Scars on the
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
Every night in my
I see you, I feel you
That is how I know that you go on
- Celine Dion, 'My Heart Will Go On'
Note to the unwary reader: I detest Celine Dion's songs, especially this one. Read on, and you will get the irony.
Celena had the clothes she had fallen asleep in last night; she had the sword at her belt. It was good to take stock like this; it helped you plan. She did not have anything to eat or drink, any money or any warm or weatherproof clothing. That was okay. Dilandau had had a little wilderness survival training, and Celena certainly did not intend to do anything stupid like drink puddle water or go to a tavern and order food she couldn't pay for.
She had simply walked out of the house. Very quietly, around one-thirty in the morning, with her mother's most solid walking boots in her hands. No-one had noticed her; they must all have been in bed, or at least in their rooms, because she could faintly hear music and voices coming from the guest quarters where the men of the Crusade had been billeted. Someone could play the guitar. She had found her way to the front door, undone the bolt and let herself out; that simple. It seemed irresponsible to leave the door unlocked, but there were, after all, several strong men in the house. She had continued to walk quietly in stocking feet until she judged herself out of earshot of the house, well into the woods. Then she put the boots on and ran.
She wasn't as strong as Dilandau had been; she knew that, but it was still surprising and frustrating to find herself tired so soon. It probably didn't help that it was the kind of late at night that has become early in the morning, and that she had not eaten lunch because she was crying so hard and despising herself for crying, it had to be the hormones because Dilandau would rather have died than blubbed like that, and that she had only eaten about half a dinner because she had remembered her resolution to take care of her new body but had had very little appetite. There was nothing wrong with her muscles; they actually seemed quite sturdy. She just lacked energy right now. The food had been brought up to her room. There had been a note on the tray from Allen, in dapper copperplate writing, saying he hoped she was feeling better and would see her in the morning.
And she had looked at the note, so calm and kind, so reasonable and patient, perfectly willing to overlook the day's unpleasantness, and thought 'Stuff it.' After dinner she made herself go to sleep, and made herself wake up around one-thirty. Another handy-dandy skill from the Dragonslayers, so useful in the life of the modern young lady. And she had gone. That was that.
Celena was walking now, but determined to keep going. As the sky lightened, she stumbled into a small gully with a creek running through it. Because it was convenient to have a direction laid out for her, she followed the watercourse, watching it get broader and shallower. And then the creek turned a corner, and she followed, pushing her way through some shrubs, and she found herself standing at the back of a beach, with an unrivalled view of the sun rising over the sea. The creek ran down through the sand to join the ocean in a wide curving sweep. The sand was white and powdery. Celena climbed a dune and sat down to watch the sun the rest of the way up.
It was a deeply peaceful scene. No buildings were visible from here, although you could see the small cloud of seabirds that always circled over Pallas, and if you wanted to, you could imagine yourself in a pre-human world, where the sun and moons would rise and set forever with no-one to give them names or number the days. It must be... well, it must be past the middle of Indigo now, so next month would be Red, and she would have a birthday. Summer wouldn't last much longer after that. Celena stared out over the sea, sparkling wet silver like a fish's belly, with her legs drawn up in front of her and her chin on her knees. Despite the invigorating sea air, she was beginning to feel sleepy. Probably no-one would find her before she wanted to be found.
She had no particular plan for the next few hours or days; nor, for that matter, did she have any sense of what the rest of her life was likely to contain. To be honest, she would probably go back to Allen's house after a while, but she had to want to do that first and she did not want to yet. The sun was well up now, and she decided that sleep would be a Good Thing. Amid the dunes were shady hollows filled with sea lupins and dry golden grass whose star-shaped seed-heads dropped off from time to time, and bowled over the sand with the wind. Celena settled down in one of these, and let the hollow fill with sleep until she was immersed.
This had been a mistake. The nightmare was upon her again. It had come every night; she had not remembered it in the mornings but as soon as she was in it again, she knew of all the other times she had been in it, knew she had not been able to escape or improve things then, and that she would not be able to do it now. She was helpless.
The first thing was darkness, as thick and stifling as a black velvet blindfold. The next was pressure, all over her body, but feeling worst on her chest, where her heart beat and her lungs creaked against a weight she could not bear or believe. The next was the stink, and the wetness, and the knowledge.
She lay under the piled bodies of the Dragonslayers. Chesta, Gatti, Biore, Migel, Dalet, Guimel, all of them, a heap of broken flesh and bone with all the heaviness of death. Corruption dripped from them and splashed around her. Not on her. She could not see, could not move, because she was bound face to face, limb to limb, with the body of Jajuka. Cold, harsh, dead fur smothered her face. They were on the abandoned battlefield. She did not know which field, where; it was just the battlefield. They were all the same place after a while. This was the punishment for traitors.
She could see nothing, but she could hear the high singing of many flies. She could feel the soft nuzzling of maggots against her despairing flesh. The smell was almost solid. Her heart was beating along the old scar, Dilandau's scar, but she was Celena, and the mark was upon her. She felt the skin of her cheek grow tighter and hotter and then it cracked and warm foulness dribbled into her ear and ran down her neck. She was rotting away while still alive.
The nightmare rode her, crushing her down into darkness and pain and fear until she did not know what she was or who she had been. She had always been pain and panic and guilt and shame. And still her heart beat, and still she lived as she underwent the pains of death.
After a time, the darkness of the nightmare dissolved into the harmless darkness of deep sleep, and Celena slipped into the safety of nothingness.
When she woke up, it was full, bright day, probably early afternoon. Seabirds mewed and wheeled in the sky above her, and she could hear the breakers roaring softly. Celena sat up with a little discomfort, and found that she had sweated heavily in her sleep, again. She wondered if she were sickening for something. At any rate, she had to pee, quite urgently. She made use of another hollow for that before heading down to the beach proper, and meandering towards the rocks at one end. This involved crossing the creek, and taking off her mother's boots. The cold water and swirling sand felt good under her feet. If you stood still in the flow, she discovered, you would sink down as the sand was carried away, heels downmost, until you were buried up to the ankles. Then you could pull yourself out, against surprising, sucking resistance, and find a new place to stand and let it happen again. This kept her amused for several minutes before she continued on her way.
The rocks were large, flat slabs of some pale grey stone. Here and there you could see the petrified ghost of some old sea creature in their surfaces. Celena found a good one, warm and smooth, which overhung a small rock pool, and lay on her belly gazing down into the tiny world that existed calmly a few feet away from breaking waves. There was a sort of small lagoon formed by a rough circle of rocks. Water from the ocean could run in and out through the spaces between them but the water inside was much calmer. The rock pool, at the very edge, was warm and glassy. She grew very still, until she felt like part of the stone herself. Oddly, she did not feel very hungry or thirsty today, so nothing disturbed her until the mermaid breached and hauled herself onto the rock beside her.
Each noticed the other immediately, and stared, but neither moved. The mermaid seemed to be hoping that if she kept very still she might somehow be removed from Celena's field of vision, and she would conclude that she had imagined the mermaid and wander off. Celena simply did not want to make the mermaid run away ... swim away, she corrected herself. There had been mermaids in some of her mother's stories, but for some reason she had never known they were real people. This one had long turquoise hair, and a beautiful, sad face, with eyes like green glass.
'Don't be afraid,' Celena said softly. 'I won't bother you.'
'Have you seen him?' the mermaid asked. Her voice was high and musical and chattering, like a dolphin's.
'I'm looking for my love he lived in the air but he found me on the land perhaps I can find him again. He set me free when I wanted to belong to him.' The mermaid mournfully pulled a hand through the tangles of her hair.
'I'm trying to get free from someone who thinks I belong to him,' Celena said. 'Well, in a way I do. We belong to each other. But he doesn't want me to be the way I am.'
'Is he your love?' the mermaid asked.
'No such luck,' Celena replied. 'He's my brother.'
'I only have sisters,' the mermaid said.
'Do they try to tell you what to wear and scold you like a child in front of people you were just getting to like you?' Celena asked.
'They swim, and sing, and drown men,' the mermaid said, matter-of-factly. 'I don't want to drown my love. I want him to swim with me. I would give him gills and fins and make him a merman.'
'Were you ever anyone else?' Celena asked. The conversation made little enough sense as it was, so she might as well speak her mind, because nothing made less sense than that. 'And then you were yourself again, and you could still remember what it was like to be the other person but you didn't have the same thoughts and feelings any more, so you and the person you used to be were all jumbled up in one mind?'
The mermaid looked at her blankly. 'I suppose that is kind of unique to me,' Celena said.
'If you see my love, will you tell him I'm looking for him?' the mermaid begged.
'I don't know his name or where he lives or what he looks like,' Celena said. 'I'm sorry, but I don't think I'll be able to recognise him.'
'Oh, you will,' said the mermaid with perfect conviction. 'Because he is the most wonderful, beautiful man in the world.' And with that she slipped off the rock and into the water and only a rippled smudge of colour could be seen, streaking away out of the lagoon, and a wet patch on the rock where she had rested, rapidly drying in the sun..
'Well,' said Celena to the world in general, 'she was weird.' The mermaid had made her feel lonely for human company. She wondered how she was going to spend the rest of the day, how she would fill the days to come. She'd have to get food from somewhere, and she still didn't have a plan for that. She didn't like the idea of killing anything, although she knew she could do it, and probably quite efficiently. She wanted to sleep again. It was a form of hiding. Even if, in the halfway moment between asleep and awake, she felt a fear she could not explain. Sleep, and let hours of life disappear without you doing a thing. Sleep, even if your body is not tired.
And so she returned to her hollow in the dunes, and made herself comfortable once more. Sleep came so easily these days. Just on the other side of her eyelids in the dark.
She was awake, and it was dark, and she was not alone. Someone was bending over her and had his hands on her shoulders. Holding her down. It was as natural as breathing; she screamed 'Get OFF!' and kicked upward, caught him somewhere soft and middling, heard the breath rush out of his body and kicked again, taking his feet out from under him and rolling swiftly so that he did not fall on top of her. She grabbed for her sword and found to her horror that the belt clip had come undone and it was still lying where she had been sleeping. The man lunged up out of the hollow and grabbed her hands; she promptly hit him between the eyes with her own forehead. The result was that they were both dazed. Celena tried at least to pull out of his grip.
'Will you stop it? I'm not going to hurt you!' the dark man said angrily. 'An inch lower and you'd have broken my nose.'
'Gaddes?' Celena said in disbelief. It was a moonless night and it was impossible to make out his features, but the voice was distinct. 'Is that you?'
'I wish it wasn't.'
'What were you doing?'
'Trying to wake you up without startling you. That was a good joke.' He let go of her hands and sat down on the sand, rubbing his forehead.
'What are you doing here?'
'The Boss sent everyone out looking for you. It's pure luck that I found you. They're doing an aerial search with Crusade too, but they wanted beaters on the ground to flush you out.' It was hard to tell, but she thought he smiled when he said that.
'He didn't have to go to all that trouble,' Celena said stiffly.
'Crap. You know him a little by now. What did you think running away was going to achieve?'
'Nothing,' Celena admitted, sitting down beside him. 'I wanted to be by myself for a while, and choose where I would go, and I wanted to upset him a bit.'
'Right, because you hadn't done that already.'
'He was unfair.' Celena pushed her hands into the night-cold sand. 'Didn't you think he was unfair?'
'I think perhaps he was a little hard on you.'
'He doesn't tell me what his expectations are and then he goes off pop when I let him down,' Celena went on.
'Think about how he feels.' Gaddes felt he was well outside his area of expertise here, but this seemed like a safe thing to say.
'I don't know how he feels, except he says he loves me and I don't think he likes anything about me.'
'Of course he likes you.'
'He thinks I'm weird.'
'Please don't be offended, but I'm sure you can see that you are a bit weird. It's your circumstances.'
'I'm unnatural.' She sounded almost tearful.
'Something unnatural happened to you. It wasn't your fault. They did it to you.' He realised as he said this that he believed it. He had started out just trying to comfort her, but it rang true in his ears. The girl couldn't be blamed. Dilandau was another matter.
'You like me, don't you? I thought you liked me yesterday.'
'Well, yes, I did.'
'Have you gone off me, then?' Spoken very softly and sadly.
'Well, I'm not thrilled with you for kicking me in the guts and breaking my head, but I think I still like you. What did you hit me with, anyway? It felt like solid rock.'
Celena giggled weakly. 'It was my head.'
'Of course it was my head. You were holding both my hands. What else could I have hit you with?'
'I'm not prepared to guess.'
'Celena Schezar, the girl with the Head of Stone.' She giggled again, with a little more spirit, but then she sighed. 'What are you going to do now?'
'Take you home, of course. The Boss is beside himself.'
'I don't want to go yet.'
'You'd rather hang around here?'
'Until morning? Please?'
'It'll take us a few hours to walk back, even going directly,' Gaddes complained.
'Exactly. And it'll be hard to find the way in the dark. We should both get some sleep.'
'I don't want to force you to come with me.'
'Of course not,' Celena said, crawling back down into the hollow. 'So don't.' She curled up, closed her eyes and waited to see what would happen. There was a pause, then a sigh, before Gaddes followed, and somewhat to her surprise, lay down with his back against hers. He felt large and warm and solid, a sort of living wall.
'In the morning,' Gaddes said, 'we are going straight home. I'm only letting you talk me into this because I've been looking for you all day and I'm tired. And if you're smart, you'll put on a dress and apologise to your brother.'
'You don't speak to me very respectfully any more,' Celena said sleepily.
'I'm very sorry, Celena-hime.'
'Go to sleep, Gaddes-ouji.' If he could be sarcastic, so could she.
'Good night, sweet prince, hmm?'
'Anything but sweet.'
'See you in the morning, princess.'
On the morning of her second day away from home, Celena Schezar woke up with sand in her left ear, which was, if nothing else, an uncommon way to begin the day. Both she and Gaddes had shifted position during the night, probably to keep warm. He had one arm around her; her head was on his chest. It was a position at which they had both arrived unconsciously, and thus nothing to be embarrassed or upset about, but the unaccustomed closeness of another body unsettled Celena. She wondered what would happen when Gaddes woke up. It was thoroughly comfortable to be held like this, at least.
She tilted her head and looked up at his face, bowed over her in another protective gesture. While Allen looked saintly in his sleep, like a marble statue on a tomb, Gaddes looked boyish, his slightly scruffy hair adding to this impression. It was only spoiled by the fact that he had missed a shave and it showed. She wondered if she should try to wake him. It would probably be a good idea. She took hold of the encircling arm and gave it a little shake.
'Gaddes.' He slept on. 'Gaddes, wake up, it's morning and we have to go home.' She jogged his arm again, and this time he woke up a little, blinked at her, said 'Sfar too early,' and closed his eyes again. After a moment he re-opened them.
'Sorry,' he said, 'I always have to have at least that moment of rebellion. I hate getting up.' He seemed entirely unconcerned about their position. Gaddes sat up, letting go of Celena so she slid back, stretched, little streams of sand running off his clothes, and yawned hugely. He looked down at Celena and rubbed some more sand out of the back of his hair. 'How'd you sleep?'
'Well. I think I slept really well. I don't feel tired any more, and I was still feeling tired in the mornings before.' Celena sat up and began her own de-sanding process.
'Tha's good,' he said, and yawned again, so widely that tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes. 'Better get going. It's a long walk, and I want food.' He got to his feet and discovered Celena's sword pressed into the sand in the depression his weight had made. 'I thought I was sleeping on something hard! Come on, then.' With that, he set off immediately over the dunes to the brink of the forest. Celena grubbed up her sword and scurried after him, trying to get it onto her belt while moving. Once in the forest, Gaddes looked around a little, found a blaze cut into a treetrunk which he must have made the night before, and started to walk purposefully.
'Wait a moment,' Celena said, hopping on one foot and pouring sand out of her mother's boot. He turned, stood still and watched until she was finished. His manner this morning was not unfriendly, but rather businesslike, and seemed strangely at odds with the apparent affection of the night. Of course, I don't know him well enough to judge what his 'normal' behaviour is like.
'How old are you, Gaddes?' she asked as she caught up with him and they started off again.
'Two years older than your brother.' Celena added it up mentally.
'Oh,' she said. Then, 'Why don't you just say "twenty-three"?'
'Sorry,' said Gaddes, 'it was automatic. In my home town, there's a sort of superstition that you don't say your age directly. You always pick a point of reference, like "I'm the same age as the new bridge" or "I'm five years younger than Josha." And if you want to be really cagey, you say "As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth."'
'I don't know why. It's a superstition. It's supposed to be bad luck. I don't especially believe in that, but when you grow up with people who do and that's how they always say their ages, you get into the habit.' Gaddes looked around again, found another blaze, and changed direction slightly.
'In Asturia, does fifteen still count as a child? In Zaibach, you're legally an adult at thirteen.'
'I don't think there's any actual law about it,' Gaddes said. 'Put it this way, if your parents were still alive, you'd be their responsibility unless you were married.'
'Maybe Allen is still thinking of me as a child, since that's what I was when I disappeared. Maybe he thinks there wasn't any in-between and I'm still like that inside.' Celena untucked her shirt and shook some more sand out of it.
'You're certainly not outside,' Gaddes commented. Celena felt a blush rising in her face and quickly looked away. 'I'd heard,' he went on, 'that before you changed back for good, you changed from Dilandau to ... well, you, and came to visit the Boss. And then you were like a child, one who couldn't talk yet and put things in her mouth.'
'But that's more childish than I was when they took me,' Celena said. 'I could talk just fine. I could tie my own shoelaces, I'll have you know. I can't really remember that. I have Dilandau's memories from either side of that time, but nothing during it. There are a few other gaps where I think my mind just got disconnected from my body, and my body went wandering on instinct. I don't remember anything from those times. And even Dilandau's memories from then are pretty confusing, because he was not in a stable mental state.'
'Was he ever?'
'He was very unhappy then,' Celena said slowly. This was another gas-bubble thought, but she was hoping she could ease it to the surface and let it disperse gently without bursting unpleasantly. 'He was lonely and confused and he was losing everything he depended on. There was a lot of physical pain nausea the body kept trying to change back by itself. There were pains in his joints, as though they were trying to come apart. And he'd been disfigured, and he was starting to find that he couldn't fight the way he always had. It was like he was losing himself as well. Before fighting was fire, and light, and a strong, pounding heartbeat, and knowing he was alive, and now there were times when he thought he'd drown in cold sweat, and he couldn't make himself move, and well, it was pretty terrifying.'
'And he went on destroying things and killing people,' Gaddes pointed out. 'Don't feel too sorry for him.'
'I don't feel sorry for him, but I understand him,' Celena said. 'I can't help that.'
'I feel sorry for you, then,' Gaddes said. 'I wouldn't want to share head-space with a maniac like that.' Celena looked up at him. Her expression was almost plaintive. Dappled green forest shadows shifted over it.
'I know you're not the same as him,' he said, relenting. 'I'm not accusing you. Anyway, Dilandau is dead and gone. End of story.'
'I think what people don't understand is ' Celena paused for a moment to put her thoughts in order. 'Dilandau is important to me. I don't mean I love him or like him or really have any clear feeling about him, just that, well, I wouldn't be who and what I am if he had never existed, so I can't just cut out that part of my life and throw it away. I've actually got more experience of being Dilandau than of being Celena. So I can't forget him, especially when I can remember everything he could remember.'
'That sounds reasonable,' Gaddes said.
'And that's what Allen wants, to forget about it or more to overlook it. Do you know he told me I shouldn't think about life in Zaibach? And the other day he sent me this little smooth note, like "well, that was unpleasant, but we'll pretend it didn't happen" and I thought "but I feel unpleasant. I'm not going to put it aside just because it doesn't work in your world." And it's as though people think of Zaibach as some kind of evil empire, and all right, we ... I mean they ... were doing some really bad things, but it wasn't full of evil people, it was full of ordinary people. And there were some really good things about Zaibach.' Her speech was getting less organised as she tried to put words around ideas that were more impressions and emotions than coherent thoughts.
'Still patriotic, hmm?'
'Well, there were there were the factories, and the farm mechanisation projects, and nearly full adult literacy. And full employment!'
'Ooh, even for illiterates?' Sarcastic again. Definitely not impressed.
'It was compulsory.' The words faded slightly as they came out of her mouth, lost their clarity and sureness.
'I thought it might be something like that.'
'Well, everyone had to make a contribution,' Celena said crossly. 'You don't modernise a practically mediaeval country in one man's lifetime without working hard.' It irritated her that Gaddes was looking so smug about not being from Zaibach, given the state of his own country. Of course, in a sense it was her country, more her country than Zaibach, since she had been born here.
'It was a pretty long lifetime, by all accounts. And I thought you said Zaibach wasn't evil?'
'I didn't say evil, I said mediaeval.'
'Only half evil?' Gaddes looked really puzzled. He knew he didn't understand what she meant, but he couldn't think what it might be.
'It means "of the middle ages."' Celena sought an explanation. 'It's in Comparative History. Lord Dornkirk always said that to work out the patterns of the future you have to look at how things went in the past. Not just the past here. He knew about history on the Phantom Moon, too, and the Middle Ages was a period one of their big continents went through after the Dark Ages, which came after the Roman Empire. They were very hot on the Roman Empire in school, because we had to learn why it was strong and why it failed, and how civilisation crashed and recovered afterwards. And we always had to apply what we were learning from history to present-day situations.'
'Like Zaibach being mediaeval?'
'Yes. Primitive. Fanelia is still a lot like that.'
'I always think Fanelia is quite a nice little place. Or it was.' Celena had nothing to say to that, so they walked on in silence for a minute or so.
'So he'd come into school and tell you this stuff personally?' Gaddes said suddenly. 'Dornkirk, I mean.'
'Good grief, no. The first time Dilandau saw him for real well, that was just this year, and that was projected on a screen. He'd seen his portraits, of course, they were all over the place. He always looked wise and kind. No, he wrote our textbooks. We had to work hard in the Dragonslayers, they had this thing about us being model citizens in every way. The sword and the book.'
'Do you know,' Gaddes said, 'you usually speak of Dilandau as "he," but you sometimes talk about "we" when you mean the Dragonslayers?' He was looking at her with one eyebrow raised. For no reason she could pinpoint, Celena felt caught out somehow.
'Well, I I get mixed up sometimes. But I'm sure I never say "I" when I mean Dilandau. Not any more.'
'No, you never do.'
'Well, then.' Suddenly, something hit Celena on top of her head, not painfully, but hard enough to startle her. Without needing to think about it, she drew her sword and shifted position, ready to fight. 'What was that!?'
Gaddes stared at her for a long moment. He seemed to be searching for words. No attack came.
'A, um, a bird,' he said, 'a bird went to the lavatory on your head.'
'It what?' Celena raised a hand to her head in disbelief, and touched something unpleasantly warm and sticky in her hair. She stared at the white mess on her hand. The sword dropped to the ground. 'Oh, shit!'
'Exactly!' Gaddes started to laugh.
'It's not funny!'
'Sorry, sorry.' He kept laughing. 'But you were ... you know, crouching like a panther, and ... and the look on your face when ...' He gave up trying to talk and laughed bent double, with his hands on his knees.
'If you can get this much amusement out of someone getting shat on, your life must be very sad,' Celena said, trying to get the cack out of her hair and off her hand at the same time.
'I know, isn't it tr-tragic?' Tears in his eyes now. 'Hey, don't wipe it off! It's meant to be good luck if that happens.'
'Good luck? You think it's good luck when something craps on you? I make my own luck!'
'How ungrateful, when the bird just made some for you!'
'Oh, stop it! Stop laughing at me!' She wasn't really mad; more pretending to be, though she wasn't sure why. She swatted at him with her clean hand. 'Cut it out!'
'Ow! Help! Vicious girl! What've you got against me, anyway?' He was grinning; this was another game, a friendly fight. She took another swipe at him and he caught her by the wrist and held tight. She was ready for that, and quickly reached up and dabbed the messy hand on his cheek.
'There, have some luck.'
'Oh, yuck! Thanks a lot.' He wiped his cheek with his free hand, then wiped the hand on his trouser leg. The other hand was still holding Celena's wrist, so she could not move away. She found that she didn't mind.
Their eyes met.
Something's going to happen, Celena thought. Her heart was beating wildly, the kind of thumping beat that for Dilandau meant he was about to have a damn' good fight. For her, now, she was unsure what it meant, but she would be happy to find out. Gaddes bent towards her, his face suddenly uncertain; almost preoccupied, but definitely focused on her. Of course. He's going to kiss me. Do I shut my eyes? I want to see, though
'Hey! Sarge! There you are! You found her!'
They both turned, almost guiltily, to see Teo stepping out of the underbrush. The big man was really a Melef pilot, although in armour he almost looked like a Melef himself. He was beaming all over his face. 'Gotta keep hold of her, huh?'
'Uh, yes,' said Gaddes. 'Never know what she'll try next.' He kept his hold on Celena's arm, stepped toward Teo, pulling her after him. 'Come on, young lady. Your brother will be worried about you.' Celena was speechless with indignation. What about my kiss?
'He's gone out in Crusade himself,' Teo reported. 'He's pretty upset all right. Come on. I've got a horse waiting near here, and I brought a spare one in case.'
'That's something,' Gaddes said cheerfully. 'We'll be home in no time.'
'No time' was two and a half hours. Celena spent the first hour sitting behind Gaddes on the spare horse trying to hang on around his waist. After that he declared that he couldn't take being squeezed much more, and made her move in front of him in the saddle. That way they were both squashed, but at least no-one looked likely to fall off.
'So that wonderful Zaibach education didn't include the noble art of horsemanship?'
'Dilandau was an ace pilot, not a cavalryman.' Celena shifted unhappily. 'This bump is digging right into me.'
'That is what is technically known as the pommel.'
'Oh, is that what you call it.'
'You'd rather ride sidesaddle?'
'God no, I really would fall off.'
Gaddes glanced over at Teo, who was riding several yards ahead of them. He leaned over Celena's shoulder and said in a whisper, 'You don't need to be angry with me. It wasn't my fault he came along then, and what was I supposed to do?'
'I don't wish to discuss it,' Celena said coldly.
'Fine,' said Gaddes, 'suit yourself.' He really sounded as though he didn't mind. Celena was dismayed. She was unclear about the rules of the game she was trying to play, but she was sure that wasn't how it was supposed to go. What was she supposed to do? The rest of the ride passed in silence, increasingly uncomfortable as the sun grew higher in the sky.
When they reached the house, it seemed deserted. Teo took the horses round to the stables, and Gaddes and Celena went in at the front door. Celena was walking awkwardly.
'I don't know how you stand it,' she said. 'That was the worst ride I've had in my life.'
'My lady?' Mackie ran into the entrance hall. 'You're safe! Thank goodness. I'll send the gardener to find Sir Allen.'
'Can the gardener fly?' Gaddes asked.
'No, Sergeant, the Crusade returned about an hour ago, and Sir Allen is searching the maze in case she went in there and got lost.'
'How silly does he think I am?' Celena wondered aloud. Then, 'There's a maze?'
'One of the best in the country, my lady,' said Mackie. 'It was installed five years ago as a gift from the Princess Eries.'
'Ooh,' said Celena. 'Could I have a look?' She loved mazes; always had. She was quite sure of that.
'No, you could not,' Gaddes said. 'You can go upstairs and get cleaned up and dressed. I've had about enough of you.'
'The feeling is mutual,' Celena said. She stalked off upstairs.
'And get the shite out of your hair!' Gaddes called after her. She didn't reply. He watched until she had rounded the bend at the top of the stairs and disappeared, then made his way to the guest quarters in the other wing of the house. He went into a bathroom, in a disgraceful state because someone, not appearing to realise that there were staff here who could do that sort of thing for him, had done his laundry in the bathtub. There was no hot water, so he filled a basin with cold, washed his face and made a gloomy attempt at shaving. While he was working at the difficult bit just under the nose, Baile wandered in, and seeing him, grinned.
'Heard you brought her back,' he said, and headed for the commode. Baile was the sort of man who didn't care what you saw him do, and would talk to you quite cheerfully all the time he did it. He dropped his pants and sat down. Great, thought Gaddes, a little more squalor in my day. Somehow he found this immeasurably more objectionable than what had happened with Celena.
'I just got back from a sweep of the fields and Teo told me. All right, Sarge!'
'Yeah, thanks,' said Gaddes, distractedly.
'The Boss'll be pleased.'
'It ought to make up for earlier.'
'You mean the fight?' Gaddes asked, rinsing lather off the razor. 'I think he realises that was nothing serious.'
'That's not the way I heard it,' Baile said.
'And what did you hear?'
'I heard that you were doing the nasty with his sister and he caught you on the job. You two had a big fight and she got upset and that was why she took off. You were gone for a while. Didn't hurry to bring her back once you found her, huh?' Baile leered.
'We were "doing the nasty"?' Gaddes repeated incredulously. 'How old are you?'
'You wouldn't tell me yours, I'm not going to tell you mine. I'm sowwy, did I offend your dewwicate sensibiwwities? Perhaps you were "making love"?'
'Look,' said Gaddes, 'your smutty little vocabulary aside, we did not do anything like that.'
'Well, that's just what I heard.'
Gaddes looked at himself in the shaving mirror. He had missed a bit on his neck. 'What happened was Celena challenged me to a fencing match, sort of a joke, and while that was going on the Boss turned up and got angry because, well, it wasn't very ladylike. That's what he got upset about, that's why she left. You want romance? Today she slapped bird's do on my face.'
'Jeez. Still, what can you expect? We all know what she is.'
'You think so?'
Baile looked as severe as a man sitting down with his trousers around his ankles can. 'Once one of them, always one of them, I say.'
'Yes, but by that argument she was always one of us.' Gaddes shot Baile a look via the mirror, which Baile returned with one of blank incomprehension.
'Anyway, I'm glad you didn't do her. It would be a bit weird. She's not like a proper girl, is she? If that was the sort of thing you went after, I think me and the boys would be walking around with our backs to the wall a lot more.'
'You know, with a logical mind like yours, Baile, you're wasted on the army. They need you in a university.'
'You wound me, Sarge.'
'Good. Look, don't spread that rumour any further. And if you hear anyone else repeating it, tell them the truth. Her reputation is in enough trouble without that. That's a direct order.' Gaddes dried his face on a towel.
Gaddes went to the door, then turned back. 'And Baile, I really don't want to see you on the can again. There's such a thing as too much camaraderie.' Out in the corridor again, he headed for his own room to change his clothes. A bit weird. Not like a proper girl. It was true. Still
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