Role Playing

That afternoon, the king found the thief reading in the royal library.

"Are you turning scholarly, my dear?" the king asked. "You've been here for hours, we've heard."

The thief did not look up from his book. "Hello, Edgar. I'm surprised you can even locate your library."

"Is that why you're here, Locke? Are you hiding?" Edgar chuckled softly as he inspected his snuff box.

"Hardly," Locke said. "If I wanted to escape you, I'd be in your chapel."

"We are hurt by your implication, my cherub. We often take a stroll in the chapel to admire the stained glass," Edgar said, slipping his snuff box back in his pocket. "And I'm no stranger to my father's library, though I don't often spend hours perusing...Blunt's Book of Strange and Unnatural Creatures? What are you doing, Locke?"

Locke turned a page before he said, "I'm looking for moogles."

Edgar threw back his head and laughed. "Moogles, my dear? I never pegged you as the superstitious type. What do you plan to do? Leave a bowl of milk on my stoop? Will they clean your kitchen or cobble your shoes? Or do you just want to see them leave their cold hillside and dance a round for you at Midsummer's Eve?"

"Do you think," Locke said, still reading his book, "that they can cast a hex on you for me?"

"Alas, I don't think moogles are capable of malice, despite being mischievous elf-folk," Edgar said. "At least, not in the tales I've heard."

"Alas." Locke continued to read.

"So," Edgar said restlessly. "Why are you looking up moogles?"

"I'm worried," Locke said, "that my ballads don't have the proper verisimilitude. It's so tricky to keep straight all those little details about abducted maidens and dishonorable kings."

"When those little details escape me," Edgar said, "I usually find it convenient to hum. In fact, I never remember more than half the words to any song. It's all very: 'There is a lady sweet and kind, was never dum dum dum de dum.'"

"Your subjects must take heart whenever they hear you sing the national anthem."

"Ha ha," Edgar said. "But speaking of abducted maidens--"

Locke groaned.

"You didn't think I was just going to pass over her without comment, did you, my dear? I can hardly be expected to ignore the...oddity of seeing you appear, out of the blue, with a strange maiden without a history."

"I told you," Locke said. "She's a former Imperial soldier. It's Returner business. You can't, in good faith, question me further."

"Good faith has never been my greatest virtue, my dear," Edgar said. "And my curiosity is further propelled by recent reports of Imperial riders in the outskirts of my domain."

Locke looked up at that. "Really? That's faster than I expected."

"Indeed?" Edgar asked levelly. "And would it be considered impertinent to inquire how interested the Empire might be in reclaiming a former soldier?"

"Thinking about selling her out?" Locke asked, returning to his book.

"Hardly, my cherub," Edgar said. "I merely wonder when I might expect a visit from the Empire."

"It may not come to that," Locke said. "With any luck, they'll think we slipped past their perimeter already."

Edgar stared down at him. "Luck?"

"It's my greatest virtue, dear king."

"No, that would be foolish optimism, dear thief. The thing is, Kefka is on the continent," Edgar said heavily. "And I detest dealing with Kefka."

"Poor king," Locke said, turning a page.

"Well, you may keep your secrets, my dear," Edgar said. "And, anyway, I'm sure I shall hear the whole sordid tale eventually."

Edgar turned to go, and Locke looked up from his book. "Edgar."

"My dear?"

"Leave Terra alone."

Edgar raised his eyebrows. "I didn't plan on interrogating her."

"I wasn't worried about an interrogation," Locke said tartly. "Just leave her alone."

The king bowed ostentatiously to the thief. "I assure you, my dear, that your lady's virtue is safe with me."


That night, the lady came to visit the king in his chambers.

Edgar's workshop was deep within the castle cellars, where the walls thrummed in tune to the nearby engines. Edgar was repairing one of his father's clocks. In fact, he had gotten so involved with the project that he'd missed supper. He assumed that his servants had properly fed and feted his guests -- but given Locke's cold secrecy, he was not going to worry overmuch about it.

It was past midnight when he heard a door creak and a skirt rustle.

"Is that dinner?" Edgar asked, squinting down at overlapping gears. "If you would leave it on the table, my dear?"

"No," came the voice, low and husky. "I have no dinner for you."

Edgar looked up to see Locke's Imperial soldier standing in his workshop's doorway. She was wearing one of his mother's dresses; she was wearing one of Locke's scarves. When he'd seen her that morning in his throne room, her hair had been a pale gold under the sunlit windows. Now, in the flickering candlelight of Figaro's cellars, her hair was green.

It's like a leaf, part of Edgar's brain thought. It's like a leaf with a silver underside, turning one color in the light and another in the shade. He had not seen her since she and Locke had arrived. Standing in his doorway, she seemed newly strange.

"I think," she continued, gazing around, "your housekeeper brought your dinner to your sleeping quarters."

"She would," Edgar sighed. "She doesn't care to come down here. Says there's creatures. I'm not surprised she shirked her duty."

"Are there?" Terra asked. Her eyes were very large and clear as she looked back to him.

"Are there what?"

"Are there creatures down here?"

"Small insects, I suppose. Maybe scorpions. Nothing down here that isn't everywhere else in the castle," Edgar said. "But what brings you to my humble workshop?" He did not add that this was his sanctum, off-limits to everyone but his long-suffering housekeeper. He did not mention the locks and guards that should have stood against such a penetration.

"I have been exploring your castle," the woman said without any self-consciousness. "And when I found this door, I opened it."

"Ah," Edgar said. "Well, come in, come in. My workshop is sadly cluttered at the moment, but I would hate to exclude it from your tour of my castle."

She stepped over his threshold, already turning her luminous gaze to the mutilated engines and gears strewn across the floor. Edgar was silent as she daintily picked her way over the pipes and nozzles, but he was thinking: She doesn't move like a soldier.

Terra arrived at his work table without mishap and stood there, staring down at the box with springs spilling from its belly.

"It's a clock," Edgar offered.

"Ah," Terra said.

"Here, have a seat," Edgar said, amused by the childlike intensity of her scrutiny. "I'll show you how it works, if you would like. Have you ever seen an opened clock before?"

"No," Terra said, "I haven't seen one. Yes, I would like to know." She perched on the stool next to Edgar and propped her chin on the palms of her hands. "How does it work?"

"Well," Edgar said, "this here is the winding device..." He took her through the intended motions of the clock piece by piece, their heads bent close together, and the entire time, he was distracted by the faint smell of her hair and skin. It was both cloying and sharp, like honeysuckle mingled with sulphur.

"Ah," she breathed as he finally reached the clock hands, the terminal point for the mechanism's path of energy. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Edgar said, but she was already looking away, like a child seeking a fresh point of interest. Edgar had the sudden thought that, unless he performed some new sleight of hand, she'd soon be off to explore the other portions of his cellars.

His pride, if not precisely stung, was somewhat dinged by this realization. Terra demonstrated zero consciousness that she was a woman and he was a man, alone together at the dead of night -- a situation usually ripe with tension. Some women might have giggled and flirted and accidentally brushed him with knee and fingertip, but not Terra. Some women might have averted their eyes and licked their dry lips, but not Terra. Some women might have been inquired about his clockwork only as an entry to deeper affairs, but not Terra. She was genuinely curious about the clock. She had no curiosity about him.

A lesser man might have been deterred by this lack of interest; a lesser man might have remembered Locke's expression that afternoon and hesitated. Not Edgar. Edgar had scaled garden walls; Edgar had made assignations in wine cellars. He had rescued handkerchiefs, fought duels, and endured deathly boring music recitals. He had embraced countless scores of blushing maidens, and he had kissed their giggling maids. To the seasoned campaigner, Terra's disinterest was merely the opening move.

"My dear, has anyone ever told you that your eyes are deep pools?" Edgar asked, leaning close. "A man could drown--"

"No," Terra said, seriously considering the question. "No one has told me that. Has anyone ever told you that?"

"That my eyes are deep pools? No, but--"

"Ah," Terra said. "But it's a common expression here?" Her expression was suspiciously grave; there was a flicker of laughter in her eyes. The king, mentally revising his assessment of the lady's obliviousness, switched tactics.

"In sandy Figaro?" Edgar asked. "No, here we say that a woman has eyes as smooth as a snake, as soft as spider web, or as sweet as well-water."

"Oh!" Terra said brightly. "But I have heard you compared to a snake!"

"And I can imagine where you heard it," Edgar said, parrying. "I'm always heartened to hear the high value our dear thief places on snakes."

There had been a smile hovering behind Terra's deadpan mask, but both expressions slid away at Edgar's words, and she simply stared at him.


"Didn't you know?" Edgar asked. "Locke is part of the proudest and most venerable of professions. Well, I must amend, second most venerable."

Terra said nothing for a moment, and then she said, "No, I didn't know." Her face was vacant of expression.

"Trust Locke," Edgar said, "to be close-mouthed on all the important details--"

"He did mention your wandering hands," she said, carefully blank and puzzled. "And something about a silver tongue."

"Actually, it's the tongue that wanders and the hands that wear silver," Edgar said. "Trust Locke to mix the two up! Especially after he's tried to steal my signet ring. Twice."

"He told me to avoid would-be lovers."

"Why, so would I," Edgar said. "Those pretenders! If you're going to be a lover, you must embrace the role completely."

"And flattering lies," Terra said. "He did tell me to beware those."

"On that score, my dear, you are perfectly safe. I lie with women but never to them. Unlike our dear thief, who lies to himself about women. It's a tad perverse."

"And he did mention," Terra said, with a flicker in her eyes that wasn't laughter, "that you're an ally of the Empire."

"Yes," Edgar said, leaning back. "We signed quite a nice treaty, Gestahl and I. It's framed somewhere upstairs. I'll point it out to you in the morning. Maybe it will make you feel at home."

"Ah, yes," Terra said, looking away. "Home. Did Locke tell you that? What else did he...mention?"

"I did but see her passing by," Edgar said, "and yet I love her till I die."

"What?" Terra asked, looking up.

"Just an old song," Edgar said. "I've had it stuck in my head all day. Locke? I really can't remember. Something about an Imperial soldier -- or a former Imperial soldier? Mmmm. To tell the truth, I was a little distracted at the time, because there you were, radiant in the sunlight, with eyes like--"

Something skittered across the worktable, and Edgar shrieked like a girl.

Terra's hand slammed down on the blur of shadow, and something crackled and died under her palm. She ground the heel of her hand against the table for good measure, and then pulled her hand away. Something with a dusty brown carapace lay crushed and twitching on the table.

"There are creatures down here," Edgar said. "My housekeeper was right for once. Came out of nowhere, didn't it?" He giggled nervously and smoothed his sleeves.

"Hmmm," Terra said. She was examining the palm of her hand and the dark paste there.

"Although, as a rule, it might be better not to kill them with your bare hands, my dear. If that had been a scorpion...Terra?"

Terra was trembling. Her breath came fast and shallow, and her pupils were dilated. She stared at her hand.

"Terra?" Edgar stood up. "Did it hurt? Those insects aren't poisonous..."

Terra shook, silent and wide-eyed.

"Hey, hey, come on, let's...let's clean you up," Edgar said. "Come on." He pulled at her elbow, and she blindly followed, still fixated on her hand.

Halfway down the room, he abruptly cursed and wheeled around. He had forgotten that the water pipes in the castle's cellars had been unhooked during the castle's last dive. The basement sinks had yet to be reconnected.

"This way, this way," he murmured to Terra as he kept a firm grasp on her arm. She said nothing, but he could hear her hoarse, panting breath against his right ear. "It's all right," he said. "Everything is going to be all right."

Together, they marched through unlocked doors, up stairs, and past sleeping guards. Edgar kept up a running whisper of soothing words, although Terra barely attended. Part of Edgar -- the part unconcerned with preventing the lady from going into hysterics in his cellar, because then Locke really would kill him -- remembered something from ten years before. A rush up the stairs, a weeping brother, and murmured nonsense just to distract him. He cut his hand on a rusty saw, Edgar remembered. And with visions of lockjaw dancing through my head...

And then they were finally through the last door, standing on the threshold of the desert.

Edgar pulled Terra forward but here she resisted, staring blankly at the stars over the horizon.

"I killed it," she breathed.

"Well, yes," Edgar said, trying to inch her forward. "And I, for one, am grateful for your valiant defense. Who knows what might have happened if you hadn't been there? I might still be standing on a chair and screaming in terror -- which is, I hasten to add, not how a king wishes to be seen by his subjects. Even if they did fall asleep at their posts, those damn blighters. But there you were! Courageous and brave!" He was pulling Terra forward with all his weight now, but she proved surprisingly immovable. "In fact, I consider it the most signal piece of valor I've seen this week. This month! I feel half-inclined to award you half my kingdom and my future daughter's hand in marriage."

"It's d-d-dead," Terra said, and Edgar was terrified at the premonition of tears in her voice.

"Forget my imaginary daughter! The whole kingdom! I'll marry you myself," Edgar said. "I need someone willing to defend my person from insect assaults. But it was just a bug, Terra. If you hadn't killed it, I would have myself. Eventually. Probably."

She blinked in the moonlight, and Edgar felt her whole body loosen. "But I killed them. I remember..."

"And I bet they had it coming," Edgar said inanely. He was not sure who she was talking about, but he could guess. Even though she doesn't move like a soldier...

"No," Terra said, but it was the calm tone she had used earlier, next to a broken clock. "I don't think anyone has that kind of death coming." She took a step forward, and Edgar nearly tumbled back at the sudden release of tension. "Where are we going?"

"To the well," Edgar said. "My chancellor has been an idiot about coordinating my household, so there's no water available in the cellars at the moment."

"Why do we need water?" Terra asked, following.

"...To wash your hands," Edgar said slowly and distinctly.

"Oh," Terra said with faint surprise. "Well, all right."

Edgar glanced at her and gritted his teeth, but he said nothing.

The well stood several yards apart from the castle, and Edgar was relieved to see a bucket sitting next to it. He lowered the bucket on the well's rope. Terra stood next to him with her head craned up to watch the stars.

"I haven't seen these constellations before," she said.

"Mmmm," said Edgar, pulling on the rope. "We use them to navigate northern Figaro. As long as you have the stars, you can't get lost."

"As long as it's night," she added.

"And as long as you're above ground," Edgar agreed as the bucket hove back into view, brimming with water. "And here, give me your hand."

"It's really nothing," Terra said, ineffectually wiping her hand against his mother's dress.

"No, no, give it here. That stuff may not be poisonous, but it's persistent. The nomads use the vile creatures for dye, I believe. If you let it set, you'll have the mark for a while. And as fetching as it may look, I doubt you'd like it."

Edgar dipped his handkerchief in the bucket, and Terra reluctantly offered her hand, palm up.

"I guess..." She hesitated, and then ventured a girlish giggle. "I guess I acted badly back there."

"Mmmm," Edgar said, not taken in. He gently took her hand into his own. "I'm hardly one to start pointing accusing fingers for poor reactions to creepy-crawlies, my dear. My own house has too much glass for that." He pressed his damp handkerchief against her palm and began to gently and rhythmically rub. "You didn't react that badly."

She leaned her head back to regard the stars again, but this time, Edgar stood close enough to note the rapid flutter of her eyelids as she blinked back tears.

Her voice, when it came, was steady. "And is this another role the king of Figaro plays? The concerned father, the soothing nurse?"

"It's hardly in our national charter," Edgar said calmly. "But I'm touched by the question, because those are traits that my father possessed, and he made a fine king indeed. There are worse role models to follow."

"Your father..." Terra said. "And your other roles?" Her voice was low and husky. "The delicate lover? The absent-minded engineer? The Empire's lap-dog?"

"It is something of a juggling act," Edgar said. "But I hardly think my pretenses are any more terrible than your masks."

She stiffened, but Edgar kept speaking, low and silky. "Locke tells me that you're a soldier of the Empire, but you don't walk like a soldier, and you despise the Empire. And, anyway, Locke is the last person to embrace an Imperial soldier."

"What do you mean?" Terra breathed.

"And rumors tell me that the Empire is searching for someone on the continent. I keep hearing the word 'witch,' and I keep thinking of all those nasty toys that the Empire is developing. And a woman trained to use them."

Terra was silent.

"And my eyes tell me that you're a beautiful woman, alone and afraid, curious and brave, in a terrible situation and looking to be rescued. I suspect that Locke and I share a common vision on this point."

"I don't need to be rescued," Terra said with a touch of sullenness.

"Don't turn your nose up at rescues," Edgar said coldly. "Better to be rescued than to drown. But maybe you don't need to be saved. Maybe you're saving yourself. I think that maybe you can. You gave a convincing performance of harmless stupidity down in my cellars. And you did a very good brainless giggle just now."

"Thank you," Terra said flatly.

"And if I didn't know better," Edgar said, "I might think you were as harmless and helpless as you appear, and I might let you leave my kingdom without a second thought."

They were standing by the well, and Terra's hand was as clean as it was going to get, but Edgar still held it trapped between his own hand and his drying handkerchief. In the moonlight, everything was the same shade of silvered blue.

"I just wonder, my dear," Edgar said, "what you really are. Soldier? Weapon? Woman? Savant?"

"And just what would you like me to be?" she asked, and Edgar was startled by the fierce frustration in her voice. He opened his mouth, but he had nothing clear to say.

And so, of course, it was at that moment -- with the king clutching the lady's hand in the moonlight and as speechless as a love-addled youth -- that the thief arrived.

"Well," came Locke's voice, both appalled and amused. "What do we have here?"

Edgar dropped Terra's hand as if it were a hot coal. "Hello, my dear. Taking a nocturnal stroll?"

"I was looking for Terra," Locke said pointedly. He held his hand out, and Terra went to him without a moment of hesitation. "What were you doing?"

"Watching the stars," Edgar said breezily. "Killing bugs. Prodding clocks. It's been a full evening."

"I bet," Locke said. He had his arm around Terra's waist, and Terra had her head tucked against his shoulder.

Edgar was prepared to offer something cutting and sophisticated in response, maybe incorporating his snuff box or his quizzing glass as a prop, but he saw the way Terra was looking at Locke -- hungrily and hopelessly -- and he swallowed the words that leapt to his throat.

"And I'm impressed at the extensive tour you offer your guests," Locke said. "You've never shown me this well at night. I feel jealous."

The two of them, standing before the moonlit dunes and the star-swept horizon, looked as elegant and doomed as a pair of lovers from an old tragedy. The moonlight limned Locke's thin nose and Terra's hollow cheeks, and Edgar abruptly felt like some ragged buffoon who had wandered on-stage during the wrong scene. They shared some secret story or history, and he sensed that he would be always excluded from their fated circle.

It was not a feeling Edgar relished overmuch, and so he said, "I was just planning to escort the lady back to you. I really feel that it is time for me to retire."

Locke blinked at this unexpected retreat. "You were? It is?"

"I hope you will join me for breakfast in the morning, my dear. And, my lady," Edgar said, "I hope you will take my advice to heart."

This hewed closer to the script of Edgar's seductive modus operandi. Locke straightened in righteous indignation, but Terra spoke first. "Yes, Edgar," she said quietly. "I will."

Edgar bowed deeply. "Her wit, her voice, and her smiles," he said, pressing his hand to his chest, "beguiles my heart, I know not why."

Locke snorted and Terra sighed, which Edgar took as his cue to rise, pivot, and make his way to the side door of his castle. Behind him, he could hear the susurrus of their voices but not what they said.

He opened the door and shut the desert behind him.

He could have returned to his workshop and finished the clock. He could have gone to his room to eat the supper, long since cold, that his housekeeper had left for him. He could have prowled the battlements or woken his lazy soldiers.

He did none of these things. Instead, he walked through the silent halls of his castle until he arrived at his father's library. It smelled of paper, leather, and death. He stalked past the towering stacks until he came to the windows on the far side of the room. The library windows had not been opened in living memory, but with a little force, Edgar managed to prop one open. He sat on its deep sill and leaned his forehead against the edge of the window frame. The desert air was dry and cold.

"And yet I love her till I die," he said to himself. And then, in the same tone of voice, "I could be a thief as well, you know. I imagine, if I had the chance, that I could make a very proper criminal. I pride myself on having the right kind of mind-set."

And then: "I suppose it was a stupid question. Women can be weapons, and savants can be soldiers. Not mutually exclusive. But..." In his mind's eye, he saw the lady smiling for moment beneath her deadpan mask. "But there are levels and layers there, and they're not all working together. Not like a clock, hmmm."

And then, rubbing his eyes, he hummed for a bit and said, "Her free behavior and winning looks will make a lawyer burn his books."

And then he heard Locke singing.

The thief did not have a remarkable voice, but it was strong and steady. The song he was singing was simple and silly; it was the kind of song you sang to a restless child at bedtime. His voice was from the east, where the castle's guest chambers were located.

Edgar slumped against the wall and stretched his legs out along the window sill. "I suppose," he told the stars, "that he knows all the words. Damn blighter."

And so the king fell asleep to the thief's lullaby for the lady.


That morning, the thief made a confession to the king.

Edgar woke sometime after sunrise. He felt like hell. He stumbled up from his hard and sharp-edged sill and spent a bad ten minutes working cricks out of his spine. The rising sun was shining directly into the library. It was far too bright, Edgar thought fuzzily. He made a mental note to spin the castle around at the next opportunity.

He staggered up to his own room, two floors above, to put on his favorite dressing gown, an eye-searing garment with green clouds and yellow dragons. He staggered down to the kitchens and ran the morning trial of junior cooks to achieve a cup of coffee. And then he was marching unsteadily back up the stairs until he reached the battlements.

"Why is it," he said to himself, "that my cooks are so much more vigilant than my guards?"

Locke was already standing on the battlements, looking down over the east courtyard, when Edgar arrived.

"Good morning, your majesty," he said.

Edgar grunted and sipped his coffee. He shuffled next to Locke and looked down, where he saw Terra picking up small rocks and examining them. In the daylight, her hair was once again a silvery blonde.

"Did you sleep well, your majesty?"

"No," Edgar said. "Yourself?"

Locke was quiet for a long minute. "No," he said at last. "She has nightmares. They're getting worse. And louder."

"Hmmm," Edgar said distantly. He cradled his mug between his hands and meditatively regarded the horizon. Mentally, he began to count.

He had reached "seven" when Locke spoke again. "She doesn't remember much," he said. "She has amnesia, I guess. When I...found her, there'd been a head injury, so maybe that is to blame. But it's beginning to come back in bits and pieces now. And I think that's where the nightmares are coming from."

"Hmmm," Edgar said, visibly disinterested as he sipped coffee. This time, he only reached "three" before Locke opened his mouth again.

"I found her surrounded by moogles," Locke said. "Down in one of the mine shafts of Narshe. She's got phenomenal combat training, no memory, and the protection of a dozen creatures from a fairy tale."

"Hmmm," Edgar said. "Did they have little antennas?"


"The moogles," Edgar said. "When you saw them, did they have little antennas? That's how they're usually pictured in the books."

"Yes," Locke said grimly. "They had antennas and little red wings."

"Must be moogles," Edgar said. "It's irrefutable evidence. Did they speak?"

"Well," Locke said. "Sort of. Mainly, they just said 'kupo' a lot. And gnawed at the ankles of our enemies."

"This sounds like it belongs in a ballad, you know," Edgar said. "The moogles, the damsel in distress, the gnawed ankles, and you, a brave moogle knight--"

"Anyway," Locke said. "Terra. She's...unusual. The Empire wants her. I think the Returners may need her. And she needs our help. I think she's lost."

"Obviously," Edgar said dryly. "You wouldn't be interested in her cause otherwise. I suppose you've spied yet another opportunity to be the chivalrous knight. Now you can be, yet again, the monk-like savior who rescues the trapped maiden and serenades her with lullabies before chastely falling asleep with a sword between you and her." Edgar stopped. He hadn't planned to sound so bitter.

"I note that it is the part about chaste chivalry that irritates you," Locke said. "Are you envious, dear king?"

"No," Edgar said. "Just puzzled. Don't you ever get tired of that performance? The modest knight and the virtuous treasure-hunter?"

"No," Locke said. "I don't. Because I am a treasure hunter, and that means I'll preserve whatever I can. And Terra is worth saving."

"You can't save her," Edgar said, "unless she wants to be saved." He thought of the woman he'd seen last night, the woman with flashes of laughter and acid suppressed beneath a mask of innocuous simplicity.

"At least my intentions are honest," Locke said sharply.

"That's why I don't trust them," Edgar said. "It's very easy, my dear, to be noble and noxious."

"At least, unlike you, I won't take advantage of her."

"More fool you," Edgar said. "Noble and blind. You don't even know who you're saving, cherub. You don't even know who she is. You just have a set of predetermined molds you'd like to fit her into."

"And you? Do you know her?"

"I know she's not a piece of china," Edgar said immediately. "I know she won't shatter easily. I know she's worthy of being told the truth about who you are and what you're doing with her. I know she can be trusted to make her own decisions, without you swaddling her along like some overprotective parent. She's not a damsel in distress unless you make her one."

Locke fingered his earring and watched Terra as she moved through the courtyard, retrieving and discarding odd pebbles. "I'm thinking," he said at last, "of taking her to Banon. I'd like to enlist her into the Returners."

"A sensible plan," Edgar said, "although I don't trust Banon not to impose his own needs on her. He's been looking for a tragic martyr recently, I think."

"If you're that worried about her," Locke said, "why don't you come along?"

"And leave my dear country ungoverned so I can hare off on rebellious schemes?"

"Figaro can function well enough without you, dear king," Locke said. "In fact, it usually does."

"Ha ha," Edgar said.

"And what role would you like for her, if she's not to be a damsel or a martyr," Locke asked slyly. "A lover?"

"A survivor. A mother. A witch," Edgar said sourly. "I don't care. I don't care which mask she wears. I just want to let her play the part she wants to play."

Down in the courtyard, Terra turned toward the rising sun. She still had a clutch of pebbles in her hand. Standing there, with her back straight, her rocks held ready, and her face turned to look over the horizon, she looked like a general surveying the grounds of her next campaign.

"Will you be as generous as that, dear king?" asked the thief. "Would you let her choose some path that didn't involve you?"

"Well, my dear," said the king, easily assuming the armor of his familiar mannerisms. "I hardly think that the universe will let me escape her. We're fated to be together, I suspect." He reached for his snuff box. "I could sense a soul connection the first time I saw her."

"Ha ha," Locke said tiredly.

"But change she earth," Edgar murmured into his mug, "or change she sky, yet will I love her till I die."

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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