Save the Queen

by llamajoy

Author's notes: AU, but it's hard to say; perhaps it could have happened. For FFXII, set after the opening movie but before the game itself. For FFT, set just before Meliadoul joins the party. I had... way too much fun piecing this together; this unlikely pair of characters had an unusual bit of synchronicity. Teleportation is time magic, after all.

Marquis Halim Ondore was intrigued. Before him stood Havharo, bearing an unfamiliar sword in his unsteady hands. Yes, unsteady. Ondore's eyes did not mistake him: Havharo was out of breath. The hitch in his speech, the movement of his wrists, unmistakable. This intruder, whoever she was, had given his finest captain almost more than he could handle.

"And we have bound her in the repository cell," Havharo was saying.

Ondore smiled mildly. "The wine cellar."

The younger man stood up a hair straighter. "What was until lately your second wine cellar, yes. Excellency." He was obviously in no mood for smiling. "There she can wait until morning, until you have had a chance to consider fitting consequence for her."

The sword in Havharo's hands was an unusual make: fine, sharp, lovingly maintained. Ondore raised an eyebrow. "I think, rather, that I would see to this one myself. Havharo, if you please?"

Though he looked as though he wished to protest, Havharo swallowed his words, and bowed. The sword, he laid on Ondore's writing table, never letting it out of his sight as he backed through the door.

That he was going to interrogate a sudden prisoner in his dressing gown did not disturb the Marquis. Such was the greeting due to a thief--for so Havharo insisted she must be, trespassing in the indecent dark hours of morning. Her sword he carried carefully, but respectfully, ignoring Havharo's protestations that a confiscated weapon could be put to other, better uses.

Someone had left a candle burning in the second wine cellar; by its glinting light he saw a rack of dark bottles, and the shape of a young woman chained to the opposite wall.

Plainly, Havharo's men had not wanted to take any chances.

The moment he interposed himself between her and the guttering candleflame, her head snapped upwards. She inhaled as if to speak, but her eyes lit upon her sword, and she kept silent. There was no hint of magicite about her, manufacted or not, and the first of his worries was assuaged. She did not look mad.

It was too dark to tell the color of her skirts, her cowl, but her face was very pale and her brows dark. Not Dalmascan, then. He startled himself with the depths of his disappointment. He might have said Archadian, but that there was something indefinably foreign about her, her clothing as unfamiliar as her sword: rich and well-kept, of a style he had never seen.

He regarded her for a moment, and she met his eyes unflinching. Then he spread his hands, gesturing with his walking stick. "I would say welcome to my house, but that you seem to have found your way inside already."

"Where is the Marquis?"

Ondore blinked. Havharo would not have bound her hands to the wall had he not felt it needful. He lay her sword on the flagstones, well out of reach, and stepped closer though yet out of range of her booted feet. "I am he."

She was shaking her head, leaning towards him against her restraints. "Do not mock me. The Marquis is my father's friend; I know his face as well as I know my own."

The way she spoke of recognition, Ondore felt the skin at the back of his neck prickling. And yet, faced with such fury, he found he was grateful that he was not her Marquis. He thought of the sword lying patiently on the ground behind them. That she was a threat, there was no question. But not, he was beginning to think, a threat to himself. He stepped to the side, that the candle might better illuminate her face; that she might see him more clearly, as well. "Perhaps you are mistaken, yuvatii. Are you lost?"

The woman's shoulders twisted at the unfamiliar word. He felt assured that she was from places very far away; what female traveler to Bhujerba had not been addressed by a welcoming parijanah as "young lady"? (What little girl on his knee, not delighted at the courtesy?) "I am lost indeed, if the Marquis' hospitality has suffered so greatly, of late. I did not think the Marquis would greet his guests with shackles and iron."

He was unperturbed. "This Marquis is unaccustomed to guests who arrive in his securest quarters at two strikes of the clock, and make free with a sword at his most trusted of guards. Or is that customary, in the lands you call home?"

"The lands I call home," she parroted him. The wild rage in her eyes had changed, banked fire carefully obscured under ashes. No less dangerous, no less familiar. "I pray you, do not mock at me. This is Ivalice, is it not? Limberry Castle."

"Ivalice it is," he said softly, examining the burnished metal knob of his walking stick. "But I assure you, in all my study of geography, I have never heard of Limberry."

She tried again: "I am come to speak the Marquis Elmdore--"

"I am Marquis Halim Ondore," he interrupted, more curious now than condescending. "The fourth of that name. And you have had the pleasure of roaming my treasuries, and rifling through my favorite reading chamber--not to mention parrying blades with my sleepless guards." You have awoken memories slumbering for these two years now, better left undisturbed. "Now will you grant me the pleasure of your name?"

She seemed to consider this. Finally she said, "I will not be fooled by a jade's trick. I must speak with Marquis Elmdore, at once."

What might have tried his patience only prompted him to unexpected sympathy. "That were a far better trick than I could manage, yuvatii. If you will not give me your name, will you tell me then how you came to be in my manor?"

"It is a simple magick," she said, testily. "I should ask you how your manor came to be where Limberry Castle ought to stand."

"To apparate within solid walls a simple magick? Tell me how it is, then, that I have any possessions left to me."

"I am no thief." For the first time, her shoulders fell, and she subsided against her bonds. "Think what you will of me, but you should know that I am a Knight Templar of the Church of Glabados."

No church that Ondore knew, and yet, that name--niggling, something half-remembered. Something Havharo had said, or one of his parijanah? Some faction, some sect... What he said was: "Your faith is unfamiliar to me, but of your swordsmanship I have little doubt. My men informed me you drew first blood."

There was grim satisfaction in the lines around her mouth. So much to prove. It had been many long years since he himself had felt such intensity. Truly, she was still quite young. He had barely thought it but that his heart twisted, thinking of that other young lady, so angry, much beloved. His eyes had grown accustomed to the dimness; her dress was green. "Your men circled me round like a baited bear. I thought I might not find a welcome, but--"

"Did you not?" This was interesting. He watched her and again she met his gaze keenly, heat for heat, indignation for inquisition. "You are not surprised to find yourself chained, then. I wonder what your Marquis Elmdore would have had in store, had you managed to find his Limberry this evening."

"I am come for answers, not for blood. But if blood spilt would loose the Marquis' tongue, I am unafraid to spill it."

It was not a matter of conscious thought; a moment of whimsy, or a flash of intuition. Though many years her senior, Ondore could yet move quickly when the situation merited. With just another step, he stood before her, lifting her chin with the head of his walking stick.

"And what if I were to say the same, yuvatii? You are my prisoner, after all." He watched her consider this, unblinking, her throat working against the smooth metal knob. She looked nothing like his Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca; he still could not shake the impression of the princess two years dead, or missing. He pressed, "Is it quite usual to accost your father's friend with such violence?"

She swallowed. "Of late." Barely more than a whisper. "I am unwilling to take unnecessary chances."

"As am I." He felt himself smile. "I do much prefer to see the faces of those with whom I carry on an argument. It makes things so much more civilized, wouldn't you say?"

Surprisingly, there was something similar to a smile on her face as well, and she did not retort at once, looking up at him. "More civilized, I would say, if you released me." Her voice hummed against the walking stick in his hand, and the smile grew more pronounced. "Your Grace?"

"Your name, yuvatii."

"Meliadoul Tengille."

He turned the walking stick, turning her face. "Your word that no member of my household will come to harm, should I release you."

She nodded, as much as she could. "You have my word. My business is with the Silver Noble and his secrets. If no one stands in my way, no one comes to harm."

Her name meant little, and her business yet eluded him, but still he smiled. He could not tell if he were amused at his own misguided fancy, or her stubbornness, or both. "Would you not consider this a bit of an unnecessary risk, on my part?"

"I cannot give you more than my word, when my hands are bound and my sword out of reach."

"Good point indeed." With a slippered foot he slid her blade closer. The metal sparked and whined against the stone floor, and she winced at the noise. "My apologies, Meliadoul. It is a fine blade."

"Her name is Save the Queen," said the girl in green, proudly. "She has served me well."

Save the Queen. The tight, electric feeling was back; his skin tingling. Perhaps this meeting was no accident. "You will swear on her, then."

Meliadoul did so, with her foot and not her hand on the pommel, but convincingly spoken just the same. Satisfied, Ondore lowered his walking stick, drew the key from his pocket, and freed her.

The girl stood still for a heartbeat, still half-standing on Save the Queen, looking intently up at him. He wondered why he had earlier thought that she did not resemble the princess, for the likeness now was uncanny: her stance, the angle of her chin. The challenge in her eyes.

"Now," he began. "Shall we--"

She interrupted him all in a rush. "Thank you, Ondore. I will not forget." And she uttered a word (no magic he had ever witnessed), and she and her sword--disappeared. More than vanished: she was not invisible, she was simply gone.

For a few minutes, he thought to hear a clamor from an adjoining room. As the time stretched onwards, his imagination broadened: an alarum ringing from Travica Way, hue and cry from the Skygrounds. But there was only silence, and after a while, the thin light of dawn staining the cellar's high windows.

It was after breakfast when Havharo found the Marquis standing there: still in his dressing gown, leaning on his walking stick by the empty shackles on the wall.


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