Natsu found himself hauled down into the depths of the dungeon where he was tossed into his cell, his body slammed hard onto the old, hard ground with a loud thud. He grunted, barely summing up enough energy to roll to his side, but he was so physically exhausted he could no longer move beyond that point. He could still feel the throbbing of the lash wounds, the sensation of warm blood on his naked skin. The ground may have been cold, but it did provide him some comfort in his otherwise callous body aches.
Gajeel walked over to the edge of his own cell and peered down at the motionless boy. He then picked up a cup of water that was nearby and dripped some of it into Natsu's open mouth. The boy slurped on the water, desperate to get as much in it in his mouth as he possibly could. Once the cup was all but empty the boy found his eyelids getting heavier and heavier until finally darkness over took him.
"Don't bother," the guard sneered at Gajeel. "the boy is all but finished. You best stay away from him or else suffer the same fte."
The teen stared at him with a fierce scowl. He didn't care what the guard said, he took his seat next to his pink haired cell mate and watched to make sure that they boy didn't stop breathing while he was unconscious. He sighed, sitting down on the floor resting his chin on his hand.
Meanwhile in the castle Lucy was crying in her room as Levy tried her best to comfort the young princess. It was no use, Lucy sobbed as she lied in bed unable to get the sounds of slashing whips and Natsu's cries of pain out of her head. She could see him there, half naked on the stage awaiting torment, and though she hadn't actually seen him get whipped once, the image of it continued to play over and over in her mind's eye. She didn't understand why it was the one thing she didn't want to think about was plaguing her so much.
Levy sat by Lucy's side not knowing what to say. She rubbed her hand on the princess's back as the young blonde continued to cry into her pillow. The princess clasping her dragon necklace in her hand, seeking some comfort in the small pennant.
"My Lady," Levy asked gently, "is there anything I can get you that would help you feel any better?"
"No," Lucy sighed through her sobs. "But thank you, Levy. You've always been such a good friend to me."
Lucy turned to offer the young handmaiden a friendly smile before rolling back over to her side. She wanted to see him, more than anything she wanted to make sure that Natsu was okay. She just didn't know how she was going to do it, or if she would be able to do it. She cringed as she thought of him down there in the dungeon lying in pain. And after a long time of contemplating it, she decided that she was going to do precisely that.
"Levy," Lucy exhaled with a soft breath, "could you give me a few moments to myself? I just want to be alone for a little while."
"Of course my Lady," Levy said as she stood up to leave. "You take as much time as you need."
With that Levy took her leave as she walked towards the bedroom door. Before she left she took one concerned look back at the blonde princess before closing the door behind her. Once Levy was gone Lucy picked herself up out of her bed, got herself ready before she made a quick dash to her bedroom door and peered around the hallway to make sure that there was no one around. Once she was sure the coast was clear she veiled her head with the hood and quickly ran to the stairwell, making sure not to cause a commotion.
"I can't believe Duke would do such a horrible thing," Erza growled as she drained a pit of ale. "The man is a monster, Jellal."
"I know," Jellal said sipping on his own beer. "But there's nothing we can do about it now."
The two of them had returned back to the tavern they had originally sat at before the public punishment. The young red head was still somewhat furious about the day's events as she slammed the mug down on the bar counter. The bartender made his way over to replace the drink, but no sooner had he placed it down in front of her, that she gulped all in one sitting.
Jellal snorted to himself as he watched the red head from the corner of his eye while taking another sip of his own ale. Erza slammed the other mug on the bar counter, signaling that she wanted a fresh mug. The bartender leered at her, but ignored her request as he went about serving other customers. Erza waited for her own mug to be refilled, but noticed that she was being ignored. She was about to shout at the bartender when she felt Jellal's hand clasped on her shoulder.
"I think you need to slow it down a bit Erza," he said taking a sip of beer.
"Don't tell me to slow it down," Erza growled, slamming the mug on the wooden counter to get the bartender's attention. The burly man scowled at her as he began to grow agitated.
"Here," Jellal said offering her his mug, "just take mine."
"I don't want yours," she sneered. "I want my own mug of beer. My money is good here."
"Well first off I don't know if I should be offended by that," the young noble said raising an eyebrow. "And I'm pretty sure that it's my money that's going to pay for the beer."
"Fine," Erza exhaled deeply, "than your money is good here."
"Yeah, I know my money is good here, but I'm pretty sure that you don't need to drink anymore for the night," Jellal told her as he finished hi smug. "Come on, it's getting late, we should start heading back to the castle."
The red head resisted at first, but Jellal was finally able to pull her from her chair and drag her towards the door. Erza fought back, flailing her arms, but Jellal finally managed to pull her out the door. Once outside Erza stumbled to her feet, as Jellal noticed that her face was a tad flushed. He then realized that the girl must be a little drunk.
The two of them made their way back to the castle gate, Erza began to stumble forward as Jellal caught her. The young noble sighed in agitation as he helped carry the young red head back. As they passed through the castle gates Jellal noticed something strange, a black hooded figure making his way to one of the halls that led towards the dungeon.
He reflected on what happened earlier that day when he saw that cloaked figure he and Erza saw in the tavern. "Erza, stay here I need to check something out," he said as he sat her down near the wall and followed the hooded figure down the corridor. He could hear Erza shouting cries of protest as he left her behind, but he opted to ignore her for now.
Meanwhile Lucy finally made her way down into the dungeons. It was difficult enough to see in dark corridors of the dungeon halls, but it was even worse that the sun had gone down and the only source of light was the dim lit torches on the walls. What made it worse was the hood of the black cloak she was wearing; it obscured her vision for the most part, but she carried on nonetheless, until finally she arrived at a row of rusty bared cells. On the ground of one cell lied a motionless Natsu.
"Natsu!" Lucy shouted as she ran over to the door of his cell.
The sound of her voice startled Gajeel as the other young Draconan was stirred awake. He staggered to his feet, scowling at the hooded figure in front of him with serious eyes. He wondered who the hooded figure was, the hood shrouded her face in the already murky darkness.
"Who the hell are you?" he growled demandingly.
"Natsu!" Lucy cried as Natsu was finally roused awake.
"What? Who are you?" he asked in a half dead voice. He peered up from he ground at the hooded figure standing before him. Gajeel continued to glare at her with menacing eyes, but Lucy just ignored him.
She had forgotten about the hood as she ripped it off to reveal herself to him. Both Natsu's and Gajeel's eyes went wide as they saw her standing there, tears swelling up in her already whimpered eyes. Natsu immediately pulled himself to his feet, his back radiating in pain as he did so. He stumbled forward, catching himself on the bars as the glided towards her, banging into the iron bars in front of her as she caught him.
Neither of them hesitated as they kissed one another through the gap in the bars. Her lips like sweet, revitalizing nectar to him. Her cheeks were soggy from all the crying, but he didn't care. He couldn't believe that she was there with him. Finally, after several moments of passionate kissing they finally broke away, Lucy still fighting back tears as Natsu caressed her cheek. She grabbed onto his hand taking it in hers as she let him rub her cheek before she quickly went back in for another kiss.
Gajeel watched from the next cell over, bewildered and amazed by what was transpiring. He shook his head and knocked on the side of it with an open palm, just to make sure that he wasn't dreaming. Though now that he knew that he was awake, he was still in a phase of disbelief.
"Why are you here?" Natsu panted as they broke away for a second time. He stroked the bangs from in front of her eyes.
"I had to see you," Lucy told him. "I had to make sure that you were okay. After what happened today I—"
"Shh," Natsu said cutting her off. "There's no need to worry about me Lucy. I'm fine. And with you here I'm even better now."
"Hey, wait a minute!" Gajeel shouted. "What in the name of the gods is going on here?"
"Lucy, can you please answer me one thing?" Natsu asked her, as he whipped a single tear away from her eye. Gjaeel snarled to himself leaning up against the iron bars of his own cell; he didn't like being ignored. But he figured that he wasn't going to get anywhere even if he did protest.
"What is it?" she asked.
"If I told you I planed on running away in the next couple of days, with Gajeel and the others, would you be willing to come with me now?" Natsu asked her caressing her cheek gently, resting his forehead on hers.
"Of course," Lucy blurted out right before she leaned in and kissed him again. "I don't care where we go, or what they do. I just want to be with you, and I don't want to see you hurt anymore. I just can't bear it."
"Hey, hey, come on now," Natsu said smiling at her, but she could see that the boy was in an immense amount of agony even though he tried to play it off as nothing. "Lucy, it's me. I can handle anything anyone throws at me. These wounds will heal, but losing you is something I can't have"
She sighed to herself as she leaned in for another kiss. Gajeel watched from the far corner making fake gaging noises, but they couldn't hear them. The other Draconan sighed to himself as he leaned against the bars of his cell waiting for it all to be over. Natsu and Lucy stood there, kissing one another in peaceful tranquility their lips interlocking as she felt Natsu's hand on her cheek.
"My Lady?" a young feminine voice gasped from behind.
Lucy's eyes, her heart skipping a beat as she turned around to see Levy standing behind her. The young handmaiden was just as equally shocked as the princess as her eyes darted back and forth between her and Natsu.
"Levy," Lucy gasped, "what are you doing here?"
"I thought I saw you leaving the castle, so I followed you," she answered nervously. "What are you . . . when did this happen?"
"Levy please," Lucy pleaded, "you can't tell anyone what you saw here."
"What did I see here?" she gasped in shock.
"I saw the two of them kissing, I don't know what you saw," Gajeel yelled back at her. The small girl nearly leapt in place as she realized that Gajeel was standing in the corner of his cell eyeing her carefully. The sight of the bandit frightened her, but her mind was still on the princess.
"Well what do we have here?" another voice said down the hallway.
Levy jumped in place as Jellal passed by her. She felt her heart racing seeing this new, unfamiliar face in her presence. Lucy was stunned, seeing this foreign man approaching her. Levy watched nervously as Jellal took a couple of steps closer to the young blonde princess. Natsu scowled, and despite his wounds he was not about to let anyone hurt Lucy.
"Who are you?" Lucy demanded, but the worry in his voice was evident.
"Oh right, I'm King Duke's nobleman, Jellal," he chuckled, introducing himself with a courteous bow.
"Duke?" Natsu growled.
"Down boy," Gajeel told him.
"What are you doing here?" Lucy demanded eyeing him suspiciously.
"I was following a strange hooded figure, someone that I thought I had seen before, yet to my utter shock it turned out to be Princess Lucy herself. Not to mention the events that transpired after I had found you here," he said.
"Are you going to tell King Duke what you saw here this evening?" Lucy asked as Jellal saw the gaze of worry in her eyes. Natsu placed his hand on her shoulder hoping to soothe her.
"No," he said shaking his head as he peered up at her and back at Natsu.
"How can we be certain that we can trust you?" Natsu growled.
"Jellal!" another voice called out before the young noble had a chance to answer. Jellal sighed to himself as he turned around to see Erza stumbling towards them. "Jellal! What do you think you're doing? Just leaving me behind at the castle gates like that?"
Levy stepped aside as the red haired girl approached, letting her by pass. She could see the menacing glare in this new girl's eyes and she was not about to stand in the way of her aggression. Erza just simply passed her in a drunken manner before finally coming within a couple of feet from Jellal, placing her hands on her hips as she fought to keep her balance.
"Erza, what are you doing here?" Jellal asked her.
"What do you mean what am I doing her?" she slurred. "I'm your knight, I'm supposed to protect you. How am I going to do that when you just abandon me at the gate without telling me where you were going?"
"Your knight?" Lucy asked. She, and everyone else, stared at Jellal with quizzical eyes.
"I thought women weren't allowed to be knights?" Gajeel asked confused from the next cell.
"Well you thought wrong!" Erza snapped at him, causing the young teen to recoil back.
"No, that's true women are not allowed to become knights," Lucy said confused.
"I originally tried out to become that little bastard king's knight, and I should have! But because I'm a woman he chastised me and threw me out of his sight. So, unfortunately I had to become Jellal's personal guard."
"Why do you have to say it like it's a bad thing," Jellal grumbled.
"Jellal, is this true?" Lucy asked him.
"Yes," he sighed admittedly. "So I guess you can say that we both share a secret now, eh princess?"
"Princess?" Erza said confused. It was in that moment that she just realized that Lucy was standing in front of her. "Oh, wait a minute that's the princess? What is she doing here?"
"She was busy kissing this duffus over here," Gajeel said motioning towards Natsu.
"Oh, isn't that sweet," Erza giggled. "But you Jellal," she hissed at the young nobleman, "you're in trouble."
"Oh, and the knight who defied her lord's orders isn't?" he asked skeptically.
"Don't change the subject!" Erza said slapping him.
"Are you certain she's a knight?" Lucy whispered to Jellal. "She doesn't look like it, and she certainly does not act like it."
"She's a special case," Jellal chuckled awkwardly.
That didn't appear to go over too well with Erza who continued to berate Jellal with insults and profanities. Lucy was shocked, wanting to step in for a second, but she was a bit afraid to get in between the red head and Jellal. Even Levy just watched from afar, but then found her eyes wondering back towards Gajeel, the bandit just sat slouched over on the floor looking annoyed.
Natsu began to get a little annoyed, but he was too tired to do anything about it. But as he watched them, an idea crept up into his head. Perhaps Jellal could prove to be the man they needed. But he couldn't be certain that this man was someone they could really trust. He had never met him before and the fact that he was a nobleman of King Duke's court didn't really help. But as he watched Erza howl at him, he began to second guess his untrusting instincts.
"Hey, Jellal," Natsu interrupted Erza.
"Yeah?" Jellal asked turning to face the pink haired boy. Both Lucy and Erza were staring at him as well.
"Do you think you can do me a favor?" Natsu asked him.
The noble gazed at him quizzically but nodded his head. "Yeah sure, what do you want me to do? I can't free you though, if that's what you were going to ask. I don't have that kind of power."
"No, nothing like that," Natsu said shaking his head. "I was hoping you could deliver a message to someone for me, but the thing is I don't know if I can trust you or not."
"If it's a message than sure," Jellal told him. "I don't blame you for not wanting to trust me. Though, I have my own personal quarrel with King Duke as well. His rule and his treatment of the people is brash, and unkind. It will only lead to further problems in the future. I hope you can understand that, though I am technically one of his council, I bode no ill will towards you, or the Draconan people."
"Anybody can say that they're your friends, but it's only actions that prove whether or not those words are true," Natsu said. "If you can, please go into town, find the blacksmith named Bob and ask him to come visit me tomorrow."
"And how will I know this Bob person?" Jellal asked eyeing the boy skeptically.
"He's a bit out of the ordinary," Natsu chuckled.
"That really doesn't help me," Jellal sighed, folding his arms across his chest.
"Oh, trust me," Natsu said with a smirk. "When you see him you'll know."
"Well, all right then," Jellal said nodding his head. "I'll see him tomorrow morning and let him know. But as I see it, it's probably not good for a noble, his female knight, the kingdom's princess, and handmaiden to linger in the dungeons much longer. We've already had too many surprises down here as it was, I don't think we need to be here if one of the guards comes patrolling by."
"I agree," Erza nodding her head, a motion that nearly caused the red head to topple over had Jellal not caught her. "Princess Lucy, if you wish I and my knight can escort you and your handmaiden back to your rooms if you wish."
"Yes, thank you Master Jellal," Lucy answered as Jellal and Erza began to make their way to the ext. She turned around and kissed Natsu one last time before she followed them out. Levy waited for her, her eyes on the two Draconan men in their cells.
"My Lady," she scowled disapprovingly at the young princess, as she placed her hands on her hips, "why didn't you tell me about this?"
"Natsu and I didn't want anyone to know," Lucy sighed. "I'm sorry Levy, but it was our secret to keep."
"Oh well," the young handmaiden sighed, but allowed a smile to form across her lips. "I just wish that you would be able to trust me more about these kinds of things in the future. I'm just glad to hear that your aggression towards Natsu all these years was to secretly hide your love."
Lucy blushed as she heard Levy speak those words. She was a bit embarrassed that the young handmaiden was now giggling at her excitedly. The whole development had put her at unease, though she had to admit that she was somewhat thankful that somebody knew about her relationship with the pink haired Draconan.
Though her mind began to dwell on other things, like who this young noble was that was taking her back to the castle. He seemed friendly enough, but she was a bit frightened by the red haired girl that was traveling with him. The she-knight may have been quite now that they were leaving, but she was still menacing. Though what pained her the most was whether or not she could really trust them, the same dilemma that Natsu had. Her mind flooded with worry as she wondered if they were just simply tricking them.
"Excuse me, Master Jellal?" Lucy asked the young noble walking in front of her.
"Yeah?" he said as he looked back at her.
"Why are you willing to help us, or Natsu for that matter? You don't even know us," Lucy said nervously.
"There's no need to worry my Lady," Jellal said offering her a friendly grin. "I'm not one without secrets. If King Duke were to ever find out that I had Erza as my personal guard, I would probably loose my title and be exiled. But the truth of the matter is, my father was a good friend of the Draconans, and he was a major advocate against the invasion and persecution of the people. So much so, that he gave up his life fighting to protect them in the Dragon Wars. I guess you can say that I'm just continuing to follow my father's legacy."
"But you don't know Natsu at all, why take the risk?" Lucy asked demandingly.
"I already took the risk on Erza, and how I see it, Natsu was unjustly punished today for nothing. Call it sympathy, but I feel obliged to do something. That, and I am more than happy to help out the daughter of Queen Layla," he said smiling back at her.
"You knew my mother?" Lucy asked shocked.
"Yes, but only for a little while," he sighed. "I owe her a great deal of debt for saving my life back when I was younger, so if there is anything you need from me I am more than happy to do it."
"Wow," Lucy said, a sudden urge of relief swelled over her, "thank you."
"And as Jellal's sworn guardian, I will help and protect anyone that is his friend," Erza added. "You have my word, my Lady."
"Thank you," she exhaled with a sigh of relief, "both of you."
"Think nothing of it my Lady," Jellal said reassuring her.
The next morning King Duke made his way down to the dinning hall where he saw Lord Jean-Luc already eating breakfast. He bid the older lord a good morning as he took a seat. As soon as he sat down a couple of servants made their way over and poured him a mug of water and placed a plate of bread and jam in front of him.
"Jean-Luc, how fare you this morning?" King Duke asked as he spread some jam on a piece of bread.
"I am doing well young lord," Jean-Luc answered. "And how are you faring? Are you doing well?"
"Of course," King Duke answered, "why wouldn't I be?"
"No matter," Jean-Luc said waving it off. "I am just a little concerned about the Draconan boys. I don't think they'll be swayed to join our side if you are willing to treat them in such an abysmal manner."
"The servants must know their place, my Lord," King Duke retorted.
"But they'll refuse to accept their place if you continue to berate and belittle them in such a manner. Don't forget, those boys are powerful, and the once you unlock their chains they would sooner scorch you to death than fight a war for you. If I were you, I treat them with some more kindness and respect, and let them accept you as their lord rather than force it," Jean-Luc told him.
"Well, you're not me now are you," King Duke quipped as he washed his bread down with some water. "I will treat my servants how I see fit, and you can treat yours as you see you fit."
"Well don't you forget young lord," Jean-Luc scolded him, "you are not married to Princess Lucy yet, and until that happens two of those Draconans are still under my care."
"I am sorry my Lord," King Duke chuckled. "I meant now offense. Let us not toil about and force ourselves to be enemies, when we are so close to an alliance that would unite our lands."
"Remember young king, you are not the ruler of this land just yet, and my loyalty is to my dear friend Jude," Jean-Luc told him.
"My Lords," Iwan said as he approached the table, greeting them with a courteous grin, "how are the two of you doing this morning."
"Fine, Lord Iwan," King Duke greeted him. "Please," he said gesturing for the noble to take a seat. Iwan complied with a nod as he sat down next to the young king.
"Ivan my Lord," Ivan said as he took a seat next to the young king.
"Excuse me?" King Duke said raising an eyebrow at him.
"My true name is Ivan," he answered. "I never had the nerve to correct King Jude about his mistake, but enough of that. I wanted to let you know that I have heard some very interesting rumors as of late."
"What kinds of rumors?" King Duke as with an intrigued stare.
Before he continued speaking Ivan waved the servants away telling them that this was a private matter. When they had all gone he turned back to the other two lords, "It appears that there is another Draconan child somewhere out west," Ivan told them. "A young girl off in Nirvit."
"Well now isn't that interesting," King Duke said rubbing his chin. "That's very interesting indeed."
Unbeknownst to the three lords Jellal had been wondering down the hall to make his way into town to meet with Bob for Natsu when he overheard them talking. He stopped for a second, slipping behind the wall to see if he could eavesdrop a little bit longer on them before he left. He knew that Erza would grow impatient with him, but hearing the three men talk about another Draconan had him all too interested.
"Well another weapon to add to the arsenal, eh?" King Duke chuckled. "What do you think, Lord Jean-Luc?"
"I think we have enough Draconans for now, my Lord," Jean-Luc answered as he took a sip from his goblet. Now if you'll excuse me gentlemen I have somewhere I need to be."
With that the third lord took his leave. Jellal watched as he walked down the opposite hallway away from them. Once Jean-Luc had gone Jellal noticed that Ivan and Duke returned to their conversation.
"I disagree with Jean-Luc," Ivan said taking a sip from his own goblet. "I think that having as many of those children under our command can only make us that much more powerful."
"Well then I think I would side with you on this one," King Duke said nodding his head. "Four Draconan beasts would make us powerful, but five and we could conquer the entire continent of Fiore."
"Together we could become a great an powerful force," Ivan said as he raised his goblet and clanked it with Duke's.
Jellal felt a swirl of distress in his gut as he heard them contemplating a way of adding the girl to their arsenal. The young noble was stunned by how they casual they were in their discussion. He didn't linger any longer before he ran to the castle walls. He had to tell Erza what he had heard and hopefully tell Bob to warn Natsu as well.