Word count before editing: 3,384
Song I listened to for this chapter: Return to Innocence by Enigma.
Az is laughing then she tells them both, “You know, I think you are the first ones to ever be approved by the Grey Gale herself as Suitors to the Royal House. I wonder if that will help you two any.”
The relief of having a direction is quickly relieving the grief in the room, as well as knowing that there is a way to save DG. That hope infuses the group with a sense of purpose. They will heal her and whatever is next on their plate, they will handle together.
Still joking as they look over the map and prepare themselves, Ambrose just answers back, “Azkadee honey, all that means is that she recognizes that we are the only two men who could measure up to DG.” He chuckles as he realizes that the history that is all but lost to the O.Z. is going to lead them. A bunch of legends really.
Shocking them all, Ahamo dryly remarks, “I am not too sure that will help me sleep at night. My daughter is being courted by a Scarecrow and a Tin Man. How low can she get?” He smirks at the two men as the rest of them chuckle.
Cain is smiling, his nature a little more relaxed that he is going to be working towards DG. “At least she isn’t being courted by a flying monkey.” He stands up folding the map, looking to see if they may need another one. Hope is a powerful tool in the hands of a Tin Man who will stop at nothing to save the woman he loves.
Ahamo laughs, but he comments, “Make sure you take along extra oil and stuffing, I think you two will need all the help you can get.” The group all laughs, not knowing that this comment reveals more of their pasts than any of them realize.
The twin suns were getting close to setting as they shed their light on the scene on the main stables just outside the Central City. Five horses are ready, waiting for their riders to mount, the packhorse was also ready.
Az was standing there petting her black horse and talking soothingly to him. One of her few joys when she was under the control of the Witch was riding Alric. She never could figure out why the Witch allowed it, but she took advantage of it when she knew she could get away with it.
Az looks over at the others in the party. Her eyes linger briefly on Jeb, and she smiles quietly to herself. She has no doubt she will enjoy learning more about this Cain. They have talked in the past, she remembered him mentioning it was odd that his father is almost the same age as he is. That started a lot of late night conversations. She had been disappointed when he was sent off. But she cannot be mad at her sister for doing so when she is suffering so much right now. DG had even at a young age taken the blame for far too much.
Looking over at Ambrose, she remembers how he had slowly taught DG to concentrate. Her magic lessons had been hard; she remembers the spinning doll. But shortly after Ambrose had started to be around her, she had helped with his workroom.
Az frowned, remembering how so many jealous nobles had protested when he had been allowed to be her Suitor at such a young age. It was not unheard of, especially when you think of the fact that they lived such long lives. Ambrose had survived the testing, showing that he truly cared for her.
Az then smiles, remembering how Cain had already proved himself. When he finally asked for permission to Court DG, the magic had just faded into him. It was the fastest that it had ever happened, Az thinks that it was their quest and his wholehearted dedication to her sister to be the reason it happened. As much as she loves the idea of Ambrose being her brother, she knows that Cain loves her sister just as much, if not more. It truly will be up to DG to choose this time. The old love from childhood that she doesn’t even remember that turned into a love for who she is now, or the man who fell in love with her, fighting it until he couldn’t help but admit he was in love with her. And once admitting it, gave into it with nothing less than giving his whole heart to her?
Raw comes up to the Princess’ side. He watches everyone else with her and makes the comment, “This will be interesting.”
Az answers him as she smiles, “Yes, it will be.”
Her smile falters though. Jeb has been casting her looks and makes his way to her side. Raw sees him and fades away as he asks, “What is wrong, Az?
She looks over at him. “I am worried about Deeg. How is she holding out? Where is Tutor? How can he do this to her?”
Cain has mounted Silver and overhears Az. He turns in the saddle to her, his face hard as he answers her question. “I am not sure how she is, or where Tutor is. And it is just my guess, but I think it started when she didn’t trust him. And only got worse when he found out she was to blame. He helped her only when it was in his best interest to get rid of the Witch. In fact, he was with us when we overthrew the Witch. He only found her to save us when she was in the Mausoleum.”
Ambrose has also mounted his brown horse and moves his horse over to them. His voice is soft as he explains. “He was locked up for a long time. I know he was captured before me, and unlike me, for some reason the Witch kept him all those annuals. He had nothing but time to think of how much he hated her. And then to find out that DG is the reason?” He shakes his head. He really has no idea how Tutor didn’t go mad down below. Or maybe that is what happened, that he really is mad from all those years locked in a cell below the Tower?
Az thinks back to when Tutor was released. She gasps and if Jeb had not been there to catch her, she would have fallen to the ground.
Jeb anxiously asks, “Princess?” For a second there, he sounds exactly how his father does in talking to DG and it makes both Raw and Ambrose look over at Cain.
He is just looking down at Az, waiting to find out what had happened, having a feeling that it is the reason that all this started.
Az has tears in her eyes as she looks past Jeb to his father and Ambrose. She tells them, “The Witch. She told him.”
Ambrose’s eyes widen as Cain sits up straight. Cain’s face is hard and his eyes like ice. But it isn’t him who spits out, “What?”
Az starts at hearing Ambrose’s voice so hard. Jeb tightens his arms for a second, but he relaxes as he realizes the adviser isn’t in fact attacking Az.
Ambrose’s mind is ticking over the information. The Witch had told Tutor who had released her? He had always wondered what it was that actually got him to agree to betray them, or more importantly to betray her. He actually betrayed everyone. He betrayed the Witch in helping them defeat her. And he betrayed them by being there to get his revenge against DG. His face hardens even further, his eyes dark pools of hate. The mutt had been out to hurt DG the entire time and he didn’t catch it; in fact, he had been blaming Cain for not having a heart and warming to the shape shifter. He is a Traitor, and the O.Z. has its own brand of justice for those so branded, for those who have betrayed everyone.
Cain had looked over at Ambrose’s outburst and watches him. He finally tells him, “He fooled all of us. He was supposed to help DG. Remember what the Grey Gale said? He was supposed to be part of us: Toto. Toto was Dorothy’s dog, but he helped them out. Tutor gave in to his baser self and failed everyone. Ambrose, you did nothing wrong. I was cold-hearted, fighting my feelings for DG, while you left your heart out there for her and all of us. Never blame yourself.” Then he grins, “We will be needing your wide-eyed optimism for this. Don’t fail us now.”
Ambrose’s eyes lighten and he nods. He looks down at the woman he thinks of as a sister and apologizes. “I know it is not your fault Az. Never think I ever blame you for the actions of the Witch.”
Az nods then turns her gaze to the man holding her. She smiles at him and asks softly, “Jeb, don’t you think we should get on our horses so we can get moving?”
Jeb starts at the sound of her voice and holding her close for a second longer, he releases her, saying, “Sorry, Az.”
She laughs and tells him, “I didn’t mind.” No, she does not mind this handsome young man holding her close…
He blushes, helps her up and then into the saddle. He turns and going towards his own horse, he passes by the three companions and can see their amused expressions. He growls, “Leave it alone.”
Cain smirks as he watches his son. He is sitting relaxed in the saddle, the reins in his hands as they rest on the saddle horn. Once his son is on his horse, he nods and moves them out. He is in the lead, directing them along the Old Brick road, remembering what the original Gale had said: that they needed to travel her path along with their own. He sighs, knowing they will need to head to the Papay fields first, where Raw had been found. He glances back, seeing Ambrose, then the Princess, then Raw, with his son behind him. He nods, knowing this is the best grouping he can do with the road being narrow in certain areas.
As they move down the road, each of the companions reminiscing on their past. The three companions remember DG and how she had been either amazed or confused about the world around them. She would see something that would blow her mind away, like a fairy in a tree waving at her, or a tree smiling at her. She always looked to either Cain or Glitch at the time to make sure she was really seeing it.
Then there will be the times she was confused, a memory of a past she didn’t know was her own would come bubbling up. Cain remembers the first time she had one, he had been suspicious of her. Well, to be truthful, he had been suspicious of her from the second he had seen her. The bond that he had felt with her had so outweighed the one he had shared with Adora that he automatically fought against it. He had done everything he could to distance himself from her, and only started to admit his feelings when he found himself abandoning his quest for revenge upon learning that she was in danger. He did this without a moment’s hesitation.
Closing his eyes briefly, he remembers how hard his heart had beat when he couldn’t find her. Then the moment it stopped when he realized she was a Princess. The worst was when he realized who Glitch was. That Glitch was really Ambrose and that he was the Suitor for the woman he has fallen so in love with. More than just fallen in love with if he is being truthful. By that time, Cain held some affection for the Head-case, and he started to push his feelings away.
He grins briefly as he remembers when they were working to get him well enough to go after DG after the fall into the lake. He remembers his absolute need to get to his DG was what had allowed him to drag himself as far as he had. Afterwards, Glitch had quietly told him that he knows Cain is in love with DG and he will step back.
Cain had been shocked and just said, “What, why?”
Glitch had quietly just continued to add wood to the stove. He finally sighed and told him, “Your first question was where she was. Nothing else. And while you were out, you talked.”
Cain leaned back in the pillow and closed his eyes, faint red pinking his ears. “What did I say?”
Still not looking at the Tin Man, he told him, “You were muttering on how this could happen, you are still in love with Adora. Then…”
Cain took a deep breath and told him, “Continue. Let me hear it all.”
Glitch finally looks at him. “You mentioned that you felt the bond so much stronger with her. Stronger than with anyone else in your entire life.” At Cain’s groan, he smiled slightly then mentioned, “You also mentioned how you could never Court a Princess and-” He caught himself.
Cain looked up. It was not like the Zipperhead to just stop talking. It normally took one of them to get him to stop. “Glitch?”
Glitch just sighed. “You also said you were going to not even try because she already had a Suitor, and in your eyes, he was a good man.” He looked into Cain’s eyes. “Cain, I know my marbles are elsewhere. I also know I care for DG in a way I can’t explain. But if you love her, if you already have a bond, don’t give up. DG deserves the best…”
And before he could put himself down, Cain interrupted him. “And she has them. She will just have to choose. But until then, we have enough on our plates and will need to do everything to keep her safe. So, brothers?”
Glitch’s normal smile spread on his face. “Brothers. Just know I will be working hard to make her mine.”
Grinning back at him, Cain told him, “Wouldn’t want it any other way, Head-case. I’ll try to take it easy on you, I don’t want to win just ‘cause you don’t have your marbles.”
They had grinned at each other, and that was the start of their partnership.
Cain looks around to make sure they are fine, judging the path against the light left by the two moons. He asked, “Does anyone have any trouble with pushing through until we get to the edge of the Papay Fields?”
Jeb glances up and just tells them, “I prefer if we stop an hour away, father. Give some cushioning if we need it.”
Cain nods and they continued on.
Ambrose looked off to the side, remembering how bad he had been on the trip there, nonstop talking! But to be truthful, he had been confused by the woman he had met. He had felt such a strong Bond with her and had no idea why. Even now he doesn’t understand why he didn’t recognize DG right away, the Suitor Bond should have let him know who she was instantly.
He remembers how much he had trusted her right away. And how jealous he had been when she had opened the Tin Suit and Cain had fallen out. The first person Cain saw was her, and he had seen the flash of emotion across his face. He had not understood it, but he had looked over at DG, knowing somehow that it would change for them.
He also remembers better than Cain when Glitch became completely aware of Cain’s feelings. It was after they had rescued Raw and were trying to get warm. Ambrose’s ears turn slightly red at how he didn’t even offer DG his coat to get warm.
But the fun started when she went to Raw to talk. Both he and Cain had moved to protect her. Afterwards, Cain being exasperated with her had made even Glitch realize that the man had feelings for the lost Slipper.
The more that Glitch’s feelings of love and admiration for the Slipper grew, it had been increasingly amusing to watch Cain fight his emotions. Now Ambrose can understand why. He had felt guilty that he was feeling love for someone when to him his wife had just passed away. And even Ambrose had heard of the love the Tin Man had for his family. And now, to know that love was so much greater with DG. Well, Ambrose hopes he still has a chance.
Ambrose himself, he loves DG. Her mind is brilliant, her dedication to help others even as a child had captured his heart. And now as an adult, seeing the features that made him fall in love with her then, matured and having her heart stopping promise of beauty as a child, bloom. It literally blew his mind. He cannot help but feel the love he has for her. He grins, remembering the fun they used to have in the workshops in Finaqua. He had been so looking forward to bringing her there and just relaxing.
Behind Ambrose, Az is riding, losing herself in the enjoyment of being out in the O.Z. She can feel the twitch in between her shoulder blades and know that the mobats have felt her enjoyment. The mobats are still part of her; being creatures, they didn’t care if the Witch was alive or not. They had moved back to the tattoo in the center of her shoulder blades that they had resided when she had been growing up. She let them loose when they had won, only to find that they had returned. She herself was the one that had treated them well, not the Witch. And they knew that.
Too bad most of the O.Z. still thought of them as evil. Her mother had been working to save the race, after getting to know the ones that still are with Az. DG had actually been helping with that at the beginning, but had slowly removed herself from it.
Eyes half closed, Raw is feeling each of his companions. He is not a man of many words, none of his race are. But the feelings he gets from his companions are all worried, mixed with varying grades of love for DG. Raw knows who DG’s feelings are for, but he will never betray his closest friend like that. The man she cares about is one Raw thinks is deserving of her. The thing is that really both men are loving and will do their best by her and Raw knows this. But it will be the work of the one she truly feels for to convince her he doesn’t blame her for the wrongs that have happened because of her compassion as a child. The same compassion that made both men fall in love with her, and to be honest, made Raw love her. He loves her as a sister and that is why her leaving has hurt him.
Az loves her as her sister, her savior. She truly does not blame her, knowing that DG was not the only one who heard the child crying. She had chosen to ignore it. She was the one the Witch had wanted, the one that she had grabbed when DG dropped her hand. If it hadn’t been for the darkness inside her, she would not have been the Host, DG would have been grabbed and enslaved.
Jeb loves her as a sister. He knows his father loves her, but so does the woman he loves. Raw knows it has taken some time for Jeb to come to terms with his father being the same age and loving a woman only a few years younger than him. He has done well with it, and finally settled into his feelings for both of them. No matter what, DG is his sister.
Raw looks in front of him at the two men who are hurting and so determined to find the woman they love. He does not know how they will handle her choosing one of them. But they are both aware it can and will happen.
Cain held his hand up and stops them. He said only loud enough for them to hear, “This is where we need to stop.”
The group nods and quickly the camp is struck. The three fell into their old patterns, Jeb working alongside his father as he has for the past annual. Az was the one to make their camp secure, magically. When all was said and done, they quickly ate and went to sleep.
The following morning showed Cain still resting against the tree, thinking back along their trip the first time. He had always taken the last shift, and back then, he had made sure DG was close to him. As he gave up and let his emotions be as they are, he had found that sometime in the night, DG would shift closer to him and on the last night they had camped, she had rested her hand on his legs. Luckily they had been in camp with his son, because he freely admits he paid attention to nothing but her that last night. His eyes had memorized everything he could of her. And it had not surprised him to see Glitch doing the same thing from across the fire.
It didn’t even bother him that Glitch had stuck to her side the following day; in fact, it had relieved his mind. He didn’t want her going anywhere alone while they were planning the assault. He knew she would feel guilty that people were risking their lives to free them from what she had done. But later when she had come to him, he had just stared into her face. And followed her without a word when she went to help Raw.
It had been the closest he had been to admitting his feelings to her. In hindsight, he wishes now that he had, but Glitch had not been there and that would have been fighting dirty.
The rest of them awoke and soon were back on the road. The twin suns were just making themselves known across the land when they halted, shocked.
The Papay fields had been dead for annuals. Most people don’t even remember the paradise they had once been; Jeb in fact had never seen them alive. This was the first place that the Witch had destroyed. She did it before even coming to power; she leached the life force from the trees to power herself.
But in front of them is that paradise returned. Not just returned, but better than ever.
Ambrose just said one word and they all understood. “DG.”
Cain reverently uttered, “This must have been one of the places she had healed. But when?”
Raw just told them, “Peaceful. DG did it out of love.”
Az was shaking her head. When Jeb notices, he asks her, “What’s wrong, Az?”
She answers him, “There is so much power in here; it’s just incredible. I can’t describe it. But she also had locked it away to stop the mages from ever being able take from them again. The only one who can receive any power from this place is the Papay and DG. And that is only because they allow her.”
Cain looks over, “And the Papay?”
Az and Raw smile at each other. “They returned to the innocent creatures of light they were to begin with. But do not be surprised if they defend DG. They respect her.”
A group of the Papay emerge in front of them, sniff and then bow to them.
Raw smiles as he answers their unspoken question, “Papay honor the seekers for the Queen of the O.Z. They know why we are here. They extend hospitality and any help to find the Savior.”
Cain nods his hand close to his gun. He asks, “When did this happen?” If it had been a while ago, then how did anyone keep it quiet?
The Papay chattered at each other then look over to Raw. He nods, frowning. “Three nights ago.”
Cain straightened. The night before he had come home. Then he whips his head to Az and Ambrose, “How much power would this have taken from her and when did you last see her?”
They both pale. “We saw her before that night, during lunch. Not since then. She didn’t even come see Ambrose after surgery.”
Cain’s jaw clenches. “That is why she looked so awful that night. She had just finished healing the fields. And how much would that damn spell have done to her?”
Jeb answers him, his own jaw hard. “Been worse.”
Cain looks away, trying to contain his temper.
Ambrose is staring hard at the ground. Then his eyes narrow, “If she was that weak, how did she leave?”
Az and Cain both answer, “The Emerald,” and both look at each other.
Cain tells them, “It flashed in the room when I was standing there. If you said it was trying to protect her, then it probably removed her from there. But where could it go, to stop her from doing that?”
They all look at each other, trying to think.
Cain has a large suspicion and he can see Ambrose is thinking the same thing.
Shortly he confirms it by saying, “Over the Rainbow.”
Final Count: 4,307 words