Categories > Anime/Manga > Escaflowne > In the Shadow of the Flames

Chapter 1

by BeccaStareyes 0 reviews

Allen is called to Palas by the queen for matters military, and finds more trouble than he bargains for.

Category: Escaflowne - Rating: G - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Allen - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2010-09-18 - Updated: 2010-09-18 - 2946 words - Complete

Allen knew this room well; it was used when the king -- the old king -- or the leader of the Knights Caeli had called briefings. It was simple for a room in the palace, an officer's place with leather furniture and a sand table concealed with a false top. Maps of Asturia and the surrounding countries hung on the wall instead of tapestries and portraits.

It was entirely out of place seeing the Princess -- no, Queen Millerna, and he would have to stop making these slips, even in his head -- standing at the head of the table, in those odd foreign trousers she still insisted on. The queen hadn't explained much in her letter requesting his attendance, merely that there was a military matter she wanted his opinion on. Allen had assumed it would be a private audience, with her asking questions that her advisors couldn't explain, not a gathering of other men.

The audience seemed split between the richly-dressed, some wearing mayors' chains of office, while others he recognized as nobility or wearing their devices, and those in soldiers' or knights' uniforms, though Allen thought he saw a couple of the castle's clerks near the back. People were still filing in as a pair of servants tacked a map up behind the queen.

The queen cleared her throat, but it didn't seem to be enough to draw the attention of the crowd. "Excuse me? Shall we start?" A few people looked over, but the back of the room didn't seem to notice their queen was waiting for their attention.

Allen opened his mouth, ready to shout in his best parade-ground voice, but Millerna was faster. Waving off her attendant, she reached for the candle-snuffer a servant had left in a corner, and struck the wall; not hard enough to damage either, but enough to cause everyone assembled to look at her, like a bunch of boys caught talking by their schoolmarm.

"Now that I have your attention, shall we begin?" Queen Millerna set the candle-snuffer back into its corner, where a servant hurried to remove it. The remaining men standing quickly shuffled to seats, and Allen joined them, settling into a cushioned bench.

"A recent series of attacks have occurred on our northern border." The queen tapped spots on the map, barely seeming to see what she was looking at. "The targets appear to be non-military -- farming villages." She looked drawn, and Allen could understand why. The war had tired all of them out, and Millerna had never been a soldier, despite the physician training that she had snuck without her father's knowledge. "There was significant loss of life, and buildings and crops burned. In all cases, the assailant vanished before the local garrisons were able to arrive." Allen wasn't surprised. Even in the north, where the border with Zaibach was, the war had left them shorthanded with men and equipment. And no one could be everywhere at once. "Sir Dahlgren was first on the scene."

She motioned and a young man stood up. No, he was Allen's age, but still had a bit of a boyish look to him. He had the device of one of the less prestigious orders of knighthood, and he fussed with his shirt as the attention turned towards him. "Ah, right. Um... that's correct, Your Majesty. What my men and I found indicates it was a single melef attacking, probably not anyone on foot or horseback."

The room broke into an uproar. Millerna waited for a moment, then clapped her hands. "Go on," she told Sir Dahlgren, once the noise died to murmurs. The men in the room had been chastised by the queen's means of calling the meeting to order, that she was now able to command with merely her hands and voice.

Or not. One of the nobles stood up, shoving his chair back hard enough that it teetered. "Do you know what this means?" he asked. Not giving anyone a chance to answer, he continued. "Zaibach must have concealed some of their weapons, so they could strike back at us for winning the war. Or else Fanelia-"

"Fanelia's capital city was completely destroyed in the opening salvos of the war," Allen said, louder than he meant to. "You might as well suppose giants from the Mystic Moon. And, you can ask those soldiers who supervised Zaibach's disarmament whether or not they could hide a melef."

"Not near the border," someone else spoke. "We were extra careful to clear those areas out near the capital and the borders. Maybe in pieces, but it would need to be hauled to the capital for reconstruction, and the occupying forces would notice."

The queen nodded. "Thank you, Sir Schezar, Captain Percival, for your military advice. Duke Veris," she turned to address the noble who had stood up, "there is one more thing Sir Dahlgren told me that I would like him to repeat for the benefit of you all. After that, you may ask questions, though Sir Schezar's military advice may be called for again."

"Yes, Your Majesty." The noble, Duke Veris, bowed, and took his seat again, but didn't bother to school his displeasure. Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut on military matters, then, not that Allen would say that aloud.

"Pray, continue, Sir Dahlgren," the queen said.

Sir Dahlgren nodded, but his eyes were on Veris and not the queen, or the assembled audience. "Um, yes. Of course, Your Majesty. This was found at one of the burned villages. I just took a bit to bring here, as proof." His hand darted within his jacket, removing a packet of paper from a pocket on the lining. He broke the seal and pushed it to the center of the table. Allen leaned forward to examine the contents and caught those seated near him doing the same.

Instead of a letter, as he had expected from the paper and wax seal, it was a collection of half-burnt twigs. Something shiny caught his eye, and he craned his neck to get a better look. "Is that... liquid metal?"

"We thought so, but you're the expert, Sir Schezar."

"The only thing that uses that are the Zaibach Alseides units," Allen replied.

"So it was Zaibach!" Veris slammed his hands down on the table, causing everyone to look up at him. "So beating them once wasn't enough -- we'll have to take them on again!"

Allen cleared his throat. "Your Majesty, if I may."

"Of course, Sir Schezar." Millerna nodded to him. "You have the floor." She, too, was looking at Veris and Allen caught a slight narrowing of her eyes.

"Zaibach was disarmed." He stood up. "I'm sure several of the commanders in this room can attest to that." Good, a few of the military men were nodding. "It could be that we missed a single guymelef far from the front or the industrial centers. It could also be that another country was deliberately using Zaibach technology to provoke a response."

The room exploded again. "Like Fanelia!" Veris shouted.

Allen shook his head. "They would be the least likely -- their capital was destroyed, and even if their king didn't have strong bonds of friendship and treaties with the royal family," and Allen refused to believe Van would do such a thing, and deception on this magnitude was the antithesis of his personality, "they would not want to provoke another conflict so soon after their losses in war, especially with a strong nation like Asturia. For that matter, even using Zaibach as a distraction would be foolish -- having us patrolling our border with Zaibach would not draw our forces far enough from Fanelia. I would be more inclined to suspect a country to the south for such a plot."

Queen Millerna nodded. "Thank you, Sir Schezar. I suspect we won't be able to know for sure until the guymelef pilot is found and captured." She raised her voice. "I'll be sending reserve troops to the northern garrisons from Palas. Those of you on city councils and in the nobility are to call up your militias for lookout -- I assume you've been drilling on use of signal flares and flags? In addition, Sir Schezar, as one of our experts on fighting Zaibach melefs, I'm dispatching you and the Crusade to the north on patrol. Are there any questions?"

"I have one," Veris said. "How do you intend to pay for the fact you're ordering our peasants to guard our land? We've got crops to harvest, and that damn war left us shorthanded."

The Queen straightened up. "I am leaving the deployment of the extra troops to their commanders, who will know better than any one of us civilians, what the best use of them will be. As for your crops, Alaric,” she turned to Veris, “the few men you'd need to post a guard won't make a difference. We already expect the north will be eating from the stores this winter, thanks to the war, and that will be handled." The last was said with special emphasis. Duke Veris made a sort of hmph sound, but remained silent. The queen nodded. "Then this meeting is dismissed. I'll leave you to your preparations."

Most of the room stood, and with a flurry of bows, left. Allen was careful to watch to make sure Veris, and those who had nodded while he was talking, were gone before he rose. "Sir Schezar, will you hold for a moment?" Millerna asked.

Allen tucked the bench back into place. "Of course, Your Majesty." He watched the rest of the room file out, waiting for the queen to speak.

"I think that went well, don't you?" Millerna perceptively relaxed once all but Allen and the pair of servants had left. "A lot of those men aren't really inclined to listen to a young woman, even if she is their queen."

"It's not surprising." If she hadn't been speaking so much sense, he might have dismissed her worries as well, though never in public. A kingdom needed a strong ruler, and Millerna's flighty husband was who knew where, so Queen Millerna was it. And as both her friend and a loyal Asturian Knight, Allen was going to make sure Millerna was the strong ruler Asturia needed.

"Some of them will remember next time. If I keep it up, then it becomes matter of fact." She smiled at him, and Allen wondered how much strain being the authority figure was for her. Not as much as it would have been a year ago, he was forced to admit. The war had turned many people Millerna and Van's age from children to adults.

"Is that what you wanted to ask me? How I thought you commanded the meeting?"

"Actually, it wasn't. I need to get some facts confirmed from you, about Zaibach during the Destiny War."

"I don't know how much help I can be. You know what I was doing during the war, but a family emergency called me back to Palas for the aftermath. Someone like that captain would be better to talk to about reconstruction."

"It's something I know you can help me with. I can speak to the commanders of the allied forces by letter later, or their representative here." Millerna paused. "Since Sir Dahlgren brought the news of these attacks, I've had clerks confirming the location of all of the high-ranking officers in the Zaibach military. And the civil service and the sorcerers, but for other reasons. Most of the officers were captured or were killed in battle, but if one did escape, he could prove to be a rallying point for a resistance."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

"Tell me, Sir Schezar, how certain are you that Dilandau Albatou is dead?"

Allen felt his heart drop into his stomach. His first thought was 'does the queen know about Celena?'. Suddenly the room's other occupants -- Millerna, the two servants still shifting furniture back into place, and the door, still open a crack -- occupied all his perceptions. He realized the queen was waiting for an answer, so he stalled. "Your Majesty?"

"You were the one who reported his death, and we did recover and destroy his Alseides unit, but no body was ever located. Van confirmed the death, or I'd be worried. But if both of you are sure..."

"We are sure," Allen said. So the queen didn't know anything about Celena. She just wanted his verbal confirmation about Dilandau's death.

"If you don't mind me asking, why?"

Allen again glanced at the servants, who were ignoring the conversation as they worked. Millerna followed his gaze, then turned back to him. "Is it some military secret?" She frowned, looking into his eyes as if she had some ability to read the truth from his gaze. Then, with a jerk of her head, she turned towards the servants. "Please leave us. And close the door."

The two servants set down the final chair. Allen tracked them with his eyes until they pulled the door shut and then turned back to Millerna. "Well?" she said.

"Dilandau's death?" Allen said, thinking how to frame it so the queen would believe him. Or maybe it would be better if she didn't believe it all. Disbelief would keep Celena safe. "First of all, I'd ask that this information never be disclosed."

"Allen, I can't promise that until I hear what has you so worked up." Allen almost wished he was talking to the girlish princess infatuated with him that she had been a year ago. That Millerna would promise him in a heartbeat. But that Millerna wouldn't be able to deal with this crisis, not like the queen had. "But," the queen continued, "I do trust you. If you think that it won't be a threat to Asturia or the crown-"

"It won't!"

"-then, I'll swear to it as soon as I hear what it is."

Allen realized she would stand there until the world ended, or he finally told her the truth. He couldn't lie to her -- it would be dishonorable to lie to his liege, and it wasn't like he could think of a good lie off the cuff. He took a deep breath. "Dilandau was a product of the Zaibach sorcerers, as you know. I confirmed this with Folken Fanel, when he defected. Re-defected." And were Folken's motivation not so close to home, Allen wouldn't trust the strategos as far as he could throw him. Millerna nodded, listening. "They were experimenting under Dornkirk's orders, to see how much they could alter someone's fate. Whatever they did, it didn't outlast Zaibach." He hadn't mentioned Celena yet. Perhaps he wouldn't have to.

Millerna considered this. "So, you are saying that Dilandau Albatou is dead, because he has become whoever he was before the Zaibach sorcerers started their experiments."

"Exactly." This wasn't nearly as bad as he thought it would be.

"Where is he now?"


"This... proto-Dilandau, or not-Dilandau, whoever he is," Millerna said. "I'm willing to grant amnesty to one of Zaibach's victims, but I need to know for sure that Dilandau's actions were not under his control."

"Your Majesty! Millerna," Allen said, as he struggled to keep control of his emotions, "she was just a little girl when they took her! She doesn't remember a thing from all those years." He knew Millerna could read his face like a book.

"She?" Millerna frowned, and didn't speak, then her eyes widened in surprise. When she continued, it was in a soft voice. "Allen... you told me that you had found your younger sister, who had been missing for ten years. You don't mean to tell me that Celena..." She reached back for a chair, and pulled it over, sitting down hard.

Allen should be sitting down too, but he remained standing. "You see why I would like to keep the matter secret," he answered, voice barely above a whisper.

Millerna nodded. "She remembers nothing?"

Allen shook his head. "Very little. She doesn't act like the child she was." As she had when she had first appeared, when the sorcerers' work was still disintegrating. "But few actual memories. Just enough to give her nightmares." Which she was hiding from Allen. She might try to put on a brave face, but he could hear her pacing at night, only to hear her footsteps clamor for the bed when he walked down the hall to her room. “You can check Dilandau Albatou off your list. He is dead and gone. Only Celena remains.”

Millerna nodded. “Thank you, Allen. This must be hard for you.” She looked down, as if the words were a bare offering after raking him over the coals without meaning to. “You have my word as Queen of Asturia that no one will hear of this from me. In the unlikely event that anyone else does need to know, it will be at your discretion.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Allen said.

“There aren't any other people we’ve met that are secretly related to you, though?” Millerna asked, half a smile appearing on her face. “If I’m not careful, the next thing you’ll be telling me is that Hitomi was your second cousin.”

“No, I think you now hold all the skeletons in the Schezar family wardrobe.” Allen said. “If that's everything, I’ll start my preparations. Would you and Princess Eries mind keeping an eye on Celena for a bit longer?”

“Not at all,” Millerna said. “You know she’s welcome here at any time. I’ll just go tell her you’ll be a little late.”
Sign up to rate and review this story