Title: In the Shadow of the Mountain
Fandom: Tin Man
Character(s): Wyatt Cain, Jeb Cain, Azkadellia, just about everyone else
Summary: When Azkadellia is accidentally drawn to the aid of Wyatt and Jeb Cain, no one could forsee how it would change the princess' life.
Disclaimer: The original characters belong to L. Frank Baum, SciFi Channel and their affiliates. No profit is made from this work.
Author's Notes1: You may want to read "What We Know We Do Well" as the prologue to this piece, but it's not necessary.
Author's Notes2: I don't usually make a big mention of this these days, but this is unbeta'ed. This piece will, theoretically, be long enough that the lack may become a factor. Just thought I'd warn you. Thanks to the good folks at ohzeebooks at LiveJournal for all their help and comments regarding Baum-esque canon as well as the things I missed during the mini-series, as well as ErinM who did a spot beta ;)
Chapter 1: In the Shadow of a Mountain
Jeb Cain cut himself off as his father finally wrenched his left arm out of his coat and dove head first into still water. Jeb was off his horse and by the water's edge within moments because, just like that, the water had swallowed up his father as if he hadn't just jumped in, fully clothed.
He looked around, anxious but with the careful eye of someone used to being thrown into unexpected danger. Near as he could tell there was no sane reason for his father to slide off his horse, chuck his hat and coat, and go diving into a still lake. But if he had seen something, something the lake had swallowed up the way it had swallowed up his father then…
The real question was did he go in or did he try to contact one of the princesses to get help.
Considering that his own short jacket was now in the vicinity of his knees and falling, it was looking like the first option. Besides, his father had been under too long. A brief flare of inspiration hit him, and he snatched the coat up from the cold ground. Inside his pocket was a trinket DG had given to him. "Something Az showed me how to do," she said when she'd given him the little pewter dragonfly. "You hold it and think something and it tells me. Sorta. I'm not very good yet so it works best with strong emotions and short messages. Or maybe that's strong emotions or short messages."
Jeb had been about to pocket and forget it when his father had touched his arm. "Sounds like it'd be good in emergencies."
"By Ozma, I hope so," Jeb muttered as he crushed the silver dragonfly in his hand, it's wings biting into his flesh. Help! He threw all his panic into it, all his worry and all his fear. Then he threw it and his coat away ran to the water's edge.
Wyatt Cain surfaced, face somehow both red and blue, spluttering as he bobbed. He watched his son pause, knee deep in the cold water. "Jeb! Help me get her out!"
"Get who out?" he called back, but he was already swimming toward them.
Pulling the chenille wrapper around her in spite of the dressing gown, Azkadellia looked out over her wide terrace as she waited for her sister. It was early, the first sun had yet to rise, but DG had already been by. She'd gone down to the kitchen to get them "a morning snack," as she put it, before she went off to lessons and Azkadellia… The Princess Azkadellia didn't know what she was going to do. There was only so much needle point a woman could do despite the surprising number of requests she'd received for her work.. DG was busy all morning; Tayborn, like most of her personal guards, was not much for socializing; and both her mother and father were traveling the country. If things continued on schedule they would be back within eight days. And that encompassed the entirety of her social circle.
If DG were around she would have added Ambrose but, while he was as gracious to her as he was to any other, she couldn't bear to impose herself upon him. The Cains as part of the regular rotation of her personal guard were enough. At least to them she, as the Sorceress, had been a distant figure of hate. The Witch had wanted to witness Ambrose's unmanning. She had wanted to be there when his most precious possession was forcibly taken away from him. She had wanted to laugh. Despite what everyone said, despite the truth that she was not the Witch and the Witch was not she, it had been the face of Azkadellia of the House of Gale, Royal Princess of the O.Z., that had gloated, her voice that had taunted, her eyes that had sparked as the deed was done. In spite of all his grace, Azkadellia didn't see the need in forcing that on him.
She and Raw avoided each other.
Azkadellia turned as she heard noise coming from the other side of her bedroom door. Unless there was an emergency it could only be Tayborn or DG.
"Hey, so, apparently my recipe for cranberry orange muffins won't work without cranberries, but the kitchens make a mean lemon poppy-seed so I got that instead."
DG then. She started forward to help her with the tray, quickly tying the ends of the wrapper behind her to free her hands. "You didn't have to get anything at all. Servants would have brought it up."
"I know, but I wanted it to be a just us event since I probably won't see you until dinner."
"Dinner? I thought your classes were over at one?"
Scowling, DG nudged Azkadellia out of the way, refusing to let her help. "Ran into Tutor on the way downstairs. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I swear I got all mixed up and called him Toto and suddenly I had a whole day's worth of classes."
"DG—" The gentle rebuke died on her tongue as she felt something tug at her.
"He was a dog at the time!" DG started setting out the things she'd brought: two large yellowish muffins, a basket of fruit, and a carafe of coffee to go with the two carafes of juice and water perpetually on the table. "Just because it's easier for him to get around on four legs instead of two. You'd think he'd cut me a little slack."
"No, DG, I—" She felt it again, sharper, as if a Shepard's hook had gone through her body and gotten caught on her spine
DG looked up from what she was doing then dropped the basket of fruit. "Az! What's wrong?"
"I don't—" But she did know. "DG, where's the dragonfly I gave you?"
"What dragon— You mean the spell-talky-thingy?"
"Right here," she answered quickly, reaching into her trouser pockets. "It should be right here. Are you sure you gave me a dragonfly. I thought you gave me a horse?"
"To use for your own charm. The dragonfly is the one I— Oh!"
"Who did you give the dragonfly to, Deeg?"
"I—Cain! No, Jeb. Yesterday before he went out with his dad."
"They're in trouble."
"How do you know?"
"He's calling me."
"Give me your horse."
"My—Okay." DG slapped the small pewter horse into Azkadellia's palm and held on tight. "I'm not letting you go."
Azkadellia felt the pull again, but now that she knew what it meant it didn't hurt nearly as much. "I'm afraid this time, little sister, you won't have much choice."
"I'm never letting you go."
"Find the horse and you'll find us."
"Az that doesn—"
Azkadellia threw her free hand over her eyes as the force of the spell finally managed to dislocate her and threw her towards her sister…and towards the Cains.
"Girl," Wyatt Cain answered sharply. It was all he could do to keep from biting his tongue while he tried to help her float. The cliff-shaded waters were deep and cold. The early morning chill didn't help things. Neither did having to dive almost to the bottom to find her. The water had swallowed her up so whole, so completely…if he hadn't seen her gone under he wouldn't have believed it at all.
No man had ever moved as slow as his son. Cain was sure it was the cold speaking, but seeing as he was the one in the water with the dead weight… "What the—"
Cain's attention snapped to his son, almost within touching distance. "Help me get her to shore."
Grunting against the girl's dead-weight and their own clothes, they kicked and pushed until their feet touched bottom. Pure stubbornness got Wyatt Cain out of the water and on his feet, the girl held close to his chest. Together he and Jeb stumbled beyond the gravelly bank and onto the sparse grass. He all but dropped the girl.
"She's not breathing."
"I know. Get that hair out of the way."
"I am. Just—"
"Back up she—"
Between them, the Cain men got the girl sitting up and on her side as she spat up half the lake and all the contents of her stomach before promptly slipping into unconsciousness. Once he was sure that she was breathing, Cain pulled her close and slowly got to his feet.
"Dad, give'er to me before you fall on your face."
"I'm fine." He was not. "I've got her." Which he did. In a death grip. "Go see to the Princess."
"You are not fine. You're shaking and you're hallucinating."
Jeb whipped around. Cain thought it was a shame that he was too cold to enjoy the look of shock on his boy's face even as he wondered where in the OZ the Princess Azkadellia had come from in the first place.
Throwing a quick glance back at his father, who was still holding the girl and still moving under his own power, Jeb stormed towards Princess Azkadellia. "Highness…what are you doing here? How did you get here?"
"Who's in trouble?"
"Who's in—?" Then he remembered. DG's dragonfly. "Princess DG's charm brought you here?"
"My charm brought me here."
They both turned at Wyatt Cain's voice. He was disturbingly blue. "You're turning blue. Give her to me."
At least his father couldn't deny the orders of a Princess of the Realm.
"Give me the child, Captain Cain. At least while you put on a coat." She eyed him critically. "Or perhaps a change of clothes?"
The look on his father's face was priceless, but the Princess had a point. He had to get out of his cold wet clothes before the cold really set in. He'd been in that water too long, in Jeb's personal opinion. Finaqua wasn't close and he had a feeling the princess' trick wouldn't work the other way. Magic seemed to be unhelpful like that.
"And you as well, Lieutenant Jeb Cain."
His father managed a stuttering laugh as Jeb's eyes flew to the princess'.
"You're not far from hypothermia yourself, Lt. Cain."
"What about her?"
"And neither of you can help her if you are soaking wet. She can wear my wrap until we get back to the castle." She took five steps toward his father, five steps in a floor-length dressing gown covered by a pale blue chenille wrapper. Five of the most regal steps Jeb Cain had ever been privileged to see. "Give her to me. I promise I will give her back."
Azkadellia hurried away from both men as soon as she had the child—who was perhaps a bit too long of leg to truly be a child but it was hard to tell. As suspected, she was shivering uncontrollably. It had been impossible to tell while she was in Captain Cain's arms and he was shivering. Under the cover of the tree line she felt safe enough to disrobe the girl and then enfold her from neck to foot in the chenille wrap. It wasn't that she thought anything untoward would happen with either of the Cain men around, far from it, but it was not the modest thing to do. And they needed their own privacy.
The girl woke once while Azkadellia ran her hands along her covered body. She struggled briefly, but tired herself out even before Azkadellia could explain that she was safe. Luckily for them both the girl didn't seem to recognize her.
Picking the girl up with some difficulty now that the worst was over, she went to stand near the horses, which had wandered a small distance away from where she'd landed face first into thin grass, her hand wrapped around the small dragonfly pendant she had originally given to her sister. Lt. Cain found them first. "Is she all right?" he asked, coming abreast.
"I'm not sure. She's still breathing. I took off her wet clothes. And she woke up for a moment." She could hear the uncertainty creeping into her voice. But, then, she wasn't sure.
"You got her good and wrapped up."
"Should I put her in my dressing gown as well?"
Jeb looked up from the girl to the princess. "It's a consideration. We'll see what my father says."
"What I say about what? I'll take her, Princess."
Azkadellia's eyes caught Captain Cain's as he took the girl from her arms. She sighed in relief. "Her. If she's warm enough in just the wrap," she answered softly. "I was going to put her in my dressing gown if you didn't think so."
"Then what are you gonna wear? It's still early, Princess, and it's a long way to the palace. Somehow I don't think your parents or sister will much appreciate it if the Captain and a Lieutenant of the Personal Guard makes it back to the palace in one piece, but the princess they're supposed to protect ends up sick as a dog."
"I see." Azkadellia was sure that he hadn't meant it as a rebuke, but it felt like one nonetheless. She stiffened her spine and tried to ignore the sting. "At least we'll run into the group DG will send."
The Cain men shared a pregnant look until Captain Cain turned away, shifting the girl in his arms, and his son went to collect the horses.
"Tell me how Princess DG might know something's wrong."
"Forgive me, Captain, for the seeming juvenile nature of my statement, but I believe I asked you first." She was a princess of the realm and he was a captain. What she asked got answered first, so there. "What is wrong?"
He looked like he wanted to do something with his hands, but they were full of the girl. "If DG thinks that you're in trouble, she's not gonna send a rescue party, Highness, she's going to come herself."
Azkadellia clenched her teeth. He was right. What had she been thinking, demanding that DG give her the pewter horse charm?
She had the impression that this wasn't the first time the elder Cain had said her name. "I have her horse," she said with quiet resignation. "I have her horse and that is how she will find us."
"A horse charm." She pulled it out of her deep pockets, briefly holding it out in the palm of her hand before putting it away. "She knows that you're in trouble. Lieutenant Cain had my dragonfly."
"Your dragonfly? DG gave that to him."
"So I am made to understand. I made that charm, DG charmed a pewter horse. She confused them."
"Any way to turn it off?"
"It hardly matters, Captain. She was in the room when the magic brought me here. DG was going to come whether she had the charm or not."
"Are we going to ride some time today or not?"
They both turned to Lt. Cain, holding the reins of the horses. "You can always argue on horseback. I've done it. The arguing's just as good."
Azkadellia swallowed a smile as she picked up her skirts and began to walk away from a glowering Captain Cain.
She stopped short.
"Princess." She waited for Captain Cain to catch up. "You're barefoot."
"Yes. I am."
"Why didn't you say something before?" He was giving her a look that she had heretofore thought was reserved exclusively for her sister.
Arching her brow, she said, "And what would you have done, Captain Cain? You were soaked to the skin and, presumably, have only one change of clothes."
"One of us could have done without socks for a few hours."
"Like he—" He bit back whatever he was going to say with some difficulty, turning instead to his son. "Jeb, check your pack for a pair of dry socks. The Princess seems to be lacking in footwear," he said as he stalked off toward his own horse.
Azkadellia followed hot on his heels. "I am a princess."
"And I am in charge of guarding your person. That grass is sparse, Princess. I don't care to have to explain to DG why you're feet are cut up."
"If Jeb doesn't have socks we will find something, cut it up and wrap it around your feet," he said, anger so palpable that his horse skittered sideways. He turned to calm the large animal. "Jeb!" he called over its back.
Azkadellia waited patiently for him to turn around, but it seemed he was much better at waiting than she was because she broke the silence first: "You're going to need my help if you want to mount."
"Jeb will help me."
"I believe you have him looking for dry socks."
She thought she heard him mutter something that sounded like, "Glinda the Good…it runs in the family." But with more care than she would have thought he could have managed in his emotional state, he turned around and gently passed the child to her. As soon as he was mounted, he bent down to take her back.
Aware of a presence at her side, Azkadellia cut her eyes to see Lt. Cain ready to help her pass the child to his father. His lips twitched in the approximation of a smile as he acted as a bridge between them. Together the men rearranged the wrapper around the child and made sure she was safely situated in front of Captain Cain.
"All right, Highness, you're with me."
She thought of protesting. Now that she'd gotten into an argument with Captain Cain, even if it was a very minor one, she could feel heat under her skin. Her fingertips tingled with it. Her body hummed. This was a taste of what it was like not to be cold.
But the child needed to be seen to. Her family needed to be found, although, if her memory served of the area served, there were no towns in the vicinity. Where had the child wandered from? Was she alone? Questions continued to chase each other as she silently followed Lt. Cain to his mount.
"Highness." His voice shook her out of her thoughts. "I'll help you mount."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Sitting atop the horse she watched him scurry away. "Where is he going?"
Attention on the child in his lap, Captain Cain shrugged.
"Just getting the girl's clothes, Highness," Lt. Cain answered as he sprinted back into the clearing. He stuffed them in his saddle bag then pulled out a hunter green ball. "And here are your socks. If you'll just sit still…"
To her shock, although she supposed she should have expected it, he took her left foot in one hand rolled one of the thick woolen socks onto her foot. She bit back a hiss of pain. Glancing down, her eyes caught the lieutenant's. His father hadn't noticed, but he could see her feet. He knew that she had cut them on the hard ground though she didn't think they were yet bleeding. Walking around his horse she watched him study the sock in his hand. His attention to her right foot was more careful, but the wool was still not silk.
When she looked up she saw that Captain Cain's sharp eyes were on them. "Ready?"
Jeb mounted in front of her. Azkadellia looped an arm around his waist. "Is that alright?"
He shifted her arm a bit, presumably to a more comfortable position then nodded. "Ready."
They were slowed by their burdens: the inadequately dressed princess and the awkward bundle the girl made in Cain's arms. And if Cain would admit the truth, even to himself, they were being slowed down because his muscles were less and less under his control. It was all he could do to keep an arm on the girl and his fist wrapped around the reins. His thighs trembled as he tried to control the horse under him and his breath was all hitched up in his chest. He'd been in that water too long and he knew it. The cold was down in his bones and unless they rode up on the summer palace soon he wasn't gonna be of much use to anyone.
Cain swore softly under his breath.
He saw a flash of blue eyes.
Cain's head shot up, his fists tightening on the reins as his horse tried to dance them into a tree on the less than friendly road.
"We're stopping," Jeb said as soon as he had the animal under control.
Cain bristled but reined in his annoyance. "We need to get back to Finaqua."
He could see his son struggling with his own emotions. Cain had watched Jeb skillfully stand up to plenty of men who thought they had it on him in age and experience with more skill than a kid his age should have. Apparently only he was able to push his son's buttons in just the right way. It wasn't exactly the honor he'd wanted to have as a father.
Bringing his horse alongside his father's, Jeb said in a low voice, "Look, sir, you can barely keep control of your horse. You have a kid riding with you and you're responsible for the princess riding with me. I know you said there'd be no appreciation if we made it back alright and Princess Azkadellia didn't, but I'm pretty sure DG would skin me alive if I let your stubbornness get you killed. Sir."
They'd spent the last three days being "Dad" and "Jeb." The "sir" was all Wyatt Cain needed to know it was serious. Sighing, he relented. He looked down at the girl lying across his lap. Though the princess had wrapped her up right good—she looked more like a bug's cocoon than a little girl—she was still pale and a little blue around the edges.
"All right, we'll stop. But not for too long or this little one's gonna suffer."
"Give her to me," Princess Azkadellia said.
Jeb glanced at her from over his shoulder. "Let me dismount first, Your Highness."
She grimaced as he said it, and Cain briefly remembered how, in those first few months after, she'd tried to get folks to stop using her title and the royal honorifics that came with it. No one had paid her much mind so she'd quickly given up on it. Clearly she hadn't gotten used to it.
Cain started at the hand on his lower leg. He looked down at his son. "I'm gonna tell you the truth, Dad, and it's not pretty. I don't want to see this girl hurt any more than she probably already has been…but if its you or her? I'm not losing you again." He backed away from the horse, stalking off into the woods.
Cain's eyes shot from his son's retreating back to the princess still sitting his horse. If she'd heard him, she gave no indication. He urged his horse closer to her so they could make the exchange more smoothly. "Think you can manage it, Highness?"
She seemed to consider it for a moment. If they couldn't they were going to have to wait for Jeb to come back. Then: "Yes. I think so. I don't remember her being very heavy."
Princess Azkadellia nodded then urged her mount closer still. The two of them sat facing each other, glancing from their horses to their arms to the girl as they tried to figure out how to move her without prompting the horses to shy.
"We could wait for Lieutenant Cain."
"I think we can manage," Cain replied slowly. He thought they could, but he wasn't sure. "Look, if I grab Helter's reins I think you'll be okay to take her."
The princess' face lit from the inside as a slow smile cautiously worked its way up her face. "The horse's name is Helter? Dare I ask you what yours is called?"
"Skelter of course."
For a moment pure amusement broke along the Princess Azkadellia's face. Cain thought it was the first time he had ever seen her so unguarded and he couldn't help an answering smile of his own. Shaking his head, he reached for the horse's reins—then jerked violently.
"I'm fine, Your Highness. Just need to get off this horse," he muttered. He grabbed Helter's reins. "Alright, whenever you're ready, Princess."
Azkadellia reached across and pulled the girl from his lap onto her own. The girl made a sound, a good thing, Cain thought, but otherwise remained unconscious, which wasn't good. "Got her?"
He released the horse. Jeb walked back onto the road. "There's a clearing about twenty paces this way. We can set up camp for a couple of hours. See about getting you two warmed up."