress in a sea of pretty faces, swathed the finest fabric in Dollet.

One of the men standing before the Tavern glanced her way, recognized her and waved. She groaned as a pair of them headed toward her. They were Squall Leonhart and Zell Dincht, who were two of her closest of comrades and her oldest friends. At the moment, they were the last two people on earth she wanted to see.

"Keep your head down," she whispered to Rinoa. "They'll recognize you if you show your face."

Rinoa gave a curt nod and busied herself with the fabric, taking care to keep her face hidden behind the hood of her cloak.

"I can't get used to seeing you in a gown, Quistis," Zell said. "You're starting to look like a proper courtier. Kind of sucks that you can't join us at the tavern for a beer like the old days."

"One of many things I'm no longer permitted to do by order of His Royal Highness."

Squall flashed her a sad smile but said nothing. Squall was a man of few words, and even fewer facial expressions, but over the years, she'd learned to read the subtle signs. Quistis read the pity in his eyes and she hated it.

"You really hate this, don't you?" Zell said.

"Wouldn't you hate it if you were me?"

"Probably. I don't think a gown would look good on me," Zell said with a grin. "And I don't know how you girls walk around in those corset things all day. I tried to take one of those off a girl once. Not as easy as it looks!"

Quistis cuffed him on the arm and smiled, despite herself.

"Not easy to put on, either," Quistis complained. "How am I supposed to defend the Princess if I can barely breathe, let alone move comfortably?"

Zell gave her an appraising look.

"I don't even want to know where you're supposed to hide a weapon in that thing," he said

She rolled her eyes at him and glanced over at Rinoa, who was about to pay a ridiculous amount for a bolt of lovely crimson velvet. She excused herself and went to Rinoa's side.

"That's far too much," she told the vendor. "You're trying to scalp a girl who doesn't know any better."

"This is the finest velvet in the land. The dye alone would cost more than she is worth," the vendor snapped.

Rinoa's jaw dropped and her face turned red. Quistis saw that she was about to chastise the vendor for being imprudent, and Quistis gave her a hard, warning glance.

"The King would be displeased, sir, to know that you have not only insulted, but attempted to defraud the Princess' personal attendants," Quistis said coldly. "You will give the girl a fair price or you will never work this market again."

The vendor stared at her with a look of horror on his face. His mouth worked, but no sound came out.

"Which shall it be, sir?"

"A…a…fair p-price, Madam. My apologies."

Quistis gave him a dismissive nod and returned her attention to Zell and Squall.

"I'd say life at court suits you fine," Squall said with a wry smile. "Your arrogance is disgusting."

"Perhaps, but also necessary. Just because the girl is ignorant does not mean he can take advantage."

"Who is she?" Squall asked.

"A kitchen wench the Princess has taken a liking to."

Squall's eyes went to Rinoa, who had returned to Quistis' side carrying a bundle, presumably containing a bolt of the crimson velvet. Rinoa kept her head bowed, for she knew them both. They were regulars at the King's lavish parties, if only for the plentiful food and booze, when they weren't off fighting some battle. She didn't know them well, but they knew her face well enough to recognize hers.

"You're a lucky girl," Squall said, "To have to have two of the finest ladies at court looking out for you."

"I am, sir," Rinoa said.

Before Quistis could stop him, he reached out, hooked his finger under her chin and tilted her face up to his. His eyes widened in surprise, and his shock might have been funny to Quistis, given that Squall was a man nearly immune to shock. However, in this case, it wasn't funny at all. It wasn't just the Princesses head the King would have if he found out, but Quistis' as well.

"Princess…" Squall said.

His face reddened and he took a step back, turning his face to the ground. Quistis grabbed him by the arm before he could bow out of respect for Rinoa's station.

"Quiet," Quistis ordered. "No one knows she's here."

Squall stared at Rinoa, uncomprehending. It seemed the Princess was equally riveted, unable to tear her gaze away from Squall's.

"Wait...what?" Zell cried.

"I haven't been allowed to leave the castle since I was eight," Rinoa said softly. "I just...needed to get out."

"So you stole away dressed like a servant?" Squall asked in disbelief, his eyes still locked on hers.


"I think Quistis has rubbed off on you," Zell said. "Sounds like something she'd do."

"No way," Quistis said. "I was against this."

"Aww, let the girl have a little fun, will you?" Zell chided. "This probably beats the hell out of sitting up in your room doing embroidery or whatever it is you girls do behind closed doors."

That was the truth. All the ladies of court gathered daily to embroider and sew things. Quistis had no talent or interest in either, and usually spent her time reading books borrowed from the King's library while the ladies gossiped and played at being domestic.

"Please don't tell anyone you saw me here," Rinoa said. "If that manfinds out, he'll lock me in my room till I'm eighty."

"You're secret's safe with me," Squall promised.

"Yeah, me too," Zell chimed in.

"Will we see you at dinner?" Squall asked.

"Of course," Quistis said.

"We'll save you a spot at our table," Rinoa said, sounding so hopeful, her statement came out like a question.

She'd addressed both of the young men, but her eyes were still locked on Squall. Quistis was surprised by the invitation. Rinoa, though she knew all of the Knights, had never given any of them more attention than polite small talk, nor had she ever invited one of the to dine with her. Quistis supposed it was out of politeness, or perhaps because she was depending on them to keep her secret.

"We look forward to it," Squall said and bowed. "Till then, ladies."

Later, Quistis and the Princess dressed for dinner in gowns of expensive fabric of the finest quality. Quistis had not grown accustomed to wearing the clothing of a courtier. She'd lived in her early youth as a servant, and later as a soldier. These clothes were far more ornate and beautiful than anything she'd ever worn in her life, and she felt as if they belonged to someone else. In them, she felt as if she were an overgrown child playing at being a Courtier, for a Courtier, she was not. The Court, for all its finery and grandeur was exceedingly dull. The conversations were all the same. Gossip, rumors, the latest trends. Quistis loathed the idea of spending time with those people, and she longed to be back on the battlefield, with her true friends.

Regardless of her personal feelings, she was required to attend if the Princess did. The only thing she had to look forward to were her chats with her former comrades, though, of late, it only served to depress her further to hear their tales of bravery and plunder. She longed for her leathers and her armor, her blades and her whip.

I am a warrior, not a dressing maid, she thought angrily as she tied the Princess' raven hair up in ribbons to match her sky blue and silver brocade gown.

As frustrated as Quistis was, she could not take it out on the Princess. What Rinoa had said earlier held true. Rinoa was caged, trapped in her own home with no knowledge of what went on outside the castle walls. She barely had a clue that her Father was waging war one Kingdom at a time to enhance his own holdings. King Caraway saw no reason for Rinoa to know the affairs of state. He saw her as a foolish girl, more concerned with her embroidery and her gowns than with the Kingdom, and felt there was no reason to encourage anything else.

The truth was, Rinoa was an intelligent girl, capable of understanding the affairs of the Kingdom, but King Caraway saw to it that she stayed ignorant, for reasons unknown. Quistis thought it was to his own benefit to inform Rinoa of the goings-on in the Kingdom, but it was not her place to say so. As a soldier, Quistis had known about most of the King's plans, but in her new station, she was now left in the dark. At Court, it was not proper to speak to a lady about political affairs.

There was a knock at the door, and Quistis opened it to admit their visitor. She had expected to see one or more of the other ladies of the Court, but instead, King Caraway himself had chosen to pay them a visit.

Quistis gave him a shallow bow. "Your Highness."

"Well, well. Look at you," Caraway said, making no attempt to hide his lustful gaze. "What a pity you're not nobility. I know of several men of high station at Court in need of a woman such as yourself to give them healthy children. Unfortunately, they're not interested in someone with no holdings or titles."

Quistis gave him a cold stare.

"How fortunate for me. I have no interest in procreating for the sake of a man's pride."

"Such a saucy mouth on you. Had you not saved my life more than once, I'd have you beheaded for speaking so crudely."

"I am a former kitchen wench and soldier, sire. You can dress me up, give me a title, but I'm still nothing more than an orphaned refugee, so what else do you expect me to be but crude?" she asked.

"Touché," the King laughed. "I've always liked you for your honesty."

"To what do we owe the honor of your visit?" Rinoa asked formally.

"Ah, yes," he said. "I've come to inform you, your future husband will be at the dinner tonight, and has asked that you join him at his table for a drink after the feast."

Rinoa shot Quistis a look that was hard to read, but Quistis knew well enough what it meant. The King was, indeed, about to barter her away for rights to a kingdom that didn't belong to him.

"The deal is done, I assume?" Rinoa asked, sounding neither excited nor angry. Her tone was flat and disinterested.

"Don't concern yourself with the details. I've taken care of everything," the king boasted. "Vinzer is eager to start a family, Rinoa. He hopes that you will give him sons, and I've assured him you're healthy enough to bear him ten of them if that's what he wants."

Quistis watched Rinoa's face turn crimson at the mention of children. That the king was so casual about it, as if bearing children was the only thing a wife was good for, and it had infuriated the girl.

"The ladies at court say he's a womanizer and a brute."

"You'd be wise to ignore gossip, Rinoa. Not a one of them know what they're talking about."

"Do I get a say in this?" Rinoa asked.

"You should be grateful to be married to a King," Caraway said. "Vinzer Deling is powerful and wealthy and can give you whatever you desire. What more could you want?"

"As you wish, my King," Rinoa said flatly.

The king looked pleased with himself and he returned his attention to Quistis.

"As for you, darling," he said, "I have plans for you as well."

Quistis stared at him. She could only imagine what he might have in mind, and none of it good. Unless…

Unless he was planning to give her back her status as an Elite. What other use could she be to him? After all, though she had first thought that she would probably accompany Rinoa to her new home, it didn't make sense to send her. Quistis had been one of the best Elite in the Kingdom. Sending her off to a rival Kingdom was like giving the enemy the key to his castle. Quistis knew everything about his army, about how they worked, and the best ways to bring it down.

"You're sending me back into the fray, I hope."

"As much as I'd like that, the answer is no," Caraway said. "I have someone in mind for you, as well. A nephew of Deling's, Erich, I believe he's called. He has his own title, though a lowly one, and lands in Centra and doesn't mind a wife of non-noble descent, so long as she's easy on the eyes."

"Good for him," Quistis muttered.

"He likes the spirited ones," Caraway continued. "In particular, he enjoys breaking them."

Quistis shuddered and turned away. She would not be some stranger's wife. She would be no one's wife. She was a soldier.

"Thank you, Your Highness," Quistis said, "But if I can not fight, and I can not join Rinoa in Galbadia, then I'd much prefer to join the Convent of Hyne."

"You'll do as I say."

Quistis stared at him. Did this man know she had the ability to destroy him if she chose? He had created her, after all. He had trained her to kill without mercy. It would be so easy for her to assassinate him. The man was such a letch, it would be easy to pose as a concubine, slip into his bedchambers and slit his throat while he slept. .

"Yes, your Highness," she said. "As you wish."

"Good. It's settled then," Caraway said. "I'll introduce you after the meal."

Quistis gave her nod of assent, all the while, plotting ways to end Caraway.

As soon as the King was gone, Quistis returned to the task of Rinoa's hair without a word. She could tell by the Princess' face that she had expected Quistis to go to Galbadia with her. The prospect of being married off to a brute of a man with no one familiar to talk to in a strange land was surely terrifying.

And to Quistis, the idea of the same fate for herself was unthinkable.

Squall and Zell, on Rinoa's invitation, joined the Princess and Quistis at their table. Squall would never get used to seeing Quistis dressed like a courtier, no matter how many times he saw her decked out in court finery. Though the look suited her, he'd long ago associated her with leathers and armor and bloodstains. She looked uncomfortable and unhappy as she picked at her meal and downed glass after glass of mead as though she was at the tavern and not the King's banquet.

"Slow down, woman," Zell said to Quistis as she refilled her glass for the fourth or fifth time. "Leave some for the rest of us."

"The King has barrels of this stuff," Quistis said. "Have no fear. We won't run out."

"Would you like me to get you your own barrel?" Zell asked.

Quistis gave him a dark look and downed her glass in one swallow.

"You're funny," Quistis said. "But yes. It would help."

At Squall's side, the Princess eyed Quistis with a worried expression, but said nothing. She too, only picked at her food and seemed far less exuberant than she had earlier in the day. Squall had to wonder what had happened in the time between then and now, but he didn't ask.

"So what's happening with the Knights these days?" Quistis asked. "I'm never told anything anymore."

"Mostly, we've just been training a bunch of new recruits," Squall said. "I'm not sure why we need them, though. It's been pretty quiet."

"It's been boring Aside from the occasional uprising that needs suppressing and that wannabe Robin Hood character," Zell said, "there's nothing going on."

"You still haven't caught him?" Quistis asked, perking up. "It's been, what? Five years now?"

"Don't remind me," Zell said.

"The guy's smart," Squall said. "And elusive. Every time we think we've found his hideout, he's already moved on. It's like he's got some sixth sense that we're coming for him."

"How much has he stolen?"

"To date?" Squall asked. "At this point, there's no way to even calculate it, but I'd say it's above ten million Gil."

"How does a guy steal that much and get away with it?" Quistis chastised. "And why's he doing it?"

"Like I said, he's smart," Squall said. "He's either got an informant, which I hate to think about, or he's psychic."

"He steals the money and gives it away to the poor, right?" Rinoa asked.

"Most of it, yeah," Zell said. "The people really love this guy, too, so no one wants to give him up. Questioning the commoners is pointless because even if they had seen him with their own eyes, they suddenly know nothing."

"That's so brave," Rinoa said. "And generous."

"He's stealing from your father," Squall pointed out. "By extension, that means he's stealing from you."

"At least he doesn't keep it all for himself," Rinoa said. "There's something noble about helping the poor."

Squall could see that Rinoa had no clue about the world outside, so he thought it best not to argue. This thief wasn't to be praised for his acts of 'kindness,' if only because he sometimes killed for the money or treasures he took. He and his merry band of misfits were creating havoc along the roads, making it difficult for anyone trying to travel anywhere in the world, since there was no telling where he'd turn up next.

"I've asked that manto allow me to distribute Gil to the poor, but he won't," Rinoa said. "I see them from my window, down in the square, and I feel bad for them because I have so much and they have nothing. At the same time, I'm jealous."

"Jealous?" Squall asked.

"Jealous because they're free to do what they want," she said. "Their lives are hard. I understand that. But they can spend time at the tavern with their friends, celebrate events in a crowd, marry whom they choose, even pick up and move to Esthar if they want to. I have everything except for my free will. If I could, I'd trade all of this for the chance to be happy."

The Princess was so naive. She had no idea of the hardships or trials the common people faced every day. Food was sometimes scarce. Money was even more scarce. Times were hard for the poor of Dollet. The world outside was a far, far different place than the one the Princess imagined. Still, Squall couldn't take away her utopian view of the world outside. He didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.

Quistis refilled her glass as the dishes were cleared, downed it and refilled it again.

"Seriously, Quistis, maybe you should, I dunno, have some water," Zell suggested.

"Screw water," Quistis mumbled. "I have no intention of being sober tonight."

An attendant approached the table, bowed to Rinoa and said,

"The King requests that the Princess Rinoa and Lady Quistis join him at his table, if you please."

Squall saw the look of dread the two women exchanged and wondered if their ruse earlier in the day had been discovered. He hoped not. Quistis hadn't been joking when she said the King would have her head if he found out. She meant that quite literally, as King Caraway had beheaded people for far less. Squall had once heard a story about him having beheaded a cook simply because he hated the stew he'd been served.

Quistis finished off another glass of mead, got to her feet and followed the attendant without a word of parting. Rinoa, however, remained standing beside the table, uncertain and looking as though she might vomit.

"Are you all right?" Squall asked.

Rinoa shook her head and smoothed down her dress. Then her hand came up to clasp a pendant that hung around her neck. She twisted it and glanced down at Squall, who couldn't help but be concerned.

"I didn't mention your adventure to your father," he said.

"It's not that," Rinoa said. "Quistis and I are to be married off."

"To whom?"

"Quistis is betrothed to Erich Deling."

Squall let out a surprised laugh. That was the last thing he'd expected to hear, and it was a dangerous choice for his friend. No doubt, she'd either kill him within a year or at the very least, have him cowering in the basement while she ruled Centra. Erich Deling had a reputation for being abusive toward just about everyone, and he was just the sort of man Quistis would rather kill than tolerate.

"And you?"

"I'm to marry Vinzer."

"You're kidding," Squall said.

"I wish I was," Rinoa said mournfully.

"I'm sorry," was all Squall could manage to say.

He was saddened by this news. While he didn't know the Princess well, he had to admit, he was intrigued by the girl. After her invitation to join them at dinner, he'd felt some foolish spark of hope that she fancied him. Now he realized the truth. Even if she did, there wasn't a chance in hell she'd ever be with him. She wasn't free to choose. Suddenly, the things she'd said about commoners made more sense, as did Quistis' sudden desire to drown herself in mead.

"Whatever happens after tonight," Rinoa said, sounding strange, "I want you to know, I'm only doing it because I have to."

Her words implied her impending marriage, but Squall got the feeling she meant something else. There was no reason for her to explain that she was obligated to marry Deling. That was the way of the Royals. He knew and understood that.

"Rinoa!" Caraway called from his table, looking irritated.

"I'd better go," Rinoa said. "I've enjoyed dining with you, Squall."

Squall gave her a polite nod, and watched her walk away, feeling as though he'd just missed the biggest opportunity of his life.

Rinoa had known Vinzer Deling was old, but she hadn't realized that he was twenty years older than her father. What had that manbeen thinking, setting her up with a man who was almost seventy? Her she was, barely eighteen, being married off to a man old enough to be her great grandfather? It was scandalous. And Erich Deling was a complete moron and a misogynist to boot. She could only imagine the murderous thoughts going through Quistis' head as she politely sat, drinking her twelfth glass of mead, pretending that Erich wasn't trying to fondle her under the table.

The whole ordeal had been disgusting, as far as Rinoa was concerned. She to marry an old man, and Quistis to marry a pervert, all for the sake of a bit more land and a trade agreement.

She wouldn't stand for this. She had to take her life into her own hands.

The moment the two women were alone, back in Rinoa's suite, Rinoa locked the door and turned toward Quistis with pleading eyes.

"We're friends, right?" she asked Quistis. "I mean, I know you're supposed to guard me and all, but we've become friends over the last two years, haven't we?"

Quistis nodded and gave the Princess a questioning look.

"If I was in danger, and I asked you to help me, would you?"

"Of course," Quistis said. "That's part of my job, isn't it?"

For someone who had drank half a barrel of mead all by herself, Quistis seemed remarkably sober. Rinoa was glad for that. For what Rinoa had planned, Quistis would need her wits about her.

"Good," Rinoa said. "Because I am in danger, and I need your help."

"I don't understand."

"This whole sham of a marriage, Quistis!" Rinoa said. "It's too dangerous for me to leave the castle, yet I'm to be shipped off to Galbadia in the morning to marry a man who will probably croak before we get to the alter? It makes no sense, unless that mandoesn't intend for me to make it to Galbadia."

"What are you saying?" Quistis asked.

"I'm saying, I think the King plans to have Vinzer Deling and I killed on our way to Galbadia," Rinoa said. "I know it sounds crazy, but I'm certain that he wants possession of Galbadia, too. How easy would it be for him to off an old man and his bride then use it as an excuse to take the country? He might even blame it on this Robin Hood character the men were discussing at dinner. How convenient would that be? A robbery gone wrong?"

Rinoa had been suspicious of her father for months. She wasn't sure why, just that there was something distant and uncaring about him, when before he'd doted on her. That in itself wasn't enough to indict him, but she'd overheard a conversation between her father and one of his councilors in the library the week before about the best way to invade Deling City. It hadn't made sense to her at the time, being that Vinzer Deling and her father had long been allies. Add to that one of the discussions at dinner had been a hefty recruitment in a time when all the Dollet army had to worry about was disorganized uprisings and a modern day Robin Hood. Suddenly, all the pieces began to fit.

She explained all this to Quistis, who looked skeptical at first, and then worried.

"He actually mentioned an invasion of Deling City?" Quistis said. "Why didn't you mention this before?"

"I didn't want to believe it," she said. "But now I understand. I'm not just a bargaining chip, I'm collateral damage."

"You're his only heir to the throne," Quistis pointed out. "Why would he want to kill you?"

"I don't know," Rinoa admitted. "But you can't deny how strange it all is, can you? Why marry me off to someone he plans to overthrow, unless he doesn't care?"

"That's a good question," Quistis said, "but I don't see what we can do about it. It's not like you can just decide you're not going to Galbadia."

"I won't have to go," Rinoa said slowly, "if you kidnap me. Tonight."

Author's Notes:

I probably shouldn't be starting this, since I have two active fics I'm working on, but I loved the idea so much I couldn't help myself.

So, as you might have surmised from the story description, this is an AU retelling of Robin Hood...that's only half true. While there are elements of Robin Hood in this, I also caged bits from other FF story lines, most noteworthy being FF9 and it's initial kidnapping plot. In no way does this mean the story will mirror one or the other or even be close to the same thing. I'm just saying, it was inspired by bits of both. You'll see what I mean as the story goes on.

All the cities and towns in the game are now to be considered Kingdoms or property of Kingdoms, except for FH and Esthar. I've used the landscape and Garden/SeeD in a way I've never seen done anywhere before. This applies to some of the characters, too. Even if I haven't done any odd pairings here, they appear in somewhat unusual roles, particularly Seifer, Cid and Laguna.

I've had a lot of fun twisting the story and the characters, so I hope you enjoy. Leave a review!