see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Halves: Circles + Chapter 4
"Well, your highness, I must
say, you're not the pampered court poodle I expected."
Heero frowned ever so slightly, the only sign of emotion on his stone-cold
face. No one had ever even thought of calling him a poodle, or
pampered for that matter. He heard Trowa snort softly besides him, a rare
show of amusement from the stoic Romany.
"Though I would love to see how good you really are, I'm afraid I can't
have you killing any more of my men today." The voice was a parody of
wry amusement, with an undercurrent of cold anger beneath it. "So you
will drop your sword now and surrender gracefully."
Heero glanced at the six men, dead or incapacitated, that had fallen around
himself and Trowa. There were only seven left, two of them injured, plus
the scoffer. Neither of he nor Trowa were wounded yet. The math was pretty
"That means, come down here and make us." Trowa translated. His two swords
glittered and hissed through the air, as he flicked the blood from them.
The man sitting atop the dappled grey charger leaned forward slightly,
his eyes glinting like Trowa's blades. He looked tempted. He was tall,
muscular, broad-shouldered, carrying full armor with ease, and a halberd
hung loosely from a huge mailed hand. He looked angry. He had not expected
the poodle to possess the teeth of a wolf. He'd lost half his men in that
first charge, in what should have been an easy ambush.
But he leaned back, frowning. "Unfortunately, I have to decline, your
highness. We have a tight schedule to keep. So if you don't mind, put
down your sword or-" he lifted his free hand.
Heero and Trowa glanced at the three men who had drawn and aimed crossbows
at them. They drew themselves into a defensive crouch.
"It will be interesting to see how many more of your men the poodle can
kill before your arrows bring me down." Heero said calmly. Beside him,
Trowa tensed, ready to spring.
"You misunderstand me, your highness." The man nodded at his men.
Who all twitched their crossbows to point straight at Trowa.
"It so happens we need you alive. Your servant, however... "
Trowa opened his mouth but whatever he was about to say was cut short
by the crunch of Heero's sword dropping into the dry leaves of past autumns
that carpeted the alpine forest.
"Drop your weapons, Trowa." He said quietly, and moved in front of his
friend to stand between him and the bolts. "If you're smart-," he added,
his eyes on the crossbows but talking to the leader of the small pack,
"-you will realize that taking me alive and keeping me that way are two
different things. I'll only cooperate if Trowa comes with us, unharmed."
Trowa's swords dropped into the forest one by one, reluctant and heavy.
One of their attackers darted from his horse, shoved the auburn-haired
man to his knees and pressed a dagger to Trowa's throat.
"Boss?" He snarled. His eyes were wild with blood lust, darting from Heero
to his leader to the corpses of the other bandits scattered like the debris
of a dead season in a circle around them. A thin droplet of blood ran
down Trowa's neck. Green eyes were calm and seemed unconcerned.
"Tie them both up. I don't want any more trouble." The leader was biting
the thick salt-and-pepper moustache that hung like worn rope above his
mouth. He didn't look happy about it either, but Heero's scowl confirmed
that without a hostage he would be a lot of trouble indeed.
The man behind Trowa growled and continued to hold the dagger ready as
another man approached them and nervously tied Heero's hands behind his
back. Then Trowa was shoved to his feet and given the same treatment.
The two men exchanged one glance. That was all that was needed.
They would cooperate, for now. But they knew that help was already on
Duo was staring fixedly at the left ear of the master of ceremonies while
cleaning his fingernails with his dagger. He found this helped people
get to the point a lot faster. It was nice to have a reputation as the
crazed sorcerer-king of Lin sometimes. Already the man had stopped pestering
him about the order of precedence of guests and the importance of wearing
sable robes instead of black leather pants, and was now going through
the plans for the rest of the ceremony with commendable speed. In fact
he was going a bit red in the face. Maybe Duo should remind him to breathe
once in a while. But if he didn't maybe the man would pass out and then
Duo would be able to shorten and simplify the ceremony of the first circle
even more. Anything to make this less of a circus...
He tried to feel angry with Heero for ditching out today. But the heir
of Sanq had been a trooper for an entire week now, and really, he deserved
a break. Duo had grown up partly in Lin and could manage the court duties
if he had to. Heero had grown up with Jay, whose idea of ceremony was
eating with a fork. This was all alien to Heero, and probably very, very
boring. Duo hadn't made much of a fuss when his husband had given some
really lame excuse and headed out for the woods at daybreak with only
the silent Trowa for company. Really, the only annoying thing was that
he'd not been able to go with them.
He was bored, and sick and tired of organizing the first ceremony and
this was only the start of the whole circles ritual-
Duo perked up as the door crashed open and one of the guards stationed
there fell in a dazed heap right next to the master of ceremony who dropped
all twelve of his elaborate scrolls in a frantic fountain of paper. Yay,
Duo had his dagger and blasts ready, but was stunned at what he saw as
the door swung open wider. No fiend from hell or assassin to blast into
small lumps of soot. Instead... Duo trotted over to the door, curious
to see why the normally gentle Quatre was apparently trying to throttle
one of the king's guards.
"Duo!" Quatre had two small red spots at the top of his cheekbones, echoing
the burn in his eyes. His face was far from the sweet, gentle youth Duo
was vaguely aware of as an apparently indispensable accessory to Trowa.
"Yes?" Duo leaned against the doorjamb expectantly.
"Come with me at once. Bring Chang Wufei and your guard." Quatre snapped.
He'd apparently forgotten his elbow pressed against the guard's windpipe.
Duo guessed that the guards had tried to bar the throne-room to the young
man, who was no-one as far as they were concerned, only to find that he
might look harmless but he'd been training with Heero and Trowa for five
years and it showed. In the way he handled his two curved shotel and fists,
and also, Duo reflected, in the way he tended to bypass arguments and
go straight for the jugular when he needed to.
"Sure thing!" Duo nodded enthusiastically, grabbed his cloak from an open-mouthed
courtier, gave the trembling master of ceremony a friendly nod and gestured
to Quatre, who was staring at him.
"Lead on. Wuffee is on leave - Sally made some pretty nasty threats if
I didn't give him a break- but I'm sure I can find a few guys to come
with us. The one you're strangling might do for a start."
Quatre's head snapped back towards the guard, then he blinked, gasped
and let the man go. The guard staggered and slid down the doorjamb, wheezing
"Or maybe not. Come on, then, let's go find someone else. Are we going
to need horses?" Duo hopped over the legs of the guard and trotted down
the corridor, heading outside.
"... Yes... " Quatre was staring at him oddly. If he expected Duo to protest,
or ask him where they were going, or why, then he'd misjudged just how
bored Duo was at that point. Plus, for the gentle young man to lose his
temper like that, it was probably important.
In the courtyard, two dozen Maguanacs were saddling horses.
"Do we need more guards?" Duo asked surprised. "I seem to recall these
guys are quite efficient."
"You-... don't you want your own guard to come with us?" Quatre had been
visibly prepared to barge in on Duo, argue with him angrily, maybe drag
him out bodily whatever opposition he raised, and was reeling slightly
as a result of the king's immediate compliance.
"Nah, they just tend to fuss." Duo grabbed one of the spare horses the
burly Saoun men were holding and vaulted into the saddle. Wufei would
have kittens when he found out about all this, but he was used to that.
"Come on, before some other bureaucrat tries to burry me in paper."
"Don't you want to know where we're going?" Quatre finally burst out as
he quickly swung into his own saddle.
"It's bound to be more interesting than here." Duo grinned. "And I like
"You might not like this one. But it's probably for the best, we don't
have time to deal with you setting fire to things yet."
Duo stared at Quatre's back as the young man spun the horse around, concentrated
for a few seconds, his eyes vague, and spurred his horse towards the South
gates of Linheights. That had sounded... a bit ominous. Duo clicked his
tongue and his horse trotted, then galloped after Quatre. Maybe he should
be asking a few questions after all...
Heero judged they were over half a day's ride from Linheights, which wasn't
that far at all from a city full of sorcerers. No wonder their captors
seemed to be in such a hurry. These men were from Lin and they'd just
captured their King's husband. Lin had a no-nonsense approach to crimes
of high treason. It involved execution methods that would make a fiend
They were being led to the central hall of a holt, a fortified group of
buildings perched on a rocky outcropping between two crags. Heero's eyes
scrutinized every inch of the grey stone buildings around him, looking
for a banner, heraldry, any kind of clue to the identity of the person
who had captured them. The buildings were devoid of any trace of luxury,
and there were no families. The only women he could see were rangy soldiers
or camp followers. There were about fifty armed bodies in all, from what
he could see, men with shifty eyes leering at him, or sharpening disparate
weapons, or drinking sullenly on dirty stoops. This probably wasn't a
military outfit or a proper camp, just the hide-out of some bandit lord.
They were close to the border of Kespar and the baronies of Sansbury here,
he would lay odds this was a raider, living off the occasional pillage
on villages in the kingdoms around them. Heero scowled. What possible
reason could small-time fry like that have to capture him?
The hall they were lead to was dark, lit only by the firepit and some
flickering torches. The stone walls were bare of any decoration. Several
wooden tables indicated this was the common room and dining hall. Only
two people occupied it at present. A man was seated in a high-backed chair
behind a table on a slightly raised dais. He was thin, gaunt, in his late
forties, sallow face shrunken and dull. His clothes were typical for a
minor sorcerer-warlord, a mixture of light armor and tough leathers, with
no scabbard or weapon belt. Heero noted that the clothes appeared several
sizes too large for the man, and momentarily wondered if this was
in fact the boss of the bandits. The way the leader of his captors acknowledged
the man with a stiff nod confirmed it though.
The boss appeared not to notice them. He didn't even lift his eyes from
the dishes before him. Half the plates were empty, and there were quite
a few of them, Heero noted. The raider lord was eating rapidly and without
visible pleasure; meats, bread, cheeses, pastries, it didn't seem to matter.
A very thin, indeed malnourished, woman was at his elbow, staring hungrily
at him and the food, though she made no move towards either, merely leaned
against the high-backed chair as if she required the support. She wore
a limp russet dress, also too large for her, which plunged down to show
prominent bones rather than cleavage. Her hair was black and as limp as
her dress. Her eyes were huge in her sunken face, as she slowly lifted
them towards the captives.
"You got him then." The bandit lord suddenly said, his eyes flickering
up then back to his food. He stopped eating but his hands clenched and
twitched as if he wanted to continue with the overcooked ham he'd been
tearing into with his fingers when they'd entered.
"Yes sir, the information was correct; he left early this morning with
only his man-at-arms for protection." From the sound of it, their captor
had not quite believed that until he'd seen it. Princes were supposed
to have a few more layers of defense around them. Heero wished he'd had.
"We used scrying to follow them as soon as they left Linheights, and attacked
them when they turned to go back. They... proved somewhat difficult to
capture. I lost some men." The voice was tight and the big muscles clenched.
Heero wondered briefly where they'd gotten their information from. Who
had told them that he was leaving Lingheights today with only Trowa, but
had not bothered to tell them that he wasn't a, what was it, a poodle?
Or had their spy not known either? That was likely. Very few people, even
in Linheights, knew that Duo's former dour captain Yuy and his new husband,
Heero, prince of Sanq, were one and the same person.
"What do you want with me?" Heero asked calmly. He doubted the man would
give him all that much information, but it was worth a shot.
The leader stared at him blindly. His hands crawled back to the ham again,
spiders in taut skin escaping his control. His eyes looked feverish, darting
from his prisoner to the laden table. He didn't look entirely sane, but
Heero had yet to meet a Lin sorcerer who was, and that, he thought with
a small internal grimace, included Duo and himself.
"When can you move him out?" The lord asked his captain, ignoring Heero.
The burly man shrugged. "Nightfall. He was supposed to be gone all day,
it will be awhile before he's missed. If we move him out tonight it will
be soon enough, and make it less likely we'll be scryed."
"Where are you taking me?" But no one answered him.
"Are you sure Maxwell won't be able to track him here?" The captain said
carefully, his head slightly down as if ready to fearfully bear the brunt
of a storm. All the men seemed afraid of their Lord, watching him carefully.
Once more, quite normal for Lin. "Will they be able to follow us to the
rendez-vous?" The bandit lair was a pitiful rampart against an attack
by the forces of Lin. The mountainous country had a rather hands-off approach
to what its citizens did to eke a living out of the harsh environment.
Raiding neighboring countries was considered an acceptable career path,
as long as you paid your taxes and didn't get noticed. Making away with
the heir of one country and the husband of the king of their own land
was definitely going to get them noticed.
"I'm sure." Thin dry lips twitched, then teeth ground into them as if
they could no longer wait for food anymore. "His presence here is undetectable,
and he's no magic user, he won't have left any tracks. Once we reach our
destination, they will make sure that Maxwell won't follow until they're
ready for him. Take him away, and make sure he's unharmed. What's the
other one doing here?" The lord's eyes blank gaze hovered over Trowa as
he spoke through ham and bread his hands had caught and crammed into his
mouth as if taking advantage of his distraction.
"Hostage. To keep him quiet."
"Is that necessary?"
"Yes." The captain growled, reluctantly.
"Well pack them out together, and the buyers can decide what to do with
him." The lord nodded dismissal and his eyes dropped to his plates again.
The woman gave Heero one last lingering look, something flickering in
her blank gaze. It looked like surprise. Heero scowled at her and she
looked down quickly again.
Then hard hands were pulling him and Trowa away, their questions unanswered.
[chap. 3] [chap. 5] [back
to Maldoror's fic]