Author's Note: I did it! I got a chapter out in time for Christmas! And I have over 100 reviews! Let's see if I can get to 200 before I finish the fic! :)
Some more characters join the cast in this chapter, and hopefully I did a good job with them. :D
The Girl With Two Names
It was an hour before dusk, and Mai, the marchioness of Kyujaku, was walking in the palace gardens. They were always peaceful at this time of day, the gardeners having done most of their work, and even in the late-afternoon light, their beauty was plain. Tristan's mother had loved gardens, and had spent every spare moment during her reign wandering among the flowerbeds and groves of trees, arranging for new plants to be brought in and maintained, sometimes even getting her hands dirty herself. Her main passions had been flowers and herbs, and there was a sizable herb bed in every quarter of the palace grounds. Mai often wandered the gardens herself, though she did not always see the beauty around her. She usually came out here to be alone with her thoughts for a while.
She was on her way back to the palace when she heard a commotion near the western gates. Surprised, and more than a little curious, she turned in that direction. She noticed several of the servants gravitating toward the disturbance as well, and wondered what could be going on to attract their attention.
As she came in sight of the new arrivals, her question was answered. Tristan was back. She had not expected him to return on the day he had left for the hunt, especially since he had not brought back a stag to be butchered. Instead, one of the packhorses bore a curiously shaped bundle, and Tristan himself was holding a smaller figure before him on his own horse. Commander seemed untroubled by the extra weight. As Mai drew closer, she observed that the king's companion was a girl, wearing a plain and slightly ragged dress, her tangle of dark-red hair hiding her face from this angle.
Tristan's party slowed to a halt, and the young king looked around at the assembled people, catching sight of Mai almost immediately. It was hard to miss her even in a crowd. He beckoned her over, and the servants made way for her as she approached him.
"I didn't expect you to be down here," Tristan remarked when they were close enough to speak normally.
"I wasn't expecting you to come home today." A teasing note entered her voice. "So, who might this charming maiden be?"
Tristan flushed slightly.
"Before you start spreading gossip, she's just a girl I found alone in the wilderness. I wanted to help her, that's all."
"Really?" Mai asked, intrigued. "What's her name?"
Tristan looked a little sheepish at this.
"Well…I don't know. She's mute, so she can't tell us. She understands what we're saying, though…I think."
The girl nodded once, firmly, her hair bouncing slightly with the movement.
"Well, that's one question answered," Mai observed.
"We knew that already," Siegfried muttered, sounding annoyed.
Mai turned a steady gaze on the Leyarondine ambassador, taking in the sour expression that marred his somewhat handsome features.
"What's up with you?" she asked coolly. "Did you break a nail or something?"
Siegfried glared at her, but did not deign to respond. "Maybe we should go and stable the horses," Leon said pointedly, dismounting as he spoke. When his older brother hesitated, he raised his voice slightly. "Tristan has things to take care of. We're not needed here."
Siegfried sighed as he slid out of the saddle.
"Very well, Leonhard," he said, taking up his horse's reins. He glanced back at Mai and Tristan. "We shall see you at dinner," he said curtly before leaving with his brother.
"Seriously, what is his problem?" Mai asked in a low voice as the two men disappeared from view.
"He didn't want me to bring her with us," Tristan admitted, gesturing at the silent girl. "I honestly don't know why, but he's been in a foul mood since we started riding back."
"That doesn't sound like him," Mai observed. "I know he's not all sweetness and light, but he'd do anything to add to his reputation. Saving a helpless maiden would encourage people to inflate his ego for months."
"Don't let him hear you say something like that," he mock warned.
"He can't stop me. Foreign ambassador he may be, but I still outrank him."
Tristan sobered as he looked down at the groom waiting patiently for him to dismount.
"Can you help me get her down?" he asked Mai, indicating his companion. "I don't want to hurt her any further and with her hands the way they are—"
"What's wrong with her hands?" Mai cut in. "You never said anything about that."
"You can see for yourself in a minute," Tristan said. "Just help me with her. I want her safely grounded before I get down myself."
Mai made no further protest, but reached up for the girl. Tristan lowered her into the blonde woman's arms, and Mai set her gently on her feet. Now that she was in front of her, the marchioness examined the girl more closely. She had a pretty, pale face and wide, grey-green eyes. She smiled shyly up at Mai, showing even teeth.
"She can't have been out there for long," the blonde murmured. "She looks too well-cared-for. Sure, her hair's a mess, but so is mine whenever I sleep with it unbound." Her eyes dropped to the girl's hands, taking in the damage they bore. She drew in a sharp breath. "You poor thing," she whispered. She recognised the signs. As a child, she had fallen into a nettle patch and she still remembered how much those blisters had hurt even now. She looked over at Tristan, who had dismounted and was giving orders to several of the servants. Two of them took down the bundle Mai had noticed earlier as she addressed him again. "Mind if I take her up to my apartment? I think Téa has a salve that might help her, and she needs cleaning up if she's staying here."
"By all means," Tristan said, smiling warmly. "I'm sure she'd appreciate any help you could give her."
Mai beckoned to the girl before turning toward the palace.
"Come on, honey," she coaxed.
The girl looked over at Tristan, who nodded encouragingly, then squared her shoulders and followed after the blonde.
Serenity was still unsure how she felt about this turn of events. Tristan had taken her from her home and the brothers who would surely be frantic with worry when they came back and found her missing…and yet, he had been kind to her, and had plainly thought he was acting in her best interests. She could hardly blame him for this belief, since there was no way for him to know about her true situation. She couldn't tell him, and her brothers couldn't have told him if they had been present.
Mai, surprisingly, was easier to trust. She was evidently a lady of high standing, but there was more to her than her rank and beauty. Serenity could tell that she genuinely wanted to help her.
As they walked through the palace to Mai's private apartment, people stared at Serenity and whispered to one another as she passed them. Their scrutiny made her uncomfortable, and she was relieved when they reached their destination. The two guards at the door bowed respectfully to Mai and stood aside for her to pass, but when Mai opened the door, she gestured for Serenity to go in ahead of her. As the princess obeyed, she heard the woman addressing one of the guards.
"Jesse, be a dear and go and find Eleanor for me. Tell her to bring as many dresses as she can carry. I know she has plenty to spare."
"As you wish, Lady Mai," a man's voice said, though he sounded slightly put out.
Serenity turned her attention to the private parlour she was now in. It was lavishly furnished, and a set of double-doors let in the last of the fading light through the large glass panes set into them. Beyond them, Serenity could see the rail of a balcony.
A sound closer at hand caught her attention and she whirled in surprise to find herself being glared at by a fluffy white cat. The creature's cold blue eyes reminded her of Seto, especially in this moment. The cat seemed to be gauging how much of a threat this stranger was, and Serenity dared not make any more sudden moves. She did not want to provoke it any further.
Mai closed the door behind her and took in the situation at a glance.
"Easy, Valentina," she said in a low, firm voice. The cat seemed to need no further prompting than this, for she immediately dropped to her stomach on the divan where she had been sitting, resting her head on her forepaws. She still regarded Serenity warily, so the girl moved to an armchair far enough away from the cat to feel safe. "Valentina takes her time getting used to new people," Mai told her reassuringly. "If she sees you around enough, she'll warm up. Don't try and touch her until she comes to you, though. The last person who tried that nearly had their arm flayed by her claws."
"Who are you talking to, Mai?" someone asked from the next room, and a moment later, a pretty brunette woman not much older than Yugi and Yami entered the parlour. Her blue eyes widened when she caught sight of Serenity, and after staring in surprise for a moment, she smiled in welcome. "Oh, hello. I'm Téa." She paused expectantly, but got no response except a nod of acknowledgement.
"She can't speak," Mai explained for Serenity. "We don't know her name. Tristan found her alone when he went hunting and brought her back here. Hon, could you get me a comb? Her hair's a mess and it'll only be harder to fix after her bath."
"Sure," Téa said, frowning slightly. "Do you want me to get a bath ready for her? I can have someone bring up hot water for it."
"If you don't mind," Mai said with a smile.
"No, of course not." Téa paused for a moment before her curiosity got the better of her. "Are you going to be combing her hair yourself? Why can't she do it?"
Mai's expression sobered.
"I wouldn't expect her to with her hands the way they are. She's run afoul of some nettles recently and they're all over blisters."
Téa's expression softened in sympathy.
"I'll take care of that when she's finished bathing," she said. "There's no point in using the ointment if it's going to be washed off as soon as it's applied."
Serenity offered the kind girl a grateful smile, which Téa returned before disappearing back into the other room to find the requested comb.
It was Joey who discovered Serenity's absence first. He habitually reached out to contact her as soon as they came within range, and even if she didn't respond, he could sense her mental presence if she was in or near the cave. By this time of day, she was always at her spinning-wheel, and he was so used to her being there that it was several moments before he registered her absence. Surprised, and slightly anxious, he probed more insistently, using his mind to scan the area around the cave entrance. He found nothing, and his anxiety grew.
As they neared their destination, he dropped lower, scanning the ground below for any sign of his sister. What he did see caused his anxiety to evolve into alarm. The others sensed this and tried to contact him, to ask what was wrong, but his mind was whirling and their words could not reach him. He dived, nearly face-planting into the ground. As his brothers landed behind him, he half-ran, half-flew into the cave…and skidded to a halt. The spinning-wheel stood in its corner, looking lonely without the large bundle of yarn that had been near it. It was the only thing that remained.
He was still staring around at the almost barren antechamber when he shifted into human form. He didn't move as the others filed in and looked around in their turn. Seto muttered a curse in some foreign tongue.
"Where is she?" Valon asked, sounding as shocked and worried as Joey felt. "She can't have left. She'd never—"
"Not willingly," Joey cut in, his voice shaking with sudden anger.
"Joey, calm—" Raphael began.
"I will not calm down!" Joey shouted, springing to his feet and whirling to face his brother. "Did you see the ground out there? Riders were here! Someone's kidnapped her! Again!"
"We don't know that for sure," Duke said, trying to placate his furious brother.
"Then find out!" Joey snapped. "If you can't, summon someone who can!"
It was perhaps a sign of how worried all of them were that nobody argued with Joey. Raphael took hold of his pendant, and nodded at Yami, who did the same. Each uttered a single word, their strong voices reverberating around the cave.
The two pendants lit up almost before their owners had finished speaking their partners' names. The light flared up brilliantly, illuminating the entire cave and dazzling the princes. When it died down, Guardian Eatos and Mahad stood facing each other just inside the entrance. They nodded at one another before turning to face the brothers. Neither seemed particularly surprised at being summoned.
"Serenity's missing," Raphael told them, keeping his voice calm, though his anxiety was plain in his expression. "There seems to have been a disturbance outside and the fruits of her task have vanished along with her."
Mahad turned to the tall blonde, regarding him solemnly.
"I presume you called me here to reveal what became of her, since none of you have progressed nearly far enough to accomplish such a feat," he stated calmly. "This is easily managed, but we should relocate outside. There is not much space to work with in this cave."
Once they were out on the hillside, the mage began drawing symbols in the air with his ornate staff. The signs were traced in purple light and began to circle around the group as they became more numerous. The sight made them all uneasy. Such magic was beyond even Alister, for all of the mages had progressed with painful slowness in certain areas, largely due to the curse restricting their innate powers. They had never seen this ritual performed before now, although some of them had read about it, and knew Mahad could perform such magic. The glowing symbols cast eerie shadows beyond the circle, and Ryou, Mokuba and Noa drew closer together, watching apprehensively as the magic built around them.
The Spellcaster began to chant in a complex tongue only the mages could begin to comprehend. The language of Darthanian magic was rich and took decades to master fully. As the chant reached its climax, the light from the magic circle flared up...
And everything changed. The princes saw, as through a faint purple mist, the arrival of Tristan and his companions. They heard their words as clearly as if the speakers were still present. They watched as a brash young ruler carried their sister away, believing he was doing her a kindness.
The illusion broke, and the brothers stood for a moment in total silence.
"I'm going to get her," Joey said at last, reaching for his own pendant.
"Don't be a fool, Joey," Duke said sternly.
"Yeah," Valon chimed in. "There's no way you're going in there on your own. Just let me get my bracers and we can both fly over there."
"Valon, you're not helping."
"I'm in!" Noa said. "Pearl can carry five of us. Anyone else coming?"
"We can't just fly to Hiroto with no plan," Raphael said before anyone else could declare their willingness to do just that. "What will the citizens think when they see a pair of dragons flying to the palace?"
"Not like any weapons they have could hurt Jet or Pearl," Noa said dismissively.
"This is our sister, Raphael!" Joey's eyes blazed defiantly.
"We know that, Joseph," Seto said, not entirely hiding his irritation. You don't need to remind us every other day."
"I take it that means you're not going to help us get her back," Joey said coldly. "Figures."
"Of course not. Only an idiot would go through with something as ludicrous as this."
Joey lunged at his older brother, hands curled into fists. Valon tried to hold him back, and received a blow to the jaw for his trouble. It was then that Eatos chose to intervene.
"Peace!" Her voice hung in the air for several seconds after the word was uttered, and a sudden, complete calm settled over the princes. Joey's hands fell to his sides, Valon stepped away from him and massaged the bruise forming on his cheek, and the others turned toward the tall guardian, who regarded them sternly for a moment before speaking. "You are forgetting the importance of keeping your presence in this kingdom hidden. Serenity's arrival in the king's household will not be proclaimed in other lands, but the castle being attacked by beings of great power riding on winged monstrosities surely would. Two months of sailing could carry the news to Domino, and Gozaburo would learn of your whereabouts. Serenity could have spoken up and pleaded not to be taken from here, but she did not. She values your well-being above her own preference and has sacrificed much for your sakes. Do not let her efforts go to waste by exposing yourselves now."
"There may be an alternative that will please everyone," Mahad added, his gaze lingering on Joey as he spoke. "There is a lake east of Hiroto, is there not? A pleasant place often visited by the townsfolk, and even the king and his court on occasion. It may be less comfortable to sleep out-of-doors, but it is possible you will encounter your sister if you station yourselves there for a few weeks."
A flicker of curiosity came to life in Raphael and he met the mage's gaze, raising an eyebrow slightly.
"How much do you know?" he asked.
The Spellcaster merely smiled mysteriously.
"More than you, and less than the gods," he replied. "If that is all…" He spun on his heel, his staff lighting up. Purple mist swirled around him, and when it cleared, he was gone.
"I will leave you to make your plans," Eatos said mildly before dismissing herself in a flash of white light.
The princes felt the enforced calm lift, but did not resume their argument. There was no point in it. Mahad had already provided an adequate solution.
"Well," Raphael said at length, "if we're going to be camping, we'd better pack."
"Does that feel better?" Téa asked, rinsing off her hands in the basin she had filled for the purpose. Serenity nodded, smiling.
They were currently in Téa's small bedroom, a neat, simply-furnished chamber on the opposite side of the parlour from Mai's larger, more lavish sleeping quarters. Serenity had bathed, with the maid's help, and was now wearing one of Mai's shorter dresses for the sake of modesty. The garment hung too loosely on her and Mai had told her a friend would soon bring something more suitable for dinner with the king. Téa had braided strands of pearls into Serenity's hair—the princess had shaken her head vigorously when the hairpins were brought out—and rubbed a salve into her skin wherever the nettles had stung her. The worst of the injuries were now concealed beneath silk-lined gloves that came to her elbows. Téa had just finished attending to her feet, and slipped them into kidskin slippers that were also lined with silk.
As Téa dried her hands, both young women heard the parlour door opening, followed by something being dragged across the floor.
"This is the last time I run an errand for you, Lady Mai," a man snapped irritably. "Do you have any idea how much this thing weighs? Pulling it through the corridors was one thing. Carrying it up six flights of stairs was quite another."
"I did warn you," said another unfamiliar voice, a woman's this time. "I usually have two men assist me with my trunk. It was you who insisted on doing it on your own."
Mai sighed heavily.
"When are you boys going to learn that I won't be impressed by show-offs? Especially when they complain about how hard their self-imposed trials were."
Téa smothered a giggle behind her hands.
"I—That is—I wasn't trying to—" the guard spluttered.
"Here," Mai said, stopping the flow of indignant half-sentences. Serenity heard something chink faintly. "Take this for your trouble. And send a couple of your comrades up here to help Ellie take this back when she leaves."
The man muttered something Serenity did not catch as he left the room, shutting the door harder than was polite, though not quite slamming it.
"We should go out now," Téa said, rising and moving towards the half-open door of her room. Serenity followed her out into the parlour.
"There you two are," Mai said, beaming at them both. She turned to the woman now seated on the divan and pointed at Serenity. "Ellie, meet your new client. She can't speak, so we don't know her name."
The woman identified as Ellie smiled kindly. She had a pleasant face, with soft brown eyes and long caramel-coloured hair tied back in a braid. Serenity found herself warming to her almost immediately.
"I thought I might be meeting you soon," she said, extending a hand toward the younger woman. "Many saw you accompany Mai to her apartment and word travels fast among the servants."
Serenity took the proffered hand and shook it briefly. She smiled as she let go.
"I hope there's something for her in that box of yours," Mai said, gesturing toward the large wooden chest on wheels that stood just inside the door.
Ellie stood up and gave Serenity an appraising look. To her credit, she didn't laugh at how ridiculous she looked in Mai's oversized gown.
"I don't think the question we should ask is whether I've brought a dress that will fit, but whether it will be to her taste," she said. "I was told her approximate build, so I prepared well enough."
"Let's see what you have, then. We'll have to go down to dinner soon. I don't know how long it's been since she's eaten but I'm pretty sure she hasn't had a decent meal since Tristan picked her up."
Serenity entered the dining-hall behind Mai, but all eyes were immediately drawn to her. The long, flowing ocean-blue dress she wore set off her hair spectacularly, and the pearl necklace Mai had lent her to go with the strands braided into her hair shimmered at her throat. Tristan beckoned to them from the head table, and Mai led her toward him, the eyes of the crowd following them as they crossed the hall.
As they approached the table, Serenity noticed Siegfried near the middle of one side, glowering at his plate and determinedly ignoring his neighbours, who were chatting animatedly. Her eyes went to Tristan's face, and saw there something more than curiosity.
"Mai, I don't know how you do it," he said, never taking his eyes from Serenity.
"Whatever do you mean?" Mai asked innocently.
"I knew she was pretty, but this … You're really something."
"Thank Téa and Ellie," Mai said almost casually. "They did most of the work."
"I take it this is the mysterious girl you have told me about, Sire." The new speaker was an older man who regarded Serenity with benign interest.
"Yes, Arthur," Tristan affirmed. He gestured to a seat only a few places down the table from his own ornate chair. "Sit down," he invited, clearly addressing Serenity. The princess obeyed. Several noble ladies shot her filthy looks, which Mai returned with three times the intensity before moving down the table to her own seat.
The blonde girl sitting next to Arthur swallowed a mouthful of food and shot Tristan a mischievous grin.
"About time you got a girlfriend," she teased.
"Rebecca!" Arthur hissed, flushing with embarrassment.
"Come on Grandpa, don't tell me you weren't thinking the same thing. She's pretty, he brought her back from the middle of nowhere and he won't stop staring at her."
Both Tristan and Serenity blushed, the latter wishing her hair was down so that she could hide her flaming cheeks behind it.
"That is enough," Arthur told his granddaughter sternly. "Finish your meal before it gets cold."
Rebecca pouted, but complied.
"Have you thought of a name we could give her yet?" Tristan asked Arthur, looking away from Serenity for all of three seconds.
"I've given it some thought," the other man said, frowning slightly. "She is mute, and from what I can tell by sight, she is somewhat shy." He looked directly at the auburn-haired girl, who was eating slowly so as not to spill anything on her new dress, her gloved hands moving with careful precision. "Child, would you mind being called "Shizuka"? It is a name from the east, and means "Quiet one"."
Serenity considered the name for a moment. She would rather have a name, and this one seemed as good as any. She nodded firmly.
"Very well, then," Tristan said, beaming. "Shizuka it is!"
Mai insisted upon accompanying Tristan and the newly-named Shizuka to the room that had been prepared for her. The chamber was in the same wing as Mai's apartment, but it was apparent nobody used this corridor regularly. The Marchioness approved. The girl needed somewhere peaceful to retreat to.
"Here we are," Tristan said, producing a key and unlocking the door. "I hope you like it."
The door opened to reveal a small, neat chamber with a canopied bed in one corner. In another corner lay a bundle of what seemed to be some kind of coarse, green thread, and from the ceiling hung a long, tunic-like garment that seemed to be made from the same material. Shizuka's eyes lit up at the sight, and she rushed in, reaching up to grasp the hem of the garment as if it were a priceless treasure before darting over to the bundle of yarn and embracing it. Mai hadn't seen her so animated all evening.
"She seems happy," she remarked in an undertone.
"That was pretty much all we found in the cave where she was living," he explained. "She seemed very protective of it."
Shizuka released her bundle and came back to Mai and Tristan, favouring them with a weary but thankful smile which Mai returned readily.
"You're welcome, honey," she said. "I'll go and get that nightgown Ellie left for you. You go and get settled in."
"Here," Tristan said, handing her the key. "So you can have privacy."
Shizuka smiled again and retreated into her room, closing the door behind her, but not locking it.
The king and the marchioness went their separate ways, though the former's thoughts remained on the silent girl. Mai returned briefly to give Shizuka the promised nightgown, then retired to her own apartment and the warm bed that awaited her there. Neither knew that sleep would elude Shizuka for several hours yet, and she would spend them knitting the green yarn with the needles she had concealed within it.
End Notes: I hope you found this enjoyable. If there's anything you think I should work on, please tell me. I'm open to concrit and will do my best to apply your advice should you give me any. That's why I love my reviewers so much.
For those who don't know, a "Marchioness" is the female counterpart of a "Marquess", a rank of nobility that has fallen out of use in recent times. Those who possessed this title were less powerful than dukes and more powerful than earls, which puts them several pegs above barons. Needless to say, Siegfried does not appreciate being inferior to a woman such as Mai.
Ellie does not belong to me. She is the product and property of Kohaku no Hime and I am simply borrowing her. Expect to see more of her in future chapters.
This is very likely one of the rare occasions when someone can use a character's dub and sub names and get away with it. In fact, this fic wouldn't even be here if I hadn't learned Serenity's sub name. I knew what it meant when used as an adjective in Japanese, and I had recently read some fairytale-based fanfics, so I had fairy tales on the brain. It occurred to me that Shizuka would have been a perfect pseudonym for the silent sister in the Six Swans/Wild Swans, and then I started counting male YGO cast members, and realised this could work. Thus WSoD came into being as a baby bunny full of potential for greatness. And here I am, over a year and a half later. :D
Finally, before I go, I have posted another poll on my profile, and this one will be around for a while. If you're reading this and you have an account, vote on it!
Please, please review! Feedback is sincerely appreciated! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! See y'all next chapter!