AN: Another short chapter today, this is the end of the Tales Chapter so thanks to all of you for putting up with my rather tame side-stories. The actual plotline is coming up, though after Christmas most likely. Also just as a question, do tell me if you all would prefer shorter chapters to longer ones. I tend to give a wall of text and I know that discourages the quick read.
The Tale of Agrias:
While her subordinates were enjoying a night of the more carnal pleasures, Agrias spent a much more professional evening. She spent most of her free time practicing the martial skills, although she wasn't beyond enjoying a cold drink with the rest of the soldiers, the way the world was shifting recently set a resolve to better her sword skills.
How could I be so weak?
She ran through the scenario in her head endlessly after it had happened. She hacked apart training dummies, though they were better described as sacks of sawdust strapped to a pole, in all of her time away from the princess she had a sword in her hand and a deflating opponent at its end.
The thinking didn't help her deal with it though. If anything it was slowly eroding her confidence.
"You're stronger than this! You can hold your own!" She said through grit teeth as she took another swing, hacking through the sack representing a torso and spilling sawdust across the ground all around her.
Multiple other dummies stood around her, all of which were in various states of evisceration. She'd been at it for most of that evening. Even when the sun was up, she'd been cutting into the beams that supported the practice targets. Though now that the sun was setting there weren't any other people in the training yard.
"You're a holy knight! You're in the Lionsguard! So why did two mercenaries have to go and save your life!?" She grit out the words as she decapitated one of her mock opponents. She couldn't decide what was worse. That she'd failed herself, or that she'd failed the princess.
She took a step forward and planted a heavy swing into the dummy, even though it was missing a head and was already leaking dust from its midsection she was still attacking this dummy.
Her already dour mood was rendered into fury when her blade was stuck fast in the wood.
"Damn it!" She screamed, though at herself or the blade or even the dummy, she really didn't know or care which it really was but the fury was real enough.
She ripped the blade out of the wood, splintering it in the process before the damaged object fell to the ground in a messy heap.
"What the hell is wrong with me?" She pondered to herself as she picked up the dummy and cut off the ripped bags, letting the sawdust drain out before walking over to the other side of the training yard to a set of three barrels.
She opened the first and threw the ruined sacks into it, knowing that a servant or commoner would come by in the morning to gather them and set them for re-stitching before moving on to the next barrel, drawing a number of new bags from it to fill from the final barrel. She pried off the lid and dipped the first bag into it, letting the mound of sawdust inside trickle into the bag before withdrawing it and tying a knot into the end, satisfied with the weight and density of the target bag.
She let out a long sigh before continuing her conversation with herself. "I don't understand what's wrong with me. I should be fine. We're comrades, it's only right that we help each other." She gave the bag a light toss into the air, letting it land with a slight plop in her hand. "Then why do I feel so pathetic?"
"Umm m-miss Agrias?"
She heard the words from far away and at first couldn't see the source of the voice.
When did the sun go down?
After half a moment of trying to pinpoint the sound she saw the source of a young man standing under a post that stood nearby the dueling ring that dominated most of the drill yard. A small match was burning in his hand and she could see him raise it up just about his head to light a lantern at its top. Though few warriors ever actually used the fighting yards at night, it was still possible to train when the sun was down.
As the oiled wick caught the tongues of flame she could begin to make out more of his features. The shock of blonde hair pulled back into a short knot, the thick overalls and plain shirt, she finally made it to the conclusion that it was Mustadio who had spoken earlier. She quickly had to reset her frazzled appearance, for the sake of her already damaged pride.
"Yes, how can I help you, Mustadio?" She answered, turning back around to fill another bag with sawdust, though more to hide her disheveled appearance than to prepare new targets to gut.
"Um…well…I…" He stumbled about the words, shuffling his feet together shyly.
"What is it, Mustadio?" She asked, back still turned.
"I just…wanted to practice some fighting techniques and well….Ramza and Miluda are busy…" He still answered shyly.
She couldn't help but feel a bitter taste of jealousy when she heard that the naïve young man had sought help from the hired soldiers instead of an experienced knight first. Hell, you should have at the very least come to Alicia or Lavian first.
"Why, the two heroes too busy to help you?" She nearly spat back, the cheeky remark was childish she knew, but she also couldn't deny that after spending the last several days fighting and running and dealing with the perpetual fear of death, well there was a certain point where one needed to vent.
"I went looking for them at the inn but when I found their room I couldn't get in, I think they're …indisposed, though I heard some strange noises coming from nearby." The overthinking young man answered, not even aware of the annoyance that was in the woman's voice in his own efforts not to embarrass himself.
"Like?" She asked back, finishing tying off the last of the bags and turning around to go and strap them to the target dummy. She could see the pondering expression on his face as he searched for a way to describe the memories.
"Like…moaning?" He answered after a moment more of thinking.
Oh bloody hell; those two are at it again? "And you find that strange?"
"Well yeah, it sounded really effeminate. I never though Ramza's voice would get that high."
"Okay, Okay, Mustadio, that's enough. Did you try Alicia or Lavian?" She answered back, trying to remove the images of Miluda and Ramza from her head, though she had to admit, the two weren't an unattractive couple. Any other woman would feel lonely at the fact she was alone when even those two were falling closer together. I'm a professional though, the princess must come first. She thought to herself.
"Well, I looked for them but they're not in the castle anywhere."
She stopped tying knots for a moment as an idea finally clicked in her head. Oh no, they better not be… "Well that's too bad, Mustadio. But I think you'd be better off waiting for Ramza or Miluda to show you some pointers. I'm sure Ramza will help you." She tried to distract him from the thought. I better have a little chat with those two later, I don't think it was Miluda or Ramza he was eavesdropping on.
"Why?" he didn't even think before the words were out, he just blurted out the thought and asked her the question.
"Because they're the best fighters you know and I'm just a knight who's struggling just to protect one girl." She answered, her melancholy showing plainly.
"I don't think they're the best fighters." He answered bluntly, not understanding what bothered her so much.
"Huh?" She answered, spinning to face the young man, confused.
"I don't think they're the best fighters." He repeated, a confused look crossing his face to match her own.
"They saved you, they saved me, and they're just so good that they have to pick up slack for everyone else." She answered, drawing her sword and letting the tip droop to the ground as she fished a small whetstone from her pocket, beginning to run the edge along the blade to remove the marks upon it.
"Well I'd rather have your help than either of theirs." He stated bluntly, causing the woman to look up from her sharpening. "I mean, I just don't think I could ever fight like they do, they're too…zealous. They're too ferocious; I'd get myself killed if I tried to do that."
As she pondered the thought of Ramza's fighting style a disturbing comparison entered her head. The way he charged in, the way he used all his abilities, the way he cut down foes with an almost brutal efficiency. The comparison was rather obvious and equally frightening. How he'd swept in and overpowered the other man, how he'd broken the other man's assault with an equally powerful offense. How great a Dark Knight he'd make. My god, I hope he never loses his way.
"Well what do you hope to gain by my helping you?" She asked, shaking the cruel thought from her head.
"Well…Of us all… you're really the most…disciplined fighter I know…plus I heard Alicia and Lavian say you're the only one who's trained to use magic." He stuttered a slight bit, a small tint of pink spreading on his cheeks. I could describe you so much better outside of battle, beautiful, independent, and magnificently captivating, were just some of the words that came to his mind before he mentally berated himself for his thoughts. Focus, Mustadio.
"Hmm. They're correct, I do know a few simple white magic spells. Why do you need a mage?" She asked him, intrigued at the direction the conversation was going.
"Well... I…um…wanted to try and spar with you…because…you 'd make a good teacher." He whispered out, catching the woman somewhat off guard.
"You want me to teach you magic? I think you'd be able to find a much better teacher than I-" She tried to counter.
"I know but I wanted your help!" He answered, a little too enthusiastically.
"Fine, Mustadio, Calm yourself. I'll help you but you better be ready for a fight, I'm in no mood to go easy on you." The woman said, conceding to helping the young man learn how to fight. It's better to train with a real opponent anyways. She thought to herself.
"Just get in the fighting ring; I'll see what you can do." She said, her mood slightly elevated by the insistence he had on learning from her, it was nice to feel needed after all.
"Okay…" He said, pulling the rifle from Romanda, the location where most of this particular kind of weapon are found, off the sling on his back and clearing the bolt of rounds.
"Now, show me what you do if you're caught in a melee." She commanded, just to see how he reacted she gave a few light swings to test his mettle.
The boy dodged, ducked and did whatever he possibly could to stay out of the way of the woman's blade.
"Mustadio, you can't win a fight just by staying out of the way, what are you going to do if you can't take the time to aim?" She asked amidst a flurry of weak swings of the blade.
Mustadio was hard pressed to avoid all of the attacks; he used the stock of the rifle to block some and avoided the others before taking a chance and swiping the end of the rifle across the woman's midsection, knocking the air from her lungs with the blunt attack.
She stepped back, giving a slight cough as her breath returned.
"Good, that was good Mustadio; if you get into a scrap I think you'll be able to handle yourself as long as you're not scared to hit someone with that "gun" of yours." She said lowering her sword and leaving the blade dipped.
"Now, tell me, How's your footwork?" She asked, leaving her blade lowered and slowly taking a step to the left, crossing her leg and circling the boy.
He responded by taking a counter-clockwise step to keep her in front of him. "Like this?" He asked, trying to keep up with her as she began to speed up and change directions.
"You've been in a fight before; tell me what do you do to take down an opponent quickly?" She asked him, testing his knowledge of combat while she tested his maneuverability.
"Well if I have a chance with the gun, I can usually shoot someone in the leg or arm to cripple them." He answered, slipping slightly as she switched directions suddenly.
"That's all well and good but most times the enemy isn't going to try and incapacitate you, he's going to try and kill you. How do you kill and opponent?"
"That's what I'm saying, If I can cripple the enemy at a distance, I won't have to-"
"Mustadio, Mercy is deserved by some but those who attack us are likely to be such. Would Bart Company take a second thought before killing you?"
"I'm just saying, don't go into battle looking to spare lives, it'll only get you killed and I won't be there to try and heal you if you do get hurt. However crippling an opponent will set them up for a much easier kill, you should do that whenever you can." She answered before stopping and giving him a good appraisal.
He wasn't a naturally gifted warrior, and he'd probably be more useful away from heavy fighting but he was at the least passable in it. He could hold his own for a little while at the worst.
"Now, about the magic." She said, putting the sword away. "As a Holy Knight, most of my magic comes through my sword, but simple white magic can be cast without a catalyst here, let me see your arm." She said, reaching her hand out to take his arm before she drew her blade once more.
"What are you-Ow!"
"Just watch. You wanted to learn about magic so here's what I can show you." She said, dropping the sword from her hand and allowing herself to steady his now bleeding arm in one hand.
The wound was light, hardly more than a scratch, though the sight of blood often causes those uninitiated to battle to overreact.
"Now, you know how magic has to do with the faith of the caster and the receiver, correct?"
"Well that's true of all white magic at least, the actual casting of the spell is dependent on the faith of the mage casting it, in my case I am quite faithful in my belief that it will work therefore I should be able to help you. However, the potency of the spell is dependent on the faith of the receiver, so how strongly do you believe that the spell will work?" She explained the basic tenets of magic, though her knowledge of the art was minimal and rusted from lack of practical use.
"I think you can do it. As for myself, I doubt I could cast anything just yet."
"You'll learn to someday." She said as she began the prayers that would culminate in the curing spell.
After a moment of prayer she took the armored gloves off her hand and slid her battle-hardened fingers across the wound, which before both their eyes glowed with a slight bluish light and bound itself together.
"Wow!" Mustadio exclaimed, amazed by the sight of the magic.
"It's a simple spell Mustadio, I barely know more than that. You'd have to find a better mage to learn more than that." She answered, putting her gloves back on.
"Still, I've never actually seen much magic before, except for the things I've seen after meeting you all."
"That's far beyond what I know. If you want to learn how to use offensive magic you'd need a real mage. I'm just a knight."
"Well I don't think Alicia or Lavian could have shown me that!" Mustadio chided, poking fun at the woman's modesty. "You know, the Princess is really lucky to have you, Agrias."
The man's sincere words were a slight surprise to the woman, and served to shock her from her earlier dour thoughts.
"Thank you, Mustadio. Still, I hope to be deserving of her luck. And your trust." She answered, stepping back from the man and retrieving her dropped blade and setting it in its place in the scabbard.
"Best of luck to you with your Father, Mustadio." She said, turning to take her leave of the training yard for that night.
"And the same to you, with the Princess, Agrias. I do hope we see each other again." The boy responded, turning to follow her to the castle.
"I'd like that."