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

Notes:  Trowa awakes and goes down to breakfast with Mariemaia.  Quatre and Catherine meet a young woman in the forest.



Servitude, Retribution, and Enchantment



Part Twenty-Six


Trowa opened his eyes, blinking them repeatedly until they cleared.  It was morning . . . time to get up and have breakfast with
the King of Taura.  He stretched his arms, yawning.  A small moan reached his ears, an he looked down, a tentative smile
creeping over his face as he saw Mariemaia curled up alongside of him, her arms wound around his body.  She had been scared
last night, fearing that she would be locked away or left alone again.  So Trowa had allowed the child to sleep in his bed.

Of course, Mariemaia still being asleep posed a problem to him at the moment.  They had to dress for breakfast soon, and he
had no idea how to wake the child without frightening her.  That ruled out shaking . . . she had probably been awakened by a
rough shake every day of her young life.  He frowned a little as he thought, and finally decided to see if his voice would be
enough to awaken her.

“Mariemaia?”  The girl furrowed her brow and let out a little moan as if she were dreaming and didn’t want to leave it.  
“Mariemaia . . . time to wake up.”  He said softly, laying his hand on her shoulder gently.

The child tightened her hold around Trowa, cuddling closer as she groaned, her eyes slowly blinking open.  She yawned widely,
then looked up at Trowa, noticing his presence.  Smiling sheepishly, Mariemaia drew herself away from Trowa’s body, biting
her lip.

“Sorry.”  She whispered, her eyes averted.

Trowa slid his hand along her arm.  “It’s okay.”  He assured the girl, not wanting her to be afraid of him.  He decided that a
change of subject would be the best tactic here.  “We best get dressed now.  The King and Princess are probably awaiting us
for breakfast.”

“You’re going to leave me here, aren’t you?”  Mariemaia asked.  “I heard you speaking with the King.”

Trowa sighed, nodding.  “Yes.”  He raised his hand, brushing aside a tear that fell from the young girl’s eye.  “As much as I
would enjoy you coming back with me . . . it is much safer for you to remain here under the protection of the king.”

“I understand.”  Mariemaia said, her eyes cast downward.  Then she turned her eyes back up, a hopeful gleam in them.  “You
and Quatre will visit me, right?”

Trowa smiled.  “Of course we will.”  He said.

“And Catherine too?”

Again, Trowa nodded.  “Catherine would be thrilled to visit you.  Come, I think you should get some breakfast.”  He pulled the
blankets away from the two of them, helping the girl up as he also sat up in bed.  “You go on back to your room and get
dressed.  I’ll wait for you and walk down with you.”

“Okay.”  She smiled, hopping out of bed and leaving the room quickly.  She waved to Trowa from the door that adjoined their
rooms, then closed it behind herself.

As soon as the door was closed, Trowa rose from bed and got himself dressed.  He didn’t have anything fancy, just what little
he had brought with him, which really was only one change of clothes.  It mattered little.  The clothes he wore now were clean,
and they were sufficient to have breakfast in, as well as being what he would be wearing when he left this castle today.  He had
no need to wait around . . . Quatre needed him to return as hastily as possible.

He waited for Mariemaia, just as he had said that he would.  The two of them strolled side by side down to breakfast, where the
King and his daughter, Lucrezia were already seated.  He nodded to the royals, bowing respectfully to them before taking their
invitation and sitting down at the table.  He knew better than to sit without permission . . . it would have been bad manners to do
so.

As the meal progressed, the King brought up conversation.  “Now . . . about the steward I’m sending to look after the Barton
lands.”

“Is this the best place to be discussing this, Sire?”  Trowa asked, not sure that such a topic should be discussed at the morning
meal.

“It will have to be, sir.”  Princess Lucrezia said, smiling a little.  “You did say that it was urgent that you get back to the Barton
lands, did you not?  Why not use the time at breakfast to discuss what is needed on the journey and for when we reach the
kingdom?”

Trowa was perplexed.  “We?”  He asked.  Surely the King would not send his only daughter to perform this task.  There had to
someone less important to handle this matter.

“My daughter, Lucrezia, has volunteered to look after the lands.”  The King said, verifying what Trowa had only moments ago
been thinking.  “I heartily agree that she is the best person for the job.  She has a good head on her shoulders and will be a good
leader until young Mariemaia is of age.  Although I would rather she choose a suitor . . .”

Princess Lucrezia slammed her hand down on the table.  “And I say yet again, that I am not interested in any suitors!  I was
promised to Prince Milliardo and, until he is found dead, I will not choose another!”  She said, her voice proving how adamant
she was about this subject.  She took a breath, calming herself before speaking again.  “If he is alive, I owe it to him to see if he
still wants me as a wife.  He is not in our lands or the lands of any of our allies . . . perhaps he is in one of Barton’s.  I can
extend my search for him.”  She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly again.  “Father, that is the main reason I volunteered for
this.”

The King sighed.  “And you still have a month to find him.  I understand your position on the matter, Lucrezia my dear, but
Milliardo would not want you to become an old maid for his sake alone.  You have until your birthday . . . then you must choose
a suitor and marry him within the week.”

“What if I don’t choose one?”  Lucrezia asked.

“Then I will choose one for you and have you wed.”  The King replied.

Lucrezia looked quite angry at this.  “FATHER!”

The King held up his hand, closing his eyes.  “I have been very lenient with you, daughter.  I do not want to have to take these
matters unto my own hands.  You have a month more.  If you find Milliardo, then the time limit is off.  You do understand that I
want only your happiness, do you not?”

Lucrezia bowed her head.  “Yes, Father.”  She whispered mournfully.

“Very well, then.”  He nodded in Trowa’s direction.  “Back to the subject of what will be needed for this excursion . . .”  And
then the King resumed their earlier conversation.

During breakfast, and quite a while afterward, the three of them discussed what would be needed and who would be going.  
Since there was no way of knowing what Dekim had in his palace by way of staff, as Trowa admitted to not leaving his
chambers, they couldn’t appoint positions to any servants.  The King did, however, insist on a group of men to go with them.  
The men would be the castle guard as the weeds were yanked from Dekim’s ranks.  The remaining men would guard the town.

On the subject of taxes, Trowa stated that he had been assured that the treasury was full, so a few months without taxes could
be easily afforded as the farmers and other townsfolk could recover from Dekim’s iron fist.  He agreed to allow a bookkeeper to
accompany them, though, since he hadn’t seen to the treasury himself . . . so he had no way of knowing if he had been told the
truth or not.  Noin did suggest, however, that they withhold the tax issue until they did see the treasury.

There were other matters to discuss . . . suggestions on how to improve the lands around Dekim’s palace, since the town
looked to be very poor while the palace itself seemed very rich.  Trowa really only had one request in this matter, that Quatre’s
dear sisters and niece be given some form of a monument, if only decent headstones to mark their graves.  From what he had
seen, only the simplest of wooden markers stood over them now.  It was not fitting that those women and that child, who had
been killed so horribly, end up forgotten.  He could not allow their sacrifices to be lost, to be ignored.


*****


Quatre tiredly blinked his eyes.  He didn’t want to fall asleep.  No, he wanted to stay awake, to savor being outside.  He enjoyed
the sounds and smells of the forest, watching the various animals scampering around, seeing the tree branches swaying in the
gentle breeze.  He didn’t want to go back to the castle, not now, not until it was absolutely necessary.

He leaned back, fearing that he would fall forward soon . . . he was just tired.  Catherine’s warm arms tightened around his
weary body briefly, offering both support and comfort to him.

“Are you well?”  She asked, concern evident in her tone.

Quatre nodded.  “Yes, I’m just a little tired . . . I’ll be fine.”  He replied, a smile hidden beneath the veil that he wore.

“Are you sure?  Perhaps we should head back now.”

“No . . .”  He gasped, laying his hand on Catherine’s arm.  “Please, just a little longer?”

Catherine sighed.  She didn’t answer for a moment.  “All right.  But when I think you’ve had enough, we will go back.”  She
said firmly.

Quatre nodded in reply, grateful that she was allowing him to stay out a little longer.  “Thank you, Catherine.”  He whispered,
squeezing her arm gently once before letting go.

They had only ridden a short distance further, when a strange scent caught Quatre’s attention.  It smelled like food cooking.  He
looked around, wondering where it was coming from.  Whatever it was, it smelled delicious.  Was someone living out here in
this forest?  His question was answered when he saw a structure in the distance, a plume of smoke rising into the air above the
trees.

“Catherine, what’s that?”  Quatre asked, pointing toward the barely visible building.  It was hidden well by the trees, difficult to
see even as Quatre focused his attention on it.

“I don’t know.”  Catherine replied, turning the horse to head in that direction.  “Let’s go and take a look.”

Quatre nodded, waiting patiently as the horse took them closer to the building.  After a few minutes, Quatre clearly saw what it
was.  It was a home, a simple little cottage nestled in the heavily wooded area.  Perhaps the owners of this house had hidden
themselves for a distinct reason.  Maybe they hadn’t liked living under Dekim’s rule and had hidden themselves here in the
forest.  Or there could be some other reason for living out here in the middle of nowhere far from the village.  Quatre couldn’t
know for certain unless he asked the owner of the home.  He just hoped that the owner was kind.

They rode around the domicile, looking for signs of life around or within the cottage.  It was a lovely little house, a small fence
encircling the yard, a path of stones leading to the door.  They continued around, finding a garden taking up much of the yard,
as well as a chicken coop and a second building hidden within another patch of trees . . . it looked like a barn of sorts, perhaps
where the owners kept their livestock.  And there, toiling in the dirt of the garden, was a young blonde-haired woman.  She
looked up at them, then rose from the ground, wiping her hands off on her skirt.

“Greetings.”  She smiled.  “What brings you folk to my home?”

“We were just traveling by and saw your home.”  Catherine replied.  “Would you object if we stopped here to rest a while?  I
believe my friend here could do with a few moments.”

“By all means . . . you are welcome to rest as long as you wish.  You can put your horse in my barn if you like . . . there’s an
empty stall.”  She said, gesturing to the building they had seen as they had ridden back here.  “I’ll take him if you want . . . see
to it he’s fed and watered.”

“That’s very kind of you, Miss . . .”

“Sylvia . . . Sylvia Noventa.”  The young woman replied, extending her hand in friendship.

Catherine smile, taking the offered hand, although the angle of the shake was awkward since both Catherine and Quatre were
still atop the horse and Catherine was busy with keeping Quatre sitting upright.

“I’m Catherine Bloom.”  She greeted, then gestured to Quatre.  “And this is Quatre.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.  Here, allow me to help you.”  Sylvia said, then assisted Quatre in getting down.

“T-Thank you.”  Quatre said quietly, keeping his eyes lowered.  He didn’t know exactly how Miss Noventa felt about slaves, but
he couldn’t just let her help go by unthanked.

Sylvia smiled.  “You’re quite welcome.”  Then she looked to Catherine.  “Oh, I hope you do not mind that I speak to your slave
in such a manner.  It has been a good while since I have been to the village, I don’t follow the customs there very well.”

“It’s quite all right.”  Catherine said, dismounting.  “I treat Quatre more as a friend than a slave, myself.  Besides, he does not
belong to me.  I am only watching over him until my friend returns from business.”

Sylvia set her hand to Quatre’s face.  “He feels quite warm.  Is he ill?”

Catherine nodded.  “Yes, for several days now he has had trouble keeping food down.  His fever has gone down a good deal
though and his strength has been returning.  I thought it best that he get some fresh air . . . he has been inside for over a month
now, recovering from sickness and grief.”

The way that they were speaking was as if they were good friends.  Quatre smiled beneath his weighted veil.  Sylvia was a good
person . . . there was just something about her that told him so.  He didn’t know what it was, her kind smile, or the gentle way
she offered comfort with tender brushes of her hand . . . whatever it was, Quatre just knew that she was good.

“Why don’t you take him inside the house?  Make yourselves comfortable.”  Sylvia suggested with a bright smile.  “I’ll take care
of your horse and be right in.  Perhaps you would like to join me for lunch?  It should be ready about now.”

“You feel up to eating, Quatre?”  Catherine asked, her warm hand settled on his back.

Quatre closed his eyes for a short while, taking time to breathe.  “I could try.”  He said.  “I don’t know if I’ll keep it down, but I
will try.”

Catherine wrapped her arm around Quatre’s waist, slowly leading him into the cottage, while Sylvia walked the horse to the
barn.  Quatre looked around the modest home, finding it warm and welcoming.  It was small, but wonderful, like nothing Quatre
had ever seen before.  He had spent his life in castles and large homes . . . such a small home was a drastic change for him, and
yet he found it to be quite pleasing.

Quatre took a seat in a chair next to an old, wooden table.  Catherine sat beside him.  She reached up and removed the veil from
his face, brushing her hand over his sweat-dampened skin lightly.  “Sylvia’s right, you are a little warm.”  Catherine said.  “You
need to rest before we can head back to the castle . . . I don’t want your condition to worsen.”

Quatre nodded his head, too weary to formulate a suitable response.  He let his eyes fall shut, losing sense of time.  He didn’t
realize that he had fallen asleep, until Catherine’s hand shook him awake.  “Oh . . . I’m sorry.”  Quatre mumbled, raising a hand
to wipe at his eyes as he looked around.

Sylvia was standing on the other side of the table, her back to him as she did something with her oven.  Quatre turned his eyes
to Catherine, only to see her worried gaze fixed on him.  “Have a nice nap?”  She asked, a smirk on her face.

Quatre would have answered, but that was when Sylvia approached the table.  She set plates in front of Quatre and Catherine,
then turned and got eating utensils, and cups of water for them as well.  Quatre blinked, shifting forward in his seat.  On the
plate was some form of pie, as well as a piece of cornbread.

Before Quatre could ask what it was, Sylvia set her own plate on the table and took a seat.  “It’s a meat pie . . . chicken, with
gravy and some vegetables.  I hope you’ll like it.”

“Thank you.”  Quatre whispered.  He slowly began to eat, finding the food delectable before even swallowing the first bite.  The
crust was savory, the chicken cooked to perfection.  The cornbread was warm, probably freshly baked . . . all in all, the meal
was simply delicious.  Quatre definitely hoped that his stomach would accept it.

“So, why are you living out here in the forest all by yourself?”  Catherine asked, speaking only when her mouth wasn’t full.

“Oh, well, that’s kind of a long story.”  Sylvia replied.  “But to make it as short as possible . . . my grandfather was King of
these lands before a man named Dekim overthrew him.  Grandfather was a pacifist . . . Dekim killed him and took over.  
Luckily, my grandmother escaped to here . . . she was pregnant with my father at the time.  The kind woodsmen who owned
this place took her in and hid her from Dekim’s patrols.  They married in secret a short while later, and my father was raised as
the woodman’s son.  It kept her and the rest of us safe from Dekim over the years.  I’m the only one left now.  My father,
aunts, and uncles have all died . . . I never had any brothers or sisters.”

“Oh, that’s a shame.”  Catherine said.  “But I think you should know . . . Dekim is dead.  He was killed a little over a month
ago.”

“This is true?”  Sylvia asked, her eyes lighting up.

Catherine smiled.  “Yes.  He was killed by an assassin . . . Quatre’s owner.”  She said.

“That is wonderful.”  Sylvia exclaimed, then blushed.  “Oh, not that I condone assassinations . . . I mean I am not happy with
the idea of murder . . .”

Catherine raised her hand, stilling her nervous flustering.  “It’s quite all right.  I know just what you mean.”  She said, smiling.  
“Dekim wasn’t the nicest of men, so far as I have heard.  I do not think many will mourn his loss.”  She shrugged.  “Well,
except for his granddaughter, but the child barely knew him.”

“Perhaps I will have to go into the village again now.”  Sylvia commented.  “I have always wanted to visit the shops.”

“If you do, feel free to stop by the palace.  Things are tense right now, and I don’t know how long we are to stay here, but you
are welcome to visit us.  You have been quite kind in your hospitality.”

Sylvia smiled.  “Thank you.  If I am ever in the village, I will consider your kind offer.”  She looked to Quatre, who had by now
stopped eating.  He was trying to pay attention to the conversation, but was still quite tired.  “Oh, I think you need a good rest.”  
She rose from her seat, stepping around and lending Quatre a hand in rising.  Catherine took hold of his other arm and also
assisted.  “You can use my bed if you like . . . it’s clean and comfortable.”

“Thank you.”  Quatre said, just barely able to keep his eyes open.  He walked where they led him, trying to keep from tripping.  
The next thing that he knew, he was lying down and covered by a soft blanket.

“You get some sleep now, Quatre.  When you awaken, we’ll head back to the castle.”  Catherine said, her hand firm on the side
of his face.

Quatre blearily nodded, his vision going hazy only moments before he closed his eyes.  Sleep came easily to him.  He hoped that
when he awakened, he would be allowed to properly thank Sylvia for all her kindness.  Not everyone would just take two
strangers into their home on a whim.  He enjoyed her kindness and wished to say how much he appreciated it.  Hopefully, he
would have the time to do so.



To Be Continued . . .