I had been caught between a rock and a hard place. I needed the medallion, and I knew that the only way to get it was to accept St. Friedhelm's conditions. So I did.
On the way back to Lady Flynn's castle, I try to think of some kind of loophole to the deal. Nothing sufficient comes to mind. I can't just hide Belar and Saralegui in a place where they can't escape. It'd be tantamount to killing them, though it'd be worse because they'd slowly die from starvation.
I can't do that. These kings are malevolent, but at the same time, they're still people. When I was younger, I was eager to go to war, to join my brothers in battle to prove that I was more than just a pretty face. In order to do that, I was ready to kill as many humans as it took to build my pride as well as my reputation. Now I don't care about any of that.
The silence remains among us when we return to the castle. Lady Flynn wearily bids us a good night before retreating into her chamber.
"Are you sure about your decision?" His Eminence asks as we walk the halls. "I understand that you accepted St. Friedhelm's terms for Shibuya's sake, but are you ready to carry out those terms?"
I'm torn. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. I stalk back to my room.
Yuuri wouldn't want me to murder Saralegui and Belar. Not for their sakes, but for mine. He wouldn't want my hands to be stained with blood, and I don't want that either. I've seen how badly taking lives can damage a person's soul. It has scarred both of my brothers.
It's caused Gwendal to become hard, cold, ashamed, and reluctant to show any signs of weakness, including his love for sewing, and his affinity for anything that's cute. It has made Conrart haunted, and very self-critical of himself during dire situations.
I wonder how I'll be affected if I choose to go through with St. Friedhelm's condition?
This pisses me off. I want to save Yuuri, to bring him home, but I also want to uphold his values. I know that one is more important than the other. I'd much rather take the lives of two evil men than allow Yuuri as well as thousands of innocent people to be caught in the crossfire. It's not something that Yuuri would want, but I feel like it needs to be done.
"Where the hell have you been?" Gwendal demands once I open the door to my room, his arms overlapping over his chest.
I still at his tone, and stiffen up more when I see Conrart sitting with his legs crossed on a wooden chair. They must've been waiting for me here for a while.
"I went to St. Friedhelm's temple." I answer, curtly. Gwendal's face darkens. "His Eminence and I met Lady Flynn there, and she summoned him to ask for help. He gave me this." I hold up the medallion. "This prevents the human land from sapping my strength, and allows me t call upon the elements of fire."
"You do look better." Conrart observes, standing up to get a closer look at me.
"That's hardly the point." Gwendal retorts. "I told you to stay put and rest before we send you back to Shin Makoku."
I gap at him, taken aback by Gwendal's persistence. "But, brother, I'm better."
"I don't care. I don't want you to be here."
"Why not? I can help!"
"I don't want you to be involved with any of this!" He yells, startling me. Then he takes a deep breath and his voice becomes gentler. "I don't want you to see whatever will transpire, and I most certainly do not want you to be a victim of it."
"I agree with Gwendal." Conrart says. "Like I told you before, I don't want you to be exposed to war."
"I can do this." I stare at him, intently, and give Gwendal the same look. "I know that you're hell-bent on sending me back, but I'm just as hell-bent on staying."
"You will not stay, and that is final!" Gwendal booms, leaving no room for argument. Then he stomps out, and slams the door, the harsh sound rippling through me.
When the shock vanishes, I glare at the floor, fists forming at my sides. A storm brews inside of me. I'm sick and tired of being treated like an infant. I'm more than capable of taking care of myself. Why can't Gwendal see that?!
Conrart comes up to me to put a hand on my shoulder. He gives it a firm, tight squeeze before leaving.
I can't stop thinking. In the morning, Gwendal and Conrart will make sure that I'm shipped back home. I can't let that happen. I have to sneak away, and get Eileen back, and save Yuuri. I'm trying to think of ways to accomplish all of this and my brain is scrambled.
I doubt that I'd be able to get away that easily. Knowing Gwendal, he'd send out a search party as soon as he finds out that I'm gone, and he won't stop until he finds me.
I stare out the window into the pitch black night. What is there to do? I don't want my brothers' attention to be taken away from Yuuri, even a little bit. Like Conrart has said in the past, our king is the most important one.
There's a knock at the door and I cross the room to answer. My eyebrows furrow when I see His Eminence. "What are you doing here?" I ask.
"Well, good evening to you too." He greets with that irritating smirk on his face. "May I come in? I have something important to discuss with you."
I move aside and motion for His Eminence to come inside.
"What do you want to discuss?" I ask once the door is shut.
"I tried to convince your brothers to let you stay, but they're just as stubborn as you are." He shrugs. "I understand why, but it's not going to help the situation any, and I think that you and I both can agree that there are much more important things to do." His smile transforms into a frown. "Our top priority is getting Shibuya back, and I believe that you can accomplish that. With St. Friedhelm's medallion, you are more than capable of taking care of yourself, saving Shibuya, and securing the Embers of Eileen."
It's hard to keep my jaw off the floor. I didn't take the Great Wise Man to be someone that had that much faith in me. In the past, he's made it clear that I'm only a burden. My emotions as well as my temper have gotten the best of me, and I know that can be a hindrance. But it hurt me when he pointed that out. I already knew that my anger was one of my many flaws. I didn't need someone to rub that in my face.
"Now, I'd like to stay, and lend a hand, but I know that between you and me, you'd be the better choice to stay." He continues, drawing the curtains shut. "I talked to Lady Flynn about this, and she provided me with the wig, contacts, and outfit that we'd need to pull this off.
"Pull what off?" I ask.
He turns around and flashes me a grin. "Being you."
I give His Eminence my outfit to wear. With the green contacts and the blonde wig, he does look similar to me, but he's not a perfect replica. His skin isn't as pale as mine, and he's a little bit taller than I am. I can't help but think that Gwendal and Conrart will see right through this disguise.
"Brother," I hear His Eminence say in this weird, high-pitched and nasally voice. I glare at him when I realize that he's trying to mimic my voice. "OK, I know it sounds bad, but I can play off having a cold."
I put a hand on my face. "This isn't going to work."
"Oh, come on, Lord von Bielefeld." He says, taking a hold of my hands. "Have a little more faith in me." He gazes down at me with a gentle smile that takes me by surprise. In all the time that I've known him, I've never seen him smile with such fondness and care. I see a flicker of hurt on his face before he replaces it with a coerced grin.
"I will make this work." He insists, and then he goes behind me, and pushes me towards the door. "Now get out of here. A horse is waiting for you at the stable."
I stumble into the hall, and spin around to yell at him for shoving me. Before I can get the words out, he regards me with a serious expression. "Be careful." Then he shuts the door, leaving me stunned.
What the hell was that about?
I flip my beige hood over my head and go to the stables. Wordlessly, the stable hand gives me the same dark brown hair that I rode earlier that night.
"I trust that you'll take good care of Liam." He says.
I nod, squeezing the reins. "I will."
I climb onto Liam, and whip the reins to get him running. "Hyah!" I guide him off the castle grounds, and through the village. It takes hours to reach Small Cimaron. Once I'm close enough to the castle, I find myself at a standstill.
How am I going to get in there?
At face value, they'd assume that I am a peasant with hazel hair and eyes. They'd never allow a commoner inside of the castle. Would they? In Shin Makoku, there's a day each month for when the village folk can have some one on one time with the king to discuss an issue or make a complaint about the land. I wonder if Saralegui would be that open and willing to make sure his people are well taken care of.
I get off Liam, and pet his smooth coat, absentmindedly.
In order to keep my powers, I'll have to adhere to the conditions St. Friedhelm gave me. I have to kill Saralegui and Belar. Corporal Grimm's bloodied body resurfaces in my mind's eye, and I squeeze my eyes shut as I try to run the image out of my head. Then I feel something wet on my cheek, and I open my eyes to see Liam lower his head to nuzzle my cheek. I give him a tight-lipped smile, unable to rid myself of the shakiness that I feel.
Is this how Conrart felt before he went to battle?
I lean my forehead against Liam's neck.
"What am I supposed to do?" I whisper, my vision of the grass below growing blurry.
Is this regained strength worth the sacrifices I'd have to make? It has to be, right? I was so weak and frail before. I wasn't able to do anything, and now I wouldn't be able to do anything if I hadn't agreed to St. Friedhelm's ultimatum. I can't afford to lose this strength. I need it to fight for and protect Yuuri.
I take a deep breath. It'll be worth it. I'll make it worth it. I lift my head, and use my sleeve to wipe the tears off my face.
I gently guide Liam into the castle town. There, a woman is kind enough to give him carrots and provide him with a bowl of water to drink from. "I haven't seen you around here before." She notes. "Where are you from?"
Panic ripples through me, but I think of an appropriate answer. "Caloria."
"Wow, that's quite a ways from here." She says with big blue eyes.
"It is, but I wanted to visit a few friends of mine."
"What are their names? Maybe I can help you find them."
I think quickly on my feet once again. "Ingrid and Rilla." I know that's a leap of faith because they could be from Big Cimaron.
The odds turn out to be in my favor. The woman frowns, sadly, and I can see her eyes fill with tears. She puts a hand to her mouth and screws her eyes shut as rivers run down her cheeks. Her body shakes with the intensity of her sobs, and I have half a mind to lay a hand on her shoulder, and offer her some comforting words. But I'm not sure if she'd accept any physical contact from someone she just met.
"They were taken away." She says through her sobs. "My babies."
"Where were they taken?" I ask, softly, moving a little closer to her.
"The castle." She replies, her voice quivering. "A band of soldiers took them prisoner over a week ago, condemning them for treason." She sniffs, and looks like she's about to wipe her nose with her sleeve, but then she stops, most likely because I'm in her presence. I reach inside my pants pocket and hold out the handkerchief Greta made for me. She mouths 'thank you' before she accepts it, and gingerly dabs underneath her eyes. "I don't know what to do."
I don't know this woman. I don't even know her name, but I feel her. Clearly, she loves her daughters, and she's at a loss of what to do in order to save them. There were plenty of times when I felt the same about Greta. I always want her to be safe and sound and I worry about her all the time. Even though I know that she's at the castle where she's well-protected, I'm still concerned about her because she may be ok physically, but mentally I'm sure that she's in shambles.
My heart hurts at the thought.
"I'll get them out of there." I say, confidently, earning myself a surprised stare. "You have my word."
That makes her smile, and she lets out a joyful laugh. She throws herself at me, and the force takes me back a step. I peer down at her chestnut hair, and watch as her body shakes. On any other occasion, I wouldn't return a stranger's embrace, but now I find myself circling my arms around her shoulders.
"Thank you so much. You're an angel." She cries.
A/N: I want to thank all of you for your support and encouraging words. You are all such kind people, and you're all part of the reason that I'm still alive. Thank you all so much for caring enough to message me, and leaving such supportive reviews! :) You are all awesome!