The time had come and Jellal rode with King Duke and his company as they traveled to Konvern. King Duke rode up in the front with a couple of his advisors that were busy discussing potential plans and negotiations with King Jude. Jellal on the other hand rode near the back beside a less than excited red headed girl. She scowled and occasionally glowered at the young noble with a vicious glare. Jellal fought to hold back his smile.
"This is humiliating," Erza grumbled as she rode beside Jellal.
"What? Why?" Jellal asked with an innocent smile.
"Look at me!" she barked, but made sure to keep her voice down.
She grabbed the front part of a white apron and held it up to him, her eyes full of rage. She wore a faded egg white bandana in her hair, a crinkled tan blouse under the apron and a torn up skirt. The clothes were itchy and smelled oddly of spoiled cottage cheese, which made her nauseous. What made it worse was that she was ridding an old horse who had long since past his prime, and she could swear was covered in fleas.
"I'm supposed to be your personal guard, a knight, not some flea bitten peasant girl," Erza growled.
"Oh and what do you expect me to do?" Jellal asked raising an eyebrow. "Go, 'Good day your Majesty, do you remember that woman that you chastised and screamed at in front of half the kingdom? Well it just so happens I decided to make her my personal guard, a knight if you will. Even though you pretty much threatened to kill her for dressing up like one before. But this is still okay though right?'"
Erza didn't agree one bit with the statement, she was too beside herself to even think about it. She was incredibly uncomfortable in the disguise, and when Jellal first proposed it to her, she was against it, but it was from that very reasoning that she agreed to it in the first place. But now she had regretted it, and what infuriated her the most was how Jellal seemed to take some sort of sick pleasure in it.
"I'm supposed to be your knight remember? You hired me to protect you. How am I supposed to protect you when I look like this?" Erza hissed at him.
"As I recall you originally claimed that I did not need a personal guard," Jellal said slyly with a coy smile.
"And yet you were the one that persisted that I take you up on your offer," Erza hissed back. "Well just know this, if we do get attacked by a group of bandits, I'll make sure that I play my role as a sweet, innocent peasant girl through while you can protect me as a man of valor."
"Oh, come on Erza," Jellal chuckled. "I think you look pretty cute in that outfit."
Jellal immediately regretted his words as he saw Erza's eyes flare up as she leered at him with threatening eyes. He could see her reach slowly for her sword out of the corner of his eyes. He smiled awkwardly at her as her fingers wrapped around the grip. That was until he heard the king call out his name for him to come forward.
"Well that's my cue," Jellal said as he kicked his horse for him to go faster as he galloped up to the front.
"Jellal," Erza quipped quietly, "Jellal! We're not done here. Jellal!"
"Sorry miss," Jellal called back, "I have somewhere I need to be. We'll continue this conversation, never."
"Jellal, get back her," Erza ordered. "Jellal."
Jellal just continued to make his way to the front where the king was awaiting him and his company. That and he needed a chance to get away from Erza for a few moments. He peered back one more time and saw that Erza was still glaring at him intensely.
Once Jellal was at the front he made his way to the side of the young king. "Yes, my Lord?" he asked as soon as he had arrived.
"Jellal," the king said offering him a friendly smile, "I was just talking to my advisors about the merger and alliance with Konvern. According to them Sir Iwan, the king's right hand man, wished to discuss some concerns with me regarding the dragon the king possess."
"The king posses a dragon?" Jellal asked rather surprised. "When did this happen?"
"Well according to rumors, it isn't the dragon that my father fought against in the dragon wars, but rather a boy with certain abilities," King Duke tried to explain to him.
"And how does this boy play a factor in your negotiations to marry Princess Lucy?" Jellal asked rather puzzled.
"If the rumors are true, than the boy should prove to be an aptitude piece in future wars," King Duke informed him. "Think about it Jellal, we have one of the largest remaining armies, Konvern has vast amounts of wealth and this supposed dragon boy. With our two forces combined we would become unstoppable, and I could conquer all the kingdoms in the land, making me the supreme ruler. Iwan has already pledged the boy's loyalty to me. It's a done deal as long as King Jude signs our contract and when I marry Princess Lucy."
"Conquer all the kingdoms in the land?" Jellal said in disbelief. He could understand what had possessed the king to think in such a manner. "My Lord, did not the kingdoms come to a truce at the end of the dragon wars to prevent any future wars for at least two generations? The results of those wars were so catastrophic that they have left most countries with barely any men to defend their borders, from simple bandits and highway thieves."
"Exactly. Leaving each and everyone of them rip for the taking," he replied clenching his fist. Jellal could hear a murmur of agreement from the advisors as they all nodded with wide grins.
"But such actions would violate the treaty, that your own father himself wrote," Jellal said sternly.
"That was an agreement made by my father," King Duke retorted. "I am not my father, therefore the treaty does not apply to me."
"But you are of his house. To violate the treaty would be to disgrace his name," Jellal said shaking his head alarmed by his own king's words.
"Jellal, you are a good friend, and I have known you for many years. Your father served mine loyally all the way to his death in the dragon wars. I would expect you to be supportive in this endeavor and in my decision making rather than try and contend with me." King Duke said with a serious glare.
Jellal could see the young king had grown quite frustrated with him at that point. He decided not to pursue the argument any further. It was a lost cause, though he wanted to object with his full heart. He had grown up knowing King Duke's father, a good noble man that care about his people, and would not object them to war. That was one of the only reasons Junelle still had a strong military, since he refused to enter the wars. Jellal never understood what had compelled the king to enter the war.
"I am sorry my Lord," Jellal apologized bowing his head. "It was not my intent to anger you. I was only thinking about what your father would wish. But you are right, you are my king now and I respect that."
"Good, you should remember your place," King Duke said grimly. "When this transaction goes through I expect you to be there with me all the way through. Don't forget that."
"Yes my Lord," Jellal said calmly. "I am sorry."
After that King Duke gestured for Jellal to fall back to end of the company. The young noble agreed and slowed up his pace before turning around to return to Erza. Though he wasn't received with warm greetings upon his return. He was completely lost in thought as he reflected on the king's words.
Once he had returned he could feel the swoosh of a sword brush by the tip of his nose. Startled, he almost fell off the back of his horse as he saw the sword still in Erza's hand. She glared at him fiercely as she just strode on by him, his eyes still wide in shock.
"Nice," he said as his eyes were still transfixed in front of him as the red head passed by, "you're aim is better than I expected."
"What do you mean?" Erza murmured as she glanced back at him, "I missed."
"She missed," Jellal said nodding his head. "Of course she missed."
"So what did his Majesty want with you?" Erza asked still upset with Jellal.
"He asked me what my feelings were on his plans to start a war and invade the surrounding countries once his marriage with Princess Lucy goes through," Jellal answered.
"What?" Erza said stunned, her eyes going wide as he told her. "Doesn't that violate the treaty signed by his father and the other kings in the land?"
"It does," Jellal told her. "It violates everything that his father has stood for. This madness will only bring about destruction and ruin. If the other countries discover this coven, and believe me they will, they will band together and utter chaos will erupt."
"What has caused the king to even support this kind of madness?" Erza asked him.
"I don't know necessarily, but I remember him bringing up the name Iwan. He said that they posses a boy who has the abilities of a dragon. If this is true, it can only make the situation worse."
"What do you plan on doing about it?" Erza asked him.
"I don't know," Jellal said shaking his head. "I guess the best I can do is try and talk him out of it. Though there is no guarantee that he will listen. I hate to say it, but I believe that King Duke is becoming blinded by his own greed. He thinks that if he goes through with this he'll become the supreme ruler in the land."
"We have to stop him," Erza said distinctly as she eyed the royal from afar.
"Don't worry Erza, I'll find a way," Jellal assured her.
About a week later Natsu awoke like he did every morning and made his way to the smith shop to begin his day. It was something that kept him occupied now that Gildarts had moved on. For the most part it was easy work, not too strenuous and was easy for him to do with his gifts. He could heat up the steel or iron hot enough for him to hammer.
As he made his way he was intercepted by two guardsmen. They told him to follow them as they made their way to the gate. There Natsu saw Iwan sitting atop a horse surrounded by at least a dozen other horsemen. He wondered what was going on for no sooner had the guards escorted him to Iwan that they turned around and left.
"My Lord," Natsu said bowing his head. "What is it that you need of me?"
"My boy," Iwan greeted the teen with a friendly grin, "I would ask that you escort me and my men on a mission to the wilderness to find and dispose of the bandits that have been plaguing this land."
"Me?" Natsu said a little taken by the offer. "My Lord am I allowed? The king has forbidden me from ever leaving the castle walls." That was with the exception of his visits to the lake that were done without the king's knowledge.
"Well this time you have my permission," Natsu heard King Jude say as he walked up behind the boy. "Lord Iwan requested your personally for this mission, so I hope you don't prove a disappointment to him or I. I hope that you continue to show your dedication and loyalty to the house as you have done so for so many years now. You understand what it is that I am saying to you, right boy?"
"Yes, my Lord," Natsu said as he bowed his head.
"Good," King Jude said as he turned his eyes up to Iwan. The nobleman simply nodded his head as he turned to ride out.
As soon as Natsu raised his head he saw Princess Lucy walking just behind her father, decorated in her usual attire of a long white silk dress. Natsu made sure not to keep his eyes too focused on her, despite how beautiful she looked. Though she seemed a little puzzled to see Natsu there with Iwan and his company. Levy followed behind the young blonde equally as confused to see what was going on.
But Natsu couldn't help himself as his eyes found their way up to Lucy's. The girl stared at him with a cold glare, and though Natsu fought back the urge to smile at her, he kept his composure. He just looked away without so much as saying a word.
Natsu heard the sounds of the horse steps as he turned to see that Iwan and the others were already on the move. He turned back to face King Jude who gestured that the boy go. Natsu nodded his head and quickly sprinted to catch up to them.
"Father," Lucy asked, "why do you so freely allow the slave to leave the castle grounds?" She gazed up at him with a confused expression.
"My dear," King Jude said as he brushed a couple of hairs behind her ears, "the boy is being sent to deal with the bandit problem. Let's hope he comes through and proves himself to be a useful tool once more."
"I see," Lucy said with a hollow voice.
She turned back to watch as the pink haired teen ran behind the horses. She sighed to herself before she made her way back to the castle. Levy followed right behind her. King Jude stayed and watched them leave as well, half expecting the slave boy to take the opportunity to run.
Natsu followed behind the others, with no horse to ride on himself. They didn't ride too fast, but by the time they came to a decent stride he was able to walk up next to them. Some of the knights looked at him with unwelcoming eyes and even one knight kicked him in the back as he passed on by. Natsu just shook it off as he made his way up to the front where Iwan sat.
"My Lord," Natsu asked as soon as he caught up, "where are we going?"
"Like I said my boy," Iwan answered. "To the wilderness."
It was there that he noticed a familiar face riding beside Iwan. It was none other than Arcadios himself. Natsu was a bit surprised, since it was not often that the knight led the king's side. After all, he was the head of the king's guard.
He had changed over the years. His hair was longer and curlier than Natsu had remembered it. He had a long spiked goatee hanging off his chin. His nose was still long and square as Natsu remembered it. He was happy to see another friendly face amongst the company of hostile ones that surrounded him. It made him feel a little more comfortable all things considered.
"Arcadios?" Natsu said while still finding it hard to belive that the same night was there before him.
"It's good to see you Natsu," Arcadios said offering a friendly smile.
Natsu could sense a foot coming behind him, but chose not to react. He was more than familiar not to react, especially when it came from a guard or knight. He just simply let the foot strike him in the back.
"That is Sir Arcadios to you, slave," the horseman spat.
"Come now," Iwan interjected. "Do not treat the boy so harshly. He is just a little surprise to see a friendly face again. After all, Arcadios is the one that brought him home from the mountain."
"Sorry my Lord," the horseman grumbled, but Natsu could hear the lack of sincerity in his voice. He didn't mind it too much. He was used to abuse by the knights and they often resented him.
They made their way down the road and over the same bridge. Natsu looked down as he saw a spot that was still stained red from the blood of the knight who was killed there. Iwan and the others kept moving as they rode further and deeper into the woods.
"My Lord," Arcadios said as they journeyed farther. "Do you know where you are going?"
"Of course my old friend," Iwan answered as he kept his eyes forward. "I have learned the whereabouts of the bandits, and we are heading to their location as we speak."
"How did you obtain knowledge of their whereabouts?" Arcadios asked, a little skeptical.
"I have ears everywhere Arcadios," Iwan told him with sly smirk. "I know everything there is to know about this country. And trust me, I will guide you there now."
Arcadios just furrowed his eyebrows and scowled at the noble. He had a bad feeling at the pit of his gut as they continued to make their way forward. He kept his eyes wondering the landscape and behind every tree every bush. He felt like they were being watched by someone, or something but he said nothing. It could have just been paranoia. His eyes then fell on Natsu waiting to see if the boy could sense any disturbance around them. Though Natsu looked just as calm as Iwan. Perhaps it was just his imagination.
As they made their way down the dirt path they eventually came upon a small meadow in the middle of the wood. A shallow creek ran through it, and there they saw the ashes of an old fire and even a couple of packs and plates lying around it.
"This is it," Iwan said as he held up his hand to stop the company.
Arcadios proceeded to move forward making his way towards the smoldered flames. Once there he leapt down and took a knee by the fire pit.
"The coals are still hot," he shouted back to them as he picked up a piece of burned out coal and rubbed it between his fingertips. "They must still be near by. That or they plan on returning soon. They left a lot of items behind."
"Or they're still here," Natsu said as he felt a sudden jolt tingle it's way through his spin.
He gazed around the entire area looking to see if he could spot anything unusual. He heard the snaps of twigs and the rustle of leaves. He could feel that something was watching him. Even the horses were starting to grow uneasy. Natsu tried to find the source but he couldn't. He began to look around frantically trying to desperately find the source, but every time he looked at one spot he heard a sound come from somewhere else.
Upon seeing Natsu's actions even Arcadios began to grow a little concerned. He reached for his sheath and pulled his sword from its hold and held it out front. The other horsemen followed his lead and soon moved to encircle Iwan to protect him. The horses were still uneasy, the men trying to keep calm as a sense of worry began to emanate from them.
"Where are they," Arcadios said quietly. He heard a sound come from his left, causing him to look over in that direction. Just as he did an arrow flew in from his right and struck him high in the shoulder knocking him down into the fire pit.
"Arcadios!" Natsu yelled as what seemed like a barrage of arrows was released down upon them.
Three horsemen were struck by arrows, causing them to fall from their horses. Natsu could feel them coming as he ducked and rolled out of the way. After the first wave of arrows the men waited to see if there would be any more. But after only a moment of silence they heard the cries of at least two dozen men that stormed at them from every direction with swords and axes held high.
"No harm is to befall the nobleman," a cloaked man shouted from the trees. "You can kill the others."
Natsu saw the cloaked man from his knees, hiding high in the branches of the trees. But then he could sense it and turned his attention forward to see two men came charging at him. As soon as he got back to his feet one man swung the axe towards his head. Natsu ducked underneath it stepping forward past his attacker, sensing the other man swinging his down up him. Natsu could feel himself as he transformed back into a dragon, He spun around as the sword hit nothing but dirt, and this time Natsu brought up his claw and slashed the man's throat open. He then sensed the axe coming back at him, as he reached out to grab it mid-swing and slashed this assailant in the gut.
After those two fell dead he could see that the other horsemen desperately trying to stave off their own attackers. Two of them were thrown from their horses, another was tackled to the ground from behind. The others couldn't gallop anywhere and fought on horseback slashing and stabbing at anyone who came near them. Natsu saw as a man from a far shot an arrow striking one of the knights in the guts, giving some of the men on foot the chance to grab him and pull him down from his horse.
It was then that Natsu saw Iwan sitting there watching them all. The look of horror on his face as he watched a horseman in front him was stabbed from behind. Natsu ran over and leapt high into the air barreling down at the bandit who had just slain the horseman. The swordsman didn't even see him coming, but as soon as Natsu was upon him, he slashed the man's face, fractures of skin, bone and brain flew from the open gash as the man fell limp to the ground.
He sensed another sword coming from behind him. He ducked low to his knees as he spun around in one fluid movement and slashed this assailant through the gut. A loud scream was bellowed from his as he drop the sword and collapsed to the ground. Another assailant came from his side swinging an axe. Natsu just simply took a step to the side, spinning as he did so letting his arm fly through the air and striking the man's jugular.
Acradios managed to pick himself up from the fire pit, pulling the arrow out as he stood up. He winced and cried in pain as it left his body. Fortunately, the arrow didn't go too deep thanks to his armor and chainmail, but it still hurt.
He took couple of deep breaths to calm himself down, but heard a loud yell as a man came charging from the right sword up high. The man came down swinging as Arcadios deflected and swung his own sword up slicing the man's throat. Blood sprayed out covering Acradios' face with the warm red liquid. He heard another scream from behind him as he quickly turned around, stepping into the attack and head-butted his assailant in the nose. For the moment the man was stunned, blood pouring from his nose, giving Arcadios the opportunity to stab the man through the gut. Just as he did another sword came down upon him. He ducked out of the way, ripping his sword from the body of the second man as he swung it around striking slicing this man through the gut.
Arcadios did not have more than a second before another man came charging in on him with an axe waving. He swung it, but then he dodged it. The bandit swung like a mad man swinging each and every direction he could, Arcadios backing up to avoid it. The bandit eventually brought it straight down hitting the dirt, leaving an opening for him to simply bring his sword up and stab this man through his chest before Arcadios shoved him away with his foot.
Arcadios was lost for breath as an arrow was shot just passed the tip of his nose. He saw a bandit standing near a tree only a few meters away. The bandit was busy pulling an arrow from a quiver on his back. Arcadios reached down to his belt, and before the bandit had a chance to pull the arrow back on the string Acradios hurtled a dagger straight at him, hitting the man in the heart.
It was then he saw another bandit approach him and in a flash this assailant was on him before he had a chance to really react. Arcadios swung his sword, but it was caught by the bandit's own hands and was pried away and thrown to the side. Arcadios felt himself stumble forward at the sheer force of this bandits hands, but was soon kicked in the gut and knocked to the ground.
Natsu caught a swinging arm of one last bandit as he stepped up in one powerful blow gouged his claw deep into the bandit. The man gasped in pain as Natsu ripped his hand from the inside of the man before letting him fall limp to the ground. Natsu looked up seeing that he and Iwan were all that remained of their company, them and Arcadios.
"Arcadios!" Natsu said out loud as he sudden realized the other knight was still not amongst them.
Natsu whirled around to see a bandit standing over Arcadios now his foot on Arcadios' sternum. Natsu didn't waste any time was he made a mad dash for the knight. Just as he came upon the bandit he came in swinging, but to his surprise the bandit ducked and spun around striking Natsu in the gut hurdling him sideways as he collided into a tree.
Natsu gasped for air as he slid down the bark and onto his back. He had been struck many times before, but never had someone hit him with such force. He cringed as he tried to sit back up. Never before had anyone managed to hurt him like that before.
He peered up to see the bandit approaching him slowly. Natsu's eyes went wide as he noticed that bandit approaching him had the same eyes, the same scaly skin and claws as he did. This bandit had long, spikey black hair and metal piercings on his brows. He had to be about a year or two older than Natsu, He smirked slyly as he took a couple of steps closer to the pink teen.
"So," he scoffed folding his arms across his chest, "this is the Dragon of Konvern?"