Written on January 26, 2020 ( ♒)

Author's Notes: The word needs more Gafgarion content, and also I was inspired to consider how tempting Ramza's hairsprout might be to a hungry bird.

“You needn’t take yourself so seriously, boy,” Gaffgarion told him. “They’re paying us to be an escort. We don’t need to gloam about like all the courtiers tearing their hair at the capital; the princess will have enough of that in due time.”

Ramza sighed but nevertheless tried to smile. He really did want to take it all in stride--the job was just a job--but there was a bittersweetness to think he would see Orbonne with his own eyes. How many letters had he been read that Alma penned there? How often had he been given so many mundane details of the place to imagine: the snub-nosed gargoyle that peered from the chapel or the wild grapes that were forever overtaking the almonry wall? He wondered if it would live up to all the visions he’d had of it as a boy. Would it be the green and peaceful place he’d pictured--bright with flowers and stained glass and all the nice things that his sister had had while he’d been off at Igros frighted with tales of Romandans?

The new bloomed trees began to thin out as the road turned to mud and eventually to grass. Rad whistled something that seemed only half a complete tune. If Ramza remembered--and he was uncertain he did--his mother was supposed to have been buried out this way, in a churchyard a league or so towards Dorter. It was strange. For so many months, he had managed to leave behind all memory of his name and house in Gallione; it chafed him to find it following him out into the wide world beyond it.

With all that weighing on his brain, he didn’t notice a moment what was stalking about his head. Ramza suppressed any urge to shout or dodge as Gaffgarion’s chocobo--a thick-hocked, mustardy beast that feared only the Gaffgarions of the world--drifted from where Rad led it by the reins and began to pick at his hair.

It shook its head a bit as if trying to uproot and devour the greens it thought to grow from his scalp. Ramza eventually gave a yelp as it tangled its beak, and Gaffgarion turned from where he’d been marching ahead.

“Ramza! What did I tell you about trying to strangle my poor girl with that mop atop your skull!?”

“Sorry, sir!”

Ramza gritted his teeth and tried as best he could to push the bird’s face away without doing the creature anything it (or Gaffgarion) might take for an insult. Rad, snickering, nervously pushed his own bangs beneath his hood and cap. When Ramza had more or less extricated himself--minus a few strands here and there--Gaffgarion tossed the beast a fat wedge of krakka, which it caught and gulped down greedily.

“Gads! It’s a good thing your share of the take will be enough to supply you with a damn hat,” he said with an only slightly menacing joviality. “I can’t afford to waste good root like that every time you worry her.”

The chocobo purred as though it had absolute knowledge that Gaffgarion certainly could make such affordances. Ramza, walking some paces behind, tried to smooth his hair, nervously rubbing at the back of his neck a moment as he recalled how long he had once worn it.

They trudged slowly through the field, passing clusters of snowdrops in the damp earth as they moved steadily south. Looking at them, Ramza tried to recall the last time he had seen them in bloom. He smiled, nostalgic, and then taking a few paces, he suddenly stopped.

It was March. Looking ahead on the route they walked, he saw a few last remnants of white clinging to the low, rolling hills.

“Gaffgarion?” he shouted out, trying not to betray his unease. “What is the day that we’re set to reach Orbonne?”

His face paled a little and his stomach sank as he heard the barked reply. Gaffgarion followed up with a rather blunt request that he stop tarrying, as had no more means to feed the goblins with fresh squires all day than he had means to stuff a certain fat, feathered doxy with fresh greens.

Ramza said nothing as he ran to catch up. Rad gave him something of a look as they pressed on though, no doubt wondering why he should stare so pointedly towards the west as they walked. He was gazing to where the setting sun was just beginning to make the distant cliffs blaze as though they were set all about with fire.