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Disclaimer : I do not own the Fable universe or the characters contained within it
Chapter 7 : Unfortunate Revelations
"I won last night and you know it, Captain," Tom argued as they trudged through the marsh of Mourningwood.
"You only took out that last one because I already wounded him," Ben countered over his shoulder. It had been a week since Walter and the Princess had set off to Industrial and the Swift Brigade had finally tied up the last things at the fort and was making its way there as well.
Thomas shot him an infuriatingly sweet smile and kicked a rock in his direction. "A kill is a kill, sir." The boy let out a laugh as Ben scooped up the rock and lobbed it back at him.
"You were damn lucky, that's what you were," Ben muttered as he focussed on the road in front of them. They still had little more than a day's march left before they would reach the outskirts of Industrial.
"I thought you didn't believe in luck, Finney," Riley chirped in from behind.
"I never said that I didn't believe in luck, I just said that I'm not exactly blessed in that department." Ben, however, knew enough to know that Thomas' newfound skills with firearms weren't luck in the least. The boy had a natural born talent as pure as Ben had ever seen. It had taken a more than a few mishaps and Tom had added a seven-hundred and fifth injury to Jammy's current tally, but he was shooting as well as the other men in the brigade. However, no matter how good the boy's shooting ability was, Ben was nothing less than amazed at his skills with a blade. For the first time, he started to believe that maybe he truly was Walter's son. After all, the old nut had one of the best sword arms in the realm.
Luckily for him, he's not as ugly as Sir Wally, he chuckled to himself.
"What's so funny, my boy?" Swiftie asked next to him. "It must be quite something to have you chuckling in this dank wood."
Ben clutched his chest melodramatically. "You wound me, Swiftie! You know I'm always to find the bright side of any situation. I was just thinking that no matter how fond I've become of the stinking moss-hole, this time tomorrow I'll find myself in a tavern with a fine tankard of ale to warm my belly and an even finer wench to warm my bed," he said with a wink. "I'd think the lads and I deserve a night off?"
The other men raised their voices in clear agreement and a lopsided smile tugged at the Major's lips. "Only if you behave yourselves better than that night in Brightwall, Ben. I think the tavern would still turn you away if you showed up, even if it's five years later."
"What happened in Brightwall?" Tom asked, smiling slightly, but the eagerness was clear in his dark eyes.
Poor kid, he doesn't even know what he's been missing all those years in the monastery, Ben mused as his smirk grew wider at the memory.
"Let's just say it involved the owner's private stores and the very strong thighs of his not so innocent daughter," Ben said with a meaningful look. Riley and Jammy let out a roar of laughter and Ben could probably have cooked his breakfast on the burning face of the brigade's newest addition. "But don't worry, Tom. Industrial women are just as fine as Brightwall's, if you know where to look and if you're willing to overlook a few…flaws. We'll find you a wench of your own." Ben clapped the still furiously blushing boy on his shoulder before marching forward, grinning.
"Oh…that's alright," Thomas stammered, but the Riley and Ben wasn't stopped in the least.
"Come on, Tommy, how old are you?" Riley chuckled. "It's about time you found yourself a woman!"
Ben laughed as well. "Like Rosy, Riley? You probably can't wait to introduce us."
"Shut up, Finney," the medic huffed, his ears growing red. "If you're so accomplished, you can introduce her to some of your friends. Of course, that's if any of them can stand to see you after you ran out in the middle of the night."
They continued marching and bantering all the way to the outskirts of the village. By the time they set up camp, the sun was already dipping past the horizon.
Ben had just finished doing his rounds when he saw Thomas sitting against one of the giant trees, staring into the distance as his fingers absentmindedly ran through his dog's fur and he fiddled with that pocket watch of his. Most of the men had gotten used to the boy sitting on his own and didn't particularly see a point in trying to talk to him, with Ben, Riley, Jammy and occasionally even Fred being the exceptions.
Since Ben wasn't even close to settling down, he decided to go talk to him. Even though Tom was rather quiet, Ben found his stories rather interesting and, to tell the truth, he was a bit curious about the boy. He was so unlike most of the other men he'd known.
"What are you thinking about, Tom?" Ben chirped jovially as he plopped down next to the light-haired youth. He handed Tom a piece of dried meat and tossed a piece of his own in front of the mutt as an afterthought. The dog gratefully gobbled it up and regarded him with a begging expression that was so human that Ben had to remind himself that he was a dog.
"Don't mind Apollo. He mastered begging by the time that he was a pup, but he realised early on that it doesn't work on me," Thomas said, smiling as he tore a strip of meat and fed it to his pet. "Walter on the other hand…"
"Why are you looking after him? I thought he was Walter's dog."
Thomas patted Apollo's head affectionately. "Oh, he is, but for some reason he likes me much more than him. Besides, he didn't want him to go with him to Industrial. He wanted me to have some sort of added protection."
"And he left you a dog?" Ben's eyebrow rose in question as he smirked. "What help is a mutt?" At this, Apollo let out a low growl, but Ben merely laughed.
"You'd be surprised how dangerous his bite can be. I've seen him take down mercenaries twice my size."
"That is not exactly an achievement." Ben thought for a moment as he chewed on his dinner. "I had a dog once," he said carefully. "Nothing as noble as Walter's dog here, of course. It was a scraggly stray bitch that we found next to the road one day, skinnier than a twig. We barely had food to feed ourselves, but somehow we found something to feed her every now and then."
"What happened to her?" Thomas asked carefully.
Ben shrugged. "The dog loved Jason most out of all of us. When he died, she refused to eat anything and sat in front of the house, waiting for him to come home, we supposed. One day, she just went into the woods and didn't come back." He continued to chew thoughtfully. "I never did like dogs after that."
They continued to sit in silence for a while as they ate their meagre supper. Finally, Thomas broke the quiet.
"Might I ask…something about your family?" he asked, staring into the distance once more.
After the long walk, he wasn't particularly in the mood to dredge up old memories. Also, he wasn't one to talk about his family more than what was mentioned in his manuscript. He was content to let the dead rest. "I'll considering answering when I hear the question," he settled for answering.
"Were you and your brothers…close? I mean did you have other friends, or..." He trailed off, still avoiding his gaze.
A loud sigh passed over his lips as he crossed his arms behind his head and leaned back. "They were my brothers. Sometimes I wanted to kill them, but I would also have killed for them. Gunk didn't have too many other children our age. There were a few girls, but I was young and still thought them particularly strange and avoided them. I spend most of the time trailing after them and you know the rest." He glanced at his companion out of the corner of his eye. "Do you have any siblings?"
"An…older brother," Thomas answered slowly. "But we don't talk anymore."
"Alright, I answered your question. Why don't the two of you talk anymore?"
"We had a bit of a…disagreement."
Ben frowned as he turned to look at him. "Not to sound judgemental, but that doesn't sound like a reason to stop talking to your family. I would give anything to fight with any one of my brother's again."
Thomas fixed him with his intense azure gaze. "You don't exactly understand, Captain. What he did…it wasn't something that I can just forgive that easily." He looked at his hands again. "On the one hand I want to talk to him, he's my brother, after all, but on the other…I don't even know what he thinks of me anymore, but I still love him…Yet…I don't know if I can ever forgive him."
"I-." He was stopped from continuing the rather depressing conversations by Jammy.
"Hey, Captain. Tom," he said, nodding his head in their direction. "Captain, Swiftie's looking for you."
"Fine. See you later, Tom," he said and hurried to his feet. At least this meant he could get away from what was probably doomed to be a trip down miserable memory avenue.
Celeste stared after the retreating captain with a sigh. She couldn't help but realise that she was annoying him with her train of thought, but she couldn't stop herself. Ben was very interesting to listen to and she'd always been partial to a good story. Yet, there it was clear that something was bothering him and she wondered what brought on his sudden retreat.
The mysterious thing isn't exactly helping his already handsome image, she thought shamefully to herself, almost blushing. She was so busy conversing with herself that she hadn't noticed that Jammy was still standing in front of her with his arms crossed, frowning.
"Can I help you, Jammy?" she asked tentatively, trying to read his face in the dim firelight. He was being uncharacteristically serious.
"You're…" He scratched at one of the bandages around his forehead, seemingly deep in thought. "You're a girl," he whispered finally.
"What!" Celeste leapt to her feet and glanced around to see if there was anyone around to overhear him. "H-How can you say that?" she managed, trying to school her face into a smile of disbelief. "That's quite an insult, Jammy."
Jammy's frown deepened even further. "I'm not an idiot. You're always sneaking off your own. Besides, you've never bathed with us and I've never once seen you take a piss."
"And that makes me a girl?" she hissed, pulling him closer to her. Jammy didn't reply and only crooked his singed eyebrow. Sighing loudly, Celeste yanked him deeper into the darkness. "Fine! You're right! But you can't tell anyone, please," she hurried out in her normal voice. "They can't find out who I am. Please."
Jammy actually looked surprised when she confirmed his suspicion before breaking into a smile. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone. Especially Captain Finn," he said with a wink. "Wouldn't want him figuring out that his little admirer is actually a girl."
"That has nothing to do with this!" She eyed him sternly. "If anyone finds out who I am, my life could be in danger, Jammy."
"And who is that?" he asked, his eyes wide and Celeste almost laughed out loud. The innocent expression in his eyes showed that he was actually serious. He'd managed to figure out that she was a woman, but he couldn't piece together the rest. Maybe she was still safe for now.
"No one. It's better if you don't know," she managed after a while of silence. Celeste was just about to head back to her bedroll, mentally scolding herself for not being more careful, when she saw Jammy's eyes widen even further.
"The princess!" he practically cried. Cursing violently in her head, she nearly tackled the bandaged soldier into the tree and clamped a hand over his mouth.
"Shut up! Are you daft?" she hissed into his ear. "I asked you to keep quiet!" Finally, she backed off and stared him down, narrowing her eyes as much as she could. Maybe he would actually be intimidated enough to keep her identity a secret.
"Your-Your Highness," he stuttered, falling into a sloppy bow. "I'm so sorry-"
"Shut up!" she cut him off, very aware that some people were looking their way. "As far as you're concerned I'm still Thomas, alright? Not a girl and definitely not the princess."
"Yes, your Highness-"
"Thomas," she hissed again, glaring at him with a fierceness she didn't know she possessed. "Please."
"Yes…Thomas," Jammy managed, nodding vigorously. "Sorry."
She sighed and ran a hand through her wig as she took a step back. "It's fine. I apologize for tackling you, Jammy."
The soldier merely nodded again. "Can…I ask why?" he asked after a while of awkward silence.
She considered telling him that it was none of his business, but she already felt a twinge of guilt for the way she reacted when he caught her out. Besides, a part of her was glad to finally confide in someone. "Walter thought that it was the best way to avoid Logan's men who are looking for me." She chuckled dryly to herself. "I hate to admit it, but I think he might have been right. As loyal as these men are to Major Swift, I couldn't help but notice that some of them might not hesitate to offer me up to the men hunting me it they were offered enough gold."
"You…are not wrong," he admitted after a while. "So, is it just you, Walter and Major Swift who know?"
"Yes. Plus you."
"So the Captain really thinks you're a man?"
She narrowed her eyes to hide the blush creeping up her neck. "What's your point, Jammy?"
"I was just wondering," he said defensively, throwing up his hands. "I just meant that if he knew you were a girl-"
"Jammy!" she snapped and he immediately apologized again.
"He wouldn't be so…We wouldn't be so…" He trailed off, practically flailing his arms and Celeste had to bite back a smile, a faint idea of what he was talking about already in her mind.
"You're men, Jammy, I understand. Just…don't involve me next time, alright?" she said, shooting him a faint smile. "And, if you'll excuse me, it's been a long day and tomorrow I'll be back to switching clothes, so I need my rest."
He blinked a few times before nodding. "Sure thing, Highness," he whispered, shooting her an awkward wink.
"Goodnight, Jammy," Celeste said and shot him a bright smile before heading to her bedroll. As she settled onto the hard ground, she couldn't help but realise that she had to be a lot more careful, otherwise everyone was going to know her secret pretty soon.