Courage and Strength Chapter 1
By Meriko Robert
[Disclaimer & Notes] Final Fantasy IX is the property of Squaresoft, Inc. This is the sequel to "Duty and Honor," in which Freya and Fratley search for a replacement jewel for Cleyra's Wind Harp. Although it is not strictly necessary to read "Duty and Honor" first, it would make this fic much clearer, as I refer to events that happened in the prequel now and then. The universe in which this takes place is slightly AU, and sadly, it is simply because I have a horrible memory and botched up a few game details. Cleyra still stands, and Burmecia was the site which took the heaviest damage from Queen Brahne's attacks instead. Freya and Fratley are Dragoon Knights, not Dragon Knights. The Burmecians as a whole are more formal in speech and manner than in the game. Although there is some bloodshed, it is fairly mild, and so the fic is rated G. If this is archived somewhere other than my homepage and you are trying to track me down, or would like to see a backgrounder and timeline for Freya and Fratley in this particular universe, please come to www.meriko.net. Thank you.
Freya stood by the inner gates to Cleyra, scanning the cobblestone paths around her with careful eyes, but otherwise quite still. It was near stardawn, when daylight was a half a world away and the moon had yet to raise her glowing face above the horizon, and only a few lamps hung at odd intervals in the streets to light the winding paths. During the past three years, she had spent nearly all of her time in the kingseat of Burmecia, only coming to Cleyra when summoned by the King, and even then, simply staying for a few hours before departing once more. The hushed stillness of night, high in the treetops of this lofty city, was so old as to be new to her, and Freya kept even her breathing quiet, that she might not disturb the peace that had settled itself over the city.
As a sudden breeze whipped through Cleyra, rustling leaves and setting the lamps to bobbing and swinging on their chains, Freya raised a hand to tug her hat more securely onto her head. With her customary crimson uniform ruined by her brief battle with Sir Fratley, as well as the promise of a long journey ahead, Freya had changed into her simpler traveling attire. Rather than a Dragoon's eye-catching formal uniform, she was now dressed in three varying shades of dusty blue, layered over her body in the form of a loose shirt, fitted vest, pants, and of course the hat. Over this outfit, she wore a long, sleeveless tunic which had a cloak attached at the shoulders. She had created this flowing, coat-like garment for herself one day, and had then been pressed to make a great many more like it for friends and fellow Dragoons, the unique article being found useful as well as attractive and comfortable.
The cloak was attached to the tunic with some simple buttons, and could be removed when the weather was warm, or for use as a blanket, sling, or even an emergency tent. Long hours spent rubbing tallow into the thin leather had given the material the double advantage of being impervious to both rain and sharp winds, and if one fastened the front of the cloak securely, one could stay quite dry and comfortable even in the thickest rain, ice, or sandstorm. The tunic was loose and light, and so could be worn even during the hottest days, and had the additional virtue of being able to transform quite easily into a backpack. The sides and lower hem were adorned with neat holes, and by threading a leather thong through them and pulling it tight, a roomy pack was created, with the arm holes now serving as shoulder straps. Various pockets and loops scattered about the tunic increased its usefulness, and all in all, Freya was quite proud of her skills with needle and thread.
For now, the unique transforming feature of the tunic was unnecessary, as Freya carried over one shoulder a small pack already, with whatever items she deemed necessary for a journey tucked carefully away into its myriad pockets and pouches. And in her right hand, she held a simple, lightweight lance. She had a great many heavier, more powerful lances, but for fighting one's way across who knew what continent, a lighter, faster weapon would stand one in far better stead. Besides, it was the one Sir Fratley had left in her care yesterday, and she was loathe to give it up for any other.
She had still made a visit to the weapons smith, however, for an extra set of daggers. Early in her novitiate, Sir Fratley had impressed upon her that he expected any Dragoon traveling with him to carry not the usual one or two daggers, but no less than four. To always carry one dagger was required, two was standard, three was cautious...four was Sir Fratley. Although he would not remember instilling this precautionary measure into her, still Freya felt some satisfaction at having remembered his long-ago teachings. Freya squirmed slightly, wanting suddenly to confirm that she had indeed remembered all four blades. She knocked against the dagger at her waist with one elbow, arched her back slightly to feel the one tucked into her belt dig into her spine, and pressed her left forearm to her side in order to feel the dagger strapped to her arm. Then, she glanced down slightly and wriggled her right foot in its boot until she ascertained that there was indeed a fourth dagger snug inside.
"Is there a stone in your boot, Lady Freya?"
Freya stilled her foot and closed her eyes resignedly. Of course. She'd been waiting patiently for half an hour, and the moment she started wriggling around like a Novice who had too much tea before a long ceremony, Sir Fratley arrived. She opened her eyes and looked up to find the knight looking at her now-calm foot with polite concern.
"Good morning, Sir Fratley," she greeted him, and then explained, "I was making sure I had not forgotten the dagger I keep in my boot."
"Ah," he intoned, and then swept back his cloak to reveal three daggers of his own secured on his belt. Taking two of the weapons and their plain leather sheaths, he held them out to Freya and instructed, "Keep these two upon your person as well. I see that you have another dagger at your belt, and that is well, but I do not travel with any less than four knives at hand, and I suggest that you do the same."
She held out her hands and took the two daggers, balancing them in her palms experimentally. "The longer the journey, the plainer your fare. And the more uncertain the path, the more varied your wear," said Freya, in a sort of sing-song manner, as if she were recalling a long-learned verse. "Arm lightly but well, keep one dagger more than the usual last resort, and you shall have done all that needs doing aside from leaving."
Fratley nodded to her in reply, as if uncertain what to make of her brief recital. Freya smiled, and after tucking one of his daggers into her other boot, she handed the other back to him, adding, "And in company, burdens shall be shared equally regardless of rank and age. Take one dagger back, Sir Fratley, and we shall both carry five."
The dagger was taken after a short, surprised pause, and fastened back onto the belt, and the older Dragoon said, "I should have guessed that my habits would have been impressed upon you. Is there anything else about you that reflects my mentoring?"
Freya cast about her mind, but could not think of anything off hand, and told him so.
He shrugged and replied, "It is mere curiosity, and of no importance. I suspect I shall see traces of myself in you as we travel, in any case." Glancing at her outfit, he noted, "The journey will be a long one, and I did not give you much time to make ready. Are you prepared?"
Freya nodded and replied, "I have everything I need." And though she had only her lance and a small pack on her back in addition to the clothes she wore, it was true that she needed nothing more in order to start this journey. Sir Fratley had sent her a brief note last night by way of a very sleepy Novice, which gave her a better idea of their goals.
"Some while back, one of our scholars departed Cleyra, in order to journey across the ocean to Daguerro, there to search for ancient texts and maps in order to try and discover the original source of the gem which gave such power to the Wind Harp. He found but little, yet it was enough to be encouraging. However, that same scholar was lost on the return voyage, and now the king bids me to begin the search anew, and to also return with a new gemstone, should such a one truly exist. Passage has been secured for us until Daguerro, and there we shall search for directions to our next destination."
The trip to Daguerro could be taken in ease, first by taking a boat to Alexandria, and then by booking a passenger's berth on one of the merchant airships bound to Lindblum, where Regent Cid kindly promised them use of one of his newest airships to shuttle them over to the remote mountaintop of Daguerro. Along the way and at their initial destination, there would be inns and shops enough that the two Knights need bring nothing with them except for their purses.
Hopefully, what they found in the massive archives at Daguerro would send them out again after a magical jewel, but who knew where it would be? Their journey might take a month, or then again, it might take ten years. But Freya had her training as a Dragoon Knight, years of practical experience in traveling far from civilization, a sturdy lance, a store of useful spells, some emergency rations and medicines, and most wonderful of all, Sir Fratley's companionship.
Considering the daunting task that they had before them, Freya was in a startlingly cheerful mood.
Her traveling companion nodded in satisfaction, and then inclined his head toward the stairs leading down to the main gates of Cleyra. "Let us depart, then," he said, and, after waiting one moment for Freya to fall in step with him, led the way out of the tree city, and on to their Journey.
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