Scars on the
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
The door opened in a way that suggested hesitation on the part of the opener. A small, furry face gave Gaddes a look of the severe 'how do I know you're not a murderer or an encyclopaedia salesman?' variety.
'Who shall I say is calling?' Aruetta enquired.
'Gaddes,' Gaddes said, 'Gaddes to see Celena Schezar, if that's all right.'
This produced an unexpected reaction; the cat girl gave a sort of gasp of laughter and smothered it with her hands. 'I'll tell her you're here,' she said, and slammed the door.
'What the hell was that all about?' Gaddes asked the doorknob. He looked down at himself; as far as he could tell, he was no more than usually disreputable. Admittedly, it was his first time visiting a princess' apartments, and perhaps there was something you were supposed to say or do that he didn't know about. Maybe it was the hair. He just knew it had been a mistake to try to look sharp ... probably overdid the pomade. There was a picture hanging on the wall by the door with an unusual frame: it was made of mirror glass. With a brief grateful thought directed at whatever god oversees this sort of serendipity, Gaddes checked himself out, decided he looked like a smarmy git, and quickly pushed his fingers through his hair until it looked like it belonged to him again.
He was mildly embarrassed by his own wish to impress, or to please Celena; when he was younger he had always believed you grew out of that kind of desperation. Apparently not. At least he had learned that telling stories about times when he was incredibly brave or clever didn't work nearly as well as telling stories in which he looked a bit of a fool, but a nice one. Men like the Boss got sighs of admiration; Gaddes was actually quite happy about getting laughs as long as the end result was the same. Still, what kind of end result was he hoping for here?
The door opened again and the blonde cat girl caught him staring at himself. She gave him a very bright-eyed smile and said 'She'll see you now.'
She showed Gaddes into a high-ceilinged room decorated in yellow and white, where Celena was sitting cross-legged on a sort of stool-cushion thing, wearing an outfit she must have borrowed from the princess; a pinkish-white blouse and those tight black trousers worn with a sort of tied-on skirt over them. It had always looked to Gaddes as though the princess was wearing an apron backwards, and it was strange to see Celena dressed just like her. Now that he thought about it, except for the party dress, whenever he'd seen her she'd been wearing borrowed clothes. Always some kind of temporary arrangement. That couldn't be helping her settle down.
She didn't look settled now, either, but nervous and embarrassed. Almost shy.
'Hello,' she said, and opened her mouth as if to say something else, but shut it again. She shot a look at the cat girl.
'Ooh, you want to be alo-one.' Aruetta fluttered her eyelashes at the two of them and grinned. Celena cringed. 'Sorry. I still have to at least stay in the same room as you. You're on thin ice with the King, young lady. But never let it be said that I stand in the way of true love ... I'll go and sit in the window seat and lose myself in embroidery. I won't even notice unless you make a lot of noise.'
Apparently the hideous hot embarrassment when anyone made arch remarks about your courtship was not something you grew out of either. I'm getting enough of this from the crew, Gaddes thought. I can't take it from little furballs too. I could laugh it off in front of them, but Celena's here, and how would she feel?
From the look of her, she felt the same way he did. She blushed furiously, and took a swipe at the cat girl as she made her way past to the window seat. The girl dodged and laughed. 'Oh, you're embarrassed! It must be true!'
'Keep this up, and I'll show a certain someone your Allen Scrapbook,' Celena warned.
'You wouldn't!' Aruetta said, but looked uncertain. She hurried over to the window seat and started burrowing through a workbasket.
Celena looked at Gaddes, and made an isn't-this-awful face.
'Please sit down,' she said. 'Go on. If you keep standing up I'll have to get up too and Aruetta will tell on me to Princess Millerna, who says I've got to Keep Still and Rest. I'm going out of my skull. They wanted me to stay in bed, but I feel too well for that.'
'You look well! You look very well.' Oh, smooth. Very smooth. Gaddes sat down on a yellow chair and stood up again immediately, because he had sat on a book. 'Is this yours?' It was a hefty little tome with 'Elena' on the cover in gold block print.
'It's an old enemy,' Celena said. 'I'm planning to deface the engravings inside. Moustaches and spectacles, that kind of thing. It's an act of political protest.' She smiled and took the book from his hand. The smile seemed to make a lot of things better. Gaddes settled himself in the chair without further difficulty.
'So what's really been going on?' he asked. 'Are they treating you all right? What was the sealed-room business about?'
'I don't really know,' Celena said. 'I suppose they were trying to intimidate me. I think,' lowering her voice and glancing toward the window seat, 'Aruetta knows more about it than she's saying, but she seems all right except for that. In fact, she's really funny sometimes ... she talks like a courtesan and then when Allen came to see me yesterday she went all quiet and looked scared to death if he even spoke to her. He's in and out of here all the time now, and I'm getting good mileage out of teasing her about it.'
'And you really are all right? The Boss wouldn't tell me exactly what was wrong, but you were sick, weren't you?'
Celena tensed slightly, and for a moment it was as if a curtain twitched back and a miserable, worried face peeped out at him. It was gone almost before he could be sure he had seen it.
'It was, um, women's trouble,' she said. 'Over now! I'm fine, really. I guess I have to get used to things like that now. Women's trouble. The idea seems to be that it's troublesome just being a woman.' She smiled again, but it seemed a brittle smile. 'I'm sorry about Aruetta teasing us like that. I well, I told her I liked you, and she sort of seized on it and blew it up.'
'Oh, it's okay.' You told her you liked me? Just 'liked'? Or are you playing it down because she played it up, and the truth is in between?
There was a short silence, and as one sometimes does, Celena tried to break it by saying something, anything.
'You'll never guess what this thing I'm sitting on is called. It's a pouffe. Isn't that ridiculous? I've worked out why, too. Look.' She placed her hands on either side of the seat, then braced her arms and lifted her body a few inches so that her arms supported her weight. The cushioned top of the pouffe rose up from the depression her sitting on it had made. 'And listen.' She dropped back onto the seat, which did, indeed, go 'pouffe.'
'I've been playing little games like that all day, it's pathetic,' she said brightly. 'No other way to work off my energy! And they've been measuring me for new clothes, and I met my lawyer, Dryden Fassa, who by the way I get the impression Allen doesn't like much, so what's going on there?'
'Oh, it's complicated,' Gaddes said. The conversation was skittering about like a drop of water in a hot pan. 'It's got to do with your father, and the Boss feeling like Dryden showed him up and of course he's not happy about Dryden getting to marry Princess Millerna, even if that seems to have gone by the bye now. I think basically it's just a personality conflict. They're the sort of people who annoy each other.'
'They were married?'Celena repeated. 'Well, that explains a lot. She didn't want to stay in the room while we talked. I can't believe they were married. Isn't he funny? I liked him a lot, though.'
What must I sound like to him? Why can't I talk sensibly?I don't really know what I want to say. I'm prattling, that's what I'm doing. And my heart is beating stupidly hard and I wish we could just get out of this room. Gaddes was looking at her uncertainly. He doesn't like me any more. He thinks I'm an empty-headed little bunny and he's not interested. What can I do? What made him like me in the first place?Can I do it again?
'Have you done something different with your hair?' he asked abruptly.
My hair? He's thinking about my hair? What's wrong with it? 'It just seems to be growing very fast,' she said, and put her hand to her head as though to check on its progress. 'Allen says it's a family thing. I keep wondering if it's trying to catch up on all the growing it would have done if I hadn't been changed over, or something like that. I really want to get it cut short again.'
'It was nice short.' That's it, Celena resolved, if I have to cut it myself I'm going back to the old look. 'It's ... well, it's pretty like this too.'
I think I've mentally regressed to twelve, Gaddes thought. Can't I even manage a conversation? Why is it so hard to talk to her? The look on her face she doesn't look happy, for all she's smiling. The thought that had been sneaking up on him over the last few days elbowed its way to the front of his mind, and pointed out that he couldn't expect whatever he had been expecting, put a name on it if you want to, he couldn't expect her to fall in love with him. How could she know what it meant? In some ways she seemed totally naïve. And maybe it was just because we spent time together, and I was the only man she'd talked to properly besides her brother, and she thought herself into something she didn't really feel. I've done that. A few drinks help it along. Or getting out of the house and meeting other people, for that matter. Would she like Dryden? How can I tell, anyway? All his thoughts on the matter were uncertain and unsatisfactory; he felt wrong-footed and just plain dumb.
There was a longer pause, while the two of them tried to work out what the other was thinking, and drew unpleasant conclusions from the preoccupied expressions which were only the result of unsuccessful mind-reading. The silence deepened and deadened.
'Gawd, listen to the two of you,' Aruetta said. 'You're even worse talking than writing letters, Celena.'
'You weren't supposed to be listening!' Celena cried, spinning round to face her, which caused her to slither off the pouffe. She sat on the floor with her legs still hooked over the top of it and felt like no, she refused to feel like crying.
'Shit!' she exclaimed. 'Bugger, hell and damn.' Swearing felt much better. She looked up at Gaddes, whose face was making the transition from are-you-all-right to trying hard not to laugh. 'Balls and bullshit, while I'm at it,' she added. 'Go on, laugh at the foulmouth! Exactly how silly do I look?' Laughter was puffing up in her now, too. 'They shouldn't put me in nice princessy clothes like this, should they? I'm disgraceful!' Seeing him laugh, and knowing it was because of her, was such a comfort that she didn't want it to stop. She kicked over the pouffe and sat up properly. 'Won't you join me on the floor, sir? That's how we savages entertain guests. We can sit here and swap swear-words and, I don't know, play with matches or something. It's Bad Behaviour Day.' At this point she lost the power of speech and began to giggle helplessly.
'Stoppit,' Gaddes said, sitting down beside her and giving her a friendly shove in the shoulder, 'you're going to set me off.'
'What, giggling? Like a girly girl?' She shoved back, only to be caught and tickled.
Aruetta stared at them. They seemed to have forgotten she was there. Very strange couple, she decided. Very strange girl, certainly. She went back to cross-stitching pansies when the tickle fight ended, predictably, in surreptitious kisses and whispers. Childish, she thought with an agreeable sense of superiority. Still, if they're having fun, it's none of my business. Aruetta had had a lot of practise as a spy, but it was something she did out of talent and necessity, not because she especially enjoyed it. Cats didn't have to be curious just because of some old proverb. This assignment bothered her for the simple reason that she had begun to like Celena, and from what she knew of the case, it really didn't seem fair what they wanted to do to her. So, certainly, she would inform her superiors if Celena started stamping about saying 'it's a shame I didn't torch this whole city while I had the chance, that would have been great fun, also perhaps raped a few people and desecrated a church,' but if she wanted to sit on the floor and mess about in a fairly innocent way with her boyfriend, why, that was nothing to report at all.
Lucky girl, as well as strange. She has two friends at the palace, at least.
Celena was wondering if it was normal, while being kissed (and of course while kissing back) to think so much about how it felt. I seem to be the kind of person who analyses everything. Don't people sort of forget themselves at moments like this? But I'm very aware of myself, my breathing and how my heart is beating and hang on, where's his hand going? Good grief. Actually, I quite like that
They broke off rather guiltily when the sound of footsteps in the next room reached them. This is as bad as being fifteen again myself, Gaddes thought. What am I doing getting involved with a girl this age?
'Ssh,' Celena said. 'Who's out there?' She turned away from Gaddes to look at the door, and he realised that she was not just concerned about being caught with him; she looked really frightened. He felt a twitch of anger at that; that she should have to live in fear.
'I simply don't understand why you've done it. What possible good can it do?' said a slightly muffled voice in the next room.
'That's Allen,' Celena whispered, unnecessarily, because everyone in the room knew his voice perfectly well.
'I was under the impression that truth was innately good,' said a woman's voice.
'Millerna,' Celena supplied.
'Are you so naïve?'
'In any case, that's what's wrong with families like ours. You should know. We lie ... no, we don't lie, we create polite fictions, and we edge around things, and then people find things out that they should by rights have known all their lives and it hurts them. And you know how it hurts to know there's something you don't know, right? I'm sure he suspects something. He must. Young and stupid aren't the same thing.' Millerna spoke quietly but forcefully. The three listeners craned to hear her.
'You're projecting your feelings onto him. He's as happy as he can be, under the circumstances. He has something to take pride in, and what you're proposing will take it away.'
'Do you have such a low opinion of yourself?'
'I can't believe you want him to know. Oh, don't go in there.'
The door opened, and Millerna came in. 'Guess what!' she said, a trifle too brightly to sound natural. 'A visitor is coming.'
Allen followed her, and checked slightly when he saw Celena and Gaddes. 'Why are you two sitting on the floor?' he asked, reasonably enough.
'Felt like it,' Celena said, and quickly changed tack. 'Who's coming? Do I know them?'
'I suppose you do, a little,' Millerna said. 'Prince Chid, of Freid.'
Celena's face went blank. 'Well, he won't want to see me, will he.'
'I think it's important that he meets you,' Millerna said. 'I've explained to him about you.'
'Why?' Allen put in. 'I think you've taken entirely too much upon yourself, Millerna!' He caught sight of Aruetta, who was sitting up on the window seat with eyes like saucers and ears pricked up. As soon as he looked at her, she coloured up and tried to become invisible.
'You could run along now, Aruetta,' he said, quite pleasantly. 'The Princess and I can handle everything for the moment.'
'I'm really supposed to stay,' Aruetta managed to say.
'If you send her out there's no way I'll be able to keep Celena here,' Millerna said. 'I'm managing this on sufferance, you do realise. I'm trying to help you and your family against my father's will. This is hard.'
'I didn't ask you to do it,' Allen said. This was exactly the wrong thing to say. Millerna looked as hurt as if he had struck her. Celena realised she was holding her breath. Gaddes put his hand over hers, where it rested on the floor, and gave a gentle squeeze. It wasn't very helpful, but it was something he could do.
'Which is why it's so wonderful of you to want to help and why I find it so hard to accept your generosity. I have put you through so much trouble already I don't want you to seek more out on my behalf.'
What an amazing save, Gaddes thought. The princess' expression softened visibly.
'Well, it's done,' she said. 'And he'll be here soon. There are things we all need to discuss. I think it'll be easier to tell one person at a time. You could say this is a bad time because so much else is going on, but then I thought, why not get it all over with at once? And we have an opportunity right now. So go on, Allen.' She looked expectantly at him. He would not meet her gaze, but turned away and strode over to look out the window.
'What's this about?' Celena asked, getting to her feet. 'I've been sitting here hoping to make some sense of it, but unless you tell me, Allen, I'm not going to figure it out.'
'If this is about what I think it is,' Gaddes said, 'it does seem like a good idea to tell her, Boss.'
'I didn't need that, Gaddes,' said Allen. Abruptly, he turned back to face them. 'I wish, Celena, that I could really be the way you see me. I have tried, in the little time that we have had, to give you security, and to begin to fill the gaps that exist between us. The trust I see in your eyes makes me unwilling to let you know that I could be unworthy of that trust.'
'What do you mean? You're on my side, right?'
'This isn't about you, Celena.'
'Thank God for that. It's about time something wasn't.' She sank down onto the chair Gaddes had sat in earlier. It seemed a good enough position from which to hear the worst.
'This is complicated, and has to do with the past with history that you could not be expected to know about. I don't suppose that the private lives of the royalty of other countries were of great interest to a boy growing up in Zaibach. Although I think I remember Dilandau saying something about rumours, once.' Allen lowered himself onto the window seat, causing Aruetta to hitch herself as far to the other side as she could. Celena found her very distracting to watch. She was suddenly irritated with her behaviour. Childish, she thought.
'To cut a long story very short and I think I should make it clear that Princess Marlene was not to blame in this matter. I take full responsibility for what happened. And yet I didn't take responsibility, because there were others to do what had to be done, and it was easier, although none of it was easy. The worst part was, everything that made us feel better made the situation worse.' Allen was almost talking to himself.
'What was the long story you were going to cut short?' Celena asked, quite lost. But then, bits and pieces that had seemed unrelated as they lay scattered in her mind suddenly showed themselves to be connected. There were gaps, but a sudden intuition bridged them. She had no firm grounds on which to base her idea, but it seemed eminently possible.
'You had an affair with the Princess and Chid is your son!' she blurted out. Allen stared at her.
'How did you know?'
'I I thought of it just now.' How did I know?
'If she can guess, Chid certainly can,' Millerna said. 'He doesn't know yet, Celena, and I've arranged a meeting so Allen can tell him. I think it would be nice if you were there, too. It may make Chid feel better to know he has more family than he thought.'
'Or then again it may make him feel worse to know he's a bastard with a freak for an auntie,' Celena heard her own voice say, quite cold and clipped. She felt a little distant from it. 'Not to mention his father. Well, congratulations, Allen. You cuckolded a duke, that's really quite an achievement. Hey, are you really planning to go through all the princesses like that?' Her voice kept going undirected, hard and hurtful. Allen had got up from the window seat and was walking towards her. 'What will you call your baby, Millerna? I assume there will be one - don't you feel lucky? Don't you feel special? And oh, the heritage Chid's got. One of his grandfathers is a fat old toad, no-one knows what happened to the other one, and ... ow!' Allen had slapped her across the face. It was not a hard slap, but rather clinical; intended to shock, not hurt. It still brought tears to her eyes.
'You're hysterical,' he said calmly.
'No I'm not,' Celena said, a little wildly. 'I've done hysterical. Hysterical is when you go like this.' She screamed, long and high and piercing, until Allen smothered her mouth with his hand, which she bit.
'Damn you!' He snatched his hand back and glared at her.
I really, really shouldn't be seeing this, Gaddes told himself. He looked, rather desperately, to the princess, but she looked as uncertain and as uncomfortable as he felt. Clearly, she had not realised her idea could backfire this badly. No help was likely to come from the cat girl, and Celena looked to be gearing up for another scream, and he could not think what to do.
'My w-wonderful big brother,' Celena stammered. It looked as though the scream might turn out to be a sob. 'Is it always like this? Is everything rotten underneath? I knew I was rotten inside but you seemed better than that.'
'You are not rotten,' Gaddes said, without thinking. 'Neither of you is. For God's sake, stop looking like that.'
'Did you know about this?' Celena asked, turning her tear-bright gaze on him.
'Yes, but it was told to me in confidence. I couldn't have said anything.'
'Because at least you're honest,' Celena said.
'Celena's right,' Allen said to Millerna. 'What good would it do him to know he's illegitimate? He'll lose faith in himself. A king needs some pride.'
'Truth is worth more than pride,' Millerna said stubbornly. 'If you won't tell him I will. If you don't feel a duty to him as his father, I feel mine as his aunt. We can go back and forth like this for hours, so why don't you just give in?'
'Princess,' Allen said, bowing to her, 'I will not argue with you. Gaddes, come with me, please.' He stalked out of the room. Gaddes hesitated before following him.
'I'll, ah, I'll come back later, all right?' he said over his shoulder to Celena.
'I don't know what I'll do if you don't,' she said.
'I will not argue with you!' Millerna repeated indignantly. 'In other words, I'll just walk off and not solve anything. Oooh, he makes me angry sometimes!' She snatched up a cushion from the sofa and drop-kicked it across the room.
'I thought you were in love?' Celena said. If only there were some way to get away.
Millerna sighed. 'I do love him. But he's been doing this more lately. Shutting off. It drives me mad. I thought everything was going to be all right with the war over and Dryden gone.'
'I really messed all that up, didn't I?' Celena murmured.
'It's not your fault,' Millerna said. 'Don't you go thinking it's your fault. He has a choice how to behave.'
'I think he's terribly unhappy,' Celena said, 'and I know it's because of what's happening with me.' She clasped her hands together and concentrated on how the fingers interlaced.
'But you can't help it,' Millerna said soothingly, patting her shoulder.
'I can't help anything ... I can't do anything, can I? I'm so jealous of you, Millerna. You're getting to do everything on your own terms and make things happen and I'm, I'm just stuck.'
'It's not as though it's much fun,' Millerna said. 'I often wish I could go back to being protected but I see what you mean.'
'It's just such a different life to Dilandau's he was so free. Or at least he felt free. And able to do anything. It went wrong in the end but I wish I could get back that feeling.'
'You don't want to go back to being Dilandau, do you?' Millerna asked.
'Absolutely not. I just don't like being Celena very much so far. As you said, it's not much fun. There have been a few nice bits, but at the moment '
'How are you feeling now, in yourself?' Millerna enquired. 'You're comfortable? I want to know if you have any problems. Nausea, headaches, faintness those are things I can help you with, at least.'
'My body feels fine,' Celena said. 'I'm full of energy, really. I wish I could go riding, or dancing, or something even just a good long walk. Could I not go out in the garden?'
'I'm afraid not,' Millerna began, and fell silent as the door opened. Gaddes came in, looking irritable.
'You know,' he said, 'I would normally never say a word against him, but quite frankly, the Boss is being a shit.'
'I've managed to talk him round,' Gaddes went on. 'He's just pissed off at me now. So he's willing to have the Talk. He says let him break the news.'
'Why on earth is he angry with you?' Celena asked indignantly.
'Everything's getting on top of him,' Gaddes said vaguely. He thought of how Allen had stood in the anteroom once the door had closed behind them, shoulders bowed and shaking.
'It's just one damn thing after another, Gaddes,' he'd said. 'The only person I can rely on right now is you.'
It had probably not been a good idea to back Millerna up just then. He wasn't sure why he'd done it. I think what I hope is that they'll get all this straightened out. It's got to be better once everyone knows where they stand. Anyway, the Boss had gotten angry with him, in that very terse, clipped way that was really more serious than if he shouted. But if it got results
'This is all right with you, right?' he asked Celena. They're both depending on me. Am I working at cross-purposes?
'I suppose so. I want to be there too. What's the plan, Millerna?'
'Chid is arriving in the late afternoon. You, I, Allen and he will have dinner together this evening, and we'll talk everything over.' Millerna crossed the room to pick up the cushion she had kicked, and stood smoothing it rather ruefully. Celena looked at Gaddes. Her look said 'Help me' as clearly as if she had spoken the words.
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