Pairing: DG/Cain with some Az/Glitch and Lavender/Alamo mentioned
Disclaimer: See first chapter
Note: Sorry I couldn’t help the small Labyrinth reference
Thanks: Ana The Romantic used the term Papay fruit when talking about citrus in her story A Tale of Ages. She was kind enough to let me borrow it.
Previous Chapters: Ch 1 - Aftermath; Ch 2 - Whispers Of A Legend; Ch 3 - Stretched To The Limits; Ch 4 - Cariad
Ch 5 - Puzzle Pieces
And I'll earn your trust making memories of us - Making Memories Of Us by Keith Urban
Wyatt Cain stood on the landing, five steps above the lowest level of the Tower. Spread out below him was the field hospital that had been hurriedly put together the night before. He pulled the brim of his hat low over his eyes to hide in its shadow, as he looked around. It only took him a moment to find who he was seeking. DG sat by the cook fire with Old Cora, a young dark-haired girl and Jeb, who was keeping a discreet but watchful eye on the Princess.
For one moment his eyes met Deeg’s across the distance of the room, before she turned away to stare into the flame.
“Damn,” he muttered under his breath. The Kid was still angry at him. He’d have to deal with it later. He’d brought back two representatives of the Resistance cell, he’d gone searching for. They wanted assurances from the Queen, before they’d bring their people in and had asked that he be present for the confrontation.
It had been a long day and Queen Lavender Eyes was glad it was over. She sat in front of her mirror running a brush through her hair. Her mind was still on the meeting that had just concluded. It had been tense, but productive.
The fortuitous return of the rainbows that morning had convinced the men she’d met with that the Witch was good and truly gone. Neither man had been happy about Azkadellia remaining free, but Wyatt Cain had spoken in the older Princess’s defense. It had been enough to convince the Resistance leaders to ally their people with the Crown’s, though they had done so with reservations.
“Let me help, my dear.” Ahamo came up behind her and took the brush from her hand. He knew she found it soothing when he brushed her hair. It was an old ritual, one that he’d sorely missed during their annuals apart.
“You help simply by being here.” She smiled at his reflection.
“How are you feeling?” He could tell she was exhausted, even though she tried to hide it from him.
“Fine,” she kept her voice light in an attempt to keep him from worrying.
“Lav?” his tone was doubtful.
“Oh all right, a bit light headed, but no vertigo.” She reassured him.
“You’ve been using your magic again.” He frowned, concern written all over his face. “You have too little at your disposal to access it for anything that isn’t absolutely critical.”
“This was critical, if we are going to do as we discussed earlier, I needed to alter the appearance of the people in the wanted pictures that the Witch sent out on DG and her Tin Man.”
“I’m not comfortable with this idea, we don’t know enough about this Cain fellow or if our daughter will even be willing to help.” He put down her brush and rested both palms under the collar of her robe so his skin was against hers. In all their time together he’d never understood why his touch helped reduce the dizziness that accompanied the depletion of her power. All he knew was that it did.
“I understand your doubts, but this time I refuse to be caught unprepared.” She leaned forward to give him better access to her neck and shoulders. “Hhmmm that helps so much, having you here makes all the difference.” His touch held a special magic for her and she’d missed it dearly in their time apart. “You’re my Cariad. It helps simply to have you near. The rest of it we can deal with tomorrow.”
“Then as your Cariad, I’m ordering you to bed.” He was a practical man who’d been born and raised on the Other Side. No one would ever accuse him of being a romantic, but if there was anyone who could make him believe in the idea of soulmates, it was his Lavender Eyes. “You need to sleep.” He smiled and helped her up. She was still weak from her imprisonment, but refused to let anyone but him know about it for fear it would undermine confidence in the House of Gale.
The couple slipped into bed, the Queen with her head on the Prince Consort’s shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her.
“Did we do the correct thing all those annuals ago?” She asked as she ran her hand over his chest.
“We did the best we could with the information we had at the time.” He too, had doubts, but it was fifteen annuals too late to change anything.
“Maybe if I’d tried harder, if I’d used the Emerald when we first realized something was wrong with Azkadellia, it would have been enough?” It had eaten at her for annuals that she’d been forced to choose between her daughters for the good of the Outer Zone.
“No. Stop that right now, Lav. We’ve been over this before. At the time, you didn’t think your magic, even supplemented by the Emerald, would be enough. We both recognized, early on, that our daughters had a special bond. It not only drew them together, but strengthened their magic tenfold. We knew that once they matured, they would be a force stronger than anything the Zone had ever seen. We counted on that and last night proved us correct!” He refused to let her blame herself for a decision they had made jointly.
“But the cost…”
“Don’t think about it. If you had fought the Witch by yourself and failed, the cost would have gone on forever. Now at least it is over.”
“Is it?” She looked at her true love with doubt in her eyes. “The Sorceress may be dead, but she’s won in so many ways. I’m unsure how long I can hide the fact that I’m too weak to rule. The Emerald chose Azkadellia, but she’s in no condition to take the throne. I need to remain strong until she has won back the trust of her people and can forgive herself for what was done in her name.”
“I know the legend says that the Emerald decides the Queen, but what if Az can’t do it?” In all his annuals in the Outer Zone, he’d never really understood the power legends had over the people. In many cases they were the foundation laws had been written on.
“She must. She’s a Gale and so am I. I will do what is needed until she’s able.” Her unusual eyes shone brightly in the dark.
“DG is a Gale, as well, and her magic is strong, we’ve seen that.” Ahamo was worried about his wife and had doubts she’d survive long if she didn’t get help. “Look what she was able to do in just seven short days. She formed an alliance with a Tin Man, a Viewer and Ambrose whose poor brain was so badly scrambled he hardly knew which end was up. Everyone she meets is drawn to her.”
“I think in time she would be a good and kind ruler, but she’s spent too much time on the Other Side. I worry that the bordering Kingdoms would interpret many of the things she learned there as weaknesses. It would make the Outer Zone ripe for invasion and right now we don’t have the resources to protect ourselves.” She signed thinking about all her youngest daughter had been through in twenty short annuals.
“No one could think her weak with that Tin Man at her side.” Ahamo glared remembering the hard cold man stepping between father and daughter that morning. It had been none of his concern, but that hadn’t stopped him
“He could be a problem. The attraction between them is strong but the man has been married before. It makes it highly unlikely that he could be her Cariad and without her True One to support her when she depletes her magic, she will wither and die long before her time.” Lavender knew this first hand. Her gray hair and older appearance was only partially due to the Witch. There would have been no lasting effects if she’d had Ahamo’s strength to rely on when hers was gone.
“But if we go through with what we’ve been planning, they will be thrown together more than ever. Is that wise?”
“I don’t know.” Lav snuggled closer to her husband. “I’m sick and tired of my daughters’ happiness having to come in second to what is right and good for the O.Z.” She pictures Wyatt Cain as he’d guided DG through the crowd that morning. There had been something about it that had made her feel warm and happy. “I do know that I believe in the Legend of the Rainbow…the Cariad. If they are meant to be together, they will be. If not, I don’t believe he will harm her or take advantage of her. He was a Tin Man, you know.”
“Which brings us to Azkadellia and this strange Glitch/Ambrose character.” Even as the Sorceress rose to power, the Prince had kept the memory of his sweet young children deep in his heart. Now they were grown women with men sniffing around. No sir, he didn’t like it one bit “Do you believe he’s her One?” he asked.
“My dear, we both believed him seventeen annuals ago when he first approached us.” She smiled sweetly at the memory. Her eyes glistened as she remembered her young advisor as he’d been all those annuals ago. How he’d asked permission to court the older Princess when she came of age. “Az was too young to understand the strong bond she had with him. But last night is proof that she became aware of it sometime while the Witch possessed her. He was the only one she really wanted to see and he calmed her hiccups, simply by holding her hand.”
“It’s just that I worry about you, dear heart.” He kissed his wife’s forehead.
“I know, but for the moment I must remain in power,” she sighed. “We have one daughter who the people within the Zone would trust and follow and another who is feared enough to keep the bordering kingdoms in line long enough for us to get back on our feet economically and politically.”
“Could they rule together?”
“The Emerald is the symbol of power of the Queen. It has chosen Azkadellia. To deny its choice would bring even more death and destruction to our lands.”
“At least we don’t have to worry about being invaded while we figure all this out. The Witch kept the outlying kingdoms in line.” It had been a constant worry that the Queendom would be lost in an outside power struggle, before his daughters could mature and their magic become powerful enough to defeat the Witch.
“From the reports I’ve read, even the strongest among them avoided drawing her attention and her wrath. Jareth, King of the Goblins sealed his boarders and left her alone. If anyone could have brought her down, it would have been him. I find it curious that he ignored a threat that was growing so close to his lands.” Lavender had always had a good working relationship with the Underground to the south and a great deal of respect for its ruler.
“Nothing short of an attack on his territories would have brought him into the conflict. A few annuals ago he finally married. Queen Sarah is human.” The Prince grinned. “From what I hear he has finally found his True One. He would do anything to protect her.”
“And about time too,” the Queen laughed. “That is one Fae who I thought would never settle down.”
“Gossip has it that she gave him quite a difficult time for nine annuals.” He pulled his wife close and together they fell asleep.
“Princess DG,” Jeb whispered. “You need to wake up. You shouldn’t be sleeping here.”
She blinked and opened her eyes. She was curled against the high ledge of the hearth at the cooking fire. All around her wounded men and women were sleeping either on cots or bedrolls directly on the floor. Even Old Cora was snoring lightly, a few inches away.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stay so long.” She stretched and pulled Cora’s blanket closer around the old woman to keep her warm. “I was waiting for…” She’d been waiting for Cain, but she couldn’t tell that to his son. The boy had looked at her oddly when his father had stood watching them from a distance, but instead of coming to join them, had gone off with the two men he’d brought in. “Uhm…I’m not sure what I’m still doing here.”
“C’mon I’ll walk you to your room.”
“I can do it myself,” she argued. “It’s late and Jenna is waiting for you.” She pointed to where the young healer had made up a double bedroll a few feet away. It was the best excuse DG could give and hoped he bought it. She didn’t want to go to the closed off little space Cain had chosen for her the day before. She wished she hadn’t given him back the key to the large open room where they’d spent the previous night. It would be a good place for her to hide. But he’d needed to get his things before he’d gone off with Raw and Glitch.
“I can’t do that Princess…ah...ah Princess DG.” He didn’t miss the hurt in her eyes when he used the nickname his father always did.
“All right,” she sighed in defeat. “But I want to stop and check on Azkadellia on the way.”
A few minutes later DG lightly knocked on her sister’s bedroom door.
“Shhhhh,” Az warned as she opened the door and slipped into the hall. “He finally fell asleep and I don’t want to disturb him.” She nodded toward Glitch curled in a large chair beside the bed. “He’s been through so much already and I couldn’t prevent it.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Deeg put her arms around her sister and let her cry against her shoulder. Jeb stepped back far enough to give them privacy and situate himself so he would see anyone coming before he was seen.
“It was.” Az shook her head, refusing to be consoled. “I’m not sure when I became aware that Ambrose was…well was so important to me, but when I did, I used all the magic that I’d been able to retain to lock the thought deeply away, where She wouldn’t see it. I must have grown careless because She found out and did…that to him.”
“You love him don’t you?” DG’s eyes filled with tears at the couple’s plight.
“Yes, very much. I think I always have and it doesn’t matter if he’s Glitch, Ambrose, or some mixture of the two, he’s still my Cariad. He watched over me as I slept last night. I’ll do the same for him tonight. Now I really must get back.” She sniffed delicately and wiped her damp cheeks as she slipped into the room.
DG stood frozen for a moment unable to take her eyes off the closed door. “It’s really true then?” she muttered. “That legend that Cora told us, it really is true.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Jeb took her arm and together they walked down the hall.
“You and Jenna?” her voice cracked as she asked.
“Yup, ‘fraid so.” Jeb had a silly grin on his face. “But we promised mom we wouldn’t…ah…ah wed ‘till we were both eighteen.” He was flushed and embarrassed. There had been more to the promise, but he was damned if he’d talk about it to anyone.
“How did you know?” DG couldn’t take her eyes off her fingers, as she placed her key in the lock. “How did you know that Jenna was the one?”
“I’m not sure.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I just knew it, is all. Mom and I took her in about the time Jenna and I turned ten, so she was always there. We were best friends and then it just seemed to grow.”
“Best friends?” The Princess’s brows rose and she giggled, “Even when you pulled her bangs?”
“Yeah even then.” He smiled fondly at the memory. “I could tease her, but I busted more than one kid in the chops when they tried it. I think that’s when mom caught on. It wasn’t long after that she sat me down and had a long talk about the legends and being very sure. I get the feeling Jenna knew long before I did.”
“I wish you all the happiness.” Deeg could feel her eyes begin to fill with tears so she quickly unlocked her door and stepped through. “You deserve it after all you’ve been though. Look on the bright side, since you waited, your dad will be able to be there when you do marry. Now I really have to say good night. Thanks for all the help today,” her words were slurred and run together in her an effort to say all she needed to say and not break down crying in the process.
“Princess DG…” he called out as she was about to close the door between them. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her what he knew and what he suspected.
“Yes, Jeb.” She met his eyes even as hers overflowed.
But in the end he couldn’t. “Good night, be sure and lock the door,” he sighed. His better judgment kept him from speaking. She needed to hear the truth from his father, whatever the hell the truth was. He only knew his mother’s side of it and a lot of that was speculation.
She leaned against her door. Her eyes were closed and tears seeped between her lashes and ran down her face. She had to get herself together before looking around the too small room she was going to try and sleep in. Somehow she’d managed to screw up her life in a matter of seven short days, and now she had to deal with the consequences. But tomorrow was soon enough to do that. Tomorrow, she’d send Cain away. It was the only thing she could do, but for now she had to make it through the night.
Carefully she dug deep inside of her and found the light she’d been calling on all day. She knew she didn’t have the energy to make a real window, but maybe a fake one would be enough. In the back of her mind she heard Toto telling her to focus and that’s what she did.
The feel of a cool light breeze on her face caused her to open her eyes and sure enough, most of the wall across from her contained a large open window with curtains blowing gently inward. From a distance she could see the frame was smudged and mixed with stone in places. What she’d created was definitely a figment of her imagination, but for the time being it was enough.
She quickly changed into the set of washed out green long underwear Jenna had loaned her for sleeping. They were comfortable and reminded her of the ones she’d worn the few times she’d gone snow boarding.
Wyatt Cain stared into the red hot coals in the fireplace of the Tower room. The rains had come again and it was damp, but not cold. It was the first time since he’d been removed from the tin suit that he was alone. In a way it was the first time he was alone in eight annual. The memory loop he’d been forced to watch had frozen him in time, crowding a nightmare version of the Longcoats, Jeb and Adora into the suit with him.
He laid back on his bedroll with his hands beneath his head, luxuriating in the freedom to move; the feel of clean air as the breeze blew in from the balcony; and the scent of Papay fruit that lingered on the bedding. He buried his nose in the blanket and a clear picture of his Princess popped into his head. He remembered breathing in the tangy scent from her hair the night before, as he held her. A small smile curved at the corner of his lips at the memory and for one moment he wished that she was there beside him again.
What the hell was happening to him? He was never the type to moon over a woman. But that was exactly what he was doing. No matter how often he tried to tell himself that she was just a kid, only three annuals older than his son, he remembered the feel of her in his arms as she slept. The body that had been clasped tightly against his had definitely belonged to a woman. It was one of the many confusing reasons he’d been avoiding her all day.
He forced himself to look at the problem with his usual calm logic. He was a practical man who’d always believed that he alone had control of his life, not the gods, or legends, but him, Wyatt Cain. Zero had shot that theory all to hell eight annuals ago. Then his Princess had given it another good spin on its axis in the days that followed her freeing him from the metal suit. Everytime he’d tried to take back his life, she’d looked at him with her huge blue eyes, needing his help or trying to convince him to do something foolhardy. Each time he’d thrown his better judgment on down the road and acquiesced.
Now here he was, thirty-eight annuals old, with a deep longing for a woman who was young enough to be his daughter and a princess to boot. When the hell had it all gone sideways?
“Adora,” Cain whispered. “Were we so wrong? Did we fuck up our lives by getting married too soon? Damnit all, we loved each other, I know we did!” He remembered the honey blonde that’d been his friend since childhood and how they’d defied convention. The priests wouldn’t marry them, so they’d eloped and had a civil ceremony in Central City. He’d been in his second year at the Tin Man Academy. They’d been happy damnit, but had they missed something by choosing each other, instead of waiting?
That thought took him down a whole new convoluted road. If he hadn’t married Adora, there would be no Jeb. The thought was unthinkable, even given the way the boy had been forced to spend the last eight annuals. It was too much. How was a man supposed to second guess his past and stay sane?
DG woke screaming. She was cold and the walls felt like they were closing-in, taking all the air with them. She looked for the false window she’d created, but it was gone. Her magic had lacked the strength to sustain it while she slept. She took huge gasping breaths and ran for the door, hoping against hope that that no one had heard her.
“I can do it, I can do it,” she chanted to herself, as she ran up the stairs at the end of the hall. Her steps faltered when the staircase became smaller, more cramped and nothing but tight turns. “I can do this!” She imagined the room from last night to calm her mind as she reached for her light deep inside her. If the door was locked she’d have to use her magic to get it open. There was no way she was going back down to wake Cora for the key.
On the small landing she pointed her finger and rotated it, with just the right amount of body English to flip the bolt on the other side. She’d hardly crossed the threshold when she heard the click of a safety being snapped off a weapon and saw firelight dancing off the metal of a drawn pistol aimed at her head.
“No, don’t shoot,” she gasped as she hit the ground like Cain had taught her.
“Princess?” He left his gun by his bedroll and knelt beside her.
“Tin Man,” she whispered. “What are you doing…I didn’t know you were…Thank God!” She gave up trying to make sense out of finding him here and threw her arms around his neck, never so happy to see anyone in her life.
He held her tightly, a million thoughts rushing through his head. Less than an hour earlier he’d wished she was in his arms, but not this way, not when she was fragile and broken. “What is it, cold or claustrophobia?” He could feel her shivering against him, and her eyes had a haunted expression that reminded him of when they’d discovered the cave at Finaqua. He hated this Tower, with its small rooms and reminders of evil. It was tearing her apart.
“Both I think. I woke-up and the window was gone,” her voice was husky as she burrowed deeper into his arms.
“What window? Where the hell have you been?” He felt his gut tightening and knew fear wasn’t far behind. He’d thought she was safe. “Jeb was supposed to be taking care of you.”
“He was. He did. He never let me out of his sight until I was in my room.” She shivered again and held onto him tightly. “I made a window in there, not a real one, just a projection, so I could sleep. God, Cain, when did I turn into such a wuss?”
“A wuss?” He cupped her cheek and raised her face.
“Yeah, weak and ineffectual,” she sniffed as she leaned against him. “This isn’t me! I want me back!”
“You’re not either of those things.” He tried to console her. He understood exactly what she was talking about. He wasn’t the man he used to be either.
“Oh yes I am.” She rolled her eyes and wiped her damp cheeks on his shirt.
“Says the kid who faced down the Witch to save her sister.” He thought she was one of the bravest people he knew.
“Says the woman who can’t seem to catch her breath or stay warm,” she countered and gripped him tighter refusing to examine too closely why he made her feel better merely by holding her.
“That’s something we can take care of right now,” Cain murmured and ran his hand along her side to calm her.“Take deep even breaths and feel the air all around you.” When she was doing as he told her, he picked her up. “It’s better by the fire.” He carried her to his bedroll and sat her in front of the hot coals, wrapped in blankets, before he headed for the door. “You’re staying here tonight.”
“Wait, don’t go…I mean…this is your room…I can’t take it away from you.”
“I wasn’t planning on leaving you alone.” He shook his head at the odd things she could think of, as he turned the bolt to lock the door. “This place is too open for that, too exposed on that side.” He pointed to the open area and balcony beyond where a wall should be.
“Yeah and it’s what? Twelve stories up?” She wasn’t sure why she was arguing with him, when she was so glad for his presence, but she couldn’t stop. “Some ninja-type is gonna scale that well guarded-wall to get at the princess who everyone thinks is sleeping in a room on the same floor as the rest of her family?”
“Don’t give me any lip, Kid.” He’d heard her use the expression and wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but from the way she looked at him, he’d used it correctly. Pleased with his first foray into Other Side slang, he sat behind her and wrapped one arm around her waist to pull her against him while he ran his palm slowly up and down her arm. “That any better?”
“It helps, thanks.” She rested her head against his neck and together they watched the fire. “I’m sorry about this morning. I didn’t have any right to ask Jeb the questions I did. Please don’t be angry with me any longer.”
“I’m not. I wasn’t angry at you. You were handy and I yelled.” Maybe it was because he was too tired, or having her there dropped some internal wall he’d carefully built, but he saw actions and decisions from eight annuals ago unfolding as if they were yesterday. “Part of it was that if I had it to do all over again, I’m not sure I could change any of it. What guarantee do we have that just because we do something differently, the outcome will be better? What if I’d…I don’t know…” He was lost. How far back did a man go in his life to second guess himself?
DG looked up and knew without being told that Cain was somewhere deep in his past. She turned toward him and slipped her arms around him to give any comfort she could. Whatever demons he was revisiting needed exorcising and she was determined to support him in the process.
“When the Witch came to full power…it was only a matter of time until any honest Tin Man was driven out.” He rested his chin on the top of her head and breathed in the fresh spicy scent of Papay fruit. “I stayed in Central City longer than most…” his words stopped as he wondered if that was the turning point for him. Could he have remained true to who he was and run?
“I…I…was helping folk get out, passing them along to the resistance.” As he spoke in fits and starts she reached up and massaged the tense muscles of his neck, letting him know she was there by her touch. “Finally it became too dangerous. I had to get my family out…We…we went to the cabin. I’d grown up there, but we hadn’t been back in annuals…we’d been city folk since we ran away together…” He knew he was holding onto his Princess and she was the only thing that was keeping him anchored in the present. If he let go and slid too far into the past, he wasn’t sure he’d find the road out again.
“We thought we were safe…I thought we were safe…until the morning the Longcoats rode in.” His body convulsed at the memory. “I made Adora promise, that no matter what they did to me or her, that she’d survive to take care of Jeb. I thought…I hoped…that it would only be me that they were after.” His hand had slipped beneath Deeg’s blanket and under the back of her shirt. Her skin was soft and silky under his callused fingers. “I thought Zero had killed them both by the time they dragged me over to the…the…” He shuddered, and buried his face against DG’s neck.
She caught her breath when she realized where his hand was. He warmed her, soothed her and made her feel safe in the midst of his own private hell. It tore her apart to know she was taking from him when she should be giving. She was the one who had set the Witch free! It was her fault his family was ripped from him. All she could do was hold on tighter and not let him fall. This was the comfort she’d wanted to give at Adora’s grave, but he’d refused, only allowing her to touch his shoulder.
“It’s all right, I’ve got you. It’s all in the past, just a memory,” she crooned softly over and over again, but she wasn’t sure any of it was getting through. She dipped her hand under the back collar of his shirt and massaged the long muscles leading to his neck. She felt him move; pressing into her fingers and knew that he was aware of her touch.
Cain took deep even breaths, making himself go on. He had to face it all to win back any of what he’d lost and be worthy to take on the future he wanted. “Zero had brought…he’d planned all along to stick me in…that thing…that metal prison. My family was on the ground bleeding. Then all I saw for eight annuals were the attacks and beatings, over and over again…”
“I’ve got you and I’m not letting go,” she whispered. So much for her plan to send him on his way in the morning, it appeared that as much as she needed him, for the moment, he needed her as well. Time drifted as they clung together by the fire. She knew tears were running down her face to his neck, making it wet and slippery, but she was beyond caring.
Slowly he began to pull back. First he slid her shirt back into place and then he covered her completely with the blanket. When he raised his head, he ran a finger over her wet cheeks. “Are you crying for me Princess?” he was puzzled and confused. But the feel of her tears had a healing effect on his pain and guilt.
“Someone has to. Someone has to cry for all the souls lost or hurt in the last fifteen annuals, who better than me?” She shrugged too exhausted to move from the comfortable warm spot in his arms.
He was at a loss for words. He read guilt in her eyes, but there was nothing he could say that would help, not tonight anyway. But he had a few ideas about tomorrow. He was damned if she’d be forced to spend another night in this hellish Tower!
“You ready for sleep, Deeg,” he whispered. When she didn’t respond with anything but deep even breaths he sighed, “I’ll take that for a yes.”
The Tin Man laid back and felt the calming peace of his Princess’s body curled against his. Moments later they were both sound asleep.
Wyatt Cain knocked on the chamber door where the Queen and Prince Consort were staying. It was early. He’d left DG with Jeb and the young girl Jenna, who he’d discovered, was his son’s girl friend. He added having a talk with the boy, to the long list of things he needed to do. He was damned if he’d let his kid make the same mistakes he’d made! But right now, here he was, a washed up old Tin Man, barging in on the Royal couple.
“Ahhh, Mr. Cain, what can we do for you?” The Prince answered the door.
“I need to speak with you and the Queen about Princess DG.” He had an urge to pull the brim of his hat over his eyes, but he wasn’t wearing it. He wasn’t a court gentleman, but he hadn’t been born in a barn. He was smart enough to know that hats weren’t worn indoors, unless the environment or his attitude dictated it.
“I gather it’s important, to bring you here so early?” Ahamo’s brows rose in question.
“Very!” He curled his thumbs in his holster and looked the older man in the eyes.
“Then come in, by all means.” He ushered the Tin Man in.
The Queen and Azkadellia were sitting at a small table eating breakfast. Both looked tired and it took him by surprise. These were two women he’d always thought of as being indestructible, though he’d wished for the older Princess’s destruction for a very long time. If he hadn’t already known the truth about her, seeing her as she was today, showed him once and for all how unjustly she’d been treated. Az’s hair and coloring were the same as the Sorceress’s, but the expression on her face and her body language were as different from the Witch’s as night and day.
“Would you like some spiced cider, Mr. Cain?” the Queen offered as she reached for a cup and the handle of the cider pot.
“Thank you, I’d appreciate it, Your Majesty.”
After they’d all moved to large over-stuffed chairs around the fire, each with a cup of Old Cora’s cider, the Queen looked at him with a polite smile. “What is the concern you have for our daughter?”
“I want to take her to Finaqua or anywhere but here! This Tower is…” he stopped what he’d been about to say. He handled politics best with a drawn weapon and flying bullets, but then this wasn’t his normal kind of politics. “The Princess isn’t doing well here.”
“But we must remain,” Az spoke for the first time. Her fingers gripped her cup and her eyes were alive with emotion. “We can’t leave. This is where part of Ambrose’s brain is housed. We have to stay until the healers and alchemists can restore him. I will not leave him!”
“My dear, it’s all right,” her father assured her. “No one is suggesting that you do.”
“I’m sorry Princess Azkadellia I didn’t mean to distress you.” Cain reached over and gently loosened her grip on the porcelain holding her cider. Their eyes met for a moment and both knew that she’d been about to shatter the delicate container. “You needn’t worry. I’d never wish any harm to my friend Glitch, but Deeg—the Princess is having problems that would best be dealt with somewhere else.”
“We need more details.” Lavender’s words were more than a request, but less than an order. She had plans of her own for Cain and DG, but her daughter's safety came first.
“To be blunt, Your Highness, she has claustrophobia and the small windowless rooms in this place are taxing her strength and her magic.”
“Claustrophobia, that’s ridiculous. My youngest was never afraid of a thing in her life.” The Prince stood and took his place behind the Queen with his hands on her shoulders, giving her support through his touch.
“It’s not ridiculous, father,” The older princess’s breath hitched in her throat as she tried to speak. “I…the Witch…locked her in the tomb to kill her. She had almost no air.” Az looked up into Wyatt Cain’s eyes, as tears filled hers. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” She covered her face with her hands and turned away.
“Princess Azkadellia,” Cain knelt by her side and laid his hand on her shaking shoulder. “It’s I who am sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up in front of you.”
His kind words made her look up and she recognized him from before the night of the eclipse. “You took care of my sister didn’t you?”
“I did what I could.” He shrugged. “The Princess can be…ah…strong willed when she chooses to be.”
“You were there with her at the Northern Island?”
“I didn’t do her a damn bit of good that time. I was too busy trying to settle an old score.” He shook his head remembering Zero.
“But you’re here for her now?” She gripped his hand as if the question was the most important in her life.
“Yes, Ma’am, I am.” He looked at the fragile girl who had wrapped her fingers around his palm and saw bits and pieces of steel filtering through. Her concern for her sister far out weighed the pain and guilt she was feeling.
“Good, because I can see from your eyes that there’s more you have to tell us.” She released him. Her hand shook slightly, but she was able to pick up her cup of cider and drink daintily. “And mother, we need to listen to him.”
He stood and paced, unable to keep still any longer, worried what he should tell DG’s parents about where she’d spent the last two nights, but knowing they needed to realize what she’d been going through. “I don’t understand how her magic is tied into all of this beyond what little she’s told me. She said the night she fought the Witch, she depleted it.” He was trying to tie the threads together as he talked. “She was freezing. I didn’t think I’d ever get her warm. Nothing seemed to work, not food, hot liquids or even piles of blankets. Finally I just held on to her, and let her absorb what warmth she could from me.”
“And that worked?” Lavender watched him carefully. There was no censure in her eyes, but something else, something he couldn’t read.
“Yes, Your Highness, it did.” He didn’t miss the quick glance that passed between the Queen and the Prince and it made him nervous, but he had to finish what he’d started. “She used magic in the hospital yesterday to help with the wounded.”
“That is as it should be.” She smiled proudly. Her daughter was doing what she could to help her people.
“Then she put some sort of window in her bedroom last night,” Cain continued. “The room was too small. She hadn’t been able to sleep there the night before and though she insisted she was doing better yesterday, she wasn’t,” he sighed in frustration. If he hadn’t kept his distance from her, he would have known she was in distress. “Anyway, she woke up terrified and cold, unable to sustain the spell in her sleep. I know she’s strong, I’ve watched her for seven days! I think she must be unconsciously using her power to combat the claustrophobia. There’s no other explanation for her being so drained last night. I have to get her out of here!”
“So you’ve, in essence, slept with our daughter for the last two nights?” Lavender calmly watched as his cheeks flushed. “It’s all right, Mr. Cain, I don’t believe for a moment you’d do anything to harm her.”
“That would be correct, on both counts.” He was a brave man, but he didn’t have the nerve to look at the Prince. He knew exactly what that man was thinking. He was a father, too. A tiny giggle escaped Azkadellia before she could clamp her hand over her mouth. It caught him by surprise and broke the tension in the room.
“I do believe you’re correct. We need to move DG to a place with more open surroundings, though we’ve been working on a better idea than Finaqua.” She looked at her husband and they nodded. They had laid the groundwork the night before, unsure if they would go ahead with it. Now they were sure.
“I’ll get the map, dear.” Alamo squeezed her shoulder and went to a large desk in the corner of the room. “Here we are.” He spread it out on the low table between the chairs.
“As we discovered in the meeting yesterday, with the Resistance leaders you brought in, we know there are three more camps operating out of the foothills of the Black Mountains.” The Queen pointed to the areas in question. “They are out of touch with what is going on. To be quite frank, we need all the help we can get. If there is going to be a power struggle with the remaining Longcoats, I want these men coming in on the side of the Crown.” She took a careful sip of her cider and then met Cain’s eyes.
“I’m not sure what I can do to help. I’ve been out of the picture for eight annuals.” He was getting a bad feeling about this. They were going to send him away to protect their daughter’s reputation and he couldn’t very well blame them. But something in his gut twisted at the thought of leaving her alone and unprotected. “And no one has ever mistaken me for a diplomat.” He tried one last time.
“No, I don’t suppose they have, but you’ve got the necessary qualities to guard the ambassador I wish to send.” She smiled gently because she read worry and determination not to be separated from DG in his clear blue eyes. Yes indeed he was the man for the job. “I propose to send my youngest daughter as my representative. It would solve a number of problems at once. It would get her out this place while we see to Glitch.” She chuckled at Ambrose’s new name. She really did like this new side to his personality and hoped he wouldn’t lose it once reunited with the rest of his brain. “And it would give her time to work through the changes in her life without having to do it with people constantly in attendance.”
“The Kid…the Princess isn’t exactly subtle when she sets her mind to something. Are you sure she’s who you want to send?”
For the first time in fifteen annuals Az felt real laughter bubbling up in her and gave vent to it. “Oh Mr. Cain, I see you do know my sister well. It’s good to know that despite all the changes and the annuals she spent on the Other Side she hadn’t lost one of her most endearing qualities.”
“Princess Azkadellia, it’s only endearing if you’re not the one trying to stop her from doing something that she feel is necessary!” His brow rose and he would have glared at her, if the sight of seeing her reduced to giggles hadn’t made him realize just how much she looked like his Princess.
“Are you willing to take on the job?” The Prince Consort cut in.
“I’d have to know that it could be done safely.” Cain’s mind worked through the logistics of what would be needed to get them ready. “It would take us weeks on horseback. That would be the best way to travel once we hit the mountains. How many men are you planning as an escort?”
“We had thought it would be just two of you.” Alamo held out his hand to forestall the eruption he could read on the other man’s face. “The Queen took the precaution of making alterations to the wanted posters that are out there on both of you. That should take a lot of the pressure off. Two people can make better time. More importantly, a couple traveling alone can be far more discreet than a troop of men. It would be foolish to assume that you could make the whole trip unnoticed, this way all they’ll see are homesteaders heading out to make a new life for themselves after the destruction of the Witch.”
“It might work.” Cain nodded as he ran the odds in his head. “All right, but I have some conditions. For the Princess’s safety, they’re non-negotiable. First, what we’ve discussed here isn’t to go any farther than this room.” He ticked them off on his fingers as he spoke. “Second, no one, not even the people in this room, will know our route. If anyone asks, we’ve gone to Finaqua. Third, we need to get her some other clothes. Her Other Side things are practical, but they’ll give her away the second she’s seen. Last of all, I’m not the one who’s gonna have to tell her that she’s got to wear something else!”
“I’m uncomfortable not knowing your route.” Ahamo frowned. “How will we contact you if we need to?”
“Once we leave here, there shouldn’t be any formal contact with the Palace. The Princess will have to tell the leaders of the Resistance groups who she is, but the fewer people who know the better.”
Two hours later DG was in her sister’s room packing a small bag when Cain knocked on the door.
“Princess Azkadellia.” He nodded when the older girl answered. “Is she about ready?
“Yes, but she isn’t happy.” Az looked over her shoulder at her sister.
“Hey, Princess,” the Tin Man’s voice lightened and his face lit up when he saw her fussing with her clothes. He had his coat over his arm and hat in hand.
“I can’t believe this outfit.” She rolled her eyes as she caught sight of him watching her. He’d gotten his own shirt back and his vest was buttoned up tight. He looked like her Tin Man again.
“It looks sturdy enough for the trip.” He shrugged and gave her a closer inspection. “Doesn’t it fit?”
“Yes it does.” She’d seen Az roll her eyes when he’d mentioned sturdy, but that wasn’t her complaint. She’d trekked through the O.Z and knew the value of clothes that didn’t fall apart easily. “It’s an old one of Jenna’s. She was the best to loan it to me, but it’s a skirt!” Deeg stood with her arms folded and her feet apart.
“It’s a split skirt, not all that different from those things you like to wear,” her sister offered. “It’s wider in the leg but it’s nicely tapered over your hips. I never realized how slim you were.”
“That’s not the point! It’s long!” DG glared at the hem that ended halfway between her knees and her ankles.
“That’s for protection when riding through heavy brush. It needs to cover the tops of your boots.” Cain frowned as his mind quickly moved to a place he doubted it should be. “How short are the skirts you’re used to wearing?” Ice blue eyes glared at her in the mirror. He had an idea he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“They come to about to here.” She indicated the middle of her thigh.
“How the hell do you ride in a get-up like that?” There was a strange buzzing going on inside his head as he pictured the length of his Princess’s legs exposed.
“We don’t. We wear pants!”
“There wasn’t time to have a wardrobe made for you. The whole idea was to get you out of here.” This was exactly why he hadn’t wanted to be the one to tell her that she couldn’t wear her Other Side clothes, but somehow he’d gotten drawn in anyway.
“I know. I know, I’m sorry,” she sighed softly. “I really appreciate what you’re doing for me. The clothes are fine.” She ran her hand over the side of her skirt. It was dark brown and made of that odd material like his duster, some combination of leather and oiled canvas.
“I stopped by to be sure the boots fit.” He’d had a hard time finding riding boots in her size that were fit to wear.
“They’re great, soft and comfortable, I was worried when I fist saw them that the heel would be too high, but it’s not.” She inspected herself one more time in the mirror. Jenna had been a godsend when it came to clothes. The borrowed light blue shirt was hers as well.
“I’ve…ah got one other thing for you.” He stepped very close and opened his left hand. On his palm sat two gold wedding bands.
“I can’t,” she gasped. “My God, Cain, you’re not wearing your ring. Where is it?” Her eyes filled with tears. She was so used to seeing the flash of silver on his left third finger that it looked naked without it. He was giving up so much to help her.
“Deeg,” he whispered and cupped her face with his right hand. “It was only a ring. My marriage to Adora ended the day Zero put me in that suit.”
“I’m so sorry you’re having to do this.”
“It was time I took it off.” He looked her in the eyes and remembered the way she’d held him the night before when he’d fallen to pieces. He’d seen the truth then, even clearer than he had when he’d overheard her talking to Jeb. She was his future. He just had to be careful not to rush her.
“You should wear your own.”
“It’s been put away. Besides, couples in the O.Z. wear a matched set. Now give me your hand.”
“I’ll do it, Cain,” she tried to sound plucky and light as she grabbed the smaller ring from his hand and slid it on her finger. Part of her wanted him to do it for her, but the simple act of wearing it made her enough of a hypocrite. She couldn’t look herself in the mirror if she took it a step further.
“If we’re supposed to be married you need to start calling me Wyatt.”
“I like Tin Man,” she whispered and couldn’t look away from his hypnotic eyes.
“I’ve noticed and am rather partial to it when you call me that.” His smile was warm and intimate, just for her. “But since I can’t be calling you Princess if we’re to keep our cover in tact, it’s hardly fair.”
“Well I wouldn’t want to have an unfair advantage…Wyatt,” his name felt strange on her tongue. She knew that in her head, he would always be her Tin Man.
“Are you about ready?” He was still standing very close and watching her carefully.
“Just give us another moment, Mr. Cain.” Azkadellia spoke up for the first time since the rings had appeared. The other two had forgotten she was even in the room. “You go on ahead.” She practically shoved the man out the door. “We just have one little matter to take care of.”
When the door closed DG leaned against the wall with her hands over her eyes. “Oh Az, I should have sent him away like I was planning!” She bent over in physical pain.
“Deeg, why would you want to send him away, you’re in love with him.” She wrapped her arms around her sister.
“No…no…I can’t be!” Deeg looked around frantically. “It’s only a little crush and it’ll go away. It has to.”
“Honey, what you’re feeling is not going to go away.” Az knew that she was missing something and planned to dig until she found out what it was. “Why would you want it to? The man’s in love with you too.”
“No, he’s not.” She pulled back from her older sister. “We’re friends…close friends, but that’s all it can be.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because of Adora. God her name even says it all…Adora, one who is adored.” She bit her lip refusing to lose control. “Besides, there are all those legends about Glinda and rainbows and people who love forever. Here in the O.Z it really means forever!”
That stopped Azkadellia in her tracks. How could she argue with that? Glitch, with only half of his brain, still loved her even after she’d been possessed by the Witch for fifteen annuals. “Wait, we’re missing something.” But she couldn’t remember what it was. She’d only been thirteen when everything went weird for her.
“Az, have you ever seen a Tin Man cry? Have you ever known of one who did?” DG slumped against the door and brought out her final argument.
“No, it’s not in their nature.”
“Well I have. I think that pretty much ends the discussion.” She grabbed her bag and the coat that Jenna had leant her and headed for the door with her sister following dejectedly behind.
“I still think you’re wrong, Deeg and you’ve got the next few weeks to find out.”
“I love you, sis.” DG hugged the taller woman glad for her support.
“I love you too. Use your time wisely.”
“Hey there Dollface and Azzy, my very special doll,” Glitch greeted both princesses as they entered the courtyard where two horses were saddled. Cain was busy putting the last of the supplies on a third. “I’ll be a whole new me when ya get back from Finaqua.” He grinned at Deeg as he put his arm around Azkadellia.
“Give me a hug Zipperhead.” She gathered him close. When she saw Raw approaching she whispered quickly, “Help me up on the horse will you, Glitch?”
“DG do better in open air.” Raw stood with his arms open wide; expecting the next hug, but the young princess turned her back and placed her foot in Glitch's hands.
“Princess Azkadellia,” Cain called her over to where he was finishing with the pack horse. “What’s wrong with Deeg, why is she refusing to let Raw touch her? Those two hugged half way across the Zone last time.”
She looked from the cool blue eyes of the man in front of her to her younger sister. She wouldn’t betray any confidences even if she thought it would help. “You need to ask her that. But Mr. Cain, be sure you want to hear her answers before you do. Be very sure. If you hurt her, you’ll answer to me. Remember that I watched for fifteen annuals while the Witch dealt with those who displeased her.”
“Yes Ma’am.” He smirked and pulled his hat lower down over his face. It was nice to know that he wasn’t the only one who was protective of his Princess. “I won’t let anything hurt her.”
“I know.” Her eyes grew damp and she folded her arms across her chest. “She loves me despite what I did to her. She and Glitch both do…and if…well when they try to put his brain back, if something happens to him I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“You survived the Witch, you can survive anything.” He smiled gently at her.
“You would know.” Her eyes met his in complete understanding.
“Be sure to take care of yourself Princess Azkadellia.” He looked over to where DG and Raw were deep in conversation. “She has no wish to be Queen.”
“You’d protect her from that too, if you had to.” She smiled softly realizing that this man would probably die before hurting her sister.
“Well…” He shrugged, knowing there was no tactful way to answer her question.
“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take care of myself, if you promise to do the same.” She was convinced that it would break her sister’s heart if anything happened to this strange quiet man.
“You have yourself a deal.” He smirked and shook her hand.
The Viewer stood beside DG’s horse waiting for her to look down, when she didn’t, he grabbed her reins to get her attention. He whispered, “Raw no need to touch to know what those he loves feel.”
“Please,” she begged her eyes wide as she glanced toward her sister and Cain shaking hands.
“Azzy love you, will not tell.” He frowned wanting to reach for the girl, but knew she’d only pull back. “I keep your secrets and his too, but sister right. Use time wisely and what is broken will be mended.”
Five minutes later Cain had mounted up and they headed out, taking the road to Finaqua. Later when they were well on their way and he was sure that they weren’t being followed he turned them east.
All the while DG couldn’t get Azkadellia’s advice out of her head. She and her Tin Man…Wyatt she corrected in her mind, had a long way to travel, but sometime before they returned she was determined to have some answers.
To Ch 6 - Falling Into Place