The horses of the Black Prince’s Court were as beautiful as their riders were dangerous. Tall and proud, they were magnificent specimens, with bright eyes and shining coats – far stronger and faster than her own steed, a plain brown American Quarter.
“We ought to get you a better horse soon.”
She looked up from where she had been unsaddling her horse to see a pair of green eyes looking at her from over its bare back. Choosing not to reply to him, she turned away as she pulled out a thick blanket.
“Lelouch was planning on getting you one anyway.”
Her eyes momentarily turned to the leader, who was standing some ways away. The violet eyes above that black mask flickered up from where he had been petting his own charcoal black stallion and locked with hers. She returned to Suzaku.
“What are you scheming? Thieving some poor farmer who only has one horse to his name?”
“Of course not.” Hurt flashed across his face for a brief second before vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. “Besides, a poor farmer wouldn’t have the kind of horse that we would need.”
“There’s someone we know. We’re on our way to them now. I just wanted to come by and tell you not to feel too badly. We understand that it’s the horse, and not you. In fact, Lelouch’s praised your riding skills, which is…something quite rare for him, you have to understand. But that’s all I wanted to say.”
With a smile, he patted her hand before whistling away. Left alone, she mulled over his words. Lugging the heavy saddle towards the campfire, she threw it down as his words echoed in her head. Pushing her hat back, she squinted in the dying light as she looked towards the fiery sky and the sun slipping into the darkness, blinded by its beauty and yet still unable to unsee that glint in his eyes when their eyes had met and she had glimpsed the terrible grief consuming his soul.
. . .
The valley they arrived at – the home of the rancher – was so green, it was hard to believe that they had “stumbled” upon it in the middle of the desert. Dismounting, C.C. smelt the nostalgic scent of living, growing greens and felt that she had walked into the Garden of Eden itself. But what really surprised her wasn’t the thriving vegetation. Rather, it was the rancher. Well… More like ranchers.
There were two of them, and they were women. Fair-skinned, delicate members of the gentler sex who, according to society and all who knew better, belonged indoors, dressed in silk and dolled up so that their husbands would have something to appreciate when they returned home after a hard day’s work.
The older one offered her her hand. Dressed in a workman’s clothes, she curtly shook her hand. Her hand felt rough and calloused, her grip firm and steady, and C.C. saw that the others – the men in the Court – respected her and saw her as an equal and that she would be expected to treat her with such dignity in kind.
“C.C.,” she replied to the rancher’s self-introduction.
She nodded. “It’s a pleasure.”
For some reason, C.C. didn’t really feel that she meant the words tumbling out of her mouth.
It was one of the first times C.C. heard the voice from behind the black cloth. She was reminded of how there had always been that rumor of the face behind that cloth – as handsome as his voice, they would say. Enough to make even the highest of ladies to swoon. She couldn’t help but roll her eyes – rumors were just that. Rumors. Though she had to admit that his voice was easy on the ears, that didn’t automatically guarantee a handsome face underneath. Surely there had to be some sort of scar, or disfigurement underneath. Why else would he be so careful to conceal the lower half of his face even when he and his men were alone in the desert?
“You haven’t roughed up Gawain now, have you? Because if you have, I’ll have your head,” she growled.
The eyes above the mask didn’t even register her threat. Calm and steady, they drilled into her as he evenly said: “We’re in need of a horse.”
“And why should I have to help you?” She crossed her arms as she narrowed her eyes. “Particularly after your last visit?”
“There’s nothing more we can do about that. Nor did I come here because of that issue. I came here to conduct business, with a businessman. Not to spar over your sister’s honor.”
Her confusion must have shown briefly as Gino sidled up besides her. Leaning down, he whispered to her the story of how Suzaku had been granted sanctuary in the valley after getting shot during one of their hijacks – a period in which he had gotten to know Cornelia’s sister better. A sweet young woman, he added, with a pretty face and gentle manners. An angel in this godforsaken hell. But all the more reason why Cornelia was so protective.
“This isn’t over,” she hissed.
“I never said it was,” he replied coolly.
Turning on her heel, she threw her thick gloves into a nearby wheelbarrow. Her posture tense and violent, she stormed away towards the enormous barn seated near a grove of orange trees.
“Well, what are you standing there for? We haven’t got all day!”
As the Black Prince followed after her, and Gino nudged C.C. forward, she couldn’t help but notice how the right-hand-man had mysteriously – “mysteriously” – vanished. Looking up into a second-story window of the beautiful home they passed by, she could have sworn she could hear a light giggle from inside.
But maybe that was just the wind.