Disclaimers:  I do not own Gundam Wing or any of its characters.

Notes:  Catherine has a flashback of meeting Trowa . . . a shy, frightened young man.



Servitude, Retribution, and Enchantment



Part Six


Catherine could have sworn that she had heard voices coming from her adopted brother’s tent, so she entered without
announcing herself.  She nodded to herself as she saw Trowa closing the mirror that Meiran had given to him, letting it drop
once again to dangle from the chain around his neck.  

To all who saw it, it looked like a simple silver amulet, an emerald set in the center of it’s smooth surface.  However, it was a
mirror, one of only a few that Meiran had given out, and only to her most loyal followers.  It let her communicate with them no
matter where they traveled, only reacting to its owner’s voice and no others.

Catherine frowned as she watched Trowa grab his sword belt, apparently getting ready to leave.  “Does Meiran have a mission
for you?”  Catherine asked.

Trowa turned and gave her a hint of a smile.  “Yes . . . a friend of hers might be in danger.  It seems that King Dekim has
destroyed the Winner Empire and has taken a prince captive.  Meiran fears that Dekim plans to use some form of magic against
him.”

“I am going with you.”  Catherine stated.

Trowa shook his head.  “No . . . it’s too dangerous.  It’ll be much easier for me to get into the castle undetected if I am by
myself.  Besides, I don’t want to put you in danger.”

“But, Trowa . . .”  Catherine began, only to be cut off as Trowa interrupted.

“No . . . there’s no time to argue, Catherine.”  He smiled, fixing his cloak on.  “You should get going, you have a show to do.”

Catherine nodded, then watched as Trowa left the tent.  He was touring with the troupe again . . . he always did if Meiran didn’t
need him . . . almost as if he were searching for something.  Many times, Catherine found him staring off into the distance, a
wistful expression on his handsome young face.  She didn’t know if it was because he had no name of his own, or if it was
something else . . . she just hoped that he would find whatever it was someday.  He deserved some happiness in his life.

Catherine sighed as she remembered meeting him, thinking back on the shy young man he had been no more than three years
ago.  He was so different now, it was amazing that he had ever been so afraid and timid as he had been.


*Flashback*


Catherine looked back once again, noticing that those strange horses were still trailing behind the troupe’s caravan.  They had
been following the circus for days now and their presence was beginning to worry Catherine.  The strange horses and wagons
stopped when the troupe stopped, started moving when the troupe moved.  It was unnerving to know that they were being
followed like this.

“Sir, they’re still there.”  Catherine said to the man that steered the wagon, James, the leader of their troupe.

“After dark, I’ll send a messenger to Queen Meiran.  I heard that she is a kind ruler . . . perhaps she will be able to do something
about this.  We are passing through her lands now.”  The older man said, offering a comforting glance to Catherine.

“Okay . . . I hope she can . . . those people behind us have to be up to something.  Why else would they keep following us?”  
Catherine said, shaking her head worriedly.

“I have no idea.  But I think tonight we might find out.  They seem closer now than they have ever been.”  James replied.

Catherine peered back, noticing that sure enough they had ventured closer to the troupe.  By nightfall, they would be caught up
with them completely.

Shortly before the sun set, the circus troupe set up camp for the night and Catherine stood and watched as the horses trailing
them continued to come closer.  Within an hour, they had stopped, just a few yards away from the troupe’s camp.  Several of
the riders dismounted and slowly approached.  Catherine was quickly surrounded by the rest of the circus troupe, all of them
wondering who these strangers could possibly be.

A burly man, big and beefy with a dark tan, stepped over to the troupe.  He was just a little more meat than muscle and when he
spoke, his tone sent shivers throughout Catherine’s body.  “We saw your wagons and were wondering if you would be kind
enough to allow us to share your campfire tonight . . . and perhaps let us purchase some food from you.  Our own supplies are
sadly running low.  We’re only mercenaries, but we can pay you.”

Catherine looked over and watched as the circus troupe’s leader stepped forward.  “Not at all, gentlemen.  We don’t have much,
but we would be more than happy to share whatever we have with you.”  James said, smiling.  Then he stepped over to
Catherine and whispered in her ear.  “I sent Eric to see Queen Meiran.  I didn’t think we could wait until dark, seeing as how
close they were to us.”

Catherine nodded in understanding.  She stepped over to the Captain of the mercenaries.  “Sir, there is a lake of fresh water just
beyond those trees if you want water for your horses or yourselves.  Dinner will be ready in a few hours.”

The Captain nodded and bowed slightly.  “Excellent.”  Then he looked over his shoulder at one of their few wagons.  “Nanashi!  
Get over here and bring the lady some of the silk we got from our last job!”  

Only moments later, a boy ran over, his arms loaded with fabric.  He was small and thin, dressed only in a loincloth and a
ragged, old tunic.  He must have been a slave at some point, but since he had no veil he couldn’t be one now.

As if to answer Catherine’s thoughts, the Captain snickered and pressed his hand to the top of the boy’s head.  “Our little
Nanashi here was about to be a slave when we found him . . . lucky we got there before the auction though, huh?”

The boy nodded, although his eyes never left the ground in front of him.  Catherine frowned.  He didn’t look like he was treated
any better than a slave by these mercenaries.  It was obvious that he hadn’t had a decent meal in a long time . . . he was just so
thin, not to mention filthy.

“What kind of a name is Nanashi?”  Catherine asked, speaking to the boy.

However, the mercenary was the one that answered her.  “Something our last cook decided to name him.  Guy said it meant
nameless . . . no name . . . nothing.  The kid don’t know his own name and we couldn’t think of nothin’ better.”  He said with a
shrug, as if it meant nothing.  Then he nudged the kid with his elbow.  “Give her the silk.”  The Captain ordered.

Nanashi shivered, stepping forward and hesitantly holding his bundle out.  Catherine smiled and took it from him.  “Thank you.”  
She said, her smile disappearing as she watched the boy cower away from her, his thin body shivering.  She sighed and looked
up at the Captain, already despising this man.  “I’ll go and check on dinner.”  She mumbled, turning and walking away.

Less than two hours later, all of the members of the circus troupe and the mercenaries were eating dinner together.  Catherine
had two bowls of stew in her hands, one for herself, and the other for that boy . . . the only problem was that she couldn’t find
him to feed him.

“Nanashi?”  She called out, glancing around.  

There was no reply.  Then a strange sound caught her attention.  She walked around one of the wagons.  As she turned the
corner, she saw a face peeking out at her.  It quickly ducked back behind the wagon.

“Nanashi, you don’t have to be afraid of me.”  Catherine said, staying where she was.  A moment later, Nanashi peeked out at
her again, his filthy hands clutching the edge of the wagon as he gazed up at her with those shimmering green eyes of his,
although one eye remained hidden from her view by those bangs of his.  “Do you want something to eat?”  She asked, holding
the bowl out to him.

He moved back, whimpering slightly as his body started trembling.  Catherine couldn’t understand it.  Why was he so afraid of
her trying to feed him?  Had those men done something to him?

Catherine knelt down, placing the bowl on the ground.  “This food is for you.  If you don’t eat it, it will just go to waste.”  She
said, her tone soft.  Slowly, she backed away, returning to the rest of her troupe to eat her own dinner.

She returned once she had finished her own food.  She sighed as she saw that the bowl was sitting on the ground, but then
smiled when she noticed that it was empty.  Her frown quickly returned though, hearing the distinct sounds of retching.

Catherine followed the sounds, gasping as she saw Nanashi on his hands and knees, vomiting the stew that he had probably just
consumed.  Catherine mentally slapped herself, realizing that if he hadn’t had a meal recently, eating something like that stew
now would only make him ill.  When his stomach was finally empty, he had a few dry heaves before he collapsed to his side,
weakly pushing himself away from the mess he had made.  Then he sobbed as he curled himself into a tight ball.

Catherine felt the sight tugging at her heart strings and knew that she couldn’t just leave him there to suffer.  She approached
slowly and knelt beside him, reaching out her hand to grasp one of his bony shoulders.  As soon as her hand came into contact
with him, he flinched and whimpered, weakly trying to move away from her.

“No . . . please don’t be afraid.”  She whispered, grabbing both of his shoulders as he tried to get away, his eyes filled with
nothing but terror.  “I’m sorry . . . I shouldn’t have fed you that.  You obviously haven’t eaten anything substantial in a long
time.  I should have known better . . . I made you sick when I only meant to help.”

His eyes calmed, but a hint of fear still lingered in the green depths.  He was struggling for air and he looked so tired.  Catherine
pressed a hand to his face, frowning when he winced, and at the heat coming off of him.

“You’re burning up.”  Catherine commented.  She quickly stood and pulled his body into her arms, noticing immediately just
how light he was.  Didn’t those men ever feed him?

Nanashi whimpered in her arms, but didn’t try to get away.

Catherine looked down, concerned as she saw that he had his eyes clenched shut, his body trembling severely.  “It’s okay . . . I
won’t hurt you.”  She whispered as she carried him to her own tent, making sure not to jar his body too much.

Carefully, she laid him down on her cot.  As much as she wanted to clean him up, she saw that he needed a good night’s rest
more than a washing.  A bath would just have to wait until later, she thought.  There would be time . . . the circus troupe had
stopped for a few days at least, to let the livestock graze . . . and those mercenaries were bound to stay close to them for now.

She smiled down at Nanashi, noting the concerned and fearful expression.  Without saying a word she reached over and picked
up a stone bowl from a table she had set up.  She searched through her various containers and pouches, smirking when she
found what she wanted.  Then she grabbed her pestle and ground the herbs she was going to use, all the time glancing at the
frightened boy and giving him reassuring smiles.

She dumped the ground herbs into a tankard and filled it with water from a pitcher she had filled only a few hours ago.  She had
been getting it ready for when she went to bed . . . sometimes she awakened in the night in need of a drink.  Catherine stirred
the contents around a bit, then held the tankard out to Nanashi, only to watch as he recoiled from her in fear.  

“It won’t hurt you.  It’ll fight your fever and help you to get some rest.”  Catherine said.

Once again she tried to get him to drink, and again he turned his head away, his shivering increasing by the second.  Catherine
sighed.  Only one solution came to her mind.  “Since you don’t seem to trust me, how about if I drink it first and then you can?”

Nanashi nodded, although hesitantly.

Catherine smirked, kicking off her shoes as she knew she wouldn’t have much time to get into a more comfortable position
before the herbs kicked in.  She lifted the tankard to her lips and drank, only taking a few sips before she took it away from her
mouth.  She held it out to Nanashi and this time he accepted, slowly sipping from the tankard as he watched Catherine carefully.

Catherine felt her eyes slipping closed as Nanashi finished the drink.  She set the tankard aside and laid down on the small cot
beside Nanashi, pulling him close to her body so that they both had enough room, while she also brought a blanket up around
their bodies.  

She smiled as she felt the trembling in Nanashi’s body slow, his breathing slowly growing deep and even.  Nanashi made some
unintelligible sound in his sleep and curled against Catherine, his thin arms wrapping around her on their own as she also slipped
into slumber.

When Catherine awoke, Nanashi was gone.  She wasn’t surprised . . . the poor kid was skittish around her . . . or anyone for
that matter.  She just hoped that he was feeling better.

Throughout the day, Catherine caught brief glimpses of Nanashi.  Almost always, he was doing some chore.  When meal times
came, she would seek him out and give him something, nothing quite as substantial as the stew he had tried to eat last night . . .
so when he did eat he didn’t throw it up.  However, Catherine was still worried about him.  He looked ill.  Catherine couldn’t get
close enough to touch him, but she was sure that if he let her feel his face she’d find that he had a fever.

The sun was about to set, and Catherine was on her way back to her tent, deciding that she had best get to one of her own
chores before it got too dark to see.  As she was passing a group of wagons, she stopped, seeing something that was definitely
distressing to her.

Two mercenaries had cornered Nanashi against a wagon.  One quickly slipped behind the boy, both of them laughing at how
frightened Nanashi seemed to be.  “Oh, you’ll enjoy this, Nanashi.”  One of the men snickered, leaning down and pressing his
lips against the boy’s slender throat.

Nanashi only whimpered.  A moment later, the man behind Nanashi had tugged off the boy’s shirt, dropping it carelessly to the
ground.  The man in front of Nanashi once again applied his lips to the boy’s neck, the other man sliding his hands over
trembling skin while he kissed the shoulder on Nanashi’s other side.  The man in front let his hands trail along Nanashi’s leg,
slowly slipping it up underneath his loincloth and squeezing his thigh.  Throughout this Nanashi whimpered and trembled, never
once showing that he was enjoying any of this.

Catherine wouldn’t let this continue, couldn’t let those men slobber all over the poor boy like that, but she didn’t know exactly
what to do.  Before a plan had even come to mind, she called out, “Nanashi, can you help me with something?”

The two mercenaries turned and glared at her, neither looking happy at her interruption.  “What do you want?”  One of them
asked.

“I need to borrow Nanashi for a while.  I need his help.”  Catherine said, finally having thought of an excuse for her to take the
boy away from those men.

The man behind Nanashi took a look at his friend then turned back to Catherine.  “I’ll help.”  He growled.

“No . . . it HAS to be Nanashi.”  She said, hoping that this plan would work.

“Why him?”  The man in front of Nanashi asked, looking at her curiously.  Neither had yet to move away from him, nor take
their hands off of his body.  The sight of them touching him was enough to make Catherine’s blood boil, but she struggled to
remain calm.

“Someone is borrowing my doll and I need to alter a dress.”  Catherine said, and it was the truth . . . she did have a dress that
needed to be altered.

The two mercenaries snickered.  “Go ahead, take him.”  The one man said, pushing Nanashi away.

Nanashi scooped up his tunic, hastily putting it on as he all but ran over to Catherine’s side.  Catherine cast a small smile at him,
then led him away, never once looking back.  She didn’t want to see those men ever again, although that might not happen if
they continued to stay with the troupe.

A gentle squeeze to her hand, pulled Catherine from her thoughts and she looked down to see Nanashi holding her hand.  He
looked up, a hint of a smile lighting up his dirt smudged face for the briefest of moments.  It was enough to warm Catherine’s
heart though, and she smiled back.

As soon as they were in her tent, Nanashi let go of her hand.  Catherine looked at the boy, noticing all the dirt.  “We have a
problem, Nanashi.”  She said.

The boy looked at her, confusion on his young face.

“I can’t let you be my alteration doll while you’re so filthy.  You’re just going to have to take a bath.”  Catherine said, smirking
at Nanashi.

Catherine walked over and pulled the metal tub out that she used for baths.  When on the road you just had to make due with
what you had.  Then she walked over and stood in front of Nanashi.  “Now, you wait here.  I have to get some water.”

As she stepped out of the tent, Catherine came face to face with the troupe’s healer.  In her hands she carried two buckets full
of water.  The woman smiled at Catherine.  “Here . . . I had warmed these so that I could take a bath . . . but when I saw you
bringing that boy to your tent I thought he could use it more than me.”

Catherine smiled and took the heavy buckets.  “Thank you, Marie.”

“No, problem, dearie.”  The older woman grinned.  “I’ll just go get some more so you can get him all cleaned up.  I had them
heating on the fire, so I know the water’s warm by now.  I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

Catherine nodded, glad that the troupe was so closely knit.  They were all like one huge family, something she was grateful for.  
She sighed and walked back into the tent, carrying the buckets over to the tub.

Catherine poured both of the steaming buckets of water into the tub.  Then she looked at Nanashi and noticed that he was just
standing there, watching her.  “You’re going to have to strip out of those.”  She said, gesturing to the rags that he wore.

Nanashi looked down and gripped his tunic, clutching it in his hands as if he was afraid that she would steal his clothes from
him.  He took a step back, whimpering.

“It’s okay . . . I won’t hurt you.”  Catherine whispered, feeling so sorry for the frightened boy.  “I just want to get you cleaned
up . . . that’s all.  I swear I won’t do anything to hurt you.”

Nanashi just stood there for a moment, but finally he nodded.  He stepped forward, slowly pulling his tunic over his head.  His
hands were shaking by the time he grabbed the tie that held up his loincloth.  With a slow pull at the tie, the cloth fell from his
body, leaving him completely bare in front of Catherine’s eyes.

Catherine fought back the gasp that ached to leave her throat when she saw his body.  He was emaciated.  She couldn’t believe
that anyone could be so thin and still be alive.  “Please . . . get in the tub.”  She said, fighting to keep her voice from choking,
pushing back her tears.

He quietly complied, climbing into the tub of warm water.  He sat, then pulled his knees to his chest, hugging them close to his
body as he began to shiver.  Catherine sighed, then picked up his garments, offering a kind smile to him.  “I’m going to have
these cleaned as well . . . then they’ll be returned to you.”

She walked to the flap of the tent and peered out, smiling as Marie approached with two more buckets of water.  She traded, the
buckets for the clothes.  “Could you have these washed?”  Catherine asked Marie as she handed the clothes to the woman.  
“There’s no sense in getting him clean if he has no clothes to wear.”

Marie smiled.  “Oh, it’ll be no problem.  I’ll keep heating up that water for you.  Just call me if you need more.”

“I will.”  Catherine replied, thinking that it was a good thing that Marie’s tent was just beside her own, only a few yards away.

“Oh, and here.”  Marie said, holding out a bar of soap.  “I made this up myself . . . thought you could use it.”

Catherine took it, shoving it into a pocket and smiled.  “Thank you, Marie.”  

Catherine watched as Marie walked back to her own tent.  Then she picked up the buckets and carried them inside, setting them
down near the tub.  She searched around in her tent for a moment and found a rag, then knelt down beside the tub.

“Do you know how to wash yourself?”  Catherine asked.

Nanashi looked down and shook his head.

Catherine smiled.  “It's okay . . . I guess I can show you what you need to do.”

She dipped the rag into the warm water, then pulled the soap from her pocket and rubbed it across the cloth until there was a
lather.  Gently, she took hold of Nanashi’s arm and began scrubbing the skin.  Nanashi watched her intently the entire time.  
When she had the entire arm done, she stopped.

She held the rag and soap out to him.  “Think you can do the rest of you?”  Catherine asked.

Nanashi slowly nodded.  Hesitantly, he began to clean off his body, every now and then putting more soap on the cloth.  He
seemed to have gotten the idea.

Catherine turned away for a moment, grabbing another cloth.  “Can I see that?”  She asked, while she dipped the cloth in the
water to soak it.

Nanashi handed the soap over to her, his face showing confusion.

Catherine smiled, getting the cloth that she held in her own hand all soapy, then handed the soap back to Nanashi.  She moved
behind Nanashi and tenderly reached out, placing the cloth against his back.

Nanashi jumped at the contact, his body beginning to shiver as he whimpered yet again.

“Sshh . . . I’m just going to clean your back for you . . . there’s no way you can reach it yourself.”  She said, keeping her tone
at a soothing level, waiting until Nanashi calmed somewhat before she began to wash him again.

As Catherine washed off his back, she frowned.  More and more bruises kept appearing on his skin.  The more she washed, the
more bruises she saw.  The dirt had hidden them well.  When she finished with his back, she moved around to look at the rest
of him.  Soap was dripping down his body, but it didn’t cover the bruises to his face, limbs, and torso any more than it hid the
ones on his back.

She looked at him, feeling her heart breaking to see him so hurt.  Inadvertently, a tear fell from her eye . . . she hadn't wanted
Nanashi to see her cry.  Nanashi only looked up at her in curiosity, apparently wondering why she was reacting in such a way.

“Do they hurt you often?”  Catherine asked, brushing gentle fingers across a particularly large bruise on his chest.

Nanashi ducked his head, refusing to meet her gaze as he dropped the soap and cloth.  That reaction answered her question
though.  Those men did hurt him.  Well, she had to stop them . . . somehow she was going to put an end to this abuse.

She reached out, forcing a smile onto her face as she tipped his head up.  “Let’s wash your hair, okay?”  She said.

Nanashi nodded.  Catherine grabbed the soap and used it to wash his hair.  Then she grabbed one of the remaining buckets of
water and told him to stand.  He did and Catherine dumped the contents over his head, rinsing away the suds.

Catherine grabbed the soap and cloth, seeing a few spots on his body that he had missed.  She cleaned them off, washing his
hair once more, then rinsed him off with the water from the last bucket.

By the time they were done, he was shivering and dripping with water.  Catherine had no drying cloths, so she grabbed one of
her blankets, deciding to put it to good use as she dried Nanashi off.  She smiled as his hair turned out to be a lighter shade than
it had been, meaning that all the dirt had been washed out.

“You're adorable when you’re clean.”  Catherine smiled.  “Let’s get to that dress.”

Nanashi nodded, keeping the blanket wrapped around him until Catherine handed him the dress.  He slowly put it on, although he
didn’t seem to like wearing it one bit.  Then he stood still as Catherine worked.

Sometime later, Marie walked into the tent, carrying Nanashi’s loincloth with her, along with a lantern in her other hand as the
sun had set and it was getting dark.  “I got this clean, but that tunic is another matter.  I think I will have to wash it again.”  
Marie said.

Catherine looked up at Nanashi.  “Okay, I think I’ve finished with this for tonight . . . it’s getting a little difficult to see.”  She
said, rubbing her weary eyes.  She smiled to the boy.  Then she took the still damp garment from Marie and handed it to him.  
“We’ll leave you alone so you can change.”  She smiled.  Although she had already seen him naked, she wanted to show him a
little courtesy.

Catherine decided something.  “Marie . . . can you keep an eye on Nanashi?  I’m going to go talk with James about keeping
Nanashi with the troupe.”  

“Go ahead, child.  I’ll see to it that he doesn’t get into any trouble.”  Marie smiled.

Catherine nodded, and headed off in the direction of their leader’s, James’s, tent.  After a short conversation, James agreed that
Nanashi could stay, but only if the Captain of the mercenaries agreed to let him.  He wasn’t about to start any fights with
mercenaries.

As Catherine exited James’s tent, she saw Maire pacing worriedly outside.  “Oh, Catherine.  I am so sorry.  I tried to watch
him, but when I went into your tent to check on him, he was gone.”

Catherine didn’t wait to hear anymore.  Instead, she just ran off in search of Nanashi.  She was frantic with worry.  Then she
thought that she had heard a familiar whimper coming from the tent that belonged to the captain of the mercenaries.  She
cautiously approached and slowly pulled back an edge of the tent flap, her eyes widening in horror at the sight before her.

Nanashi was on his hands and knees, the Captain kneeling behind him, forcing the boy’s legs apart.  Nanashi’s loincloth was
moved aside, the Captain’s hands gripping his thighs in what looked to be a painful grip.  One hand reached down and the
Captain pulled free his own straining erection, poising himself behind the boy as Nanashi bit into his bottom lip in an apparent
attempt to brace himself for pain.

“If you make a sound . . . I’ll slit the pretty circus girl’s throat.”  The Captain said, hissing into Nanashi’s ear.

“I want to talk to you!”  Catherine nearly shouted as she pushed aside the tent flap.

The Captain hastily tucked himself back into his breeches, groaning in apparent discomfort.  Cathering watched, pleased, as
Nanashi took the opportunity that the distraction brought to him to scramble to his feet and run away.

“Talk away, gorgeous.”  The Captain said, gaining Catherine’s attention.  He rose to his feet, making Catherine nervous with the
way that he was looking at her.

“It's about Nanashi.”  Catherine said.

“What about the brat?”  He asked.

“He fills no real purpose with your group.  I was wondering if you would leave him here, with us.  The troupe is always looking
for new talent and Nanashi has the build of a tumbler.  We can compensate you.”

The Captain licked his lips.  “Compensate?”  He asked, approaching Catherine.  “What did you have in mind?  You know . . .
you’re really pretty.”

Catherine was feeling very uncomfortable and instinctively began moving away from him.  “Th-thank you . . . um . . . we have
some livestock . . . cows, chickens.  It would save you some money on having to buy food.  And they would only need fodder
during the winter months.”

“Oh . . . that sounds nice.”  He said, moving forward until he had Catherine trapped in a corner.  Then he had suddenly placed a
knife to her throat, his movements so quick that Catherine was unsure of where the knife had even come from.  “It all depends
on one thing.”  He murmured, reaching out and trailing a meaty hand down her body.  “Depends on how well you behave for
me.  See . . . I’ve always wanted Nanashi screaming under me as I pounded into that tight little virgin body of his . . . and you
scared him off.  You’ll do nicely though.”

Catherine swallowed and closed her eyes, her only thought being that she was glad that this bastard hadn’t touched Nanashi
before tonight.  If she had to do this to spare Nanashi the pain, she would gladly do it.  Her own virginity was meaningless if it
meant that she could save that poor boy from something that could very well kill him.

“Leave her alone!”  A voice screamed out.

Catherine opened her eyes, just in time to see Nanashi tackle the Captain, using his small fists to beat the other man.  The
Captain grabbed Nanashi by the throat and easily threw him aside.  Then he stalked over to the boy and gave a sharp kick to his
stomach.  “Traitor!”  The Captain spat, kicking Nanashi again.  “I give you food and shelter and this is how you repay me?”

By then, the rest of the circus troupe and mercenaries had arrived, apparently having heard Nanashi’s scream.  Marie ran
forward and grabbed Nanashi out of danger, James pulling Catherine out of the tent.  It was then that all hell broke loose.  The
mercenaries began attacking, destroying the wagons and tents, and hurting the people of the circus troupe.

In the confusion, Catherine had lost sight of Nanashi.  She searched for him, at the same time trying to avoid being hurt as she
looked for him.  As she searched, Catherine kept seeing a strange figure in black, a young Asian woman walking through the
camp, dispatching every mercenary that she came across with a ball of flame that shot from her hand.  Catherine didn’t know
who this woman was, but thought that she had better find Nanashi before the stranger did.

Then Catherine saw him . . . right in the path of that strange woman.  The woman had raised her hand, a flame alight on her
palm.  Nanashi cowered before her, covering his head with his arms in a weak defense.  Catherine raced over to them, throwing
her body over Nanashi’s and hoping that the attack that this woman had would hit Catherine instead.  

When no attack came, Catherine took a chance and opened her eyes, looking up at the woman in black, for the first time
noticing that she wore a crown atop her head.  She must be Queen Meiran, Catherine thought.

“Why do you protect him?  He is one of them.”  Queen Meiran said, the flame still flickering in her palm.

“But he is not like them.”  Catherine replied, kneeling on the ground and pulling Nanashi into her arms, feeling as he clutched
tightly to her body out of fear.  “They did nothing but abuse him.  And tonight I saved him twice from being raped.”  Catherine
said, tears spilling from her eyes as she spoke.

“You would die for him?”  The Queen asked.

“In a heartbeat.”  Catherine answered.

“Nataku!”  The Queen yelled.

For a moment Catherine was confused, wondering exactly what that word meant.  However, at the sight of a white tiger
approaching, every question she had left her mind.  “W-What are you planning to do?”  Catherine asked.

“A test.”  The Queen replied.  “Stand the boy up and step away.  Make no move toward him, no matter what your instincts tells
you.”

Catherine hesitated, but did as the Queen asked, watching in fear as that tiger stepped toward Nanashi and sniffed him.  Nanashi
smiled though, for the first time not seeming afraid of something.  Catherine was amazed as Nanashi reached out with a steady
hand, calmly stroking his small fingers along the fur of the beast.

“Ah, my Nataku likes him.”  The Queen smiled.  “He has a kind heart.”  She looked to Catherine.  “Tell your troupe to come to
my castle . . . they will be safe there until Nataku takes care of the rest of these mercenaries.”

“Y-Yes, Queen Meiran.”  Catherine stammered, watching as Meiran took hold of Nanashi’s hand, leading him away.  He glanced
back at Catherine, apparently nervous, but he said nothing and went with the queen.


*End of Flashback*


Catherine chuckled as she thought back.  She had assumed that Nanashi . . . that Trowa . . . had been nothing more than a
child.  But he had been fifteen years old when they had met.  He had been so small, so thin.  And now he was a healthy young
man, standing taller than Catherine.  He had hit a growth spurt shortly after Meiran had taken them in.

As she thought of Trowa, she hoped that he would be okay.  He went on missions for Meiran often, now that he was a spy for
her, but still Catherine couldn’t help but think of him as that shy, frightened child that she had befriended three years ago.



To Be Continued . . .