Chapter 1) Birth of a Crusader
In the heart of Jugdral lies Grannvale, the kingdom of Saint Heim. Ruled by his descendants, and supported by the descendants of other Crusaders, it is normally a peaceful country, on the surface. In reality, its politics are cutthroat, at best, and it frequently has 'hunts' for descendents of the Loptyrian cults, massacring them to a child.
But such hunts are kept secret, whispers in the dark. No one would dare bring them up, much less King Azmur, or the actual leader of the country, Prince Kurth. Though, considering Prince Kurth's known kindness, it's possible that he'll address it when he becomes king 'proper'. But it is only a possibility, based more on what I know of his two advisors: Lord Byron of House Chalphy, heir to Baldur, and Lord Ring of House Jungby, heir to Ullur. Those two are known for their tolerance, and though other provinces urge them, they have not ordered a hunt in many years.
This, of course, bothers Grannvale's chancellor, Lord Reptor of Freege, and not just because of the threat the three are to his influence. Lord Reptor is known for his stubbornness, and for his devotion to his family and country. Those with Loptyr blood are a 'threat' in his eyes, and threats are to be dealt with as harshly as traitors. At least, that is his opinion. To this end, he allies himself with Lord Langbalt of House Dozel, an avaricious and bitter man, to form a faction opposing Prince Kurth. The political landscape grows thornier by the day as the country just barely avoids civil war.
Technically, though, there is a 'third' faction. Arvis of Velthomer leads the Royal Guard, and stays out of both factions. Many think it's because he's too busy, but in truth, he is simply too cunning and crafty. Far easier to plan when the main players think you're not doing anything, after all. Sometimes, I think that Father Clause of House Edda, who frequently speaks and advises for peace and diplomacy, is the only one who sees the oncoming storm Grannvale's ruthless politics would bring. Certainly, he visits the local chapels to warn of coming trouble.
Though, when trouble came, it came from an unexpected place, from the east. Darna, a city in the Yied desert with deep ties to Grannvale, and most of the Crusaders, was suddenly besieged by Isaach. Reports of how brutal the massacre was reach us even here in Jungby, and it was not long before the people were united behind a single cause: retribution. King Azmur quickly bent to the will of the furious people and officially declared war on Isaach for the atrocity. Prince Kurth leads the army on his father's behalf, and the bulk of Grannvale's military went with him to the east, across the desert. No one thought anything about sending most of the soldiers there. Augustria, to the west, and Verdane, to the south, were allies of Grannvale, bound by treaty. None dared dreamed they'd be threatened.
But, as the wise frequently remind, trouble rarely comes alone. Verdanite soldiers, led by the heir to Verdane, Prince Gandolf, broke through the border and laid siege to Jungby castle. With only Lady Aideen to guard it, it quickly fell and word spread even faster to our neighbors in Chalphy, where Lord Sigurd governed the lands in his father's absence. Many hoped he would come to the rescue. He was a knight many adored, and more importantly, he was a childhood friend of Lady Aideen and known for his fierce, perhaps even reckless, loyalty.
The year is 757, Grann Calendar. The doors of destiny are cast open, and the echoing sound haunts all who hear.
Blood was everywhere. It stained the floor, the beddings, and everyone's clothes. It lingered under my nails, no matter how many times I washed them, and it dried in my hair in crusty patches. It clung to my skin, making it itch. But I tried to ignore it as I worked. This soldier was injured, dying, and we had already lost forty-seven today. No, wait, it was forty-eight now. I could hear the sobs down the way.
"Heal," I whispered, willing my staff to work. It pulsed into life, feeding on my magic and boosting it slightly before letting it flow over the injuries. I willed the bone to piece together, the muscles to knit back, and the blood to scab to hold the skin together. It took a few tries, but my patient was stubborn, determined to live even as he lingered at death's door.
"Lady Aideen," he mumbled, sleeping face contorting in pain. It wasn't just physical, but emotional pain that would not let him rest easily. This was Sir Midir, personal vassal and guard for Lady Aideen. While all accounts said he fought valiantly, a bow user was at a disadvantage at close quarters, and Prince Gandolf had taken advantage of that. "Lady Aideen… I'm… sorry…"
"You need to rest." I sat back on my heels and smiled as I saw the magic had worked. He would need more rest, but he would live. That was better than most of his comrades. "Easy." I used the staff's power to gentle 'nudge' him into a deeper slumber. It was not as certain as a 'sleep' staff, but when a patient was this injured, it was often enough.
Sighing softly, I stood, relying on years of practice to keep my expression calm even as my muscles keened. A glance at the candle nearby showed that I had been working on Sir Midir for three hours. A glance at the floor hinted we needed more straw to soak up the blood. I would have to handle that, and not think on how many were dead, how many died under my fingers.
It was the job of a healer to maintain calm serenity. When a patient spoke to us, we showed concern, but always we were confident, always we were in control. A frowning healer was a bad omen. A worried healer, a healer in pain… anything that suggested anything but stability would make the patients, and their loved ones, fret. So, a healer had to keep up a pleasant expression, even as her face ached from holding it for so long.
Rolling my shoulders, I picked up my staff and walked through the infirmary, checking over the patients and those that tended to them. I nudged healers who were trying too hard in gentle, silent reprimand, added my strength to those who needed just a little boost to finish the healing. A commotion at the entrance held my attention, though, and I moved there, ready to access the situation and chide those responsible. Though, I had not expected Elder Reisin to be the source.
"We are incredibly grateful to you, my lord!" he gushed, smiling warmly at whomever he was speaking to. I couldn't see their face from here. "We feared what those Verdanite barbarians would do. Oh, I remember the old raids, but this was even worse."
"I wish I had made it sooner." The speaker shifted, and while I still couldn't see their face, the shock of blue hair told me who it was anyway. This was Lord Sigurd, our 'savior'. With only a handful of soldiers, he pushed back the horde and reclaimed Jungby castle. "I can see the damages, and I know there are more in the other villages," he continued. His posture was sure, almost proud, but there was genuine sorrow in his eyes. He should mask his feelings more. "How many have perished?"
"Forty-eight," I answered when Elder Reisin hesitated. I tilted my head, however, as I caught the sound of new sobs. "Ah, no, my apologies. It is forty-nine now. I suspect we'll reach fifty-two or fifty-three before the night is done, though."
"Alicia!" Elder Reisin scolded. He even wagged his finger at me. "Do not be disrespectful!"
"He asked, elder." Still, I made sure to smile at Lord Sigurd. "However, my words came out far blunter than I had intended. My apologies."
"No, no, you are correct in that I did ask," Lord Sigurd reassured. He smiled back at me, a soft and friendly one. "So, you are Miss Alicia?"
"Yes, Lord Sigurd," I replied. I curtseyed to him, mostly to have the excuse to duck my head. I was tired; my smile felt stiff. "I am the leader of the healers here at the moment."
"Truly?" He looked startled when I glanced up. Yes, he really did need to learn how to mask his expressions. "You must be very skilled, to have such responsibilities at your age."
"I am only moderately skilled, my lord. The more skilled ones were conscripted into the forces for the war." I shrugged, and looked up again when I felt my smile had 'evened'. "I take it that you found Lady Aideen absent?"
"Yes." Lord Sigurd turned to focus completely on me; Elder Reisin took that as a cue that he was dismissed and quickly disappeared down the way. "I'm told she was kidnapped."
"Prince Gandolf took her because of her great beauty, and plans on making her his wife, according to the testimonies of the wounded soldiers." Patients tended to babble when they were being treated. You heard a great deal about everything. "I imagine he'll force her tonight, but she might get lucky. He might have some standards." I didn't think so, though. Few did when times were peaceful, and historically speaking, war brought out the worst in people. "Ah, but it seems I must apologize again for the bluntness of my words."
"No, it's nothing that I haven't thought, and worried over, myself." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I can only hope I can save her before… that happens."
"What will you do if you're too slow?"
"Hope that I get there before the trauma pushes her too much, so that she can find help and healing." He shook his head. "Ah, I'm off topic. I came here to find a healer and to check on the wounded."
"Well, my lord, you are looking at one." I held up my staff for emphasis. "What do you need of me?"
"Are you certain? I'm sure you're exhausted." He looked so fretful that I couldn't help but laugh a little. It was easy to see how he had charmed so many. "I do not wish to ask too much." No wonder he was well loved.
"Well, so long as you do not expect me to go change my clothes and give myself more than a cursory wash, I believe I can find the energy to assist you." I laughed again at his sheepish smile. "What say you?"
"I say 'thank you kindly', Miss Alicia." He gestured for me to follow him and led me down the path towards the outskirts of the town.
As we walked, I studied him, gauging his mood and physical state. There seemed to be few injuries on him, superficial at best, but it was clear that his mind was agitated. So, I asked, "do you not have a healer among your own forces?" I didn't really care about the answer. It was more to help him focus.
"Well, we sort of do?" he answered, once again smiling sheepishly. "There were none in Chalphy. We never had many to begin with, and Father took what ones we had to Isaach with him." An army required as many healers as possible. "But Ethlyn, my younger sister, joined up with us, and she knows how to use a staff."
"I had thought she was in Leonster now, married to Lord Quan." There were lovelorn fools even now bemoaning how their 'pink-haired angel' was married. One or two of them had even managed to catch colds because they spent too much time on the hills, moping in the rain.
"Well, she heard what had happened and raced up as soon as she could." That was some impressive speed, then. Lenster was all the way in the Manster District, towards the southeast. "She, Quan, and Quan's squire, Finn."
"That is very few."
"Well, Quan couldn't take the Lanzritter because of the trouble with Thracia." He shook his head and smiled at me. "However, the whole point to all of this is… well, it's Ethlyn that is injured."
"Ah, yes, the eternal philosophical question: who heals the healer?" Typically, the answer was 'no one', but if you were lucky, then the answer became 'another healer'. "How badly is she wounded?"
"She says it's not bad, but I'd rather have someone else check." He sighed mournfully. "And, you know, get her husband to stop fretting my ear off. I like my ears where they are, thank you." He smiled warmly as we came upon a little camp not far from the village. "Here we are!"
"You're not holed up in the castle?"
"Not for tonight, at least. We're not sure if we dealt with all the Verdanites, so I'd rather be where we could more easily assist." That was well intentioned, but I thought it might be better for him to just be in the castle and then maybe bring the village into there. Did he worry about room? "Ethlyn should be in this-"
"Quan, I love you, but if you ask 'are you okay?' one more time, I am going to scream!" someone snapped as we entered a tent noticeably larger than the rest. Inside, there was an exasperated pink-haired girl sitting on a cot while a young man hovered over her anxiously. "This is worse than when I was pregnant," the girl continued sourly. It took me a moment to recognize her as Lady Ethlyn. She was taller and lither than she had been during her wedding, surprisingly so considering she gave birth not long ago, and she held herself with a confidence she had not had while growing up.
"But, dear…" the man began. He had to be Lord Quan. He didn't look much different than from the wedding, but his fretting had thrown me off. He had appeared far more stoic and calm at the wedding. "You are-"
"I come with salvation!" Lord Sigurd cheerfully interrupted, beaming at them both. "I am delighted that I didn't find you two in the middle of making out. Again."
"You're never going to let that die, are you?" Lord Quan groaned, turning to face Lord Sigurd. His anxiety faded as he smiled, and it would've been clear even to a child how much he adored Lord Sigurd. "That was a while ago."
"That's how I found out that you and Ethlyn had confessed while I was out almost drowning!" Lord Sigurd grinned back. "Regardless, as I said, I bring salvation for everyone's sanity." He bowed, gesturing to me. "This is Miss Alicia, a healer from the village who graciously agreed to check on Ethlyn."
"Is that so?" Lord Quan turned his smile my way. "You have my deepest thanks!"
"I am pleased to assist," I replied, keeping my expression and voice even. "But if I might ask you and Lord Sigurd to leave so that I might tend to Lady Ethlyn without interruption or hovering?" Lord Quan looked to protest, but Lord Sigurd quickly seized him by the collar and dragged him out of the tent. "I… take it that is familiar."
"Quan is calm until someone he cares about is harmed," Lady Ethlyn explained. There was a bit of fondness in her exasperation now. "At which point, he turns into something worse than a mother hen. And that is coming from me, a fusspot." She pouted. "Though, that is mostly my brother's fault. He's always been reckless, and then he has the nerve to tease me."
"But you love him dearly." That was something known very well. House Chalphy was famous for its strong family ties.
"Of course I do. It's hard to hate a brother who literally ran into a burning building to save you." She scowled. "But he's still reckless. That's why I'm here."
"I assume this is why you are injured as well." I crouched next to her and lifted her shirt to examine the injury. "This looks to be an arrow wound?"
"It is and, worse, the arrow was ripped out when I dodged an axe." She held her arm up to make it easier for me. "But I did a check, and I'm certain it's not a bad injury, providing I keep a close watch."
"It isn't, but I cannot blame your husband or brother for being worried." I brought my staff up to heal the injury. "A little higher, lower, or deeper, and you might not have made it off the field alive."
"I figured." She shuddered. "You would think that I'd be used to it now, with the fighting in Leonster, but close calls always make me shake."
"From what I understand, even hardened veterans feel the same." Still, it was an easy heal, much easier than what I had been doing in the infirmary. However, as I tended to her, I noticed… something else. "Your pregnancy was hard on you, was it not?"
"Yes." She held still until I leaned back and then brought her arm down. "The birthing was too. Quan and I hadn't planned on having a child so soon into our marriage either, which hadn't helped matters." She sighed. "Grannvale's contraceptives tend to be only one dose, but the ones in Leonster require two. I wasn't told that."
I was tempted to point out that she could have easily forced a miscarriage, but bit my tongue in time. She was the wife of the heir; it would not have surprised me if the people of Leonster had purposely avoided telling her so that she would get pregnant quickly. "Your body is still healing, Lady Ethlyn. That does not help with your injury." I made sure to smile at her. "So, while your injury is completely healed, I would urge you to rest."
"Ah, but I need to do a check on the rest!" Lady Ethlyn immediately protested. Her eyes were sincere. "I'm sure they're healed, but…"
"Lady Ethlyn, if it is a simple check, then I can do that for you," I offered. I stood up and rested my hand on her shoulder. "I am already here, after all."
"But…" She sighed, shaking her head. "No, you're right. I'm sorry. I'm just being stubborn."
"I understand." I urged her to lie down, and even draped the blankets over her. "If you can tell me what injuries they had?"
"Of course!" She gave me a warm smile. "Sigurd said your name was Miss Alicia, right?" She laughed as she nodded. "I hope we can be friends."
Were all those of Chalphy so naïve?
Lady Ethlyn easily rattled off every injury each of the soldiers had, including the very superficial ones. Such attention to detail was admirable, but it also made me wonder if she was suffering from trauma, to be so hyperfocused. But she fell asleep before I could make gentle inquiries, and so, I left her to her rest to check in on the few soldiers Lord Sigurd had.
"Oh, beautiful lady of the sun!" This did not, however, explain why I suddenly had a green armored knight, wearing a turban, spouting nonsense at me. "It warms our hearts to see you!" he continued with a cheeky little grin. He produced a rose out of nowhere and held it out towards me. "Might you honor me with your name?"
"It's Alicia," I replied, utilizing every bit of willpower I had to keep my composure. I was caked in blood to the point that some flakes fluttered off whenever I moved, not to mention all the other things I was stained with. What sort of fool was this? "I am here to check the injured, but I am afraid there is nothing I can do for whatever is wrong with your head. Good day." I stepped around the strange man, barely noticing his little yelp of surprise.
Instead, I focused on the small group of soldiers, masking my surprise when I noticed just how few there were: a single squadron, at most, with a couple of knights and a man wearing heavy armor. I had known he had only a handful, but the numbers were even smaller than I thought. This was what Lord Sigurd had charged Jungby with? This is what he won Jungby with? How had he…? Even if it was the height of recklessness to push forward with so few, what did it mean that he won?
"Pardon, miss?" someone called. It took me a moment to find him: a young boy, easily the youngest of the group, with longish brown hair and the uniform of a Chalphy squire. "Are you the healer Lord Sigurd brought?" he continued, waving to me.
"I am," I confirmed, moving towards him. It was then that I noticed his companion, a boy not much older with blue hair and a uniform I did not recognize, sitting on a small box. Considering all of that, I thought this might be Sir Finn, Lord Quan's squire. "Do either of you need me?"
"Finn does." The boy gestured to his friend, confirming my suspicion. "He twisted weirdly and it opened up something."
"I'm sorry to be trouble," Sir Finn mumbled. Still, he made sure to give me a polite smile as I crouched by him to look at the injury to his leg. "Lances don't fare well against axes, and… well, I forgot that my legs were not as armored as the rest of me."
"You are lucky you did not lose the leg," I chided, prodding the wound. It had been healed well, but it was clear it had been a quick-fix only. Lady Ethlyn had likely known that, and that was why she had wanted to check again. "I can tend to this easily, though."
"Thank you, miss." He held still and let me work. I was glad for it. It would not have been the first time I had a patient fight me as I tried to keep them from bleeding out. "Sorry to delay things, Oifey."
"It's fine," the other boy reassured. Now that I had a name, I knew him easily: Lord Sigurd's squire. He was a distant cousin, though he bore the mark of Baldur, and was taken in by Lord Sigurd when an illness took his parents and left him orphaned. Most rumors painted the two as close as brothers. "Noish and Arden can handle the chores, once they pick up Alec's broken pride." He gave me a little smile. "He isn't used to having his flirtations shut down so quickly."
"I have work to do," I replied, choosing to not voice my thoughts. A healer must be calm. "But there we are." I sat back on my heels as I finished healing the injury. "I recommend you taking it easy on the leg, as much as you are able."
"I shall do my best to obey, miss," Sir Finn replied, voice carefully formal. Still, his smile was sweet. "Thank you very much."
"There is no need for thanks. I would much rather tend to an injury than prepare a body for a funeral." I stood, and smiled for them both. "Do you know of any other injuries?"
"I don't believe so." He stood as well, and gave me a graceful bow. "Oifey and I can check for you, though, so that you don't spend too much time prodding answers from them. They're far too stubborn and insistent on putting on a show."
"I thank you for that." This time I laughed, genuinely amused. Formal and polite he might be, he was still at an age where it did not occur to him that the truth might not be the best thing to say. "I shall wait here for you."
"We'll be back as soon as possible." He and Lord Oifey quickly, but carefully, went to the others and were soon asking them about their health.
I took a moment to sit down on the box Sir Finn vacated, keeping my posture even as I made myself relax. I needed a moment to catch my breath, but I dared not let them know how tired I truly was.
A flash of red caught my eye, and I turned to see a young boy with hair as red as mine running off with something in his hand. My breath caught as I realized just who it had to be. But surely, it couldn't… Arvis wouldn't let him…
"I told Azel that it wasn't that important, but he runs anyway." Lord Quan appeared behind me, forcing me to focus on him in order to be polite. "He certainly is eager," he murmured, smiling fondly. I nodded to keep from reeling. It was Azel. But why was he here? Was it because of his crush on Lady Aideen? "How was Ethlyn?"
"She was well, as she told you, but the injury was close to being fatal, so I cannot say that your worries were unwarranted," I answered. I kept my tone ambivalent. "She is resting now. Her body still recovers."
"And not just from the injury." He sighed, shaking his head. "Well, I wouldn't trade Altenna for anything, but I do wish I had known about the two doses so I could've warned her." I still thought it was a bit of a conspiracy. Leonster was, essentially, at war with Thracia. It only took a stray arrow to kill the heir, but now the heir had an heir. Leonster's succession would be stable. "Might I also ask about Finn? I saw you healing him."
"His leg injury reopened."
"I'll show him some stretches to help that area heal. He hasn't been in many battles yet, though he is skilled. I wouldn't have brought him otherwise." Was he saying the words to reassure himself? There was no need for me to know this. "Thank you for tending to them. I… do not react well to loved ones being hurt."
"Lady Ethlyn informed me." Noting how anxious he looked, I decided it was best to lighten his mood. "I am certain Lord Sigurd-"
"Sigurd and his recklessness have taken years off my life!" Still, even as he groaned, he smiled fondly. He would not give up that friendship for anything. "Eldigan and I both would panic if he was even an hour late for curfew at the academy, because we just knew he had gotten caught up in something."
"I've heard of floods and burning buildings."
"Well, Eldigan also dove into the flames than day. The house where Ethlyn and Lachesis were studying healing went up, and both of them jumped in to save their little sisters." He grumbled something unflattering under his breath. "Didn't even take clothes to help against the smoke, and they were laid up for three days. Eldigan has a scar from it, though I think that's because he protected Sigurd from a falling beam." He paused and then coughed awkwardly. "I'm rambling. I'm sorry."
"It is fine." I wasn't sure how much of that was 'useful' information, but he looked lighter after having said his piece. "Do you or Lord Sigurd need healing?"
He was silent for a moment, closing his eyes to carefully think on his answer. Finally, he nodded. "I do not believe so." His words were soft and slow, and that made me inclined to believe him. "Sigurd and I are far more trained than the rest of the group, and it showed in the battles. We were injured, but nothing too deep."
"Please, send word if that changes."
"I will. Believe me; Ethlyn wouldn't forgive me if I didn't." He smiled again at me. All of these people smiled so much. "Ah, the hour grows late, though. It's nearly dusk." A quick glance to the horizon confirmed his words. It was much later than I thought. "Might I escort you back? I know the distance is not far, but we are not certain the Verdanite dogs ran with their tails between their legs or are just hiding."
"I shall take you up on that offer." Even if the Verdanites were gone, there was still a risk. Unscrupulous people could easily attack a lone girl, and then blame the 'barbarians'. "But only after Sir Finn and Lord Oifey confirm that there are no other injuries."
"Of course." Lord Quan laughed a little. "Shall I tell you a funny story while you wait? Say of the time Arden pretended to be Sigurd while Sigurd dealt with a hostage situation?"
"Which one is Arden?" I barely checked my surprise when he pointed to the heavily armored knight. "Did it work?"
"Yes, that's the funny part." He grinned. "Of course, it involved a wig and Lachesis putting make up on him, but the whole situation was so absurd that Eldigan thought we were drunk when we told it to him." He snickered. "So, it all started because some bandits took some of the Chalphy servants hostage…"
By some miracle, no one else had significant injuries, and so Lord Quan escorted me to my little home at the edge of the village, near the chapel. I almost dropped as soon as I shut the door behind me, but I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to take a bath, and change out of my stained dress before passing out on my bed.
I slept without dreams, and woke when the sun streamed through my window, birds chirping cheerfully at the seed I left out, and when someone knocked on my door.
"Just a minute," I called, biting back a yawn. I twisted up my hair into a messy bun, checked that I had remembered to put on nightclothes, and stumbled over to the door, pausing to rub the sleep from my eyes. If someone was here for me, it was because they needed a healer. "Yes, how can I help you?" I opened the door, and blinked slowly, half-convinced I was still asleep.
After all, I couldn't think of why Lady Ethlyn would be outside my door. "Hello!" she chirped, very bouncy for the hour. "I badgered Quan into telling me where you lived when I found out he took you home yesterday."
"I see." Remembering my manners, I stepped out of the doorway. "Would you like to come in? I can make some tea."
"Really? Yay~" She skipped inside, and I was reminded that she was sixteen years old, though her seventeenth birthday wasn't far from now. Regardless, she was younger than me, barely older than Lord Oifey. "Oh, this is so cozy!" 'Cozy' was certainly a word for a one room house. "What's this section over here?"
"My work area." Deciding it would be best to wait for her to reveal why she was here, I headed over to the stove and used a firestarter to light it before setting the kettle on for tea. "I make medicines there."
"That's so amazing." She stepped behind the 'curtain', really a pinned up blanket, I used to mark the area off and peered at all the vials I had. "So, you make your own medicines too?"
"There are some injuries that will not heal without a combination of medicine and healing magic." There were also things that healing magic was less efficient at healing, and then there were the things that did not require healing magic at all. "So, I was taught them."
"That's what Lachesis heard too, from her mother, but when we tried to get our teachers to show us, they just said something about it not being proper for those of our rank." She made a face. "I highly doubt a title will keep someone from dying because of ignorance on my part, right?" She picked up a vial and peered at it curiously. "What's this?"
"That is ground lemongrass." I fetched two mugs, made sure they were clean, and set about making tea. "It's used for seasoning and for scents, but it can also be used to help with things such as the cold, high blood pressure, stomach aches, rheumatism…" I picked a tea at random to give myself, but carefully selected some chamomile and lavender for her. "But there might be some toxic side effects if you inhale it, and it might be unsafe to take when pregnant or breastfeeding."
"Interesting." She set it down, careful to make sure it was in the exact spot. "Where is it from?"
"I believe a section of Miletos, to the south." The kettle started bubbling, so I took it from the fire and poured it into the mugs.
"Oh, I've been there, once. Quan bought me a pearl tiara. I ended up wearing it for my wedding." She stepped out from my work area and sat down at the table while I set down the mugs. "It's beautiful. Have you been?"
"No, I've not been much of anywhere, save here." I sat down across from her, and checked her posture. Though she was still cheerful, there was some seriousness in her now. "Are you going to tell me why you are here so early?"
"Well, I was going to wait for the tea to finish steeping, but if you'd rather hear it now, I don't mind." She leaned back a bit in her chair, making sure to keep eye contact. "There are two things, actually. The first was that I would like to visit the infirmary and give what help I can give. Since you run it, I thought it was only polite to ask."
"That is kind of you." Honestly, I was surprised she offered. "I will gladly take whatever help we can get."
"I'll be glad to give it." She smiled briefly before turning serious again. "The second reason is… would you be interested in coming with us?" She paused briefly, to gauge my reaction. I made sure to keep calm. "I hope, dearly, that we make it to Evans and Aideen is still there, but honestly, I'm not hopeful. No matter what he says, I know Sigurd isn't either. Even if she is there, though, she has been in Gandolf's hands for a whole day and…" She shuddered. "Well, I don't need to tell you what might have happened. Sigurd said you told him yourself."
"Yes, I did." I followed her logic. "Sometimes, people are more willing to let a stranger tend to them, especially when suffering from a… trauma."
"And, if by some miracle Gandolf has standards, she still had to deal with her home suddenly being attacked, watching soldiers be cut down in front of her, and be kidnapped." She drooped, eyes wavering as she fought the urge to cry. "I know she has to be hurting. She'd try to hide it, though. Something about it being a healer's job, which I mostly understand."
'Who heals the healer?' No one does, unless another healer happened to be near. "You wish me to come along in the hopes that I can tend to her mental injuries."
"Yes." She gave me a serious look, and I noticed she wasn't pleading. She wasn't going to beg. Part of me thought it was her pride, but another part of me thought she was trying to be professional. Perhaps it was both. "Also, I'm sure you noticed with Finn's injury. I'm trained, but because I go directly onto the field, I'm best suited for 'quick-fixes'. I'm good at field medicine, but it takes extra effort to tend to ensure it's a permanent fix. That is time that I might not have."
"So, you also wish for me to join as a 'dedicated' healer, instead of your… combat medic, shall we call it?"
"Yes." Now she leaned forward a little. "You're skilled. I saw it. You're way more skilled than I am. Honestly, I think you're better at healing than Aideen."
"To be fair to Lady Aideen, she only recently took up the staff." She was also from a house not known for magical prowess. "I have been learning since I was a little girl." I leaned forward as well, to match her. "What makes you think you can trust me with such tasks, Lady Ethlyn?"
"You came to help me and mine, even though you had spent a whole day tending to other injured." She shrugged. "And your magic is warm. Like the fire on a cold night, or the sun on a clear spring day. Between those things, and how carefully you treated Finn and myself, I'm willing to trust you."
"I see." I worried about that naivety. In a world like ours, assuming someone is straightforward and honest based on how they act was… potentially deadly. "I will think on it."
"Thank you!" She smiled, clearly pleased. "Oh, and don't feel bad about refusing. I know I'm asking a lot."
"I shall keep that in mind." I smiled back and nodded to her mug. "That should be finished steeping, my lady. When you're done, and I've changed, I'll take you to the infirmary."
"That sounds wonderful." Her smile grew and she squeaked in delight when she sipped her tea. "Oh, this is so good. Did you make this? Can you tell me how?"
I had a sneaking suspicion she also wanted me to come along to teach her, but honestly, the thought was a little endearing. I would definitely think carefully on her proposal.
At some point while Lady Ethlyn and I worked in the infirmary, there was another visitor to the village. This one apparently created a huge commotion, so I left to go see what it was. It was entirely possible that it was another batch of wounded, after all.
However, that wasn't the case at all. When I saw the source, I quickly ducked into a nearby alley, startled. Why was Arvis here? Wasn't he supposed to be in the Belhalla?
"We got word of how things were here, but it seems like the truth is even worse than rumors would have led me to believe," Arvis murmured, frowning slightly. He held something cloth covered in one hand, while the other rested on his chin as he thought. "Have there been any demands for Aideen, Sigurd?"
"None," Lord Sigurd answered. He and Arvis were the only ones here, both relaxed even as they talked of serious things. I remembered that the two often got along very well, even if they did not move in the same social circles often. "Worse, it seems Gandork, sorry, Gandorf." He paused as Arvis burst into surprised laughter. "That's Oifey's fault. He forgot the same and we spent too long laughing about it last night." He shook his head. "Regardless, he kidnapped Aideen specifically to force her to be his wife."
"I see." Arvis closed his eyes and nodded. "Regrettably, they could not have chosen a more perfect time. There's barely enough of the Imperial Guard at Belhalla to guard it, and my own Velthomer is also on a skeletal staff. I fear I cannot give you more aid, Sigurd."
"Be at peace, Arvis. I was well aware of that when I chose to save Jungby." Lord Sigurd smiled to reassure him. "I simply could not stand by. Many would call it a fool's notion, but just as there is a price for action, there is a price for inaction. In this case, it would cost a duchy its people, and me, a dear friend."
"I would call it your kindness, Sigurd." Arvis sighed. "I fear that will be taken advantage of, though."
"Well, if I am killed for being too kind, that is just the way of things. I'll still take the risk of being kind." Lord Sigurd laughed a bit. "I suppose I'm still the stubborn sixteen year old."
"Well, there's no reason to grow out of being gentle. The world needs more people like that." Arvis shook his head and held out the cloth-covered item. "Ah, but I digress. This is from His Majesty."
"It is?" Lord Sigurd looked confused as he took it, and he gaped when he pulled the item out from the cloth. "A silver sword…!"
"The strongest of blades that are not divine, gifted only to paladins of the realm." Arvis smiled proudly at Lord Sigurd. "Perhaps you shan't have so much trouble with barbarians with a proper weapon."
"Not all of us can field the flames of the sun, Arvis." Lord Sigurd laughed, easing the sarcasm into simple teasing. "So, His Majesty is giving me his approval."
"Yes, he is. Know that you fight with his blessings, and with my prayers." Arvis crossed his arms, turning serious. "Incidentally, I heard Azel is among your forces. Is this true?"
"Yes, I'm sorry." Lord Sigurd smiled wryly as he buckled the silver sword to his belt. "It sounds like he came behind your back. I thought about turning him away, but his magic was incredibly helpful to us. So, I ask that you let him stay."
"Mmm…" Arvis sighed. "Ah, I would rather he were safe at home, but if he felt that strongly, it is probably better for him here. Clearly, fate wishes for him to learn something." He gave Lord Sigurd a stern look, one that would've made many tremble in their boots. Lord Sigurd, however, didn't even flinch. "But you must promise to keep him safe, Sigurd. He is my precious little brother, and I adore him."
"Of course I shall." Lord Sigurd leaned for a little, to better look Arvis in the eye. "However, if I may be so bold, it might do you both well to make that clearer to him. He feels as if he is a nuisance to you."
"…I feared such." Arvis sighed, relaxing. "Between my various duties, and my 'fatherly instincts', poor as they are, I fear I have neglected and alienated him."
"You simply have difficulties showing your kind heart, Arvis." Lord Sigurd grinned as Arvis scowled. "You don't scare me. I saw through it long ago." He shrugged. "I'll encourage Azel, but I don't think the message will stick until you actually say something." He rocked back on his heels. "If it makes you feel better, though, there was a time Ethlyn was convinced I hated her because I thought it 'unmanly' to show affection."
Arvis laughed softly. "Actually, that does make me feel a little better." Arvis shook his head, and smiled. "I had best return, though."
"Already?" Lord Sigurd looked surprised. "Will you not see Azel?"
"No, I fear I will scold him out of worry, and miss the point of this lecture entirely."
"I do not lecture!" Still, Lord Sigurd laughed and gave Arvis a friendly handshake. "Safe travels, Arvis, and please, give my regards to His Majesty. I shall endeavor to not prove unworthy for the honor he has given me."
"I shall. Farewell, Sigurd. What aid I can send, know that I will without a moment's hesitation." Arvis turned and walked towards the outskirts of the village, where he no doubt had a carriage waiting.
I hesitated, peering out of the alley to see if Lord Sigurd was watching. But he had already turned away, so I darted out, chasing after Arvis.
Thankfully, I caught him before he reached the carriage. "Will you not at least speak with me, Lord Brother?" I called, making my voice gently chiding. Arvis whirled and smiled softly when he saw me. "I am hurt indeed."
"I heard there were many wounded," Arvis protested, walking to stand in front of me. "I figured you would be busy."
"I have told you many times, Arvis, that I am never too busy to say 'hello' to you." I peered at his face, noticing the lines of exhaustion, and the bags under his eyes. "You haven't been sleeping."
"There's a lot going on." He sighed heavily, relaxing completely now. "A lot." A dark look crossed his face, and I knew whatever was going on, it was tied to that secret he would not tell even me. "But enough of that. How is my favorite sister?"
"Arvis, as far as you and I know, I am your only sister." Though, it would not surprise me if we had more half-siblings scattered about the country. Our father had been a notorious womanizer; it amazed me that he had only two 'known' bastards. "Regardless, I have been well, recent events aside. How have you been?"
"I believe I can say the same." He pressed a finger on my cheek, frowning worriedly. "Did you sleep last night?"
"I did, but I fear I might have needed more." I shrugged. "We are at war, though, and I am a healer. Healers have little leisure time during wars."
"Less than even soldiers." He shook his head and smiled. "Still, I cannot help but be proud. Vala's blood is one of fire, but you use the magic of it to mend injuries instead of burning all those in your path."
I could hear the envy in his voice, and shook my head. "Many would argue that being able to burn all the enemies in the path is a greater gift, for you prevent those under your protection from needing a healer in the first place." I smiled at him. "Remember, also, that there are certain plants that can only grow from ash, and that it is fire that prevents the forest from choking itself."
"As always, you scold me for self-pity." He laughed. "I should keep a running list for when I fall into those moods and you are not near."
"I can send some in my next letter." My smile softened as he laughed again. "To change the subject, how is Cyas?"
"He is well, though he has definitely inherited the Vala flame hair." He tugged a lock of my hair, as red as his own, for emphasis. "But while he has strong magic potential, no mark has appeared on him yet. I can only hope that continues."
Both of us knew it would be unlikely. While there were exceptions, typically the child of one with Major Holy Blood would inherit the power of the Holy Blood. Since Cyas was his firstborn as well, there was an increased likelihood of him being Arvis's successor to Valflame.
However, as always, I didn't say any of that to him. He knew it as well as I did. "I am pleased to hear my nephew is doing well," I said instead. "How is Aida?"
"She is also doing well, running Velthomer in my absence." As always, though, guilt crept into his eyes. A moment of passion, meant only to be physical, had resulted in Aida becoming pregnant. Arvis had offered to make things 'right' by marrying her, but she refused. She was content in being his right hand, and wanted nothing more. "I still say you two would get along well."
"You know I have no intention of traveling." I gave him a stern look as he smiled sheepishly before smiling back. It was an old 'game', really. He had long wanted to bring me to Velthomer, as his 'official' sister, but I was content being a healer here. "Speaking of traveling, Azel…"
"He's gotten over his motion sickness, for the most part, so long as he rides on a horse and not in a carriage." Arvis sighed again. "Before the mess with Isaach, I was writing a letter asking if we could both come to visit, so that he could finally meet you instead of simply exchanging letters."
"Well, he's here now." Though, that did explain it. "I… was invited by Lady Ethlyn to join the army, for a time."
"You were?" He looked startled, and a touch of relief came into his eyes. "Will you take it up?"
"I've been debating it, but if you would like me to and keep an eye on Azel, I will."
"I do not wish to force you." He smiled wryly. "Especially since all I seem to do is ask favors of you."
"You have also endured all my childish woes, write faithfully, and give me the reassurance that there is at least one person in this world who loves me." I shook my head. "Besides, Azel is my little brother too. We three might have different mothers, but that does not mean our bonds of family are any less."
"True." He glanced behind him and gave me a quick, but warm hug. "I really do have to be leaving."
"Of course." I hugged him back, and pulled away. I was always the first to pull away. He always felt guilty for leaving me behind. "I love you, Lord Brother. Safe travels."
"I love you too, dear sister. You be careful as well." He lingered a bit, mostly out of worry, before turning away and heading to wherever his carriage was hiding.
I waited until he was out of sight before returning to the village. I needed to tell Lady Ethlyn that I would accept her offer, after all, and I needed to ensure that the village would be fine in my absence.
I had a feeling I wasn't going to get much sleep tonight.
"I am incredibly grateful for your assistance, Miss Alicia," Lord Sigurd told me warmly as he helped me set up a tent and move my things. It seemed like Lady Ethlyn had not informed her brother of her intention of asking me, leading to Lord Sigurd thinking I had volunteered out of the generosity of my own heart. I hadn't the heart to tell him that wasn't entirely the case. "Truly, another healer is… wonderful, though I pray this campaign is short."
"I'm sure many pray for such things when war comes, Lord Sigurd," I replied absently, carefully setting up my vials in the corner of the tent. I didn't want to break any of them or, worse, confuse them for something else. "Healing is not all I can offer, though."
"Healers hear a lot, especially about rumors." Finishing up with my vials, I turned to face him. "While I cannot guarantee the veracity of such things, it can give you insight into the area."
"And also what to send scouts after." He smiled warmly and then sat back on his heels as he finished setting up my cot for me. "That would be incredibly helpful, actually. Do you have anything now?"
"Other than what I told you of the attack, no, there is nothing." I shrugged. "You, of course, have general rumors and gossips, like how Lady Aideen watches her bodyguard longingly when she thinks no one is watching."
"I told her she was obvious." Lord Sigurd snickered and stood up slowly, stretching. "Midir requested to join up, by the way. Ethlyn thought his injuries would be fine, but she wanted your opinion before giving permission."
"Sir Midir?" I closed my eyes to think, remembering his injuries. "I believe at this point he would be able to travel, but I would recommend light duty, which will be difficult considering he would be the only archer."
"I can come up with strategies to minimize it, especially with Oifey's help, but I'll tell him that his joining is contingent on listening to the nice healer lady." He smiled warmly. "Anything else I need to know?"
"No, I don't think so." A flicker of a rose in my memory, however, reminded me of an incident. "Oh, I think a knight of yours flirted with me yesterday."
"Alec." His tone was so deadpanned that it startled a laugh out of me. "I'll tell him to not bother you, unless you like the attention."
"I did not, so I appreciate it." I shook my head. "Truly, I wondered if there was something wrong with his head."
"It's how Alec says 'hello'. Sometimes, I have to remind him that some would take it as harassment." Lord Sigurd shrugged. "I promise that he means well by it, dramatics aside. He probably saw you stoic and hoped to make you laugh." A healer didn't need to laugh, especially when she was on duty. "Was there any other trouble?"
"No, I don't believe so." I hesitated as I thought of the village. "I didn't speak to Elder Reisin before leaving, though." Of course, we were barely half a day away. The distance was more so that Lord Sigurd and his group didn't unintentionally draw the Verdanites to the village.
"I did. He was sad to see you leave, but insisted that you would be of greater help to us than to them." He looked thoughtful suddenly. "He mentioned something about you being an orphan given to the church. I'm not sure if that was his business to tell, mind."
"It isn't something I hide, merely something I do not speak of often." I shook my head. "Do not fret. I do not mind that he told. I do ask that you not make a big deal of it, though."
"Of course." He looked around the tent. "Is everything set up to your liking?"
"Yes, I believe so." I smiled. "However, if we are marching for Evans soon, I would like some time to plan out how the infirmary will work here."
"Which will work a lot better without me hovering over you asking questions." He grinned. "When you have those plans, pass them to me and I'll do what I can to set it up. Though, it's likely you'll hear more from Oifey or Finn about it, since they're the squires." That meant they were the 'messengers'.
"Of course. I shall speak with you later." I kept up my smile until he left and let it fall as I slumped. The gravity of what I agreed to do hit me all at once. It was one thing to be a village healer when the area was attacked, but to be a healer for active fighters? This was just going to be a nightmare. But regardless of what Arvis thought, he had rarely asked anything of me, only to listen and be the one person in the world he could tell his secrets to, the same thing I did for my patients. Besides, as I said, Azel was my little brother too, and I would worry if…
"Um…" A quiet voice drifted through the closed flap of my tent. "May I come in?"
"Yes, you may," I called, automatically bringing up my smile. I assumed it was someone asking about an injury.
However, the person who stepped inside my tent was just the person I had been thinking of: Azel. "Um… hi," he whispered, fiddling with his hands. He smiled shyly at me. "I mean; hello, Lady Sister. It's nice to… finally see you."
"It's nice to finally see you too, Azel." The awkwardness in the air threatened to kill me, but I kept up my smile as I peered at him. "Goodness, you look like Arvis when he was your age."
"He's not that much older than me." Azel immediately pouted, and the awkwardness in the air faded away. "I'm already eighteen."
"You are still a year younger than me, and seven years younger than our older brother." Still, I couldn't help but laugh. "Silly."
"But I'm helpful!"
"You can be helpful and silly." I laughed again as he scowled. "Silly."
"Mean." His smile softened the 'insult'. "You really do have pretty eyes, though. Arvis told me they were green, not like ours, but it was always hard to imagine."
"Unlike you two, I did inherit some coloring from my mother." Sometimes, I wondered what else I inherited, but then I decided it didn't matter. She had abandoned me, after all. I didn't care about her. "But, did you need something from me, Azel?"
"No, I just wanted to say 'hello'." His smile turned shy. "Lex told me it would be better to get it over with, before I fretted myself into an anxious mess again. I've written to you about Lex, right? He's my best friend." Yes, I knew that. So, I was unsurprised Lex also knew of me, the hidden child of Velthomer because I had the luck of being born before our father's suicide and was given to the church to avoid a scandal. "Um… is there anything I can help you with, though?"
"At the moment, I am simply making plans for the infirmary." Still, I didn't want him to leave just yet. I wanted to spend time with him. "If you can give me some insights on our supplies, though, that would be very helpful."
"Yeah, I can do that! Lex and I handled inventory yesterday!" He happily plopped down next to me at the table, and answered any questions I had as I cautiously drew up a plan for a working infirmary.
His smile told me that he had wanted to spend time with me too, and it made me happy. Perhaps this whole thing wasn't going to be as much of a nightmare as I feared.
Records on Alica
· Cleric, Vala minor, 19 years old
· Born from an affair between Duke Victor of Velthomer and an unknown noblewoman. Given to the church after her birth.
· Has the mark of Vala on her right arm, hidden by both long sleeves and gloves.
· A talented healer who devotes much of herself to not only healing the body, but also the heart and mind of her patients.
Author's Note: Welcome to Memoirs of the Holy War, a novelization of Fire Emblem 4. This novelization will cover the entirety of the game and will have two POV chars: Alicia for the first generation and her daughter for the second. If you are curious about pairings, feel free to ask (and if you only want to know the pairings for a single generation, please specify). This novelization will also take influences from FE5, the FE4 mangas (most noticeably Oosawa's), and some from a couple of hacks of the game (mainly the Inflation Patch, but this will not show much until the second generation). It will also be using the names from the most recent translation patch (the one by Project Naga) with only one or two exceptions (most notable is Lachesis's name; her localized one is 'Raquesis'). This is because this is the patch I am using for my 'play through the game to remind myself of game events' run. I apologize if you dislike some of the name changes, but it just makes things easier on me.
This chapter is 'part one', so to speak, of the prologue (FE4 has large maps with multiple castles to seize). Victor of Velthomer, the father of both Arvis and Azel, canonically had many mistresses and lovers, but only canonically has one bastard child: Azel. I chose to build on that and introduce Alicia as another one. She is a cleric, like Aideen, mainly to give a healer's perspective of the first generation. Aida is a side character that shows up later in the first generation. Cyas is a character exclusive to FE5. Oifey being an orphan comes from a conversation in Gen2. Ethlyn visiting Miletos, and Quan buying her a pearl tiara, was also revealed in a gen2 conversation.
Because of how 'front-loaded' recruitment is, and because FE4 has a small roster of playable characters, each chapter will have it's own 'record' of characters until we run out of chapters or chars, whichever comes first.
Next Chapter – Evans (finishing up the in-game prologue)