And we have arrived at the end of the first story; since it is the finale, the chapter is extra long (twice or thrice as long as usual, woops)
"Good luck", Siegrain Fernandez said and left the arena before Erza was given a chance to answer.
"Wait!" her plea was drowned in the noise from the crowd. She attempted to follow him, but her unwounded arm was grabbed by Freed and raised into the air, still grasping the sword tightly.
"And here he is – the winner of the tournament and the challenger; the candidate to being the future king – Ezra Titan!" Freed let go of her hand and Erza sheathed her sword.
The crowd was cheering her on, making it feel as if the whole arena was shaking. But when Erza pulled her helmet off the whole crowd went silent. Erza looked up to the stands where the people – her people - awaited. Nothing broke the silence, not even the sound of wind blowing. And Erza had no trouble making her voice carry to all of the spectators.
"Any of you who know of the man called Siegrain Fernandez – report to closest guard. There will be a re-match between the two of us!"
She spun on her heel and exited, planning on finding her grandfather immediately. She knew this would trouble him, but she was determined to have an honest match with the man. They had been evenly matched and then he had given up. She could have taken the win, hoping to find Jellal at the ball instead. But her sense of justice won in this case. The man she had fought had been evenly matched with her and then, out of nowhere he had had a change of mind. She had to admit, she was curious to his reasoning. Going all the way to the final and then giving up in the beginning – sure, that wouldn't have surprised her. She expected there to be a few who probably didn't want the responsibility which would come with the position of king. He had obviously been hesitant in the beginning of the match. But after he cut her in the arm, his whole aura had changed. To her, his determination had been obvious from that point forward. Well, until he dropped his sword of course.
"Erza, what are you thinking?!" she heard him before she saw him. Her grandfather may be small, but when he was angry he had the presence of a ten meter high giant. "We said to hold one tournament and then you promised me a ball!"
"I know and I am sorry", Erza bowed down in front of her grandfather, but spoke loud and clearly. "However, I could not accept such a win – at least not without speaking with the man first. He lost on purpose, gramps. He dropped the sword before my kick hit him. If he won't accept a re-match, I at least need to know what happened."
"Maybe the man simply didn't wish to win Erza", King Makarov had calmed down and gently tried to reason with his granddaughter.
"That thought occurred to me as well", Erza answered and started pacing back and forth. "But then I dismissed it…" she continued to voice her thoughts out loud, but Makarov stopped listening. He did understand that he had no chance in changing her mind though.
And two weeks passed in the blink of an eye, for all except Erza who felt as if each day passed by twice as slowly as normally. Several young men had claimed to be Siegrain Fernandez and Erza agreed to meet with all of them. However, none of them were him and she was quick to realize it. Some claimed to simply have lost because she had surprised them, and as soon as those words passed their lips, Erza left. Some were dismissed before she even spoke to them because of their physical features being off. A few of them, however, got to the point where Erza actually asked for a re-match. But none of them were Siegrain Fernandez either, Erza concluded, because she defeated them faster than she had defeated Ichiya in the tournament and the one she was looking for was an equal match for her. King Makarov thought Erza would finally agree to have a ball, now that she knew the man himself wasn't eager to be found. But Erza would have none of that.
"I will visit every house in this kingdom in search for him before I give in to the idea of a ball!" she exclaimed and stormed off before her grandfather managed to say another word.
Lucy, Juvia and the king was left standing in awe.
"I think this might have become an obsession by this point", Lucy said quietly and received no answer. Then she turned to the king with a big smile on her lips. "Consider yourself lucky, gramps – Erza is finally interested in a man!"
And she spun on her heel, following Erza, skipping down the corridor. Juvia was left horrified at her sisters' rude and daring behavior – it did not matter that the king was their grandfather, he was still the king!
But as Erza had decided, she was allowed to visit every household in the kingdom – in company of a few soldiers. She was capable of taking care of herself, but she was the future queen after all. To her utter dismay, her sisters insisted on coming with her and her grandfather supported their wish which led them all to leaving the castle until they either found Siegrain Fernandez or every house in all of the kingdom had been honored with the presence of royalty.
"This is a lot more boring than I expected", Lucy complained on the second day.
"Suit yourself, you wanted to come", Erza answered.
"You're so cold, Erza! Show some compassion! I almost never get to leave the castle – I thought it was going to be an adventure."
Erza shook her head, but a small smile was playing on her lips which she knew had been Lucy's intention. The two days they had spent since leaving the castle was very similar to the two days that had followed the tournament – some had claimed to be Siegrain Fernandez, but none of them had been him. However, most just said they hadn't heard the name before the tournament. No one knew where he might be.
"I hope something more interesting will happen tomorrow", Lucy sighed and threw herself onto her bed for the night.
"We'll get further from the castle tomorrow so the scenery will at least change a bit", Erza said and Lucy nodded thoughtfully. The girls were still close to the castle, but they were staying at an inn and hadn't returned since they left. There was a reason for this even if it wouldn't take them long to ride back at the end of the day, and that was simply that they had a system. They had finished checking the capital of the kingdom, so currently they were staying at an inn by the outskirts of town.
- I wish you would make it easier to find you, Siegrain. I sincerely hope you're not avoiding me.
The young man Erza so desperately was looking for wasn't avoiding her nor hiding. Well, not exactly at least.
"I really wish you could have been there, Siegrain!" Natsu exclaimed excitedly and Siegrain let out a small sigh that his brothers either would perceive as a confirmation that Siegrain too wished that, or a sign that he was growing tired of the never-ending talk about the tournament. "I mean, that final! And I can't believe that I actually fought Titania!"
Siegrain smiled weakly and shook his head. "It was probably for the best that I wasn't there, don't you think? What if I had beaten you before you got to the semi-final?" he said it jokingly and Natsu was quick to follow his lead.
"Huh?!" frowning angrily, Natsu straightend his back and pushed his chest out. "I'd like to see you try! Just you wait, I'll beat both you and the princess and then you'll all acknowledge my true strength!"
Siegrain laughed while Gray just sighed. "Yeah, yeah, sure, you, a complete novice, will manage to beat someone who's been training her whole life."
Natsu grinned. "Just you wait, I'll train hard and beat her."
"How about making sure you're actually better than her sisters before that?"
"What was that, I won, didn't I?" Natsu spat and raised his fist towards Gray.
Before they could start for real, Siegrain stopped them. "Quit it, both of you. Natsu, I'm sure you'll improve if you keep up with training. And Gray, just because you made your opponent faint it doesn't mean that you're any better. Wasn't it a close fight between the two of you too?"
Gray looked away, seemingly embarrassed. He muttered something Siegrain couldn't hear and Natsu looked smug. "Lovesick, are we?"
"What?!" Gray snapped at him.
"Yeah, you go around looking miserable all the time nowadays", Natsu teased.
"So do you", Siegrain calmly pointed out while rising from the table and starting to do the dishes.
"I'm just disappointed I didn't get to fight Titania", Natsu huffed and didn't see Siegrain's knowing smile since he was standing with his back to his brothers.
- So you say, but the truth is that more than anything, you've kept talking about princess Lucy since you came home.
Siegrain's smile soon faltered however, when he thought about the fact that his brothers probably wouldn't meet them again. The Dragbuster's was neither royalty nor nobles and only people of such met royalty, especially the soon-to-be queen and her sisters. The fact that his brothers had talked to them, let alone even seen them was extraordinary for people like themselves. If they had been poor they might even have a greater chance of spotting the royal family again - their Kingdom had been offering shelter and the likes to poor for decades, but they were wealthy enough to never have a reason to visit those help-centers. Mr Dragbuster had been some sort of merchant (Siegrain had never met him since he'd died a few years before Siegrain had joined the Dragbusters) and had left a small fortune to his family.
Finishing the dishes, Siegrain continued his chores around the house.
Following day, Erza and her company left the capital early, arriving at the first home outside of the capital two hours later. The owner of the house was very surprised to see them. He was a middle-aged or a bit older and had no sons so he hadn't even heard of the tournament in the first place. He also said he did not know anyone by the name "Fernandez", but he knew of a young man by the name Siegrain. He met the boy a few years ago and said that the family which the boy had been with a few years ago lived a few kilometers down the same lane. It also happened to be his closest neighbor. Between the capital and nearest village a few houses lined the main road, although for some they would have to leave the main road. Erza thanked the man for the directions and they headed for the next home.
While Erza knew the kingdom better than her sisters, the truth was that there still was so much she didn't know. Therefor she was extra thankful for the directions the older man had given. She doubted they would get lost, but it didn't hurt to know where they were going. The day was nearing noon when they spotted the side-tracked road which would lead to the next house along the lane. The distance had been greater than she first had thought, so she was afraid they had missed the entry at first.
When loud knocking echoed through their home, Siegrain immediately rose from his position of cleaning the floor on the second floor to open it, but before he had taken even a step, Mrs Dragbuster called out to him to continue with what he was doing while she opened and then begin to cook lunch.
The woman who opened the door had obviously been beautiful when younger; her ebony black hair tied into a bun still shone of health and her light green eyes had a piercing gaze, seemingly to not miss details. She curtseyed as soon as she laid eyes on them.
Erza gestured for her to rise – while she thought it was important to pay respect to others, she still didn't like it when people bowed towards her.
"Your highness", the woman said and smiled kindly. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Erza smiled kindly. "Since you immideatly recognize me, I take it you were at the tournament."
"Oh yes, my two sons entered."
"Then perhaps you've heard that I'm currently looking for the last opponent I faced, Siegrain Fernandez?"
Erza was sure the woman's eye twitched at the name, however she feigned ignorance. "I have heard so, but I'm afraid I cannot be of any help."
Erza nodded thoughtfully. "Lately it has crossed my mind that it might be a faked name. You don't happen to know anyone who goes by either 'Siegrain' or 'Fernandez', I suppose?"
"I'm afraid not, your highness. Otherwise I would have told you everything I knew", the woman once again curtseyed.
"I see", Erza said once again and was quiet for a moment. "I'm sorry for pressing this matter, but it's of great importance that I find this man."
"I completely understand, your highness. However, if I do find someone I'll send them towards the capital right away."
Erza narrowed her eyes. "There's just one last thing I'd like to clear out before we take our leave. You see, your closest neighbor told me something interesting…"
Erza didn't get to finish her sentence as a scream of rage and a loud bang interrupted her. The woman standing in the door spun around and the royal company also stared into the room. By the stairs laid a young man sprawled, cursing.
"Gray, what are you doing?" the woman, most likely his mother, called out but the young man didn't answer as he rolled over on his back and held his wrist.
"It seems he has injured himself", Erza said and pushed through the door followed by her sisters. "Are you alright, young man?"
The man looked up in surprise at the sound of her voice, but he wasn't looking at her but someone who was behind her. "Juvia", he said quietly and then he suddenly widened his eyes. He bowed which made her sisters laugh as it simply looked ridiculous in his sitting position. Glancing at her sisters, especially Juvia, the reason why they had come with her on the journey became a bit more clear.
"Juvia, will you tend to his injury?" she asked her sister, but Juvia knew it more or less was an order. Her sister nodded and kneeled next to the man, a blush clearly visible on both of their faces.
"Gray, was it?" Erza asked and received a nod from the man. "Would you mind telling us what just happened? My sister seems to be a bit worried…"
Gray frowned and glared towards the stairs. "That idiot pushed me."
Let's rewind a few minutes and see what happened.
The two brothers stood at the top of the stairs, overhearing their mothers conversation with the guests.
"…You don't happen to know anyone who goes by the name 'Siegrain' or 'Fernandez', I suppose?"
"I'm afraid not…"
Natsu frowned at his mother's words and looked at Gray. "She's clearly lying, I mean, Siegrain is up here right now."
Gray scratched the back of his head. "There's probably a reason why she says she doesn't know about him."
"Yeah, like she wants to keep him around and do house-chores forever. I'd love for Siegrain to stay too, but what if they know where he comes from or something? We can't decide for him whether or not he should talk with them at least", Natsu scowled.
While Gray couldn't deny the truth in his words, he shook his head. "No, mom probably only have Siegrain's best in mind."
"Yeah because she's been so fond of him lately", Natsu said sarcastically. "I'm going to get him."
"No you won't!" Gray snarled and grabbed his arm. "Mom will explain later if we ask, there is no need for us to get involved."
"Oh but there is!"
And this verbal fight continued for a while in snarling voices before it turned physical when Natsu threw a punch towards Gray's face in order to get him to let go of his grip around Natsu's wrist. The punch hit its target and Gray let go, falling down the stairs. Natsu looked at his brother mortified for a second or so before deciding that Gray was too thick-headed to take any damage from it.
And then Gray was found by the princesses who treated both his wrist which he injured in the fall and the black-eye that started to bloom on his face. Or well, Juvia wanted to, but there wasn't really anything she could do.
"Mom, I've brought Siegrain like you asked me to", Erza looked up toward the stairs, surprised by the sudden voice calling out. She thought the voice was somewhat familiar and seeing the pink haired-man she also thought she recognized his way of moving. At the sight of them, a grin appeared on his face. "Lucy!"
Lucy was standing next to Erza, so Erza saw the big smile that instantly lit her sister's face up as she saw the man. "Good to see you again, Natsu."
In the corner of her eye, a familiar shade of blue appeared. Whipping her head in the direction of the stairs she stared in disbelief. The man emerging the stairs had his face turned down, but could it be?
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, the man looked up. His eyes widened as he saw them and tears welled up in Erza's eyes as she saw the familiar brown eyes and scarlet red tattoo. "Jellal!"
She rushed forward and threw her arms around him, hugging him hard. "I can't believe it's really you!"
His arms slowly rose and returned the embrace. "Erza…" he whispered.
"I knew it", she sobbed softly. "I knew you were alive somewhere!" She withdrew a little so she could look at his face and he smiled at her, the most beautiful smile in the whole world which made her heart skip a beat. She placed a hand on either side of his face and smiled back. He raised his hand and stroke her tears away. "What happened?"
- Why didn't you come look for me?
He shook his head. "I don't know. I don't remember anything. Until just now when I saw you…" he frowned in confusion and Erza gently brushed his forehead to smooth out the frown.
As the two childhood friends reunited, the two brothers stood confused and watched the scene.
"Who's Jellal?" Natsu whispered to Gray but Lucy answered him.
"He's standing right there, silly. The son of Lord and Lady Fernandez."
"He's nobility?!" Gray asked shocked and Juvia nodded.
"Jellal-san was at the castle almost every day", Juvia said, a smile on her lips as she watched her sister's reunion with her love. "They practiced together every time he came, trained for hours sometimes."
"That does explain his talent with a sword", Gray commented and Natsu nodded.
"He's the only one who has defeated Erza", Lucy added. "She never said it but…"
"Erza-nee held the tournament in order to find him", Juvia finished. "They've been in love since… well…" she hesitated.
"Since they met for the first time", Lucy continued, giving Juvia a small push so she staggered into Gray. Gray grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her and although he let go, they remained standing as close.
"Jellal, will you come back with me? I may be able to help you remember."
He smiled at her. "I don't need to remember. I know already", he blushed slightly. "I will never leave you again, Erza."
Erza blushed and smiled, about to answer him when a blood curling scream broke through the pleasant atmosphere. Mrs Dragneel was blocking the door.
"NO! You will not go back to him! I won't let you leave me too!"
"Mom, what are you talking about?" Gray questioned worriedly. Juvia carefully snug her hand into his and squeezed it gently.
"I won't allow that you go back to your father!" she sobbed.
"Lord Fernandez is dead, madame", said Lucy carefully.
"Oh, he's dead, is he? Again?"
"He truly has passed away", Erza said calmly. "And Lady Fernandez as well. They both died in the same storm as Jellal went missing."
"We all attended the funeral", Juvia added.
Her sobbing came to an abrupt stop, but tears continued to stream down her cheeks. "He truly is..? He died…? And I never got to tell him…" she whispered, sounding broken.
"Mom, please… what do you mean?" Natsu frowned in confusion and Lucy placed a hand on his arm, squeezing it to show her support for her friend.
"Your father…" she whispered but they had no trouble hearing her in the silence as they all waited for her answer to their questions. "You don't remember him, he died when you were babies. Or at least, I thought he died. But then you came", she looked at Jellal, "and you have his eyes and the tattoo given at the age of six… it took me a while to realize it. I thought it might be a coincidence, but you remind me so much of him… you're way of speaking, moving… I cried for him for days! I believed them when they said... and I wasn't allowed to attend a funeral, and I was never given a chance to say good-bye – they said they buried him in an unmarked grave in the forest because no one should see the body…" she started sobbing hysterically. "And when I realized… I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry!"
Jellal released his grip on Erza and walked over to the woman who was crying hysterically. He pulled her into his arms. "It's alright, I won't leave you. I forgive you, mom."
And Mrs Dragbuster started crying even more and clung to her adoptive son whom she had mistreated for so long and thought that he had to be the kindest man in the whole world to forgive someone like her.
"You've always taken care of me mom. Without you, I wouldn't be here. Thank you."
She sobbed hard. "I do love you, I know you might not believe me, but I…"
He hushed her gently. "I love you too."
The brothers looked at their mother finally reconciling with their brother with big smiles on their faces. Natsu suddenly turned to Lucy and hugged her to let out some of his excitement, laughing happily as he would no longer have to stand conflicted between them. Gray shook his head at his little brother's silly antics, but he was also so very happy that he barely knew how to contain himself. He looked at the girl who was holding his hand and she smiled back at him, squeezing his hand and he squeezed it back.
And Erza watched her beloved, pride making her chest swell because he was such a forgiving and loving person. The reconciliation made tears sting in her eyes, tears of joy at witnessing such a beautiful scene.
And that is the story of how the lost boy Jellal found his armor clad princess. The pair ruled the kingdom fairly and were known for being kind and forgiving – as long as the circumstances allowed it. And the two younger sisters of the queen soon followed in their sister's footsteps, overlooking the part about ruling a kingdom. They all lived happily until the day their time was up and the kingdom was taken over by the next, well-raised and just generation.
There you have it - the end of Jellal and the armor clad princess. The next story (which I have finally have a plan for) is called Sleeping Dragon, but I will not reveal more than that. I'll post the first chapter in a few weeks, but I want to get ahead a little before I start posting it so I won't leave you hanging for too long.
To all of you who've read this story, followed the progress and withstood my irregular updating - thank you so much. To all of you who've reviewed; again, thank you sooo much!
And to all of you who might leave because the next story might not be what you're into - thank you for reading this one.
Lots of love to all of you and I'll be back, promise!