Part One: Present – Through My Eyes
I suppose I'm happy. I mean, why shouldn't I be? I'm probably considered to be the luckiest man in the world. I have all the riches I've ever wanted and more at my fingertips, I'm to be wed to the most beautiful woman on the planet, I've been labelled a 'hero' and I'm living in the most elegant castle on Gaia. Hell, I should be the happiest guy on the planet! But then, if I am... why am I feeling like this...?
The sky is very beautiful tonight, cloudless and clear, arching out before me and blanketing the world in darkness, both comforting and intimidating at the same time. There's no moon either, my favourite phase, the phase where the shadows are darker and I can just slip past guards like I'm invisible.
I reach up and point lazily to the tiny pinpricks that pepper the sky, joining them together with lines in my head, creating mental images of people and objects, like I used to when I was younger. Each one glows with an individual radiance, sparking crisply in the darkness. What would the sky be without stars?
I manage to trace a rough outline of a Dagger and immediately she flashes before my eyes like a bolt of lightening and I felt my anger, which I had begun to quell, raise again, a deadly snake with a poison bite. Damn her! Why does she have to be so persistent about everything?
I suppose I ought to explain myself then? It's no big deal, really. But a big enough deal to get under my skin, that's for sure.
It started earlier today, at the crack of dawn in fact, when that lummox came crashing through my bedroom doors like the oaf he is and shouting for me to get up. The first thing you should know about me is that I do not do early mornings. Especially when it's accompanied by someone as raucously loud as Captain Adelbert Steiner. Anyway, he was pulling me to my feet and commanding me to get dressed so I could accompany 'the queen' for breakfast.
'Who eats breakfast this early in the morning?' I had whined while pulling on some old clothes.
'Her Majesty and you,' Steiner had replied angrily, 'now get a move on! I told you yesterday that you were expected to attend breakfast and you still managed to slip out of that commitment! Not this time though, even if I have to drag you down by that monkey tail of yours!'
Fully dressed, I waved my tail at him and went barging through the door into the corridor before he could get his hands on me.
When I arrived in the Dining Hall I was greeted by an array of disapproving looks and frowns from the servants. Dagger was sitting at the end of a very long table. But even from that far away I could see her irate expression. I sighed and prepared to be lectured for the second time that day.
'Zidane,' she had said in a clipped tone, 'I asked you to eat breakfast with me yesterday.'
'I am now aren't I?' It was way too early in the morning for this.
'You're an hour late. Is it that hard to get up?'
Man, she was really pissed. So I replied, 'Yes, actually, it is.'
She stood up very briskly, glared at me for a moment, opened her mouth to say something, and then just strutted angrily out of the room with a flurry of servants tottering in her wake.
So, okay, maybe that was my fault. The bad morning I mean. But honestly, she should know that I just can't drag myself out of bed that early. Besides, I eat lunch and dinner with her; is breakfast that important too?
The next bad thing was dinner. Dagger and I were on talking terms but she was still very icy with me, so most of the time eating was spent in silence. A huge meal was arranged on the table. A large bowl of soup ringed with freshly baked slices of bread steamed in front of me. A plate piled with an assortment of vegetables and crispy potatoes to its right. Three types of fish sat next to it, their eyes glassy and staring, and dominating the table was a large boar, laid out on the plate and releasing a delicious aroma. To put it simply, it was quite a selection.
As I normally did, not knowing any different really, I slouched onto the surface, propping my head up with left hand and using – what I later found out to be – the fish fork to eat my slab of boar meat. I held the delicate silver fork with my mouth for a second so I could reach over and pick up and handful of peas and plop them onto my plate. Then picking up the soup spoon, I filled it with gravy and slurped noisily, hardly noticing the looks I was getting from the chef's or from Dagger, in fact.
Oh, come on. You didn't expect Tantalus to teach me how to eat like a royal did you?
'Zidane,' Dagger said, putting down her knife and fork, 'must you eat so noisily?'
I looked at her, honestly taken aback for a moment, then protested with my mouth full of potato, 'I'm not!'
She wiped sprayed bits of potato from her dress and replied, quite exasperated, 'Yes you are. If you're going to live in a palace then you're going to have to learn table manners.'
'What's wrong with my manners?!'
I sulked slightly, then, hoping she'd drop the subject, just carried on eating. But more quietly.
'No Zid, you can't pull that one on me. Figaro, come here would you, please?'
A small chef with a white hat as tall as he was came scuttling over in an excited manner and bowed deeply before his queen. 'Yes m'lady?'
'Would you be so kind as to teach Zidane the proper ways of eating at a table?'
I was horrified to say the least. I wouldn't let Dagger boss me around like I was one of her servants! So I began, 'Proper ways? Now look here just a minute-'
'Zidane, please. Figaro, I say we start with the basics of the different kinds of cutlery.'
Then again, she could be demanding at times... and I did have a mouthful of potato...
'And then... hm... I suppose we should teach him how to sit at a table-'
'How else do you sit at a table?' I retorted angrily, spraying potato everywhere again. 'And what's the deal with all these knife and forks anyway? I'd quite happily eat with my hands!'
'Well that's just disgusting,' Dagger snapped. 'Either you learn to eat properly or you don't eat at all.'
'Fine!' I had shouted, throwing my fish fork and soup spoon down and marching out the door.
Seriously, the second thing you should know about me is that I have never learnt manners. Ever. And I probably never will. The third thing is that I only let myself get ordered around like that by one person, and that's Baku. He's the nearest thing I've ever had to a father and hell; I have respect for that man!
So you think Dagger trying to teach me manners was bad? Well that's nothing compared to what she tried to do next.
I was sitting quite peacefully in my room, waiting for Dagger to arrive accompanied by another argument, watching the sun's setting rays dance across the floor, when a tall man with a curling, black beard strode confidently into the chamber. He had a large nose that was aloft in the air, immediately portraying his snooty manner, and seemed lost in a cloud of gold and purple robes, dragging behind him like a scolded animal. Wrapped around his bejewelled fingers was a tape measure. He had looked at me through jet eyes, wrinkled his nose quite clearly in disgust, and said: 'You cannot be Lord Zidane?'
I had laughed and stood up, irritated by this idiot's composure, and taken his comment as an insult. 'Just Zidane, actually. Whad'ya want?'
He seemed to be quite angry because his cheeks flushed suddenly and he gave a deep cough, and glared daggers at me.
'I am here,' he announced, 'to fit you some appropriate clothes.'
My mouth fell open. 'What?'
'Queen Garnet has asked me to fit you some royal attire,' he explained. 'I made the Queen's dresses with my own two hands and she thought it was only appropriate that I also create yours.'
'What's wrong with my clothes?'
He took in the oversized top and faded, old trousers I wore with a flick of his eyes. 'Much.'
I was seething with anger now and through gritted teeth I had replied, 'What does she want me to wear then?'
From underneath his bellowing robes he had produced several sheets of material in a wide range of colours from a deep blue to a royal red lined with silver. He held them up to me experimentally and looked contemplative.
'Not – in – your – lifetime,' I growled, emphasising each word.
'Well you cannot expect the queen to roam around the most influential and significant cities on Gaia with you at her side dressed like a commoner can you?'
I guess it's inevitable to say that I lost my temper and lashed out at the man. Yeah, I feel kinda guilty about it now, he really was quite defenceless and all I got out of it was a personal clothes designer with a broken nose, a severe screaming at courtesy to both Garnet and Steiner and only the slightest flicker of satisfaction that was quickly extinguished.
But that was a damn insulting thing to say, especially to me! In a way, I think he deserved that broken nose; perhaps it'll sort out his attitude.
Needless to say, I needed space after that. I was fuming and kept pacing round my room like a caged tiger. So I swung myself over the balcony and climbed the drainpipe down to Alexandria's streets where I managed to clamber onto one the slated rooftops of a house – exactly where I am now, being a stargazer.
I sigh and stare once again at the clusters of stars that adorn the sky. I just wish that...she'd see it through my eyes for once. I've spent my entire life being a nomadic thief, living an exotic life on the Prima Vista surrounded by my 'brothers' who, let's face it, aren't exactly a bunch of gentlemen. I mean; I spent most of my nights out and about around Lindblum either on the pull or mugging the kind of people that are living in the castle! Did she expect me just to fit in with her royal way of life as smoothly as a hand into a glove?
Geez I miss those days. Every morning I'd wake up in the cramped rooms of our Theatre Ship, laying on a smelly old mattress that was my bed, the wooden floor littered with beer cans and empty treasure chests. Yeah I suppose to an average person that doesn't sound like a life of luxury but I didn't know any different so I was happy.
Actually, I'd usually wake up with a throbbing hangover. Then Cinna, Blank, Marcus and me would all fight over the last aspirin until Baku would come in, punch us all in the stomach, take it for himself, then walk out laughing his head off.
What I loved was that there was just no real routine. Well, I'd make sure I'd slapped Ruby's ass at least once in a day, and there was always some sort of arm wrestle between me and one of the guys over something stupid – arm wrestles were our way of sorting stuff out. No sitting down and tactfully talking things over for us! It was all go!
I laugh quietly to myself and it drifts on the night sky. I suddenly feel a wave of sadness. Sadness, because I know that I have to return to the dull life of the palace soon and sadness because my sudden awareness of what I have lost blooms upon me. Even though I have found the Genomes and learnt about Terra...Tantalus is...I believe...my true family. Our base in Lindblum Theatre District was my first home and I still feel a fond familiarity every time I visit it. Especially when the guys from Tantalus are there.
I wonder then, will I ever feel at home in Alexandria Castle?
The night is cool and a thick cloud floats before the stars suddenly, like a leaf sailing in dark water. And then, quite abruptly, a memory blossoms within me of a night that happened just a few years ago...