Ten of Wands

by llamajoy

Ten of Wands: Excessive pressures. Problems soon to be resolved. Striving to meet a goal or maintain a certain level or position. Possibly using power for selfish ends. [inv] Difficulties. Intrigues. A traitor. Deceiver. Subterfuge. Some losses will occur.

Zargabaath nearly stumbled as he stepped from the Alexander's gangplank, squinting in the afternoon brightness. The first thing he saw clearly was Larsa running towards him-- unhurt, thank the gods-- and the Judge's smile turned wry within his helm. He felt twenty years older than he had been on waking that morning, which had been none too young. Still, he straightened as his emperor approached, and his bow was executed perfectly. "Your Excellency."

"Please, no titles yet," Larsa said, and even /he/ sounded-- well, perhaps not twenty years aged, but older indeed since last Zargabaath had spoken with him. He caught up the Judge Magister's hands and smiled more like to a boy relieved than to an emperor satisfied, though truthfully he had the look of both. One might not have thought, to look on his glad face, that they had lost the battle, and the war. "Zargabaath, I am so glad to see you. Are you well?"

Zargabaath rested a gauntleted hand on the boy's shoulder, proud of him for not flinching under the weight, proud of him for asking such a question at such a time. He felt older still, perhaps, faced with Larsa's candor, and youth-- but lighter. "I still draw breath, Excellency. Not an hour ago, I thought it was my time to part the Veil. I'll not take that for granted."

He noticed Gabranth, then, at the small sound that he made. Ever at the boy's elbow, it seemed; Zargabaath ought not to have been startled to see him there. Gabranth stood silent again, and impassive, as though he were trying to remain invisible. The battle must have been a hard one, Zargabaath thought, to temper that one's swagger and fire.

Larsa was speaking, looking towards the west, where the Bahamut was still burning. His voice was admirably level. "I am glad that we were able to avoid-- undue sacrifice."

The eldest Judge Magister found himself moved to compassion. It did not occur to him that his emperor might also have been speaking of him, not only of companions lost. "That pilot, the reckless fellow aboard the sky fortress, he was a sometime associate of yours, was he not?"

Again, the quiet noise from Gabranth, moving imperceptibly closer to the boy. "He was." That was surprising; his tone as much as his sudden words. Zargabaath narrowed his eyes. He had not thought Gabranth the sort to consort with pirates. "...A friend of Lord Larsa's." Gabranth seemed to remember to finish his sentence.

"Gabranth speaks true," said Larsa, and Zargabaath thought he did not imagine the emphasis that Larsa laid on the first word. "And I am grateful for your discretion, Zargabaath, that you might name him 'pilot' rather than 'pirate,' when I'm sure you're well aware of his profession."

He laughed shortly, charmed by the ingenuous truth. One at a time, he removed his gauntlets, glad for the air moving around his fingers, the tingle in his exposed skin. "He has saved the city of Rabanastre, the Alexander, and myself. I'll not slander such a man."

Larsa squeezed his hands, his own hands quite cold. "I am glad you are still with us," he said, and the 'us' was almost but not quite a 'me.'

Touched, Zargabaath unclasped and doffed his helmet, pushing the hair (more white than grey, these days) from his eyes. With the sunlight full in his sight, it took him a long moment to realize that Gabranth was not following suit: his gauntlets buckled, his helm still on his head, his eyes shadowed. Perhaps it was Archadia's military defeat that dampened the younger Judge's temper; Zargabaath could not remember a time after battle, or sparring, that Gabranth had not been eager to shed his armor.

Larsa frowned slightly, as close to worry as his Solidor blood would allow to show in his face.

"Is everything... well with you, Your Excellency?" Zargabaath asked carefully, wondering if he had thought too hastily of his young liege's forthrightness.

"Forgive me," Gabranth interjected, sounding more like himself in his brusqueness. "Lord Larsa is kind not to mention it, but in the battle I was-- I was injured." Abruptly he drew off his helmet.

And indeed, there stood an angry scar across his face, narrowly missing one eye, an indelible mark for all to see. Zargabaath could not help but raise an eyebrow. A scar, pink and puckered, that could not have been less than six months healed. A well-known scar in the circle of Judges Magister, for anyone who cared to listen to the bitter boast of the man who had dealt it. Injured, indeed. Zargabaath considered the man's face, and thought for a moment: shock becoming grief, becoming hope.

"Your Lordship took no permanent harm, I hope?"

Gabranth inclined his head with uncharacteristic politeness, and Zargabaath wondered how he had not known the truth immediately, just by the set of the man's shoulders. "There are few enough who know my true face, to mourn its marring."

And in Larsa's nod there was not only invitation, but confidence. Zargabaath dipped his head to hide the gratefulness in his eyes: no greater honor to receive than the trust of the emperor. "Few perhaps, but say not that it mars. Rather, consider it a mark of distinction."

Larsa's relief was palpable, and "Gabranth"-- he smiled softly then, to the helmet in his hands. "I thank you," he said. And the 'I' was almost but not quite a 'we.'


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