Date: Sat, 18 Jul 1998 23:46:55 -0700
Subject: [ffml] [MW] The Cottage
From: "Beth Davis"

>       "Okay, let me arrange things with Scotts first." Bacca brought the
> old soldier back, spoke with him for a few moments, then turned his
> attention back to Lady.
>       "I'm ready."
>       Lady concentrated a moment and the two disappeared.

      When the couple reappeared, they were standing on a stone walkway. To their left was a beautiful pond with a few swans swimming about on it. On all sides were huge weeping willows and oak trees, covering the scenic place with shade. Bacca looked around, impressed.
      "Now where exactly are we, Lady?" he asked, turning to look at her.
      Her spirits and energy already seemed to have increased. "This is a place called the End of Time... I found it during my travels. Believe it or not, several years ago," she gestured outward with her arms. "This place was all empty blackness. In bits and pieces, I brought the physical objects in and bound them with enchantments. And now I have my own home!" She grabbed his hand with the eagerness of a child. "Come along! I can show you my cottage!"

Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 22:30:53 -1000

      Lady Paladin seemed like an entirely new person. She was showing such an amount of enthusiasm and energy; Bacca could scarcely believe this was the same bone-tired healer that had just teleported in from camp. As he was half-dragged down the stone-path, the warrior laughed and tried to slow her down some.
      "I'm coming as quickly as I can," he laughed, "If you wanted to get there this quickly, you should have teleported in closer."
      "Oh, no no no," she replied, shaking her head vigorously. Golden hair showered down over her shoulders. "That would mean missing this view of my beautiful pond and these lovely trees!" Lady Paladin waved her arms outward again, as though to draw extra attention to her use of adjectives.
      "And here is my cottage!" she beamed as they came around a bend in the path.
      Bacca nodded, impressed. "Not bad at all, especially since it was formed out of nothing. It's certainly not what I'm used to."
      Lady Paladin looked at him, seeming to expect more flattering comments. When he seemed to struggle with more words to say, she tried assisting him. "Well, I know you are used to something more like a military fortification, but I assure you this place is quite sound. It has even more enchantments than Mysidia!" She blushed with pride, and Bacca thought in amusement that he would be hearing a lot more boasting in the next few days.
      There was a soft clatter of hoofbeats across the lawn, and Golden Melody came into view beside the cottage. He looked between Bacca and Lady Paladin, his ears swiveling back. With a snort, he pranced directly up to the couple and then turned to address his mistress. Bacca smiled and began to open his mouth in greeting, but was silenced before the first word could form.
     His aristocratic voice very cold, Goldy spat, "I thought I requested you to not bring this knave here."
     Lady's hand fell limp to her side, but her face contorted in fury. "And I reminded you that this is my cottage and Bacca is more than welcome here."
     The stallion tossed his head and his eyes gleamed with the fierceness of battle. "I have always served you well, my lady, but if you expect me to welcome the man here who blotched your good reputation --"
     "Blotched my good reputation?" she cried, her face becoming pale.
     Furious hoofbeats drummed on the cobbles. "Yes! Before you were tricked by this...rogue, you were actually a decent lady --"
     "Enough!" roared Bacca. Lady Paladin and her horse turned to look at his in shock, for they had even forgotten he was standing there. "There has never been a more decent and kind lady than Lady Paladin, and you have no right to say otherwise."
     The palomino glared out him from underneath his long forelock. "I have every right to say otherwise, High Lord Bacca." He spoke the title with clear disdain. "If you truly loved my lady -- yes, I could tell that claim would be the next on your foul lips -- you would have married her and not left her in such a state of dishonor. Heaven forbid a child come of this appalling union."
     Goldy turned to look at Lady Paladin, remorse flickering on his equine face. "As long as Lord Bacca is here, I will not be. If you desire my services, which I doubt since this other 'stallion' is here, I will come instantly to your summons." The horse gave a low and courteous bow, and the vanished.
     Bacca turned to Lady Paladin, alarmed by how very still and pale she was. "Lady...?" he asked softly.
     She blinked several times, and then turned to look at him, a faint smile on her lips. "I believe I have some research to do right now. I have a few other minions I haven't kept in direct contact with for awhile. I hope you will excuse me for awhile, my dear. I'll be down in the basement, where my library is."
     "But Lady --" Bacca began to ask in surprise. What the hell was wrong with her? Was she in shock?
     "You can wander around wherever you like. The stables, where I have both horses and chocobos, and the armory are in the back. I have quite a fine weaponry and armor collection, and you may have any pieces you want. Also in the back there is the spring, but please don't go there until after supper. It is the ceremonial traditional of the women of my family that all guests be bathed by their hand. I will have supper prepared in a few hours' time. I will give you a mental summons if I don't find you in person then. I would like to discuss some things about the war, including what I'm going to do with those gryphons Lady Farfalla gave me."
     She leaned up and gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek. "I will see you in a few hours, my dear, and then we can spend plenty of time together." Then, within the blink of an eye, she had vanished in a swirl of white silk, and Bacca was left alone on the stone path.

Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998 22:04:09 -1000

     Bacca leaned back in the tapestry-upholstered chair, taking a sip of a cool drink. He had just spent the past several hours wandering the premises, and had been quite impressed. The warrior chuckled as he recalled his reaction to Lady's armory; he already made mental notes of a few extraordinary pieces to borrow.
     "Excuse me, you are in my chair."
     Bacca blinked. There was no one standing there. He leaned forward, and saw the very determined face of a cat glaring at him. The cat's brass eyes didn't even blink, and Bacca smiled in amusement.

     "You must be Wentch," said Bacca. "Lady Paladin mentions you often."
     "Does she?" asked Wentch in a bored tone. The tabby cat barely stifled a yawn.
"Well, if she were going to mention me, at least she could use the proper titles. And I must remind you that you are in my chair. See the tapestry design? It is celebrating my birth. I would get on your lap now, but armor does chafe my fur."
     Bacca smiled. "Oh, I see." Where did Lady Paladin get all of these neurotic animals? At least Wentch was arrogant like most cats, but still...
     "Ah, there you are!" Lady Paladin appeared out of another doorway. She adjusted her green velvet robes and smoothed some cat hair off her arm. Bacca stood, his eyes absorbing every detail of the elaborate garment.
     "I see you're dressing up some," said Bacca with one of his charming smiles. Behind him, he heard the plop of Wentch leaping into the seat of the chair.
     "Ah, well, yes," she said, looking down at herself and blushing. She seemed back to her old self again, even though the skirt was a bit higher and the neckline was a bit lower and the robes she typically wore. "I thought, why not? I have a decent wardrobe, but I usually only wear my double-layer white robes for protection. Do you think this suits me?'      Bacca grinned. They seemed to be acting like a regular couple for once. "You look beautiful, my lady. Green is definitely your color."
     She beamed. "Well, thank you! Now, if you come this way, I already conjured dinner for us. I hope it is to your taste."
     Bacca stepped into the tiny kitchen nook. Despite the size, there was a great deal squeezed into the room. There was a large oaken table for six in the center of the room, and bookshelves lined one wall. Bacca assumed they were magic or healing tomes. The table was set up so that their two seats faced the large bay window that overlooked the backyard; the back was well-lighted, revealing a beautiful maze of garden paths leading to the stables and armory.
     The warrior gazed down questioningly at the meal on the table. "No offense, Lady Paladin, but I have no idea what this is." He pointed to the main dish.
     She gave a proud grin back. "Bacca, that is a dish called Toad-in-the-Hole. It is quite delicious. See, these sausages poking up out of the crisp batter?" She handed him a serving of it. "Toad-in-the-Hole is quite good with gravy. Now, there are also some vegetables here, fried potatoes... here are some different bottles of drink you can select...oh, and for dessert I have Scottish shortbread and scones. I hope to spoil you for as long as you're in my home!" The white wizard smiled affectionately and then sat down beside Bacca.
     Bacca took a small bite of the "Toad" and looked over at Lady in surprise. "Hmm, not bad!" he exclaimed. She absolutely glowed with the praise.
     They continued with the dinner, and said nothing for awhile. It was a rare chance for them to enjoy peace and quiet of isolation; there were no yells from soldiers, squawks from chocobos, or the general atmosphere of a military camp to deal with. A gentle breeze stirred the towering trees outside, but that simply added to the pure serenity.
     "You have a fabulous home here, Lady," Bacca finally said.
     She looked up at him with an almost shy smile. "I am glad you think so. It means a lot to me. I am anxious to someday see your home, too. You rarely talk about it."
     Bacca gave a little cough, and wiped his lips with a napkin. "Well, I haven't been there for such a while... What would you like to know?"
     "Everything? Ah, well..." Bacca paused for a second to think. "Well, my homeland is in the mountains north of Figaro Castle. It essentially is several large valleys right next to each other, and quite possibly the most beautiful place on the planet. In many respects, it is a lot like the area around your cottage -- beautiful waterfalls, greenery... And the people are quite pleasant, though they are trained as fierce warriors, of course." Bacca grinned.
     Lady Paladin grinned back. "But of course. I would have been surprised if it were otherwise. Your home sounds so beautiful, Bacca, I would love to be able to go there." A wistful sound came into her voice.
     He reached across the table to grasp her hands. "You would be more than welcome there, Lady. Maybe I can arrange something soon..." She just smiled at him, hopeful. Bacca leaned back in his chair again. Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 00:02:39 -0700

"Now, I have some questions for you, my Lady," began Bacca.

The healer cocked her head to the side and smiled. "Oh, like what? Ask whatever you like."

Bacca drummed his fingertips along the edge of the table. "Well, I would like to know more about your 'pets.' I have met both Golden Melody and Wentch, but I don't know very much about them." His studied Lady's reaction carefully, concerned that the mention of her horse might make her depressed or withdrawn.

Instead, she grinned widely. "Oh, I would love to talk about those two!" She leaned forward in her seat and clasped her hands together. "I received Goldy when I was 8 years old. He was promised to me before he was even born. As you may remember, the teleport took me away from home when I was just 9." Lady Paladin grimaced at the memory. "I avoided going for months, though, but the call became stronger and stronger. And the teleport always appeared in the stall right next to Goldy's." Her voice softened, and Bacca had to listen closely to make out her words. "After we landed in Mysidia, it was obvious he had been...altered. He had just been a normal but well-bred colt on Alderaan; the only unusual thing about him was his palomino coloring. But he out of nowhere gained strong magical abilities such as teleportation, human speech, and a complete mindlink with me. He is also said to be my guardian." She looked Bacca in the eye, and her voice gained a normal tone again. "The Elder said I had to be special to have such a powerful being sent to guard me."

"Yes, I think so," commented Bacca. He became lost in thought. "Well...tell me more about Wentch then."

"Oh! Wentch." Lady Paladin laughed, and the cheerful sound brought a smile to Bacca's lips. "Wentch is my little baby. Oh, don't give me that look. I raised him from a kitten. The teleport also changed him -- he can talk." She laughed again. "Sometimes I wish he couldn't, though. That cat is the most arrogant, self-serving creature I have ever seen. And he believes he is an Emperor over all cats, too...poor thing, he orders other cats around and they do nothing. The one exception is a large Chia Pet Kitten, George, who I have on a mission right now."

Bacca arched an eyebrow. "What mission did you send a walking Chia on?"

She grinned mischievously. "To get more spellbooks, of course. He is basically a gigantic golem, and is not very intelligent. I received a report that he fulfilled his primary mission goals and is heading to the military camp. He seems to have picked up a new ally, too, a fighter of some sort."

"Interesting. We can use whatever allies we can get. And that leads me right into the next thing I wanted to discuss with you, my dear." Bacca stood up and extended a hand out to Lady Paladin. She accepted his hand, and rose to stand beside him.

"What is it?" she worriedly asked.

"Let's head outside. I saw a nice stone bench under a weeping willow tree earlier, we can talk there."

"Funny that you made special notice of that bench," Lady Paladin said in a soft voice. They stepped out the back door and walked hand-in-hand down the stone pathway between the shrubberies. "I made that part of my garden as a replica of my favorite place in the garden back home, on Alderaan. Of all things, I miss that most."

Bacca's heart ached for her, but he had no wish to be distracted from the topic at hand. There would be time later to hold her close and soothe those painful memories away. He led her under the low branches of the tree, and let her sit down on the bench. Bacca began pacing back and forth in front of Lady, and he finally took in a deep breath and turned to her.

"The war is going to get progressively more difficult from now on. I can't make a secret of it -- the odds are heavily against us. Powerful armies will be hammering us from all sides. Nothing short of a miracle may get us through this alive and intact enough to move on and continue fighting." He flinched, and then continued pacing.

"The fact is, the army needs you more than ever now. You are one of the few Master White Wizards in existence, and you're more than qualified to be a Master Healer, too. And the army has nothing but respect and admiration for you, too; they haven't forgotten how many lives you saved at Spiked Dwarf Pass. And even though you haven't talked with me about it, I've been told you've taken many apprentice healers and white wizards under your guidance and taught them how to handle themselves in battle. We're all grateful to you for this."

He stopped in mid-stride and sat down beside Lady Paladin. The stone bench was quite cold to the touch, but Lady's slender hands were warm and soft. Bacca softly stroked her fingers and continued. "As much as the army needs you, part of me wants to lock you away and keep you safe until all the fighting is over." Lady Paladin opened her lips to speak, but found herself silenced by a darting glance of his eyes. "But I've had to remind myself that the decision is yours. A long and dark siege is inevitable for our forces. There will undoubtedly be heavy casualties. The decision is completely up to you, though. Lady...?"

The white wizard cast her brown eyes downward to her and Bacca's hands. "You know I won't leave your side willingly," she quietly observed, and gently touched his wrist. A tingling sensation traveled up his arm and was absorbed into the platinum medallion at his chest. Bacca could see a brief green glow through his armor, and then it instantaneously vanished. The slight tingling remained, and Bacca felt that his heart rate had increased.

Their eyes met. "So don't you dare try to leave me behind, Bacca. I've been involved in this war longer than you have. Those moogles still owe me a pair of panties." Lady Paladin grinned, and Bacca burst out laughing.

"Well, I guess that settles that issue." Bacca gave Lady an affectionate grin as they both stood up. "Now, what did you do to the medallion just now?"

She wore an expression of total innocence. "Who, me?" Bacca could swear he saw an illusionary halo hovering over her head.

"Yes, you!" Bacca laughed and lunged forward. Lady Paladin scampered out of his grasp and fled down the pathway, giggling. In long strides, he headed after her. "Where do you think you're headed?" he laughed.

"You'll see!"

They wound their way around the hedges and continued running towards a sound of falling water. Bacca enjoyed the pursuit, and wondered what on earth the mischievous healer had in mind. He ran around the corner and stopped dead in his tracks, jaw slack.

"It has seems that you had forgotten one of the promises the Caliph Armisia required of us." Lady Paladin smiled demurely. "So, I now present to you -- the Dance of the Water Nymph."