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Summary: In a world of magic, Tony is Gibbs' Devoted.
"DiNozzo! Get your ass over here now!"
Tony flinched and missed the wood, the axe cutting into the ground a mere inch from his foot. Taking a steadying breath, he muttered, "You can't kill him, he's the King's Man-at-Arms. You can't kill him, he's the King's Man-at-Arms," and slammed the axe back into the chopping block. Grabbing his sword from where it lay against the fence, he buckled it into place on the jog over to the stables. "Yes, Sir? What can I do for you, Sir? I would happily..."
"Can it," Gibbs interrupted. "Kate's not back yet. I want you to take McGee out and look for her."
"She's been out on her own after dark for many years now, Sir. As a matter of fact, I understand that she's given to haunting the bachelor's quarters now and again after dark, so I doubt there's anything that can..."
Biting back another flippant reply, Tony nodded and turned sharply to go into the stable, bellowing, "Squire McGee! Get your ass in here!"
It rolled downhill, after all.
To his surprise, McGee was already in the stables, saddling up their horses. Making a face, Tony said, "You're such a leech on Gibbs' ass."
McGee made a face at him. "Just because I anticipate my Knight's needs before he does..."
"Means that you're a leech on Gibbs' ass," Tony finished, swinging into the saddle. He reached down to tighten the girth, kicking Storm's sides to get it to the right notch. "And how many times have I told you to put it on the fifth notch? Otherwise the saddle slips."
"I'm sorry, Sir. I'll have to remember that next time."
McGee's expression was entirely too innocent to be believed, but Tony just snorted and he nudged Storm out into the courtyard.
"Have them both back here by moonrise, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered curtly.
Tony's jaw dropped and his eyes flickered unnecessarily to the sky. "Moonrise!? But that's not even two hours away! How am I supposed to track Kate down, with ye new square in tow, and get them both back here by moonrise?"
"Moonrise, or I get Ducky to locate all three of you."
"Come on, Gibbs, you can't be that heartless! The last time you got Ducky involved in locating me, he turned me into a..." spotting the keenly interested look on McGee's face, Tony switched topics and demanded, "If you're going to involve him anyhow, why not just have Ducky find Kate now?"
"Because I told you to find her," Gibbs replied firmly.
Gritting his teeth, Tony nudged Storm forward.
"And don't lose McGee! He can't learn from you if he's not with you!"
Tony's jaw tightened further at the Knight's command and he thought sourly, There goes plan number one.
McGee rode up beside him and asked, "What did Ducky turn you into? Why did he? I mean, he's a good wizard, isn't he?"
"Okay, first? Shut up. Second? None of your damned business. And third? No wizard is ever wholly good or bad. Don't you know anything, Square?" Tony snapped.
McGee's rounded face tightened in his own approximation of Tony's scowl and he snapped back, "It's Squire, not Square. Stop calling me that!"
As they passed outside of the castle walls, Tony sneered, "What're you going to do, tell Gibbs?"
Tony paused at that, giving McGee an even stare that had cowed more than one Knight over the years. As expected, McGee paled and sank in on himself. No one made fun of his birth except those who'd earned it and the Squire was definitely not on that very short list. He kicked Storm into a fast canter and aimed for the forest in the direction where Kate had mentioned coming across wolf-sign.
And if McGee had trouble sitting a horse at that speed...oh well.
* * * *
Kate was so used to wearing the longbow and quiver of arrows that she didn't even notice the weight any longer. She'd been using longbow and crossbow since she was old enough to shoot straight; earlier, really, since her father had made little toys of them for her when she was too little to hold a proper one. She'd gotten her first longbow at five and been shooting with, and beating, the boys since she was seven. Her father had been the only one to believe that she could make a use of the talent, even as a woman, and she held all those memories dear to her heart.
At eight, he'd begun tracking lessons. At ten, he'd left her in the
for an entire day with the order to bring back supper. That was the first time she'd brought home a stag, although really, she'd had to haul it up into the trees to keep the wolves away because she'd been too small to drag it all the way home. She'd had to run back and get her father and a horse. She still had the antlers carved into different jugs on her belt. Great Forest
Despite all that training, this current pack she was tracking kept eluding her. It was seriously starting to get on her nerves and Kate was bound and determined not to go home until she'd made sure they hadn't taken up permanent residence so close to the Toll Road. If the King's taxes weren't levied because of wolves, it would be taken out of the Head Tracker's hide. Which meant her.
And despite having Abby's favor, Kate had no desire to piss off the King.
She grinned a little at the thought of Abby, then shook off the sappy feelings that pulled at her heart. The image of Abby coasting down the main castle hall with her skirts hiked up on a board with mini-wheels that she'd finagled from Ducky flashed through her mind, prompting a chuckle. Shaking off the good mood, knowing that a distraction could get her killed, Kate returned her attention to the hunt.
* * * *
Moonrise was only an hour away before Tony had the bright idea of sending up one of Abby's newly designed flares. She'd given them to all of the Knights and Squires, as well as the Trackers, once she'd been sure that their fires would die out long before getting to the ground to start a fire. She'd caused more than one mini-conflagration with the devices before perfecting them. Her fascination with all things labeled 'science' was a menace, most of the time, but Tony had to admit that it was about to come in handy.
Pulling up Storm when they came to a small clearing, he dismounted and rummaged through his saddlebag, bringing out the hefty thing and setting it on the ground.
"What're you doing that for?"
"Because there's only an hour left and I have no intention of being turned into another...just shut up," Tony growled, pulling out his flint rock.
He lit the thing that Abby had called a 'fuse' and scrambled back. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then a tremendous squeal burst out and the thing spiraled up into the sky where it exploded into very pretty colors. As an added bonus, it spooked McGee's horse and sent the younger man careening into the forest, shouting for help all the way.
Clearing his throat of an unmanly giggle, Tony kicked dirt over the remaining parts of the smoldering flare and settled in to wait.
McGee made it back in only ten minutes or so, which was a record, considering the kid could barely sit a horse. There was a really nice shiner present on his right cheek and he dismounted, tossing a glare in Tony's direction. "Thanks for the help, Tony."
"Now how are you going to learn to control a horse if I rescue you every time? Gibbs said to make sure you learn," Tony replied righteously.
Grumbling to himself, McGee sat gingerly on the ground beside his horse as he complained, "You could be a little nicer to me, you know."
Tony shrugged. "Where's the fun in that?"
"You know, if I'd been a band of brigands, you'd both be dead by now."
With a broad grin, Tony hopped nimbly to his feet. "Katie, my love! How very good to see you again!"
"Why are you here?" she demanded, leaning on her bow.
Tony made a face and informed her, "Gibbs sent me after you. I have to get you back by moonrise or he gets Ducky."
Kate chuckled and looked at McGee. "Did he ever tell you about the time Ducky turned him into..."
"Ducky said that if Tony was going to interrupt important experiments like that, then he could be as much of an ass on the outside, as on the inside and poof! Tony was on four legs with big ears and a tail," Kate informed McGee, relishing the telling of it.
McGee started laughing.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. But hey. This time he said it would be all three of us, if we didn't get back in time."
That sobered them both and Kate said, "I don't have my horse with me."
Tony grinned. "Why don't you ride with McGee? That should make sure he can keep control of his horse."
"Well I would, but the poor thing'd be overburdened," Kate protested merrily.
McGee lost his grin and exclaimed, "Bad enough that Tony pokes me for fun, must you as well?"
Kate exchanged a look with Tony, then glanced back at McGee and confirmed, "Absolutely."
Heaving a sigh, the Squire headed for his horse, ignoring them both.
* * * *
Jethro nodded to various Knights and servants along the way to Ducky's tower, giving everyone an equal amount of 'greetings' and 'don't bother me' in the gesture Though born noble, Jethro could truly care less about birth rankings; it was ability and will and honor that truly made a man. While a rare point of view in Mostava, it wasn't entirely unheard of in other kingdoms. And since Jethro hailed from far across the land, he was given more leeway than most.
Of course, the fact that no one could beat him at arms had a little something to do with it.
"Gibbs! Gibbs! Hold on! You going to see Ducky? What's going on? Where's Kate and Tony and McGee?" Abby exclaimed, careening directly into him on her moving board thing.
Jethro held her fast and bodily lifted her off the contraption. "How many times have I told you not to use that thing? You're going to break your neck and then I'm out of a job."
She grinned, pale eyes sparkling as she replied, "Ah, but there's still my Father to look after."
"You're a lot easier on the eyes," Jethro told her, tweaking a braid.
Abby scooped up her board and fell into step with him, saying, "I could have you flogged for that."
"You could try."
Giggling, Abby twined her free arm with his and asked, "So what's going on? How come you're going to disturb the Enlightened One?"
With an inelegant snort to convey his opinion of the title, Jethro replied, "Got a missive that some bandits are rallying on the eastern border. I want him to check it out."
"Oooh. Hey! Can I watch? He never lets me see him do his magic!" Abby complained. "I mean, I can't even order him to let me because he just ignores it."
"At least he hasn't turned you into an ass."
They shared a warm laugh on reaching the stairs where Jethro said, "You'd better head back to your lessons, Princess. This is no matter for you."
"Oh, man! C'mon, Gibbs, that's so not fair!"
Tugging lightly on her braid again, which did nothing to lessen the attractive pout, Jethro shook his head. "Not this time. Go on with you."
She heaved a sigh, but gathered up her skirts to leave. Jethro swiftly took the board from her and silenced her outraged expression with a look. Grumbling under her breath, Abby dropped the skirts back into place and stalked away.
Jethro chuckled and headed upstairs, giving the board to one of the Pages with the warning, "Don't let Princess Abby see you've got it."
The young boy nodded with a huge grin and ran off with his new treasure.
Grinning, Jethro jogged up the steps all the way to the top where the tower started. He knocked four times, pausing equally between each, and then opened the door. Stepping inside, he announced, "It's Gibbs. Bring me up, Ducky."
The familiar, if still disconcerting, sensation of moving up at a great speed assaulted him and Jethro took a few seconds to gather his composure before stepping out of the small closet and into the main room of the tower. After nineteen years working for the King, most of them with Ducky, Jethro still had no idea how the whole magic thing worked. It was enough for him that it did.
Picking his way through the large, cluttered room, he found the bespeckled man reading from a massive leather tome by the fire.
"Ah, Jethro," Ducky greeted, smiling. "What can I do for you?"
Indicating the book, Jethro asked, "I'm interrupting?"
Ducky set the book aside and replied, "Not at all. I was just about to have some tea. Join me?"
"Only if it's something stronger than tea," Jethro said, a faint grin surfacing as he sat in the comfortable leather chair opposite Ducky.
A negligent wave of the hand produced a tea service between them, complete with a tankard of ale. Jethro took the tankard with a more pronounced grin and held it up in honor of the wizard.
After pouring his tea, Ducky returned the salute and took a sip. "Now then. What can I do for the King's man?"
Ignoring the double entendre, long used to it, Jethro informed him, "I got a falcon today from Paula. She says that bandits are massing on the eastern border. I need to know how many and what sort of weapons they've got so I can wipe them out."
"Mmm. It has been a while since you've seen any decent action, hasn't it?" Ducky observed, sipping at his tea.
Jethro inclined his head, acknowledging the statement and taking another draught from the slightly sour brew. Standing, Ducky headed over towards one of the long tables that held his potions, poisons, herbs, and the large scrying bowl. Jethro finished off the ale and gave a comfortable belch before following. The wizard always took his own sweet time in doing things, as Jethro had found out early on, and there was no sense in trying to rush him. It was best to appear as if whatever had been asked of him was of no importance whatsoever.
"Abby was disappointed that I wouldn't let her come," Jethro announced, sitting on one of the many stools that littered the room.
Ducky snorted. "The last time I let that girl up here, I had a headache for a week from all her questions."
With a grin, Jethro pointed out, "She's a smart girl. She'd make someone a great apprentice."
"She's a Princess, not an apprentice, and the girl never shuts up."
"That sounds familiar. Maybe it's a prerequisite for the job."
Ducky didn't deign to acknowledge the hit, he merely waved his hand over the large silver bowl with a murmured phrase. Peering into the bowl, he frowned, shifting the glasses up his nose as if to get a better look.
Curious, Jethro asked, "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure," Ducky answered, waving his hand over the bowl again. "Something's blocking me. A warding spell, perhaps a cloaking spell."
Curiosity turned to wariness and Jethro stood, moving up close beside the wizard. It was because he was so close that Jethro was able to grab Ducky and shove him away when a hideously large snake leapt from the bowl. He grabbed the thing just under its head, immobilizing it, and calmly walked over to a wall where he bashed it against the stone and mortar until it was stunned. Dropping the thing to the ground, he pulled his broadsword free and sliced the head off.
Unfortunately, two heads grew quickly in its place.
"Ducky? A little help here!" Jethro called, backing away from the magical creature.
Looking extremely irritated, Ducky pointed a finger at the double-headed snake and hissed a few words at it, turning it into stone. Folding his arms over his chest, Ducky muttered, "First time for everything. I'm going to have to check that damned ward. Gerald!"
The last was bellowed with surprising volume and, moments later, Ducky's dark-skinned apprentice appeared with a boom of displaced air between he and Jethro. "What is it, Master?"
"Kindly go over the scrying wards for me while I figure out who sent that thing," Ducky ordered.
Gerald blanched on seeing the two-headed snake statue and nodded hastily, hurrying over to the scrying bowl.
Unable to resist, Jethro teased him softly, "How a soft-hearted lad like that puts up with your crotchety ways, I'll never know."
Ducky snorted, but his gaze softened as he looked over at the young man earnestly peering into the bowl. Shaking it off, he rubbed his hands together as he walked over to the erstwhile statue and said with relish, "Now then! Let's just see who's been sending me presents!"
Knowing that he was useless now, Jethro hied back to the transport closet. He glanced through a window on the way there and saw that the moon had risen. He stopped to peer into the courtyard so far below. A stiff-backed McGee trailed pitifully behind Kate and Tony, whose long-legged strides easily took them across the way.
Shaking his head, darkly amused, Jethro continued on his way and muttered, "One of these days those two are going to wind up killing the boy."
* * * *
"Gibbs is in a mood," Abby warned, joining her friends in the main foyer.
Tony snorted. "Tell me something I don't know. He's always got something lodged up his...he's standing behind me, isn't he?"
Abby grinned and nodded just as Gibbs whacked Tony upside the back of the head. Curling her arm around Kate's, she greeted, "What ho, Gibbs? Mind if I stick around now?"
"I do, matter of fact," Gibbs answered. "I thought I told you to get back to your quarters."
"No, you told me that I couldn't go with you to see Ducky. Didn't say where I should go," Abby countered.
Kate hastily changed a laugh to a cough when Gibbs glared at her and asked, "So what do you need me back for?"
"We've got someone massing on the eastern border and I want all of you to gather your people for a march at dawn tomorrow," Gibbs informed them.
Instantly all business, Tony asked, "How many? Do we know the Flag under which they ride? Weapons?"
Gibbs answered, "Ducky's working on that with Gerald."
There was a surprised silence before Kate questioned, "He couldn't just scry the information?"
"He tried," Gibbs replied shortly. "Get to work. I want everything, and everyone, in place sharply."
There were nods all around and Tony headed off to gather the knights of which he was loosely in charge. Gibbs was the man in charge of everything to do with security and the kingdom's army, such as it was. Tony was honored to be his point man, even if it came with the price of copious head smacking and verbal put-downs. It was a position to be envied and he had had more than one run-in with those who felt he didn't deserve it due to his ignoble birth. He'd fought hard to get where he was, sometimes literally, and would fight even harder to stay there; tooth and nail, if necessary.
No one watched Gibbs' back, but Tony.
And maybe Kate, he allowed grudgingly.
It had taken a good year of working with Kate to allow that she might be good enough to protect Gibbs from everyone, and everything, but himself. After Tony, Ducky was second on the list to look out for the grouchy bastard, and then Kate. McGee had a long way to go before even being close to getting on Tony's list for that.
Once he'd dispersed the orders, Tony found himself walking to Gibbs' favored thinking place; the shed where he worked on a boat. Knocking respectfully, he waited until hearing an irritated, "Enter!" before doing so. Tony sat on a stool off to the side and relayed, "Everything will be ready for the morning. We only await a destination."
Gibbs grunted, but did nothing else to acknowledge his words.
Lips quirking, Tony took a drink from his water skin and waited until the other man was ready to talk. It could take a few minutes or a few hours of working on the skeleton of wood now shaped into that of a small boat, but Gibbs would talk to him. In the meantime, he quenched his thirst and rested his eyes until his
had need of him. Liege
"Someone attacked Ducky through his scrying bowl," Gibbs announced at last.
Tony's eyes opened at the first word. Startled by the revelation, Tony restrained himself from saying anything or Gibbs would stop talking. He'd learned that the hard way years previous.
"It was a snake, a serpent that grew two heads when I cut off the one. The missive came from Paula, but maybe it was really from her. It's possible she's been captured and we're walking into a trap. We can't not go, though, especially if someone is enough of a threat to attack Ducky and take Paula. We just need to be ready for anything."
Gibbs stopped sanding on the last word and then faced Tony for the first time. The very lack of expression told Tony how much the other felt right then. The stone mask came out only in times of crisis or emotional upheaval.
Hopping off the stool, Tony closed the distance between them, stopping directly in front of the older man and staring into his clear, pale blue eyes. He gripped Gibbs' shoulder and stated, "I am your Devoted. I swore fealty to you, not the King. I go where you go. I rest only after you rest. I would bathe your feet, did you let me, and keep your hearth ready with comfort and food. That not being the case, I will fight whom you order me to fight and lay down my life for yours."
"I don't want you to lay down your life for me," Gibbs whispered.
Tony smiled gently and leaned ever closer to murmur, "Not your choice," before pressing their mouths together.
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