No one talked about it, but by the time night fell, each one of them knew what had transpired in the weak light of the dawn earlier in the day, and even C.C., who had joined only a month earlier, understood the gravity of the situation before them.
They still carried on as best as they could. Ignoring the splintering cracks, the group did their best to continue on through the blistering desert, quietly worrying over the precarious situation they had found themselves in but never voicing their thoughts. That is, until they were huddled around the campfire in the freezing dark of the night and the Black Prince called away his right-hand-man. It was then that Rolo, unable to take the pressure any longer, finally snapped.
“How can he think to leave? He swore when he joined us, as did we all, that we would remain together until we completed the quest. How can he possibly think to abandon us, the traitor?”
Gino, his eyes glued to the dancing flames, gave a half-hearted smile and a shrug. “I don’t blame him.”
C.C. watched as the youngest of them all reared back as if he had been struck. Staring at the young man with wide eyes, his lips curled back into a snarl.
“Well, I’m glad you’re not the leader then. Lelouch will never let him leave; he’d rather kill Suzaku then let him leave for some woman!”
“That’s what you might do if you were in Lelouch’s position,” interceded Jeremiah. The fire threw shadows over his face, making him look as if he had been born of the shadows, only to have been called forth by some ancient ritual. “But the Black Prince is neither so pacifist nor violent to follow either of your paths. Be still, the both of you. No matter how much you scream, nothing will influence the Prince. It would serve only to destroy what little harmony we have left.”
It was true. Even C.C. knew this. She remembered when she had first met the Black Prince. It had been in some saloon in the neighboring town from her birthplace and her prison. She had dragged herself into the only source of light for miles in that barren desert, the train of her wedding dress trailing behind her. Her veil had long since been blown away by the greedy wind, and all that had remained of the blushing bride had been a dirty, dusty dress. No doubt easy prey for any man who was particularly determined to take her as his.
But any who would dare make that folly wouldn’t have known of the gun held tight in her hand, or of the rage burning within her. Marching up to the table in the corner around which the only customers of the business were gathered around, she set down the gun with a heavy clunk and declaring herself.
When she had informed the group of their newest recruit, two of the six – Gino and Suzaku – had worn an expression of surprise and amusement. Rolo had frowned in disapproval, while the remaining two men – Jeremiah and Xingke – had looked at her with unconcerned, blank faces unbecoming of the situation in imitation of their leader.
Much like he had now, Rolo had gotten out of his chair to “defend” the integrity of the band of outlaws, an integrity in which there was no room for women, when the Black Prince had stood up. Though she had been taken aback by his height, she stood her ground. Even now she could remember the curiosity in his violet eyes as he had looked her up and down, as if they were wondering just what kind of bride made herself into an outlaw on the day of her wedding.
When he took her wrist, she tried to pull away. She wasn’t going back to her father. Not to that traitorous bastard. But much to her surprise, when he’d dragged her outside, he’d merely handed her the gun and pointed to the only street lamp several hundred yards away before crossing his arms and waiting.
It took her three shots, but soon enough, they were swamped in darkness. And it was then that his mask had slipped away and he had welcomed her into his gang.
She didn’t know why he had let her in. She was a good shot – for a woman – but she wasn’t good enough. Even if she had ridden all the way to the town he had been visiting at the time, that still didn’t mean she was accustomed to the days of endless riding on the sparse meals or the adopted reflex of constantly looking over one’s shoulder. All the same, there must have been a good reason why he had taken her under his wing, so to speak, in spite of the protests from his inferiors.
It had been too dark to see his face that night. But when he had taken her hand in his and she had felt his lips brush over her knuckles, she felt as if she already knew him. Perhaps that was the very reason why he had allowed her in. Or not. Who knew?
No one did. But she would find out soon enough, that was for sure.