Twenty Four Hoursby Shotgunnova
Entire Fiction (2007)
TETA had quit pleading for him stop for fear of being bucked from the chocobo. In her captor’s haste, her hands were unbound, which she used to hold onto the yellow down of the steed she was slung over. Golagros had not spoken a word to her since the chocobo had spurred out of the castle environs, still very fearful that he was being followed; in fact, the uneven trail cloaked his own tremulant gestures. Her beautiful auburn eyes now served as fountainheads for salty rivulets, running over and over the semi-dried beds in her face. A stretch of the country road miles back even showed a trail of vomit, churned out by the uncomfortable pressure put on her stomach.
He hadn’t wanted to escalate this far, and felt soused in regret at his heinous actions. Was this really the lowest point to which the Death Knights could possibly tumble? If kidnapping little girls was how the cause was furthered, nobility or no, then the cause was not worth fighting for. But murdering is alright, he supposed, inwardly picking at his own contradictions instead of watching the dirt path. When his eyes fogged with sadness, he blinked to squeeze the traces out.
"Why are you doing this?"
Teta was speaking to him, but he feigned deafness and did not answer. She noticed his erect posture slump a bit at his question, knowing his silence was self-imposed. If only he would speak to her! The odd state of mind between catatonia and hysteria is where Teta found herself in – this knight did not threaten her, despite having seen him kill a castle guard at Igros, and she sensed ulterior motives behind her abduction. Why wouldn’t he speak?
The chocobo stumbled at the commander’s odd movement, and Teta once again rose and fell on the saddle, coughing.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked for a second time.
What response could he give that would not strip away his masculinity? As his thoughts reflexively turned to his own daughter, the nausea of his actions came rushing to his brain. She was no different than his darling girl...harming this girl would be betraying his daughter. Oh, if she could only see how her father rode on as his leash was drawn in! His breathing came out in staccato clumps, the barbed thoughts puncturing and spilling the contents of his heart all over.
He was about to say it was his duty, but clamped the rest of his idiotic sentence. Before this day, his family what mattered most to him, and now he couldn’t even face them. He’d killed someone’s sons today, and had to live with it. Killing men in combat was one thing, but these children in the palace...why did they have to take up arms? If Teta could see his front, she would have noticed that he mouthed his words in captured silence.
Picturesque hillocks and white rocks marked the entrance into Mandalia, which had just come into view after riding double-time most of the way. This was truly the middle of nowhere, for no one traveled at night. Teta slowly watched the Father Sun’s shadows on the ground, dimming ever-so-slightly through the thick cloud mass. She still felt sick, but thought it would pass once she could stand up.
And soon night did come, crashing all at once when the two’s thoughts were contemplating arrangements. Golagros persevered through his self-pity, but came up short in his own reasoning, slowly drawing the chocobo to a trot. Although he had been less than liberal with holding the reins, as he clenched his hands, he noticed his gloved hands were freezing cold. Only suitable.
Golagros dismounted, moored the chocobo to the nearest sapling, and began walking on his own. Finally, he collapsed on a hillside and looked up what few stars he could see. He didn’t deserve to live. Why should he do his Wiegraf’s bidding when it was so devious? He caught himself in another rationalization – Wiegraf had only sent him in to kill Dycedarg; there was no talk of kidnapping anyone. So alone, he thought. "Nothing can be changed."
"What do you mean?"
The Death Knight lolled his head to the side, surprised to see Teta standing nearby, holding her stomach with both hands. She had stayed... Well, of course she did – there are wolves and panthers about. Children can’t fend for themselves. Of course not...
"Why did you say nothing can be changed?"
She still persisted, interested in why her captor would suddenly go off alone. There was something about this man that made her sad, and she resisted fleeing, even if she knew he would not follow. No low-ranking student such as herself could survive out in the hinterlands, she knew. He was tortured, and she identified. Slowly, she limped over to him and crumpled onto her knees, her simple purple dress taking root around her.
"I’ve kidnapped you, a little girl. The shame is more than I can bear. You can leave now." He turned away.
So that was it. She had figured he had meant to find a hostage to ensure safe passage out. Why had he chosen her and not Alma? Could he not tell by how each dressed? Surely the knight was aware she was not a Beoulve... The knight’s unresponsiveness made her worried for him, but she didn’t say anything. Her teary emissions were audible enough for him to worry for her, too.
"Stop crying, little girl. You will make me cry as well," he commented half-heartedly, his position unchanged. "I said you can leave now. I am not intent on following you, or doing any other act you may be imagining. Go back to your family."
He heard her rise and walk away with rhythmic frequency. She deserved to go. He could offer her no solace.
A bird whistle arose from somewhere, and he relinquished his thoughts in order to turn to the sky. This would be where he could be at peace, yes. Just the bonds of man and nature, its creatures, everything. A complete state of harmony, like the bird whistle. While his jumbled thoughts flittered around like butterflies’ wings, he listened to the soft intoning of the whistle. He’d never heard one like this, though... Wait a minute...
He sat up and surveyed the field, looking for the source of the odd sound. Instead, he found his hostage sitting far away him and the chocobo, blowing on a reed flute. His heartstrings all snapped en masse at the sight of the lonely girl, mimicking a songbird’s cry to keep her faith. She was so innocent...how could he have taken that from her? Golagros stood up all at once and approached, stooping beside her. Teta took no notice, eyes closed.
"Where did you learn to do that?"
She cut off her melody, but did not look at him. "My brother taught me."
How curious. "Which one," he asked.
"I only have one."
"You mean..." O, Gods, he had not even kidnapped a noble child! Why wasn’t it obvious before? She had made no threats to him, she had not spoken of the Beoulves or knights or his imminent death even once! And yet she would rather stay near him than fend for herself. "Why haven’t you fled? Are you not scared?"
She began fingering notes out of her flute, her way of answering without saying a word. He gazed at her winsome face, her sad face. The resemblance to his own darling Alice was astounding; even the way she held herself was similar to his own blood. "What is your name?"
The notes stopped again. "Teta."
"Do you want to go back to your family, Teta?" Wiegraf would have slit his throat if he had been within earshot. Luckily, he was many miles away, waiting for Golagros to show up with tidings of Dycedarg’s death.
"Yes, very much so."
"Then I will take you." He offered his hand to help her up, and she took it. They walked to the chocobo together in a comfortable, synched stride. He unwrapped the reins of the bird from the thin boughs of the tree, waking the still-standing chocobo from its lovely dream. The Death Knight elevated himself into the seat, helping the girl mount without a second thought. Teta adjusted herself to the upright position, and though she fidgeted with holding on to the back-straps of the saddle, she eventually let her arms wrap around Golagros’ stomach in a loving embrace. He felt her head rest against his cloaked back, and his scarred face smiled a little.
THE ride back to Igros was noticeably slower, since the chocobo had only a short rest before its second haul. Its driver was satisfied to let it dictate its own pace, although he still wanted to get this girl off his hands as soon as he could. There was no way he could make amends with his own family if he didn’t bring her back safely.
"I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused you." The words’ sincerity carried Teta out of the dreamlike state she’d been in since the realization she’d be alright sank in.
"Don’t be sorry. I am alright."
"No, it’s not alright. Not for me. I used you as a shield to save my own hide. There is no action that can right that."
"Then why are you taking me back?"
"It’s all that I can do. Someday, you can tell your children the story of this night and listen to their laughter. No child’s laughter will ever be the same to me."
Teta constrained his waist with her arms. "I don’t think you are pathetic."
"Is that so?" Golagros could scarcely believe his ears. "Then what am I?"
"Just a man. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Tonight was much more than a mistake. My actions cannot be lived down; I will never forget this."
He waited for a response, but none arrived. Maybe she would realize the truth in his words and leave his mountain of debt be left alone. Every time she accepted his apology, the reparations he had to make only worsened. Perhaps it was her virtue that made such things possible. Children are resilient, he recalled...his wife’s words. Even with the click-clack of chocobo movement, she still hugged him. The importance of saving a child’s life...yes, this is what mattered, he decided. His own could be forfeit.
"What will you do after I am gone?"
Was she wondering about his future? She hadn’t asked any questions so far, though. Now the she mentioned it, he hadn’t given it much thought. There was no way he could travel to the Fovoham and meet with his brethren; returning to them was out of the question. Even if they hadn’t forced him to take action, even if they thought their cause aimed true, his view had been changed. Perhaps he could smuggle his wife and daughter out of the country and start life anew. He didn’t believe it was possible, but the saccharine thoughts helped mend his loyalty.
"I will leave. Will you send the guards after me?"
"Thank you again."
IGROS Town’s had packed up for the night, and only barroom noises pervaded the enjoyable silence. Golagros was still antsy at being this close to capture. If fate willed it, so it would be, but the mortality of his situation made him reluctant to stick his hand in the fire. The castle itself was set apart from the town, off in the north through a one-road coppice. Beyond, the castle would be guarded, even moreso than before. This scared him.
The overarching trees marking the periphery of the wood slowed the pace to a residual crawl. Teta sensed his excited nerves but still feared he would be caught; she let go of his midriff and jumped out before the wall patrols’ sights spied them both. Golagros jumped as soon as she broke his concentration, thinking she would flee and alert herself. But, she simply brushed off the stray feathers and look at him.
"Do you still believe you nothing can be changed?" Her eyes begged an answer.
"Yes. " Teta seemed disappointed, but content to walk to the gates from hereon out. Perhaps he could make it through town before any alerts snared him. If she kept her word, that is.
"Oh..." she said, walking to the coppice’s edge, in the lantern-light of the nearby stakes. They burned for her, it seemed. She wondered how her brother had taken the news, then turned back to the captor, still watching her movements for any signs of flight to her household. "...but I believe you’ve changed everything." She smiled and was gone.
"Thank you, Alice," he spoke lovingly. Then he was gone, too.