Ľ Legend of Legaia ę

the Unbride of Ratayu

Author's Note: After writing Virtues, and thereby having a glimpse at the intense characters of Eliza and Lord Van Saryu, I couldn't leave such an intricate story untold. I had to delve deeper to a possible tragedy. A possible happiness. The romantic in me wouldn't allow Virtues to be the ending...

'The honor of your presence is requested at a dinner to be held tomorrow evening. An escort shall arrive an hour before sunset. If you are unable to attend, please send word with the escort. Respectfully yours, Lord Van Saryu of Ratayu.í

Eliza sat in the nearest chair with a whispered, "Oh my."

"What is it, dear?" her mother asked.

Eliza looked up to meet her questioning gaze. She slightly held up the letter. "Lord SaryuÖ heís invited me to dine at the castle tomorrow."

Her mother moved to the chair across from her daughter. "ElizaÖ Will you go?"

Eliza moved her blue eyes back to the carefully transcribed letter. "IÖ I donít know."

"Eliza, do you forget what he did? How can you consider--"

"Mother," Eliza interrupted, raising her gaze from the letter, "Lord Saryu personally apologized to each and every woman and family. I told you that. He has done his best to make amends."

Elizaís mother nodded. "Yes, dear, I know, but that doesnít change the actions done or decisions made."

"But mother," Eliza began, eyes wide within her unique, almost doll-like complexion, "you know he wasnít to blame for what happened. Dohati tricked him into wearing the sim-seru. The moment he was freed, Lord Saryu turned off the machine feeding Juggernaut and returned the girls to their families. He hadnít done anything dishonorable before, nor has he done since."

Elizaís mother slowly nodded. "Yet how did Dohati convince Lord Saryu to wear the sim-seru? Wasnít it with the promise of power? That desire caused our misery and grief."

Eliza looked down to the letter again. "Mother, I canít believe him to be that way. I canít believe that of anyone," she countered softly.

Elizaís mother reached out to grip Elizaís hand. "I know, dear." She gave her hand another squeeze. "Why donít you take a walk around town before dinner."

"Yes, mother," Eliza said as she stood.

Eliza retrieved her dark green shawl from the hook near the door and wrapped it around her shoulders before stepping out into the twilight loveliness. She took in a slow breath and released it before stepping out onto the main street with a slight smile.

The small city of Ratayu was in bloom. Blossoms of pale blues, yellows, and purples lined the walk and teased the air with fragrance and peace. The greenery of the trees was rich, and the lushness of their number felt soothing. Though the 10 years possessed by a seru within the mist had seemed to pass in a matter of moments, some part of Eliza had missed the natural loveliness and splendor of her home.

It had risen like a hollowness.

Now the mist was gone and life pulsated around her. Eliza felt strengthened by it; refreshed and rejuvenated with the miracle of living. A miracle that had nearly been stolen a second time. Eliza could hardly imagine the guilt Lord Saryu must have felt at his part in it.

Eliza stopped outside the main walk leading to Saryu castle and turned to stare up at its gray massiveness. Then she slowly stepped away and made her way back home.

*

Eliza released a deep breath as she stared at her reflection. Emerald hair gathered on the crown of her head. Blue eyes wide with apprehension. Face pale with nervousness. Eliza shook her head and turned from the mirror. She straightened the skirt of her forest green velvet gown with the off-the-shoulder neckline and inset pattern of leaves. Then she fidgeted with the string of pearls at her throat.

There was a curt knock.

Eliza turned, her cheeks flushing with much needed color as she stepped forward and opened the door.

An escort in red and gold livery stood at attention. "Miss Eliza?"

Eliza inclined her head. "Yes."

"This way, miss."

Eliza took hold of her ivory shawl with green fringe before she preceded him to the carriage. She accepted his help aboard. "Thank you."

"Lord Saryu will meet us at the reception hall," he informed. Then he climbed aboard and urged the carriage forward.

Eliza clenched her hands in her lap as she wordlessly watched the passing scenery, occasionally adjusting the green fringed shawl of ivory around her shoulders.

The carriage halted at the main entry corridor, and the escort jumped down to immediately help her descend. Eliza could only nod her thanks before looking to the massive gray castle. Then she felt a touch at her elbow and the escort led her forward. Eliza lifted the front of her gown with a white-knuckled grip as she stepped along after him, her green slippers making no sound on the polished stone.

They reached the main entry doors in silence, and her escort opened them to usher her inside to the reception hall beyond. Eliza looked around her with wide eyes at the polished stone floors of misty gray, lush red carpeted passageways, and pedestals holding beautiful sculptures of crystal.

"Miss Eliza."

Eliza turned, eyes still wide with wonder and amazement as Lord Saryu approached. His expression showed welcome, and his violet eyes danced with the same smile which drew his lips upward. He wore black trousers, well-shined black shoes, and a blood-red uniform coat with gold braid around the bottom hem and cuffs. Beneath, an ivory shirt of silk with a high collar set off his blonde hair and violet eyes as well as the nobility of his features and stance.

Eliza lowered her gaze to the floor as she curtseyed low. "Lord Saryu."

As Eliza straightened, Lord Saryu captured her hands in a gentle grip. "You look lovely, Miss Eliza. Green becomes you."

She inclined her head with a slight smile. "Thank you, Lord."

Lord Saryu released her hands, drawing one into the nook of his arm as he motioned her forward with the other. "I am delighted that you accepted my invitation."

"I was honored to receive it, Lord," she answered softly.

The two didnít speak again as they passed through the reception hall to the chamber beyond. Eliza couldnít look up from the polished floor to examine her surroundings, so she accepted Lord Saryuís leading to the small table in the middle of the room. She sat in the offered chair. Lord Saryu adjusted her seat and then moved to sit across from her, unfurling his napkin with a practiced motion as he motioned to the butler with a simple nod of his head. The butler disappeared.

Lord Saryu focused on Eliza, who attended to adjusting her napkin Ďjust soí within her lap. "Youíve a lovely home," Eliza stated softly, finally raising her gaze from her napkin. "I know now why you donít leave very often."

Lord Saryu smiled. "I leave more often than is realized. I am simply limited to the time spent outdoors."

"Oh?" Eliza queried.

"Due to visitors and tradesmen, as well as city business, I most often am unable to leave the castle until evening. Although I do make a point of venturing out early in the morning."

The footmen began to arrive with their meal, placing the covered trays in front of and beside Eliza and Lord Saryu. The other dishes were arranged within easy reach of both so the meal could easily continue.

Lord Saryu uncovered his tray with an approving nod. "Excellent." He looked to Eliza. "I do hope the meal is acceptable."

Eliza stared down at her first course of greens attractively mixed with purples and yellows. "It looks wonderful, Lord." She met his gaze. "Are you sure itís to be eaten?"

Lord Saryu laughed as he retrieved his spoon and bowl of dressing. "Quite, Miss Eliza."

Eliza refocused on her salad, and then she served dressing from her own bowl. "Do you enjoy your morning escapes, Lord? Or do you prefer the evenings?"

"I must confess Iím torn. Both are peaceful and full of the whispers of nature. One is bright with newness yet to be explored, and the other is enshrouded in intrigue and mystery as to what the next day holds." Lord Saryu ingested his first bite of salad. "Yes. Iím quite torn."

Eliza wordlessly nodded as she set aside her dish of dressing and absently mixed it into her salad with gentle touches of her fork tines. Silence descended, unbroken except for the occasional crunch of salad. Eliza only pushed the salad greens from one part of her plate to the other.

Metal on china. "Miss Eliza?"

Eliza raised her eyes. "Yes, Lord?"

Lord Saryuís expression seemed concerned. "Does something trouble you?"

Eliza lowered her gaze again to the intricately designed china plate before her. "No, Lord."

He continued to watch her face. Then he gestured and their plates were cleared. Eliza looked up to meet his gaze, eyes wide with a question.

Lord Saryu smiled and set aside his napkin. "I havenít given you a tour of the gardens as of yet. Alfonse will let us know when the second course is ready." He came around to her side and offered a hand. "Shall we?"

Eliza slipped her hand into his as she stood. "Certainly, Lord."

Lord Saryu again directed her hand into the nook of his arm, this time covering it with his hands as he looked to her down-turned face. "Are you certain you are not troubled by something, Miss Eliza? You are most silent."

Eliza met his gaze. "Iím sorry, Lord. I didnít mean to worry you," she told him quietly.

Lord Saryu looked ahead as he led her back to the reception hall. He glanced toward her. "I can have the carriage return you home if there is a problem."

Eliza slightly shook her head. "It isnít necessary, Lord, and I donít want to be rude."

Lord Saryu halted and faced her. "Miss Eliza, if your presence at my table is causing conflict between you and your parents, please confess it. I have no desire to alienate them; from you nor from me."

Eliza smiled. "Thank you for your concern, Lord," she said softly, "but they respect my decisions. They might be concerned, but they arenít angry."

"What might I do to alleviate their concern?"

Eliza softly laughed. "Lord Saryu, Iím sure you donít need to be bothered for one dinner. Thank you, but donít trouble yourself."

Lord Saryu smiled as he again led her toward the hall. "Ah, and so quickly weíve come to the main point I wanted to discuss at dinner this evening."

Eliza watched his profile. "Lord?"

"This dinner was not another apology or attempt to make amends, Miss Eliza. I had intended to announce my intentions and ask if they would be welcome."

"Intentions, Lord? Intentions for what?"

Lord Saryu met her curious expression. "Intentions to court and perhaps wed."

Eliza blinked in surprise. Then she quickly pulled her hand from his arm and stepped back from him. "What?"

Lord Saryu faced her fully. "I have thought of this possibility since the afternoon we shared tea," he confessed.

"B-but why, Lord?" Eliza shook her head. "I havenít any rank or station or wealth. Iím an innkeeperís daughter."

"And my great-great-grandfather was an architect," he countered gently. "Rank or station are not priorities in a Lady and hostess of Saryu castle. Since the coming of the mist, they are rather hard to come by."

Eliza didnít respond. She only lowered her gaze and clenched her hands in front of her.

"Miss Eliza," Lord Saryu began carefully, "I based my decision solely on our brief conversation over tea. I have met many if not all of the other eligible young ladies within Ratayu by way of my offering of apology and restitution. You were the only lady whom accepted my apology with sincerity, even going so far as to attempt an assuaging of my guilt. To do so takes great care and concern."

Lord Saryu watched her down-turned face. She still didnít speak or lift her gaze. He released a deep breath. "As I said before, your actions moved me. I did not realize to what extent until I found myself continuing to think of you and your reaction. I even found myself wondering what reaction my different decisions regarding Ratayu would draw forth from you. I had never previously given thought to anyone outside myself when contemplating Ratayuís future. That I did so now brought me to this choice."

"LordÖ" Eliza finally raised her eyes to meet his. Her blue eyes were nearly black. "Lord, Iím honored at the asking, but I canít."

He watched her face before speaking. "The sim-seru? My involvement with the raising of a juggernaut?" he asked in a serious tone.

Eliza shook her head, again lowering her gaze. "No."

Lord Saryu slowly nodded. "I see. Then it is my person." Eliza quickly looked up. "I understand, Miss Eliza," he continued before she could speak, "and I will not bother you again."

"No, Lord," she countered, reaching out a hand to stop him from turning away. She flushed and lowered her hand from his arm. "It isnít you."

He fully faced her again. "Then what is it? Might I know?"

"IÖ" Eliza looked away. "After Noa rescued me from being..." She clenched her hands in front of her. "I decided that I would never be a bride. That I would never marry," she finished softly.

Lord Saryu blinked in surprise. Then he reached out to enfold her small clenched hands with his and slightly leaned forward. She didnít raise her gaze.

"Why?" he asked softly. "You have so much to offer, my lady. Gentleness. Compassion. Intelligence. Sincerity... Why would you make such a decision?"

Eliza pulled her hands from his touch and took another step back. She curtseyed very briefly, not lifting her gaze from the floor. "I-Iím sorry, Lord," she whispered.

Eliza took hold of the front of her skirt as she passed him, making her way for the door of the castle. Her throat tightened, and she clenched her hands deeper into the folds of her dress.

"Miss Eliza." Steps behind. "Eliza, wait."

Eliza slowed and then stopped, her hands still clutching the front of her skirt. She didnít face him as he came to stand beside her. "Yes, Lord?" she whispered unevenly.

"My lady, is there nothing... Is there no way to reverse your decision?" Lord Saryu reached out to gently hold her upper arm. "Please, Eliza. What must I do?"

Eliza blinked the tears from her eyes and wordlessly stepped forward and away from his grasp. Lord Saryu stared after her as she left the chamber. He could hear the hollow sound of her steps through the reception hall and then the closing of the main door behind her.