"Yes, mother." Grumbled a child with lose dirty auburn hair. She got up from her chore of washing clothes, walked into the only bedroom of the small cottage without a word, and began to collect hand woven baskets to the cart outside.
"Did you see that attitude? That child is so impossible. I just can't wait to marry her off." Screeched the large women. Her hair was a mess with features of a witch and if not for her humanly skin colour, it would have been hard to tell the difference. She was the type that gossiped and yelled, a typical hot tempered nitwit, vain with her looks which was not something to be proud of in the first place.
"I'd give her away for free but who would ever want that scrawny brat. Why did you ever bore a girl! They're nothing but a waste of gil to be married off later on." Yelled the father. With just a look at his slumped posture, sticky blond hair and ragged face, you could tell that he was a greedy coward, who always daydreamed of being rich but did nothing to help fulfill that dream.
"Now you're blaming me?" she retorted.
"Well, the least you could have done was bore me another son! But no, you haven't had another since that thing!"
"It's a curse. She's a cursed demon, I tell you!"
The droning of insults were so familiar that Agrias simply rolled her eyes and started her way to town, towing the large cart behind her. Normally that job would belong to a chocobo but since her father had taken a sport called gambling, the helping animal was sold two years ago.
Her stomach growled loudly from its emptiness but she pushed the thought of food aside like she usually did. Thinking of ways to quench that desire would only make it worse.
Agrias sighed. They were never happy with what she did. She already did all the chores in the house while her mother would criticize at the side about a missed spot and complain about all the work and torture she had to go through to raise her wrenched child only to be repaid by cruelty and incompetence. Her father on the other hand went into the forest everyday, an axe in hand for cutting wood with a promise to bring home gil by dawn and prove his worth to his complaining wife only to return empty handed and his axe missing. And so, the entire family's expense depended on some odd jobs she found and these baskets which she wove by night and sold the next day. It only provided little but enough for food if spent carefully which was impossible because the gil never seemed to last and spent in the right places.
The sun was starting to get higher as the mid-July rays beamed right on her head. Sweat started to pour down her forehead and her thin gray dress clung annoyingly to her damp skin. Since they couldn't afford a place in town, the forest was the only option available and the hour walk, which she was now use to, was not avoidable.
After a good baking under the sun, Agrias finally reached town only to be greeted by a noisy crowd, doing their usually niche. All the good spots near residence were taken so with no choice, she pulled the cart to the more quiet area which all the cart merchants called "decked spots". She settled the cart, took a seat beside it and started her lines.
"Baskets for sale! Hand woven and durable! Put your groceries and everything and anything you need!!"
Quiet by nature, the yelling was not something that she liked but it was necessary for living. With her usual frown and sad eyes, Agrias tried again, trying desperately to sound happy and lively to attract customers even though her mood was far from it as always.
"Hey, Agri-ASS. Selling your ugly baskets again?" came a sarcastic voice.
Agrias grimaced as the usual and irritating insult pierced her ears as three shadows towered over her. Just because they were a little older, a little bigger and a little richer made her the target of their teasing and abuse. Other kids in town were either accompanied by parents or older then them so the thin and lonely eight year old was their only source of release from the insults they took from the older kids and scoldings from adults.
"Please leave." asked Agrias, intimidated by the older boys.
"I don't think that's possible."
Two of them grabbed baskets from the cart then threw them onto the ground, stomping mercilessly. She strained herself from pouncing the boys. The last time she tried only resulted in a broken nose, a swollen eye, one sprained wrist and bruises all over her body, a good amount of scolding for ruining her only dress and all the baskets. As much as she hated herself for it but if she simply stayed quiet and took the insults she could actually save herself from the beatings and less baskets ruined. However, the boys must have been in a really sour mood that day because they weren't satisfied after they've taken their anger out on the baskets.
"Aren't you going to say anything, Ask-your-Ass."
The defenseless girl stayed quiet while shaking slightly. The tallest boy reached over and pulled on the ragged gray collar. With a smirk, he sent a weak punch into her stomach but enough to leave Agrias squirming on the dusty road in pain.
"What have I ever done to you?" she coughed.
"Cuz your name is Ask-your-Ass, so you need a beating!"
With that said, the other two boys circled around her, kicking and punching without mercy. Agrias could feel pain throughout her entire body and all the blows came down endlessly like a blur.
She screamed and tried to plead for help but she knew no one would come as usual. They all dismissed it as some child's fight or simply didn't care since it was only a poor commoner's child being beat up.
Suddenly the rough jerking stopped as a cry pierced the air. She took a peek and saw a big piece of shining silver pushing the bullies into the ground and a yellow fluff hitting one of the boys.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves! Bullying a defenseless girl two times smaller then you. Don't you have any sense of honour or pride?!"
"A...A monster!" one of them cried. Knowing that they were no match for the steel giant, the boys fled as one of them left a trail of yellow liquid, dripping from his pants.
"Are you alright?" came a low masculine voice.
Her vision cleared a little when she wiped the tears that clouded her eyes and she realized that the giant had a human face.
"Th-thank you, kind sir."
"A knight never turns his back on a needy person, especially a pretty lady like yourself. Those cowards have no right to do that."
Agrias blushed at the comment. She had always been called ugly and worthless but never pretty and what excited her more was who the man was.
'He's a knight! The silver stuff around his body must be amour! He even has a chocobo!' thought Agrias with thrill.
Never in her life had she ever seen a knight before. She had heard stories about them, fighting dragons and winning wars but seeing one herself was something totally different. He looked middle-aged, with a thick brown mustache under his nose and balding at the top, a bit different from the handsome looks she dreamed of but nevertheless, he had a strong face of confidence and authority. Agrias marveled at him, especially at the weapon that hung at his waist.
"Here. It's a potion. It'll help relieve the pain." He offered as he helped Agrias to her feet.
"It's too much, kind sir. I'm alright...but the baskets aren't." she replied gravely, looking at the mess. Another beating when she gets back.
The frown troubled the knight and judging from the little girl's dress, he knew the baskets were probably her family's only source of income. He looked at her hands and saw scars from her years of weaving sharp dried hay into baskets. Her shear state sank his heart.
"How much are they each?"
"Two gil each, sir knight." Replied Agrias, a bit surprised at the question.
"How many were there?"
"Thirty-five, sir knight."
"Then, I'll buy them all!" he smiled.
Agrias was shocked. Though she could only add two numbers below three at a time, already she knew that that was a big sum.
"Sir, that's too kind of you! You've already saved me and I dun have anything to repay you with. 'Sides, what use is there for 'em twenty dirty and broken baskets?" stammered the tattered girl with her country accent.
"You already don't want the potion and that's the least I could do."
His hand went to a pouch then taking Agrias's right hand into his gloved one, he secured five gold coins into in her palm. The coin's color looked precious and exquisite. She looked at it with amazement. Copper coins she had seen, one or two silver ones but a gold coin was like a blue moon, much less holding it in her hand.
"Get yourself a new dress and a nice hot meal then you'll be able to bag yourself a handsome prince to match that pretty face of yours." He beamed..
"But...it's too much." She managed, stunned by amazement.
"You have to, my lady. It's part of the Code of Honor! You don't want me to go against it now, do you?"
Agrias blushed again at the "my lady" part. No one had ever called her that. It was a name meant for nobles not a poor, worthless girl like her.
"Are you sure it's in the Code, sir knight?" asked Agrias with a raised eyebrow.
The knight chuckled at the innocence.
"But of course! Or are you so cruel as to not grant me the honor of giving a token to you? Or am I not worthy enough to be in your presence?"
"No, no, no! I don't mean it that way at all! You're so brave! The best knight I have ever seen!" she panicked, forgetting that this knight was the only knight she had ever seen.
"Then take it, girl. It would do me great honor if you could take this."
"Alright. Thank you so much, sir knight." And she smiled at the knight, the first time since she could remember after birth.
"With that smile you just gave me, it was well worth it."
Agrias could feel her cheeks grow hot again as he gave the little girl a slight bow then pulled the reigns of his chocobo to get the animal moving again. Agrias watched him until he was out of sight then glanced at the five gold coins in her palm then quickly put it in the pouch on her waist, afraid of being seen.
She pondered her options but decided to stay and wander around town until dawn. No point in returning home early since it would only mean resumption of her endless chores. Feeling her stomach rumble again, Agrias decided to get a small piece of bread. It wouldn't hurt to spend a bit of it and so, she walked over to the baker's hut which she visited so often to get her family a load of bread for the week. The baker was the nicest among all the town folks and even talked and joked with her. She even wished that he was her father instead. Others simply scowled at her dirty appearance.
"Ah, it's you again. Come to get your bread so early in the week?"
Always wearing a smile on his face, the jolly fat man patted his bulging stomach. But his smile stopped for a second after seeing the bruises on Agrias's face and the rips on her already tattered dress. He knew about the bullies and gave her a friendly pat on the head. Agrias gave him her usual small smile, appreciating the baker's concern.
"Hey, Rufus." said the eight year old. "What can I get with this?"
Even Rufus seemed shocked at the precious metal and he started to mumble and count his fingers trying to figure the amount.
"My God! You could get 500 loaves of bread with that thing!" he gasped.
"5-500...loaves." she whispered with surprise. She knew the coin worth a lot but that much? That knight had overpaid her by a lot.
"I'm afraid I don't have 500 loaves of bread here."
"But I only want a piece."
"You could get yourself a lot more then that."
"Can I have two loaves then?"
"Sure, but I'm afraid I only have half the change."
Agrias thought for a while but remembered a crying Jonathan, one of the Rufus's son, wanting a toy chocobo during one of her visits. The baker reluctantly refused him and the poor child cried even harder. A smile perking on her face, Agrias decided.
"Then forget the change and take the coin. I just want two loaves of bread." She replied while taking out two other gold coins, handing it to the baker. She had five, giving three to her one and only best friend was only being fair.
"I can't! Dear lord, it's like stealing money right out of you, my loyal customer."
"I didn't do anything to deserve that money. A kind knight took pity on my wracked baskets and gave it to me. I don't need that much and the least I could do is share it with you. Ain't you having a child soon? Consider my gift for your coming child and a toy chocobo for little Johnny."
The baker was shocked at Agrias's maturity and consideration and it was true that he needed the money to prepare for the arrival of his next kin.
"God bless you, girl."
He gave her a warm smile and packed her five loaves of bread instead of two plus a silver coin. Agrias was about to protest but the baker stopped her.
"Though it's not pure silver, but take it and scare the wits out of ol' butcher Montenelli. A gold one will be too much for his weak greedy heart."
She smiled at the thought, said her thanks to the baker, and left for the butcher shop. Montenelli always scowled and gave her the ugliest strip of bacon whenever a few extra gil came lose from the budget. But when she showed the silver coin, the butcher gave her his best smile and the best chunk of bacon available. She paid and chuckled to herself for Montenelli's sudden change of attitude as she left the shop.
Agrias spent the rest of the day, wandering town and looking at merchant carts which she never dared to approach due to her empty pockets. Now, with gold coins and several copper pieces left from the butcher's shop, she felt safe to actually come close for a peek. And for dessert, she bought herself Quinna candy, a red spiky ball of sugar for 1 gil; a luxury for children which she never had.
Now lying on an open plain while sucking on the candy, Agrias had the biggest smile on her face as she relaxed on the soft grass.
This was the best day of her life. The best meal she had ever had, compliments paid to her that she never dreamed of, the gold coins, a comeback at the greedy butcher, and being able to help her friend, Rufus. She have never smiled this much either. This was all too great and she owed it all to that knight.
'What a noble knight. I'm going to be a brave and strong knight like him when I grow up.'
Breaking a thin branch from one of the nearby trees, Agrias started to swing the stick vigorously, pretending that she was battling an evil dragon.
"Take that, you evil dragon! For I, Agrias, noble knight of Hokuten shall slay you and bring peace to the land of Ivalice!"
After running her sword through the dragon's heart, she found a group of Nanten knights surrounding a damsel, which she soon decided to be a princess, with sly smirks on their faces.
"A noble knight must never turn his back to a damsel in distress. Have no fear, your highness! I swear it upon my honor to save you!"
Fending off the fierce Nantan knights, Agrias parried and lunged as the soft flicking of the stick whistled in the air.
"You have to do better then that to defeat me, you Nanten scoundrels!" she challenged.
As much as she would like to stay in her glorious world of knights, the sun was starting to set and it was time for her to go. Sighing Agrias got up and started her way back to the small cottage, towing the cart behind her, back to the miserable life that awaited her.
Making her way past familiar trees, she stopped her journey as she heard noises. The sharp, short sound of clanging metal. Leaving the cart, Agrias quietly followed the noise and peeked from behind a bush.
"You can't escape, Hokuten dog!" yelled a man with shorts and a green bandana covering his hair.
Three other men circled around someone along with the thief. One of them had a long blue robe with a rod while the two other were knights, armed with swords.
The low voice seemed familiar as Agrias strained to make out the last figure and gasped when she saw a white crest on the amour inside the crowd. It was the knight that saved her back in town. She panicked seeing that he was out numbered four to one but dared not to venture out. What could she do anyways. She was a poor useless nobody, not a noble knight.
Her life saver parried a few blows from the other two knights. She winced as the brave knight took a hit from the thief. Though his face was scrunched in pain, he still managed to knock the dagger from the thief's hands but the movement tore at his wound and he fell kneeling on a knee, supporting his weight with his sword in the ground.
'What should I do!! He's going to be killed!'
She watched in horror as the circle closed in then remembered herself in the crowd of bullies. The desperate pleas she made and the relief when it was answered. After all the kindness he showed her, running away, leaving him to die would be wrong. Without a thought, she stepped out from her hiding place.
The men turned around and only snickered when they discovered that it was only a little girl. The wizard and the thief took a few steps towards Agrias and smirked. The knight's eyes widened and yelled.
"Run, girl! Save yourself, run!"
One of the black crest knights kicked her rescuer across his face then told him to shut up. They once again turned their attention to the girl in front of them.
"And what would you do if we don't, little girl?"
"You-you only want money, right?" she stammered. "I have two gold coins and a few coppers. It may not worth much to you knaves but you can have it all if you would let the noble knight go."
Finding her words a bit word, Agrias added a "please" after a pause. They snickered and started to whisper among themselves. She was scared and decided that her offer wasn't enough and added.
"I also have four loaves and a half of bread with some fine bacon and a cart if you want. And if that's not enough, I could ask my friend for the three other coins." She tried.
But again, they paid no heed as the black mage advanced towards her. He closed his eyes and Agrias looked at him, stunned, not knowing what to do.
"Get out of the way!!" her liberator called and when she looked, a spark started to form at the tip of the mage's rod.
"Burn all living things! Fire!"
Taking the knight's advise, she ducked and the angry attack flew just above her as the heat scorched her back. Sensing that her offer was not a bit welcomed, Agrias picked up a fallen branch, resting beside her hand and ran towards the unsuspecting mage, whacking it over his pointed hat. He fell unconscious and the enraged thief beside him took out another dagger from his belt and launched himself towards her. Agrias ran, entrusting her life to her legs, which were trained from the hours of towing the wooden cart. The other two knights were about to join the pursuit but were stopped by their victim.
"I may lose four to one but now, I don't think so!"
He sent rapid blows to the knights, not allowing them to attack. Their hands shook against the strong hits.
Making a quick turn to try and get the thief off guard, Agrias ran back to where the fight started. But she tripped over a branch, the same weapon which helped her earlier. Her pursuer had a mad look in his eyes as Agrias backed up in fear. The knight wanted to help the girl but keeping the two knights at bay didn't allow him.
Suddenly, Agrias felt something hard beside her hand. She took a quick look at it and realized that it was the weapon that the noble knight knocked out of this thief. Agrias quickly picked it up and held it before her like a shield. The blades collided as the thief made his attack. and Agrias flew back from the impact.
This wouldn't do. The man was too strong for her. There was no way she could take his blows head on. Then the memory of her catching a chocobo entered her mind. Though she failed that time but it was her only hope.
Smirking with confidence, the thief lunged towards Agrias. Waiting, she side stepped and allowed the blades to clash but only enough for her to guide the attacking strength away from her, like trying to loop a rope around a chocobo's head. The thief's strike fell in vain as he tripped forward. Agrias took the chance and ran but she felt a hard tug at her lose auburn hair, pulling her back.
"You little brat!"
Agrias tensed at the risen dagger just above her head, surprised that the thief recovered so quickly. She bit her lip in fear but just as the blade came close to her neck, a sword intercepted the sharp edge. With a twist, the dagger flew out of the thief's hand and the life-saving weapon rested upon the attacker's neck, nipping threateningly at the racing pulse-line.
"Let the girl go."
His voice, low and dangerous, caused the thief to tremble as he released Agrias's hair.
"So-sorry, sir! Please spare me, noble sir!"
"Go." He answered plainly.
And the coward ran, with his other teammates following his steps.
"Thank you again, sir knight."
The hard glare softened as he looked gently at the little girl, who was shaking slightly. What a brave girl. She knew she was no match for those Nanten soldiers but she still stood out. Giving her a big reassuring smile, he rested a leather gloved hand on her head.
"No. Thank YOU. That was very brave, girl. I would have died if not for you."
Agrias beamed, forgetting her fear. A knight was showing her gratitude. Her, a nobody.
"Oh, how rude of me of not introducing myself yet. I'm Sir Lignel Oaks Rantoul, knight of the House of Aardwolf, serving in His majesty's Hokuten Imperial Army. And what is thy beautiful name, my lady, to match that beautiful face?" he asked, bowing slightly. It was fun making the little girl blush.
"My name is Agrias Plintal which I think is a very bad name." blushed Agrias, regretting not having a longer title like Sir Lignel. She thought about adding her parents in but that will only worsen her name.
"And why is that?"
"Kids in town always makes fun of it and call me Agri-ASS or Ask-your-ass." She frowned.
"Hmph. In my opinion, your name is one of the best I have ever heard. Just ignore them. All they are doing is disrespecting themselves. Bullying is plain low."
"They think it's fun." Agrias answered grimly.
The knight thought for a while until an idea popped into his head.
"Well, it's time to show them that Agrias can kick their asses."
"But how? They're so much bigger!" asked Agrias with curiosity.
"I'll teach you."
"Of course. It's the least I could do to repay you for saving my arse back there."
Agrias cheered as excitement coursed through her but the lessons didn't start until the small burn on her back and the knight's wounds were treated with the potion from earlier. After that was done, Sir Rantoul began to teach her some physical moves to use against those bullies today. Agrias learned with ease and great enthusiasm while the knight was amazed at her talent. For the next hour, Sir Rantoul even went into a little about swords and riding, using his weapon and Pirotoss, his chocobo, to practice. Agrias struggled under the weight at first but quickly got use to it. The amount of determination and concentration in her eyes was amazing. Every time she got thrown off by Pirotoss or fell to the ground, the lithe body automatically picked herself up and resumed the task without fear or hesitation only with more determination and this encouraged Lignel to be a little stricter every time for improvement. There was this little connection he had towards the girl and it seemed to light a fire that was buried in his soul. But the darkness around them reminded him of his journey.
"My God, I've lost track of time! I have to leave now, little warrior." Said Sir Rantoul, grimly.
A look of disappointed flashed across the dirty face as the knight mounted Pirotoss. Though they have only met each other for less then a day, they knew they were going to miss each other.
"Yes. As much as I would like to stay and teach you more, I still have to do a few things. And it's dark now, don't you have to go home too, Agrias?"
It was true though she didn't want to go home to do more dishes and weaving. And so she reluctantly returned the sword to the knight then gave Pirotoss a hug, even though he caused much pain to her arse. The chocobo snuggled back, even he was affected by Agrias's courage to approach him after throwing her countless times. Besides, it was nice to have someone else without heavy amour on his back for once.
"Before I leave, I have to ask you something, Agrias."
"Yes, Sir Rantoul?"
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
He was surprised at his own question but the words just flowed out of his mouth and it was something that he had to know.
"I want to be a knight and help others just like you."
Agrias replied without hesitation and though many would have taken her answer as a sudden impulse, Lignel felt the seriousness in her words, every one of them powerful and true to the heart.
Sir Rantoul dismounted Pirotoss then took Agrias in a hug. He had grew really fond of the girl. She reminded him of his days as a lad, dreaming of becoming a knight.
Holding her in front of him, he took out a white lion crest with the mark of a wolf and hung the chain around her neck.
"Then be a knight, Agrias. Be the greatest knight that Ivalice ever had. Whenever you look at this crest, I want you to remember pride and honour. A true knight lives on these two elements and it keeps them strong, fighting for what they believe. Although what I have taught you is limited but remember; They can insult you, hurt you, but they can never take your pride. Be strong, not just physically but more importantly mentally and they can never win. Be true to your honor so you may stand proud and live a life to its fullest. And if you ever run into a dire situation, go to Limberry Castle. Show the guards this crest and say my name. They'll bring you to me and I'll help you with whatever I can. "
Agrias nodded, remembering each word carefully and their meaning. She was going to miss Sir Rantoul. He was funny, a great teacher and a true knight.
"When I'm old enough, I'm going to join the local academy and become a knight. I'll be the best knight and make you proud."
Sir Rantoul smiled as warmth washed over his heart. If he was to ever have kins, one as spirited as Agrias would be a gift from heaven.
"Good. You're a smart kid and a dangerous one now and I know you won't abuse your skills."
Hugging each other for the last time, Rantoul mounted Pirotoss once again and started his way out the forest.
"And kick their sorry coward arses for me the next you see them, my little warrior!" He yelled behind him.
"I will! Thank you again, Sir Rantoul! I'll miss you!!" she yelled back.
Once he was out of sight, Agrias looked at the crest again then tucked it under her collar.
"Honour and pride...I won't forget."
Though she was exhausted from the training and the battle, the happiness that was playing in her heart made her extremely giddy as she made her way home and dreamed of all the adventures she'll have.
To be continued...