Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 9
The Lodge

A twelve year old boy occasionally needs a measure of independence. Being a prince does not make that less true. So Odin and Maxwell did no more than heave a sigh as they watched their charges escape over the horizon. The king's hunting wood was safe enough, and the boys were excellent horse riders. The men spurred their horses a bit and followed the trail the princes had left with resignation. They would scold them when they caught up with them -this was expected, it wouldn't be half as fun if it wasn't against the rules- but they wouldn't really mean it.

Heero outpaced Duo's laughter, keeping his head low as his horse plunged through trees. He was normally the cooler head of the pair but he was also twelve and full of energy, and a rare excited smile curled his lips as the branches of trees whipped past and the speed of the race made him breathless. He burst into the clearing, took in the sight in an instant, and pulled his horse up so abruptly that Duo almost crashed into him.

Both horses danced and pawed, and Heero let loose a few words he'd picked up in the soldier's training ground when Odin hadn't been around. Duo snickered.

"Why did you stop?" Duo shouted. Heero finally managed to get his horse under control. Duo's was still spooked.

"Oh." The long-haired boy added as he took in their surroundings. They were in a clearing. At the centre of which stood a long-abandoned hunting lodge.

Both boys slid from their horses in silence. They hesitated, then looped the harnesses over a tree at the edge of the clearing and walked towards the structure. Boards had rotted, nails had rusted, structures had caved in, but the roof and pillars still looked solid. It was dark and dusty inside, cobwebs and dust caught and smeared what little light fell into the clearing. A rotten leather tether, once meant to attach hunting dogs to a hitching post, creaked back and forth, the only sound and movement. A light smell of smoke with some unpleasant scorched herbal undertone floated in the air, overlaying the smell of earth, trees and dust.

Any twelve year old would have felt a thrill at finding something so spooky while they were alone. But the boys' feelings ran much deeper than that. Memories stirred bringing dread to the surface, and they found themselves holding hands.

"Heero!" Duo hissed, as his cousin took two steps forwards as if he'd been shoved. Heero blinked, frowned. His next step was more deliberate. They were still holding hands, Duo was tugged forward as well.

"Hey, Heero? I'm the curious one, right, but that place - er- ", he couldn't bring himself to admit it gave him the screaming wiggins, "-it don't look safe. Maybe we should-"

Closer now, they could see deeper into the darkness. There was a brazero at the centre of the hut.

It was lit, smoking slightly. Next to it was a tall cloaked figure.

Duo yelped and shied away as Heero took another bold step forward. Their arms tugged, then their fingers were slipping apart. Duo felt a wrenching heart-rending feeling of loss and separation when he saw his empty fingers falling back from Heero's hand, and he knew then where they were, why this place chilled them so much. For one moment of pure illogical terror he knew who the figure near the brazero had to be as well, but that was impossible, she'd died several years before...

The figure moved forward. And something behind it, a huge misshapen black shadow against the far wall, moved forward as well, with a creaking complaint of boards from the lodge floor, and a sound like wet leather...

*

Back in the palace of Sanq, Zechs was studying several reports on border activity to the north, when he felt a presence behind him. His mind had barely registered that no one had knocked or been showed in, his body had already reacted, sending his chair crashing. His sword, which he always wore even in days of peace, was out of its scabbard and between him and danger.

"Well your majesty, I'm glad to see the years have not made you rusty. But your sword isn't pointed towards the right target right now."

Zechs gasped at the man who had managed to get through his city walls, his guard and his palace unnoticed. "J-Jay? Master Jay?"

"I'm also glad you still recognize me, or we'd be wasting a lot of time. And we don't have any. Instead of waving that thing around, grab a mage shield and get us a couple of horses. We need to be twelve miles from here, and we need to be there five minutes ago."

"What? Just a minute, why should-"

"Your little princes are in serious danger."

"This way!" Zechs snapped, running towards the door, mind on the shortest route to the armoury and stables.

[chap. 8] [chap. 10] [back to Maldoror's fic]