It was the night before the wedding, and every nobleman from both kingdoms had already arrived at the castle. The townspeople were setting up for the festivities; hanging white and gold streamers from the rooftops, flower carts carrying all types of flowers lined the streets ready to be tossed about. The innkeepers making sure to bring extra ale and wine for the guests, especially for a wedding. A good excuse for men to become drunker than usually were, and to ignore the amount they were paying per pint.
Even children were excited about the potential games and delicious food that was going to be sold come the morrow. The chance to dine on fancy and rare delicatessens was something that they would hardly ever get the chance to experience again. Entertainers were brought in, as were street performers, to keep the crowds of peasants occupied until they were allowed to engorge themselves with food and wine as soon as the couple had been wed.
For now, the town was at rest. The innkeepers making sure to serve the last of their drinks before their patrons went off to their beds until the next morning. Guards took extra care to patrol the streets for any potential thieves and intolerable behavior. Almost every street corner had two guards stationed at them, though many of them brought in from neighboring towns just for the next couple of days to insure that chaos did not erupt on the special occasion.
Though the streets were all but deserted, except for the occasional drunkard or two, and the towns guard, there were three people that met in secret, under a bridge near the river port that resided on the west side of the town in the residential area, so as not to draw suspicion. Under the bridge Erza and Jellal met with Bob, the blacksmith who choose to keep himself hidden under his black cloak. It was already unsightly enough for a man like him to be seen with a noble like Jellal, but he could not risk being discovered by the guards themselves.
"So, is everything in order?" Jellal asked the fat old man. Erza kept watch to make sure they were in the clear.
"Yes," Bob answered, "everything is all set up for tomorrow. When the trumpets blare we will make our move. I already relayed the message to Natsu and the other Dracononan boy."
"And what of the other two Draconan boys?" Jellal asked. "Do they know of the plan as well?
"Natsu says that he and the other Draconan will free them so everyone can move out together. But you know your part, right boy?" Bob asked furrowing his eyebrows.
"Yes," Jellal said nodding his head. "Erza and I will pretend to be taking the princess and her handmaiden to safety, while Natsu and the others lead the rebellion. I'll take them west towards Nivit, but we'll stop along by the river to insure we rondevu with the others before moving forward."
"Yes, very good," Bob said nodding his head. "Well then, you take care young lord and may the gods continue to watch over you."
"And you as well my friend," Jellal said seriously before turning back to Erza.
When the group split up they went their different ways, Jellal and Erza making their way towards the castle as Bob headed back towards the main gate and his shop. The young noble felt a little nervous tension in the pit of his gut as they walked. Erza could sense it, and when she peered over at her noble friend she could even see the look of concern in the depths of his eyes. She also felt a bit uneasy about the whole thing. She knew that the two of them might manage to make it out even if the plan went wrong, but she just couldn't shake the butterflies either.
Jellal could see her watching him as the two walked down the stone pathway back to the castle. He saw that she tried to appear brave, but just like him her eyes betrayed her feelings. He could see that she was just as jittery about tomorrow as he was. Sighing to himself he took her hand in his, a gesture that startled the red head for a moment, as the two of them came to a stop.
"We're going to be all right," Jellal said offering her a comforting smile.
"I know," Erza sighed looking away. She could feel her face flush a bit, but she simply crossed her arms over her breasts and continued walking forward. "I'm a knight, I'm not afraid of any enemy. If anyone stands in my way, or tries to harm those I'm sworn to protect I will not hesitate to cut them down."
"You're right," Jellal chuckled to himself. He could see Erza was determined, and knowing her stubbornness she probably would be fine. Just knowing that provided the young noble with more comfort. "I'm sure we'll be fine as long as I have you by my side."
"Of course," Erza said with a coy smirk before she continued walking forward into the night.
Meanwhile at the castle Lucy sat by her window looking out into the darkness where the tree line where the lake was. She couldn't sleep, she was far too nervous as well. The pit of her gut burned with the sensation of a wild hornet's nest, while her heart raced at an uncontrollable pace. Her skin almost felt numb as she thought about what was going to happen in the morning. She hoped that they all made it out of this okay, but most importantly she hoped that Natsu would escape unharmed by the ordeal.
Her only placate was the small dim lighted candle that sat next to her by the window in a room caped with darkness. She couldn't sleep that much was obvious. How could she though? Either tomorrow the plan would fail, and she would have to be forced to marry Duke anyways, or if worse came to worse Natsu and the others would all be killed. She had to keep telling herself not to dwell on such awful thoughts. Natsu could take out an entire army, that's what he was trained to do after all, but the 'what ifs' kept flooding her mind.
It was late now, the moon was full standing high in the sky as it shined a bright light on the dark, naked Earth. Stars littered the open blackness of the night with their tiny specks of light. The tension was becoming too much as she stood up and made her way to the closet. She couldn't bear it anymore, she had to see him one last time, just in case it was the last time. It was late, and most guards were busy patrolling the streets, she could make it, she knew she could.
Once she had made her way down into the dungeons she could hear the loud snores of someone echo through the chamber. The foul stench was nauseating as she remembered just how horrible it truly was. She covered her mouth and nose with her hand as she wondered down through the dark corridor, passing a group of sleeping guards on her way down. She slowly crept by them and made her way down until she finally came upon a familiar cell.
Inside Natsu sat, his back leaning up against the wall, his eyes focused on the ground in front of him. The boy in the next cell was fast asleep, snoring to himself as he rested happily on his stomach. Natsu could hear the footsteps of someone approaching as he gazed up to see who it was. He jumped to his feet when he saw that it was a familiar feminine body of Lucy.
"Lucy?" Natsu gasped as he ran to the front of his cell. The blonde ran towards him, the two exchanging a deep, passionate kiss before breaking away. "What are you doing here?"
"I had to see you again," she whimpered, caressing his cheek gently, "just one last time, in case—"
"Sh," Natsu said cutting her off, he could see the tears beginning to form at the base of her eyes. "Nothing bad is going to happen. Tomorrow we'll be free, and you and I will be together, I promise."
"If only these bars weren't in the way," Lucy sighed as she leaned forward, doing her best to rest her head against Natsu's chest.
The boy smiled to himself as he wrapped his arms around her, though it was difficult with the bars in the way. He held her close, the bars making it uncomfortable for the two of them. Of course he could melt them easily, but he couldn't risk alerting any patrolling guards that could potentially walk by. For now, this would have to do, but he smiled happily to himself as he dreamed of the next day when he would be able to hold her fully in his arms again.
For a moment the two of them were happy, standing there together, secluded in their own world. Even Gajeel's snores could ruin the moment they had. Lucy hugged up against the bars as Natsu gently stroked her hair. She felt him kiss the top of her forehead as she looked up and returned it with a kiss on the lips. The two of them breathing into one another, feeling like they were uniting as one at the lips. Lucy feeling slightly reinvigorated as the worry melted away.
"Well now, isn't this precious," the two of them heard a snide remark. Lucy's heart jumped in her heart as she spun around to see King Duke standing behind her with several armed guards.
The young king wore a prison guard's uniform, a helmet tucked under his armpit. She knew right away that he was one of the guards who was pretending to be asleep when she snuck into the dungeon. His lip quivered in rage, as his eyes glared at her and the slave boy. He bit his lip before he stormed towards her, and with his hand slapped her across the cheek as hard as he could.
"Hey!" Natsu roared, his vision magnifying as his eyes morphed into a deep amber. He could feel the pit of his stomach erupt into firry rage, but before he even had a chance to react, he could sense several arrows shooting at him.
Instinctively the boy leapt backwards to avoid the oncoming arrows, but the ploy was nothing more than a trap as he saw Duke grab, and throw Lucy onto the filthy, stone floor as three guards threw open the door. They stormed in with a net, entrapping the boy within, as he struggled to break free. It was made of metal, lined with spikes as he could feel them pulling for it to tighten around his body, his bones feeling like they were about to break as the spikes sank deep and deeper into his flesh. He belched fire as he roared out in pain, causing he metal around his face to melt, but hardly enough to break it.
He was trapped, and he attempted to roll around to break himself free of this treacherous snare, but unfortunately it only caused the spikes to tear apart his skin. He cried in pain, Lucy watching from afar screaming for them to stop. She attempted to rush to his side, only to be pulled back and slapped again by King Duke. He hurtled the girl against the iron bars, causing her to cry out in pain. Natsu struggled some more, he was so desperate to break free but that only made the strands tighter. He didn't care if he had no skin left, he wasn't about to sit by and do nothing as Lucy was hurt before his eyes.
Gajeel woke almost immediately as the commotion started, but he was too distracted by seeing the guards tie up Natsu in a net that he hadn't noticed the several that had rushed into his own cell to retrain him. He didn't fight back, knowing full well the consequences. Instead he let them hold him down to the floor so he could see what was happening.
As soon as Gajeel had spotted King Duke and Lucy from the corner of his eye he knew what had happened. He could feel himself fueled with rage, not just from the sight of Natsu bleeding as he fought the strain on the steel net that incased him, but because of how foolish the two of them were to be caught. Now it seemed like the plan would be completely jeopardized.
"Enough!" King Duke roared. Lucy slid down to her knees, tears pouring from her eyes. She could hardly bear it any longer. "This treason will not be tolerated by your king. Guards, take the princess back to her chambers, where she will await trial in the morning."
"Yes your grace," the last remaining guards answered as the grabbed the sobbing princess and dragged her away.
"As for the slave," he said as he stepped inside the cell and leered over Natsu, "he will be killed effectively immediately." He pressed his foot on the barbs near the boy's chest, wiggling them around as the boy cried out in pain.
"Yes my grace," one guard said as he unsheathed his sword. He stood over Natsu as the boy glared up at Duke. He could see that there was no fear in the boy's eyes as he prepared for the fatal blow to take him.
"Wait!" Duke bellowed as he lifted up his hand. The guard obliged as he stopped himself and took a couple of steps backwards. King Duke leaned down so that his face was closer to the young Draconan's. "Instead take the boy to the tower. Lucy will burn at the stake tomorrow for her crimes. I want you to be there to watch as the flames in case her body, and to hear her screams of pain until she is dead. Only then will I grant you your death."
Natsu scowled, trying to roar fire into the face of the young king, but he could feel the guards leaning on his strands causing him to fall down to the ground in pain instead. King Duke snickered as he kicked Natsu in the chest, the boy yelping in pain as he could feel the warm blood trickle down over the spikes. He panted, enraged Duke kicked him again, this time the boy coughed gasping for air.
Three guards lifted the young Draconan up and led him out of the cell. Duke watched as they dragged him away, his feet sliding against the stone floor, a trail of blood following behind them. Gajeel watched from his own cell, saying nothing, nor doing anything. Once Natsu had disappeared into the darkness the guards that had submitted Gajeel finally moved to let him stand, Duke turning his attention to him now.
"Your Grace," one of the guards interjected as the carried Natsu away, "what about the other two Draconans currently in the tower?"
"Move them down here than," King Duke growled as he motioned for them ton continue taking Natsu away. "It doesn't matter, I'll deal with them when I have the time"
"Of course sire," the guard said as they continued to carry away the pink haired teen.
"Don't think I'm not watching you Draconan," he spat as he watched Gajeel stand back up to his feet. "I have no problem sticking your head on a pike outside of my walls as well. Just give me the opportunity and I will be more than happy to do it."
Gajeel said nothing, he simply made his way over to the far side of the wall and slouched back down. He turned his eyes away from the young king, knowing that the other guards in the cell were watching him closely. He knew that he could kill all of them now, just as easily, but now was not the time to do it. He knew that the plan was obviously foiled, but perhaps there was still something that he could do to salvage it.
The next morning Jude came storming into the dinning hall upon hearing about Duke's arrest of Lucy. The princess was kept locked away in her room with guards standing outside her door, baring anyone from entering or leaving. Even King Jude was not allowed to see her. The older king was infuriated, and demanded to know what exactly was going on.
"Duke, what is the meaning of this?" King Jude demanded as he scowled at the young king. "Why in the name of the gods do you have my daughter locked up in her room like some criminal?"
A crowd of nobles had already assembled around the table as King Duke stood at the front of it. They were busy discussing what had happened the other night, and what they should do about their current predicament. They wondered what they should do about the girl's supposed treason and how they should punish Natsu. The nobles from Konvern were more concerned about the wedding, not wanting to call off the festivities, and pleaded that Duke be merciful and forget all about it, whereas the nobles from Juelle insisted the King dude what he felt necessary.
They were bickering amongst themselves about what to do. Ivan sitting next to Duke, watching as the nobles were at each other's throats, making sure to keep his own mouth shut, until finally everyone went quiet as soon as they saw King Jude walking towards them, an infuriated glare in his eyes. Ivan used his fingers to hide his snickering smirk as he peered away from the king, to make sure he didn't see him.
"Your daughter was caught in the dungeons kissing the slave boy Natsu," King Duke answered. "An act of treason against the crown and punishable by death. I have placed her in her room for the time being until her fate can be decided."
"You dare take such a course of action against my daughter? In my kingdom!" King Jude roared. "And why is it that my own guards refused to allow me to see her?"
"The actions necessary to insure that the law is enforced here an now. As a father you have a conflict of interest in the dilemma, therefore we must see if you will allow law to prevail. If not, than you are not suited to uphold the law," King Duke answered.
"I am not suited to uphold law in my own kingdom?" King Jude barked. The other nobles around the table began to grow afraid. "How dare you! I want my daughter removed from her bedroom at once!"
"I am sorry my Lord," King Duke snapped back. "But you know that the laws on this matter are very clear. As Lord Ivan has clearly pointed out, 'any citizen seen consorting with a slave has committed treason. Lucy was seen in the dungeons with the slave boy Natsu. She is in violation of the law, and as responsible rulers we cannot allow this type of behavior to go unpunished."
"Yes, but this is my kingdom and therefore it is my laws to enforce, not yours. You are not yet lord of this country, so do not begin to start acting like it," King Jude shouted. "Now I will hear no more of this, Arcadios!"
"Yes your Grace," Arcadios said as he approached the table. He was standing in the far corner with the other knights as they watched the nobles bicker amongst themselves.
"Go to Princess Lucy's room, and tell the guards there that she is not to be touched, nor harmed. I will not see my daughter treated in such a monstrous manner without at first hearing what she has done," King Jude said.
"Yes your Grace," Arcadios replied as he began to walk towards the stairway.
"Stop Arcadios," King Duke ordered, but the knight ignored him. "I witnessed this act myself, Lord Jude. I saw her with my own eyes kissing the slave."
"Arcadios your king said stop!" Ivan shouted after the knight. This time Arcadios did stop as he turned to face Ivan with a bewildered look. King Jude was just as stunned by the noble's words as Arcadios was.
"He is not my King, Iwan," Arcadios snapped back.
"Actually, my name is Ivan, Ivan Dreyer, and according to the treaty King Jude signed the other day, with Jean-Luc, he is your king now," Ivan answerd.
"Dreyer?" King Jude gasped as his eyes went wide. Everyone else in the room's eyes went just as wide. "What blasphemy is this?"
"Yes," the nobleman answered pulling the parchment from his pocket and unraveling it, "and like I already said, you agreed to the treaty. It was ratified by your mark. And according to this treaty, if whoever is king is deemed unfit to rule by the council then he is to be removed from his chair."
King Jude stormed over to the noble, ripping the paper from his hands and gazed over it. It was most definitely the one that he had signed and agreed to. He could see his, and Jean-Luc's signatures at the bottom of the treaty. His eyes darting through it to see where exactly it gave them permission to remove him from power, but in his brash anger he could not spot it, until Ivan tapped at a paragraph at the bottom. Sure enough there it was. How could he have been so foolish as to forget about such an important detail.
"Fine, then what does the council say?" Jude demanded as he looked at his nobles.
"I say that you clearly demonstrate that you are unfit to rule," Ivan answered with a coy smirk. "Therefore, according to the treaty that King Jude signed, by law he is to be removed from rule, stripped of his title and step aside to allow the next heir in line to take the throne."
"You do not have that authority!" a nobleman cried, King Jude nodded his head in agreement. "The rest of us will not vote in favor of such treasonous actions! We are loyal to the king."
"Unfortunately, and I quote, 'In the event of treason, all voting privileges will be forfeited to the Hand of the King to be dictated by his judgment.' Therefore, I vote in favor of removing King Jude from the throne so that his heir, a more suitable, ruler to take his place."
"The next in line would be Princess Lucy!" a nobleman yelled from the far end of the table. He was met with a murmur of agreements and cheers from the other Konvern nobles.
"No, King Jude has declared that King Duke will succeed him by this very same treaty," Ivan answered. The room went quiet, the eyes of the nobles fell on King Jude who closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Ivan was right.
"Therefore, Arcadios, as your king I demand that you stay where you are," King Duke yelled. Arcadios hesitated for a second, but regardless he refused to listen to Duke and instead made his way up the stairwell. "Regardless, we can settle this diplomatically, or, I will have no other choice but to call my men into war. The choice is yours King Jude."
The king thought about it long and hard, but ultimately he knew that he would be forced to submit. The clamor of knights from Junelle stepping forward caused everyone to worry. He bowed his head, letting them know that he would abide by their command.
From afar Jean-Luc watched with disdain. He knew that there would be some kind of trouble, but he felt ashamed for not doing more to stop Jude from signing the treaty. He had felt some kind of unease about Ivan and Duke, the sudden alliance that had abruptly formed between the two of them was too quick. Now he could see what has happened, he could never predicted that they would form a coup against Jude. Saddened, he vanished into the dark recess of the hallway, away from it all, waiting for his turn to face the wrath of the traitors.
"And furthermore," King Duke continued, "seeing as King Jude is no longer fit to rule, that he would put his own interests above the law, the very law he, as king, is supposed to uphold. By decree, I King Duke of Konvern and Junelle, thereby command you to exile."
A loud gasp echoed throughout the room, as everyone's eyes went wide. Everyone, including King Jude was shocked by the order. His own personal guards unsheathed their swords as cries of mercy bellowed out from both nobles and guards a like. Though King Duke's own guards unsheathed their swords as well as it appeared that a fight was about to erupt between the two forces. King Jude held up his hand, knowing that this conflict would only result in hostilities that he could not win.
"Very well," King Jude sighed, as he made his way towards the door, everyone watching him as he left. "To think I trusted you, Duke, Ivan. To think that I was about to call you my son and I called the other my friend."
"It is your fault for turning a blind eye to your own daughter's affairs," King Duke retorted. "What kind of king is so a fool that he cold not see a love affair between his daughter and a slave boy? I am simply abiding by the law, your law as much as mine Jude. You cannot blame me for that, and you should not blame me for it. One of us must be the one to assert authority when it is necessary. You think that I would take the hand of a woman who soiled it with the love of some filthy Draconan slave?"
"I would have expected the two of you to have more honor than to trick me into signing a treaty, and then using it to overthrow me," King Jude sighed. His own personal guards, all except for Arcadios who had ran upstairs to the princess's room, followed him out the door. "If you want Konvern you can have it, but please spare my daughter. Spare Lucy of whatever terrible fate you are going to bestow upon her and I promise the two of us will leave quietly and not resist you."
"Princess Lucy will be tried and judged by the law, which as the new King of Konvern I have already decided upon," King Duke snarled. "She has committed the crime of treason and this is not something that I, as a ruler, can overlook. Regardless if she is your daughter or not, whether she is a princess or a Konvern whore."
"Than you are no more fitting to be a king than a wild dog," King Jude cried as he slammed the castle doors behind him.
"If anyone is still loyal to Jude, feel free to join him," he said threateningly before walking over to his own personal guards. None of the nobles made a move, all of them were too afraid, glances of worry were exchanged between them, yet no one would dare attempt to make a stance. Once Duke was in front of his guards, the snapped to attention as he ordered them. "And prepare the stake at the town square, and bring Princess Lucy. If anyone stands in your way, kill them."
"Yes sire," the guards said as they ran up the stairwell. Their metal boots clanging against the stone as they glided up each step.
King Duke followed behind them, walking slowly. He took the opportunity to peer back at the rest of the nobles who continued to remain silent. When he turned back around, smiling to himself as he ascended up the steps. Ivan rushed up by his side, just as equally satisfied with the results. He rolled up the parchment and stuck it into his robe, wanting to make sure nobody could take it away.
"I appreciate all your information and the chance to catch the girl in the act, Lord Ivan," King Duke said. "It gave us the ample opportunity to take control of Konvern, your plan worked perfectly."
"Yes, I can see that it did," Ivan chuckled. "But are you certain that you want to proceed with burning Lucy? It would be ashamed to waste such a pretty young face."
"I would not even permit the bitch upon any of my own peasants. You think I would take the bitch of some slave as my queen?" King Duke growled. "The message will be sent, no one, royal or slave, will cross me. I demand obedience and I will be shown it. Whipping the slave boy was one thing, but this is the betrayal of my own fiancé."
"Of course your Grace," Lord Ivan chuckled. "That is why I find you a more befitting king than that weak fool Jude. In the end, everything will work in our favor, just wait and see."
"And soon, with the joined forces of the three countries and the financial backing of Konver, we will have an army larger than any in Fiore," Duke said as they continued to glide up the steps. "It's only a matter of time before I conquer the entire continent and place it under my rule. I must thank you though Lord Ivan, for if not for you, none of this would be possible."
The young lord said it, but kept his grimace expression. They may have succeeded in overthrowing Jude, but it wasn't enough. Ivan could see the look of hatred in the boy's eyes.
"No thanks necessary your Grace," Lord Ivan said waving it off. "In due time we'll all get what we want out of this. In due time."