Natsu found himself in front of the lake, the one that he and Lucy used to visit so often when they were children. He stood there, overlooking the water as the small waves rustled against the grassy shores. The sun was shining ever so brightly through the leaves of the trees, letting him soak in each and every ray. There were no other sounds except the soft muddle of the water's surface. At last he was in tranquility, alone in peace with the world. No worries, no troubles, nothing out to hurt him.
"Natsu," he heard a soft feminine voice say his name from behind him.
He already knew exactly who the voice belonged to as he turned around to see Lucy standing behind him. She wore a white laced dress that frolicked in the wind. Her honey blonde hair danced in unison with the breeze, half covering her glistening subtle skin. She brushed her hair back with her small hand, as she smiled such a radiant smile that it half melted the boy's heart. The angle of his life was standing in front of him. Oh, how he missed her.
She glided across the grass; her bare feet nestled against the green blades. Once she was near him she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing his lips gently. He could feel his heart race as he felt himself melting into her. He had missed the taste, the feeling and her warm body pressed up against his. He hugged her tightly, never wanting to let her go again, though he could feel her pulling away from him.
He grinned widely at her, his eyes locked in with her deep russet color ones. Like the sweetest chocolate a man could eat. He could feel his heart ache, literally a stifling pain burst in the cavity of his chest as he stared deeper into her eyes. For a moment he was lost before he pulled her in again for another kiss.
"Natsu," the girl whispered as she broke away once more. It felt as though his legs had liquefied beneath him. "Take me," she said as she pulled him down on top of her, his body pressed up against hers. The soft touch of her bosom against his chest, and the gentle touch of her skin made the boy quiver in place.
As the two of them lay there kissing passionately in the grass, he saw Lucy lower her head, eying him with a seductive glare. It was in that moment he found her guiding his hand to her leg slowly lifting up the bottom half of her dress. His hand brushed against the warm soft touch of her milky skin as it slowly made it's way up her long leg. It came closer and closer to her thigh, but she didn't stop him. She continued to guide his hand all the up until finally, it was on her stomach. He wanted to look down, but his eyes were locked in on hers', unable to look elsewhere.
"Oh, Natsu," she breathed heavily as she brought him in for a deeper, more passionate kiss.
Jellal could feel a stir as his eyes began to open a bit. He was still lying there in the grass, but he could feel something pressed up against his back. He could hear snoring, but he was still a bit too dazed to realize what was going on. Though there was something else bothering him, there seemed to be something poking him in his lower back. He wondered what it was, but he soon saw Natsu's hand falling over his shoulder. His eyes went wide as he realized what it was that was poking him in the back, as he jolted up and fell forward.
"Natsu? Natsu!" Jellal yelled out loud he was still a bit shocked. "What in the names of the gods are you doing?" He leapt to his feet as he stumbled until he fell back to the ground.
"Huh?" Natsu asked as he shuttered awake. "I was having the most wonderful dream," he sighed happily, "let me go back to it." He slowly lay his head back down in the cozy grass, letting his eyelids drape over his eyes as he fell back to slumber.
"Yeah, I could tell," Jellal sighed annoyed. "But it's morning and we should get going. The more daylight we have, the more ground we can cover."
"Lucy," Natsu sighed in delight, "You want me to put my mouth where? I didn't know you were into that kind of stuff."
"In the name of the gods," Jellal moaned, kicking Natsu awake. "Hey, come on get up already. It's best if we start moving now, while it's still early."
Natsu groaned as he was finally stirred awake. He glowered at Jellal disapprovingly, and though he was reluctant, but he finally stood up to his feet. Jellal sighed as he began to walk further south, Natsu dragging behind him. The boy still wasn't fully awake, but he trudged on anyways.
Meanwhile Lucy, Erza and Levy rode with the soldiers that had rescued them from the bandits. The girls were given horses while the men walked on foot; Lucy and Levy riding on the same horse. Gray and Lyon held the reigns of the steeds as to help guide the girls, but in actuality, it was so they didn't run away from them. Lucy wondered where Gray and the others were taking them, as she noticed the rode they traveled on headed northwest. But that was not the direction she and the others needed to go, they had to go directly west if they hoped to arrive in Nivit.
She ponder the possibility of asking Gray and Lyon where they were leading them, but she was a bit reluctant to do so. They may have saved them, but she did not know of these men, or if they were being truly honest with her. She had heard that soldiers from Magnolia were good men; honorable, strong and valiant. They were men that were often known for their generosity and well mannered behavior. She had never met one before, but having some idea of the company she was with brought her to ease, as long as they were who they said they were.
"Excuse me," Lucy asked, as she finally worked up enough courage to ask the dark haired knight. "Where are we heading?"
"To Magnolia," Gray said, offering the blonde a friendly smile. "You'll be safe there."
He continued to lead the horse up front of the rest of the company, while Lyon held onto the reigns of the horse Erza was riding. The rest of the company followed behind, most of the men discussing their kills, some of them had even taken loot off the dead bandits. It wasn't anything much, just something they could pocket and travel lightly with. Though the bandits didn't have that much for the soldiers to take to begin with.
"But we need to head to Nivit. Magnolia is a several week journey from there, depending on whether we travel by rode or horse," Lucy argued. "Would you mind dropping us off on your way?"
"No can do, Miss Lucy," Lyon answered. "Nivit is a few days ride out of our way, and we need to make it back to Magnolia soon. So, sorry but we continue our ride northwest."
"Then can you at least let us ride out on our own to Nivit?" Lucy asked them out of concern.
"No can do, Miss Lucy," Lyon told her shaking his head. "It's too dangerous to go out on your own, as you now know. I don't know what three defenseless young ladies, such as yourselves, are doing wondering around in dangerous woods like these? But I can honestly say that we cannot in conscious allow a princess to travel on her own without a proper escort."
"I—" she fidgeted as she heard him speak, stuttering to find the right way to answer him, but she found herself getting too nervous. "I'm not a princess." She finally blurted out laughing awkwardly.
She was not alone, both Erza and Lecy exchanged glances of worry wondering if their cover had been blown. Levy felt her heart drop in her chest, but she became puzzled as both Gray and Lyon just continued to stroll forward nonchalantly. Erza could feel her heart skip a beat as well, thinking that she might just have to do something drastic. She wondered what exactly she should do if it ever came to her having to fight off all these men. From the looks of it, she knew she couldn't win, not against a dozen archers. Though she understood her role as a knight, if the moment called for it, she would have to lay down her life to protect the princess's.
"Please," Lyon scoffed. "You think us fools? That we don't know about Princess Lucy Heartfilia when we see her? It's pretty hard to miss; young teen girl with long blonde hair, eyes as dark as tree bark, wearing fine clothes that reek of perfume. You're just fortunate that those bandits did not know of your true identity, though they were probably too stupid to realize it. Otherwise, you might have been in far more trouble back there. So, sorry to tell you this princess, but you're going to be stuck with us for awhile."
"We had just received the news about the slave uprising back in your home the other day," Gray interjected. "You're lucky we found you when we did. Right now, these woods aren't just full of bandits and thieves, but more likely a bunch or riled up, pissed off slaves that would love to take the chance to have a go of the daughter of the man that enslaved them. So, for now we'll protect you until we get you back to Magnolia."
"She had protection," Erza jeered a she grasped the handle of her sword.
"Oh, yeah you were doing such a bang up job now weren't you?" Lyon said tauntingly.
Erza scowled at him, gripping her sword tighter as she was about to unsheathe it. Gray waved his hand to her, and shook his head nonchalantly though he didn't mind her actions. It seemed like he wasn't too much against the idea of her becoming a little 'aggressive', but rather, he was telling her it wasn't worth the effort. Erza stared at him for a few moments before finally sighing in defeat as she loosened her grip on the blade.
"My Lady," Levy whispered into Lucy's ear, "what are we going to do about Nivit? We can't go with them to Magnolia; Natsu and Jellal are supposed to meet us there. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," Lucy whispered back. "We should discuss it with Erza when we get the chance."
Though admittedly she didn't know when that was, or if the opportunity would ever arise. She could feel the small handmaiden pull her in close behind her as she sensed worry coming from the smaller girl. Lucy peered back to look at her, but her eyes wondered further behind seeing the dozen or so soldiers walking behind them. The men seemed friendly enough to her. They were busy talking amongst themselves. She wanted to see whether or not they were in fact Magnolia soldiers, but they carried no emblem. That was what distraught the girl the most.
"What is it, my Lady?" Levy asked as she could feel the tension in the princess's body.
"The men have no insignias on their cloaks, nor any emblems that would portray them as soldiers of Magnolia," she answered.
"That's because Magnolia and Junelle haven't gotten along all that well in recent years," Gray said interrupting her. Both Lucy and Levy's eyes fell on him as he turned back to face the two young women. "I'm not saying that we're at war, but Junelle fell out of favor when Makrov refused to help them in the Dragon Wars, and his son, King Duke, still resents us to this day for not participating in the war."
"Why?" Lucy asked him.
"Not too sure really," Gray answered with a shrug. "Magnolia had no interest in the invasion originally, and we refused to continue participating in any war that didn't directly effect us. The truth is, Makrov saw the war for what it was; greedy kings trying to steal away the Draconan's wealth, and when the people turned into dragons, it wasn't our part to go off and fight them. Truth be told, I'm glad we didn't, otherwise we'd have suffered as much as the other countries; economically and the loss of life."
Lucy had heard about the strife between her father and Makrov from what the nobles and councilmen discussed during meetings and at social events. It had to do with the war, but it was never fully explained it to her, nor was she taught it in school. Admittedly she never really thought too much about it before, though in truth, she was never too concerned with the war in general. It happened long ago, before she was even born, and all she knew for certain was that her grandfather perished during it. But now she was growing ever more curious.
"I have often heard from my father, and various other nobles in my kingdom, that after the war, Magnolia remained one of the strongest forces in all of Firoe," Lucy said. "How true is that?"
"One of the strongest?" Gray asked chuckling. "Magnolia is the strongest in all of Fiore; even before the war. When we heard rumors of your supposed marriage to King Duke of Junelle, we prepared for war. No offense to your fiancé, but the man is known to be obsessed with his power, and the merger of your two kingdoms, along with Jean-Luc, we couldn't take any risks. We were already in talks with Nivit, Lamia, and even Blue Knights of Pegasus of forming our own alliance to counter any potential threat Duke might propose."
"Hence why I am here," Lyon grumbled. "Though I bear no ill will to Magnolia, or the others, Lamia prefers to fight on it's own. Though my mistress commands that we work together."
"So, all the other countries were preparing for war? Simply because Lucy was going to marry Duke?" Levy asked a bit confused.
"No, not necessarily," Gray answered. "It was the union between her father, Jude, and Duke that worried us. So, don't worry princess, we don't think you to be our enemy."
"In fact, we were a bit pleased to hear about your fall out with Duke," Lyon said indifferently. "That would most likely bring about an end to your father's proposal to unite the kingdoms. Which hopefully, means that we can avoid war all together."
Gray scowled at him. He didn't like that his brother had discussed Lucy's affairs so nonchalantly. He apologized to the girl on behalf of his brother's stupidity and insensitivity; a gesture that was met with a hostile leer from his brother. Lucy could see the tension erupting between the two of them as she tried to wave it off as nothing, but that didn't seem to deter the two brothers from their already inimical glares at one another. Lucy turned to Erza with a nervous stare.
"Enough you two!" Erza barked, immediately causing the two young men to shut their mouths and keep their eyes forward. Even Lucy found herself face forward eyes wide with freight.
"Speaking of the merger of the countries," Erza continued on, everyone around her still remained in silence, "it still went through. From what I understand, King Jude signed a treaty making Duke his heir apparent. Then Duke and the council exiled Jude giving Duke complete control. So, though there is no marriage, the proposal already went through."
"Really?" Lyon said in disbelief. "I can't believe it, but that news is terrible."
"Now that Duke has full power, there is not knowing what he will do," Grays said. "It looks like we might be marching towards war very soon."
"We need to send word back home, and to the other countries, especially Nivit," Lyon said nodding his head. "We'll send a carrier pigeon in the next town we arrive at."
"But we're still in Konvern country," Gray protested. "We don't know if there is word out for Lucy. It'd be better for us to wait until we leave Konvern territory before we send a warning."
"But Nivit is closer," Lucy interjected. "If you are going to warn them, and wait to leave the country to do so, than why wait? Why don't we travel there first so you can warn them sooner?"
"You really want to go to Nivit don't you?" Gray asked skeptically, though there was a hint of annoyance in his voice. "What's so special there?"
"We're meeting some friends at Nivit," Erza blurted out before Lucy had the chance to speak. Both the blonde and Levye stared at her intently. "We're supposed to meet people that would help protect Lucy. After all, Duke did attempt to murder her when he had the chance."
"Really?" Lyon gasped in shock. "What did you do to warrant such a punishment?"
"That is none of your concern!" Erza growled. "What happened between the princess and Duke is her business, and her business alone and does not concern you, or anyone for that matter. So I suggest you cease your pestering of the poor girl and leave her be."
"Geez, sorry," Lyon said rolling his eyes, "I meant no offense."
"Anyways, we have to keep heading northwest to Magnolia," Gray told her. We can warn Nivit before hand, and we'll send them a note to give your friends explaining what happened. So, for now don't stress out too much over the situation, everything will be figured out. Maybe you can have your friends meet you in Magnolia."
"Yeah," Lucy sighed. "Maybe."
That night the group made camp, the soldiers created three fire pits and sat around it to eat. Lucy and the other two girls sat around the third fire with Gray and Lyon while the other soldiers sat around the other two. Most of the men just talked amongst themselves, none of them had any idea who Lucy and the others were. Gray and Lyon had decided to keep it amongst themselves, as Lyon kept the fire going while Gray threw some meat and beans over the flames.
Once the food started to cook Gray and Lyon fetched some blankets from the horses on their bags and offered it to the girls. The girl's thanked them as they threw the blankets over their shoulders, shielding their bodies from the bitter wind of the night air. They got closer to the fire, Lucy gripping hers tightly as she grasped at the dragon pennant underneath her gown. She began to wonder if she would ever seen Natsu again. She missed him dearly, the sight of the fire reminded her of him. She sighed to herself, watching the food cook. It didn't look all that appealing, but her stomach ached for a good meal, something she hadn't had in a couple of days. And with all the excitement from earlier, she had worked up quite an appetite.
"I'm sorry, it's nothing compared to the chiefs and cooks from the castle kitchen," Gray said as he handed a plate to Lucy, "but it should stave off the hunger for now."
"It's fine, thank you," Lucy said smiling at him. She reached out her hand from underneath her blanket and took the plate in her hand.
Gray watched her from the corner of his eye as he handed a plate to the other two girls, both of him thanked him with appreciation. He could see the girl taking her knife and fork, cutting each piece of meat before she ate it properly. Levy proceeded in the same manner as the princess. However, Erza wasted no time with the silverware as she lifted the food with her hands and choked it down. Gray laughed to himself as he fixed his own plate, while Lucy watched the red head with disgust.
"There's no need to act all proper here my Lady," Lyon said to her as he scooped up a couple of beans, "you're not in the presence of fine company."
Lucy eyed him carefully, but she didn't need to hear another word before she picked up the meat with both hands and devoured it like a starving animal. She nearly choked down on her food, as Levy watched her in bugged eyed horror. Though the sight of the princess eating her food in such a way caused her to follow suit.
Gray and Lyon laughed to themselves as the white haired boy plucked a water pouch from his side and offered it up to the blonde. Lucy took it without hesitation as she drained down a mouthful of both meat and beans with it. She then handed it to Levy who did the same thing before she went back to eating. Before Levy had a chance to finish Erza reached over and grabbed it from her hands, causing some water to fall on the small girl's lap, before she finished it off. Lyon and Gray exchanged glances of satisfaction as they slowly ate their own meals.
"So tell me, my Lady," Lyon said addressing Lucy, "do you know of any plans King Duke may have for the future of the two kingdoms?"
"Nah-uh," Lucy muddled through a mouthful of food, shaking her head. She swallowed before she could properly answer him. "I don't. My father and Kind Duke never expressed any of their plans with me. In truth, I think that I was nothing more than a means to an end." She sighed the last sentence, feeling a bit depressed now that she though back on her and Duke's relationship. She had never cared about him, nor did he ever care about her. The thought hat she had almost married that monster still sent cold shivers down her spine.
"Well that means we're still in the dark about everything," Lyon said to Gray.
"Yeah, and now that Duke has complete control over the three countries by himself, that completely laves everything volatile," Lyon said as he slowly chewed on his food. He rubbed his chin, pondering over what they would do next. "If Jude were still in power, we would be more familiar with his tactics and predict what moves he would take."
"Seeing as how Jude is no longer the King of Konvern, we'll just have to rely on what Makrov and the others suggest," Gray told him as he said swallowing some of his food. "But, we have to make sure that we get the princess back up to Magnolia. Even Nivit will not be safe for her." He made sure that he whispered the last sentence to Lyon so as not to alert the princess. He didn't want to alarm her, or her compatriots of the danger they could be in.
Night was fast approaching and Natsu found himself wondering wearily forward through the forest. They hadn't come across a village or any sign of human life since they had left Konvern. It was nothing but brush, trees and grass. There was the occasional animal that wondered by, but it normally be just a squirrel or rabbit, nothing that would satisfy his hunger. Jellal was not that much better as he too seemed to be slowing down from a lack of eating. Though he tried his best not to show it.
Natsu's stomach growled with a loud and furious grumble, as he would have given anything for something to eat. He sagged, exhausted from the fret of hunger, as Jellal tried to press him forward, but even he was succumbing to hunger. He peered around the forest, hoping to find something that he could eat, but what could he? There were no bushes with berries, nor was there an animal near by that he could capture and eat. Maybe, if they came across a stream they could find some fish.
Eventually, his hopes came true as they spotted a large creek just a little ways down the wood. Natsu wasted no time as he sprinted towards it with excitement. Jellal on the other hand was not as amused, but he was still hoping that there would at least be something there to help them fill their bellies. Natsu slid to a grinding halt as he peered down into the water. His eyes shifting around the water until he finally spotted some trout swimming just a couple of meters from the shore.
"How do you plan on catching anything?" Jellal asked Natsu as he cringed under the pain of a severe stomach growl.
"Just watch and wait," Natsu said turning to face the young noble with a wide grin.
Without another moment to lose the young teen sprung into the water head first. Jellal reached out his hand to try and stop the young boy, but he was too late. Natsu had disappeared under the surface.
"Natsu!" Jellal cried, but in vain.
When he reemerged he had a wide smile on his face, both of delight and pride in himself as he held up two large trout in each hand. Jellal breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the pink haired teen start walking out of the creek.
"I thought you said you couldn't swim?" Jellal asked skeptically, folding his arms across his chest.
"I can't," Natsu said blinking in confusion. "The creek isn't that deep, but I had to jump in to grab the fish. It's not like I couldn't stand in the water, it's pretty shallow after all."
"Well, at least you caught us something to eat," Jellal said in a deep breath.
"Us?" Natsu said confused. "I caught these for me!" He went back to his same old goofy grin as he held the fish up.
"What?" Jellal said in disbelief.
"I'm kidding," Natsu laughed as he walked back onto the bank. "You can have one too. Just stand back for a second."
Jellal did as he was told as he took a couple of steps back. Natsu held the fish outstretched before breathing a long and furious fire to cook them. Jellal watched in avid amazement as the boy finished, holding now two cook fish in his hands.
"Here," Natsu said throwing him a fish before he plopped down on the grass and began engulfing his own catch. He didn't even bother to descale it, or take out the bones. He just nibbled on it as it was.
Jellal took his own seat, realizing that this was the best he was going to get, he too just started to eat the fish. It wasn't that bad, though he never really ate a fish without any seasoning or spices, but he had to admit that it wasn't all that bad. Though Natsu had finished his fish before Jellal had even taken two bites.
"Ah," Natsu sighed in relief as he laid back patting his stomach. "That was good, but admittedly I could use another."
Jellal watched as the young teen leapt to his feet and ran to the bank of the river. As he took another bite of his fish he began to wonder what it was about the boy that made him so strange. He may have been a slave but he was always in high spirits, even now. He turned his attention over to the young Draconan as the boy leapt back into the creek, vanishing beneath the surface.
Jellal knew about Duke's plan, and ultimately that it would lead to war. He hated that they had to take any kinds of breaks, since they needed to get to Mila very soon. He knew that Duke would be posed to invade Nivit, and if the young king did that, than war would surly erupt around Fiore. That was what worried him the most, but would they make it back in time to grab the others, or would Duke amass his army in time to invade? If that happened, what would happen to Lucy and Erza? He could feel his stomach knot up as he thought about it.
There was no way they could go there now, the entire country of Konvern would be looking for them, and there would be no way for them to even hope to bypass that much land on foot. They needed the horses, and they needed to go around Konvern without being seen. He wondered if they could get a ship instead, hide aboard one of the merchant vessels heading to Nivit. That would probably be the best way to go about it.
"I got some more!" Natsu yelled as he jumped out of the water, this time holding four fish in his hands.
"That's good!" Jellal called out to him. "But Mila should be another two days on foot, so we'll probably need some more for the road. There's no guarantee that we'll find another creek or river on our way there, nor that we'll find any inns and what not."
"No problem," Natsu said as he threw the fish on the bank. He dove back into the water.
Jellal smiled to himself as he went back to his lunch. He was sure about one thing though, he was happy to have the company of Natsu with him. The boy just had something about him that made him so likable. Perhaps Jellal shouldn't stress out too much about the whole situation. Erza should be able to handle everything and watch over the others without too much trouble. But then again, he hoped that they were okay, he hoped that she was okay. He took a deep breath looking at his fish sighing to himself.
"I got some more!" Natsu yelled as he threw four more fish on the bank. "I'm going back for more!"
Jellal looked out to the creek where the boy had been diving. His gaze fell back on the fish as Natsu jumped back out of the water, throwing his catch on the bank before jumping back in. As Jellal watched him, he slowly realized that there was hope after all.