Author's Note: Something inspired by playthrough of FE6 over the summer. Sigune, the boss of chapter 19 of the Ilia route, really stood out to me for how much her death quote managed to suggest about her in so few words. The idea for this fic started to come together for me, even more so after I discovered reading supports that she knew Juno when she was younger. This was the result.
Though I wasn't inspired by the song originally, I decided not that long after starting that I wanted to build the fic around seasonal motifs while running through scenes of Sigune's life, and it began to remind of a song by Christopher Tin (probably best known for composing the theme song Baba Yetu for Civilization IV), Mado Kara Mieru, which has somewhat similar themes.
The snow, carried by a freezing wind, whipped at Sigune as she stood at the parapet, unflinching in the face of the Ilian weather. She looked out over the valley, although she could see little through the fierce blizzard that had engulfed it, mentally assessing the state of the battle she couldn't see and filling in the gaps in her soldiers' reports as best she could. No matter what assumptions she made, it was clear that the edge she'd thought her forces had over the approaching Etrurians was almost gone. They still had better than even odds, but her assumption that their knowledge of the terrain, combined with the harsh storm bearing down on Carrhae, would stop the Etrurian Army dead in their tracks here had been proven wrong.
Even despite the numbers still favoring them, her usual confidence had been tempered, the increasingly frantic mood in the castle starting to get to her. That, and the eerie feeling in her gut, that, as much as she tried to push it back – she had no time for such things when her mind knew better – kept bubbling up again.
"Captain! Captaaaiin!", she heard Eira, her lieutenant, shouting from the tower. Sigune turned to face her, into the wind that, mercifully was partly blocked by the tower's position, and, admitting the futility of trying to shout over the howling noise it made, strode over to the doorway, stepping inside. "What is it? Do we have more reports?".
"Y-Yes...", she answered, haltingly. "The reinforcements aren't turning back the Etrurians... VIII, IX, and XII Squadrons were almost completely wiped out, and X and XI Squadrons have taken heavy casualties as well... What should we do?".
The eerie feeling was back. Worse, the numbers were, unmistakably, getting worse. Even assuming the best from now on, if the Etrurian Army had truly cut down the pegasus knights that had flown to their aid from Edessa, her chances for victory weren't even a coin toss anymore. But as long as she still had a chance, she would fight and knew her knights would follow her. Even if there was no longer a chance, though they were not precisely under contract with Bern, to surrender without being released from duty would be a betrayal of everything she held dear as a knight of Ilia.
That said, she had no intention of losing tonight.
"They have heavier troops than we do. They have the advantage if it comes to a siege. The remaining squadrons will meet the Etrurians. Call all the knights to the great hall immediately."
"...Yes, Captain". She raised her hand in salute and took her leave. The trepidation in her voice was obvious, and Sigune felt an odd pang of sympathy for her. There was a time when she might almost have been, like her, idealistic enough to at least entertain the notion that the Etrurians, of all people, would truly plan to help Ilia, although even then it would have been hard to swallow the thought of voiding her duty as an Ilian mercenary and standing down to a backwater Lycian prince almost half her age. And, after all, why defect from the winning side?
She made her way to the hall as well, and upon reaching it, saw several dozen knights already assembled. Soon enough the last few, or at least the last few that could squeeze into the room, had filtered in from their posts, and she stood at the head of the room.
"Knights of Ilia", she started. "The enemy draws close, and it will not be long now before they reach us. Our mobility and our knowledge of the land is our advantage, and we will meet them with it head on. Etruria claims it means to 'liberate' us from Bern. Do not be deceived. Only a fool fights a war for others. Only you can defend Ilia, and she will not survive by bowing to the weak simply as they claim to be our saviors.-". As she spoke, she felt the tiny doubts in the back of her mind weigh on her, and she could barely tell herself how much conviction she had behind her own words.
"-We will defend Ilia with our very lives if we must. May Aenir smile on us as we fly. And may She fly with us. Now, forward!".
They roared in approval, although even still she could tell it was less wholehearted than before. The soldiers dispersed to the armory and the stables, gathering weapons and mounting their pegasi. Sigune ran her hand over the hilt of her saber as she walked to the armory herself, taking a lance and a bundle of javelins from the wall before continuing on to the stables. She opened the stall gate, patting her steed's mane. He whinnied at her touch, and she took the reins, gently tugging on them. "Come now. It's time."
He followed behind, and Sigune clambered up on to the saddle, guiding the pegasus out towards the courtyard. The castle gates had already been drawn open, and she urged her mount onwards, taking their position at the head of the middle column in the wide inverted wedge formation that had lined up. Already, the faint light of far-away torches could be seen ahead of them in the fog.
She looked from side to side at the assembled troops, almost four hundred women, pegasus knights of Ilia, in all, and behind them perhaps another two hundred horse cavalry and troubadours.
"What are your orders, Captain?".
She glanced over her shoulder at Eira. "IV and V Squadrons will take their left flank under Nephele of IV Squadron. VI and VII Squadrons the right under Lunete of VII Squadron. I will lead I, II, and III Squadrons myself and attack the enemy line directly. The cavalry will back up the central column."
"...Understood". She tugged up on her reins, shouting a command to her pegasus, and it spread its wings and kicked off into the air. She flew along their line, barking out Sigune's orders to the squadron flightleaders, before stopping to hover in front of her. "They await your order to attack."
Sigune nodded. The torches were grower more distinct now in the distance. She tugged up on her own pegasus' reins, and he reared up, wings spread. "Charge! For Ilia!".
The pegasus launched itself forward into the air with a kick and a sweep of its broad wings, Eira sounding her bugle, and Sigune spurred him forward. Four hundred behind her followed suit, soaring forward into the night sky to meet their foe. They pushed on through the snow and icy cold, seeing forms start to take shape ahead of them, and raised their lances as they closed the gap with the knights of Lycia and Etruria leading the enemy approach.
As they burst out of the sky all around them, it was apparent the enemy had been unprepared. The line buckled, but did not break, and they quickly fell into a tight wedge formation as they were met on three sides by the Ilians.
Sigune spurred her pegasus on faster, entering a shallow dive. She was almost close enough to strike them now, and with the element of surprise she knew they could crush their hastily adopted defensive position. She could almost taste it. From the flanks, a hail of javelins rained down on the Etrurians, the whistling sound as they sailed through the air and the screams and cries of men and horses as they connected with their targets tore through the sky, and then, an instant later, her column made contact. She hefted her lance, angling it with precision as she closed the last few yards between her and an Etrurian cavalier.
She tugged up on the reins again and gave the lance another heave as her pegasus jerked upwards, the man tumbling off his own, now panicked steed. All around her she heard the awful din of steel clashing against steel and the unearthly screams of the weapons' wielders. She pressed on, the column attempting to pierce the Etrurian ranks and send them into a disarray from which they'd be unable to regroup, knocking several more men from their horses with her lance or with a kick from her pegasus' legs, and dispatching two more, again with well placed lance-strokes piercing gaps in their armor.
Despite it all, the eerie feeling was back. For every Etrurian she laid low, it seemed she saw one of her own cut from the sky by a strike from one of their lances or a slash of a sword. Soon she saw, out of the fog, the unmistakeable shape of pegasi, wings spread and racing towards them. In this line of work, it was inevitable she would cross blades with fellow Ilians. She had long since made her peace with that fact. But this complicated her strategic calculation again.
It really began to sink in when she again heard the whistling sound of missiles far above her. On the horizon now, she could see the bulk of the Etrurian Army, their line of archers readying a second volley. An arrow zipped by her head just to her right, grazing her pegasus' flank, and he neighed in pain. A little ahead of her and to her left, she saw an arrow, then in rapid succession a second and a third, strike one of her knights. She screamed in pain, doubling over and losing her grip on her reins and, despite her desperate grasps, fell from her saddle and plummeted to the earth below, her pegasus then itself being hit by an arrow as if to add one final insult.
And then the enemy pegasus knights were nearly upon them. The tables turned, javelins fell down towards her and her knights, darting past her even as many of her sisters-in-arms were less lucky. She had stopped her advance by now, and her force had visibly winnowed. The casualties their initial attack had inflicted barely seemed to have made a dent in an Etrurian force easily well more than a thousand strong and, seeing the carnage around her, she felt a pain she thought she had became numb to a very long time ago.
Sigune jerked back on the reins, and her pegasus climbed and propelled himself backwards as she rested her lance. In one swift motion, she reached for and grabbed a javelin from her back and flung it towards the approaching fliers. The knights continued hurling javelins back at the foes as they fell towards the castle, knocking down several of the riders racing towards them, but the enemy continued their diving charge none the less. She glanced down at the ground, only to see the Etrurians engaging her clearly outmatched cavalry and steadily pushing the line back towards Castle Carrhae itself. By the time she turned back to face the onslaught flying towards her, in a blink of an eye a pegasus knight had closed the distance between them, her lance raised to strike.
Raising her own lance, Sigune barely managed to bat away her attacker's weapon. The enemy pulled back on her reins, her pegasus neighing as it beat its wings, braking its dive and stopping to hover in mid air. She could get a better look at the other woman now; to her Ilian blue armor she had added armbands in Lycian red, and a matching sash around her pegasus' chest. Her cyan hair and stoically determined face seemed somehow familiar to her.
"...Captain Sigune". She swore her opponent's stare softened for just a second as she spoke before returning to its earlier unreadable expression. The voice jogged her memory at last.
"Thea? What are you doing here?... Well, I suppose I know the answer. No matter...-", she smirked. "You don't need to call me Captain though. Just Sigune, like always. Tell me, how is Juno?".
She felt a twinge of guilt. The change in Thea's face was minute, but she knew well enough to tell what she was thinking.
"She was well last we parted."
"I see. Thank you". Sigune raised her lance again. "I won't go easy on you. You know the code of the knights of Ilia as well as anyone. No matter what happens, no regrets or hard feelings, please."
"...Of course not". Thea raised her lance in turn. "I've become a full-fledged knight since we last met. I'll give it my all as well."
Sigune nodded. "I see. Be assured I don't intend to be the one who dies, though."
She pulled back on the reins and her pegasus beat his wings, moving back and upwards again, and her opponent did the same. She eyed Thea ahead of her, too far away now to make out much of her facial expression.
Thea spurred her pegasus on, and it took off towards her, wings beating and feet kicking against the air. Sigune jerked the reins and dodged to the right as Thea reached her, but was unable to get fully clear of her, and the lance grazed her left arm, slashing through her sleeve. She winced, feeling cold air against the stinging wound, and pushed her pegasus to dive right, away from Thea's second thrust. She glanced up for a split second, seeing Thea pull upwards and then push her pegasus into a dive as well after her.
Sigune nudged her pegasus into a broad, shallowly climbing lefthand turn, forcing Thea to whip around to stay on her tail, and, as she did, a volley of arrows from the Etrurian line narrowly missed both of them. A sad irony it would be if Thea were to be felled by her own allies' arrows. And an unsatisfying conclusion to their duel.
Thea was now fixed on her tail, and Sigune sped up, managing to put slightly more distance between them. She spurred her pegasus to pull up again, her climb getting steeper and steeper as he strained to keep the speed she urged him on to, lest the centrifugal force keeping her in the saddle let up and send her tumbling out of it. She pulled on the reins, and her pegasus rolled upright as they reached the crest of the half-loop. She rested her lance again, grabbing another javelin and readying it before she pushed her pegasus into another dive, plunging almost straight down towards Thea.
She had evidently read Sigune's moves perfectly, already pulling her pegasus up into a steep climb. Sigune let go of the javelin, gravity doing most of her work in tossing it, and it whirled past Thea as it fell, glancing her mount's wing and cleaving a few feathers from it. She readied her lance, eyes firmly trained on Thea, pushing her pegasus to dive faster and faster. In an instant they closed the gap, but Thea managed to narrowly avoid her lance. She wasn't quite as lucky, her right arm meeting the spearhead's steel flange this time, although mercifully it left a shallower cut than on her left. She pulled up hard, her pegasus whinnying in discomfort as they rapidly leveled out and whipped around to face Thea again.
Her knights had all but been routed by now. The eerie sinking feeling was stronger than ever. Sigune, though, ignored it all. The only thing left that mattered to her now was this duel. If nothing else, she would win it. She raised her lance once more, watching Thea smoothly turn her pegasus around, the two of them again facing each other head on. She twirled it above her head and pushed her pegasus onward one more time. Thea responded, rushing forward as well, and they raced past each other. Sigune pulled her lance back, thrusting at Thea and hitting her side, shredding the fabric of her shirt and her vest and leaving a gash.
Both pegasus knights doubled back, not stopping as they made another pass. Weapon raised, Sigune prepared to land a final blow.
Thea was faster. A split second too soon for Sigune to react, she thrust her lance, cleanly striking her. Her pegasus neighed as she reflexively pulled hard on the reins, stopping in mid air with a beat of its wings. Tugging on her own reins and dragging the shaft back, her pegasus coming to a stop and beating its wings to pull backwards, Thea dislodged the weapon from her.
The sensation seemed to lag a few seconds behind the action. As Thea removed the lance, the searing pain in her gut became apparent. She tried to ignore it as best she could, her heart racing and adrenaline clouding her judgement, and she reached for her last javelin, throwing it at Thea point blank. She instinctively dodged, but it still grazed the pauldron on her shoulder. Thea raised her lance again, but hesitated. A sentimental fool just like her sisters.
Sigune took the opening, swinging her own lance, but Thea reacted, driving the weapon into her again and swiftly drawing it back.
She gasped in pain, glancing down at her abdomen where before she had kept her eyes fixed on her adversary and averted her gaze. She was bleeding profusely now, blood pooling in her saddle, and she suddenly felt the tiniest bit faint. Realization dawned on her.
"Well, well...-", she struggled to say sitting upright in the face of the pain and light-headedness. "-So I'm the one to die here after all...". She paused to ponder something, looking up at the night sky. "But maybe I already died... A long time... Ago...". She let out a sigh, returning to look straight ahead again and smiling weakly. "You did well, Thea... Juno must be... So proud of you."
She closed her eyes, and felt herself slipping.
The snow was finally gone from the ground, but the spring chill still hung in the afternoon air. Readying herself, Sigune stood up straight, planted her training lance on the ground, and took a deep breath. She was behind the modest, weathered house, standing in a patch of grass between the back door and their sparse garden plot.
"Hah!". She stepped forward in place, whipping the lance around to a thrusting position, and then returned to neutral in a second smooth motion. She continued the drill, over and over.
"Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!".
She swiftly turned around and positioned her lance in one motion, continuing the drill.
"Hah! Hah! Hah!".
She mistimed a step and had to catch herself and start over.
"Hah! Hah! Hah!".
"Sigune! Sigune!", she heard her mother call from in front of their home. She dropped her lance and walked up the path around the house. She tensed up a little when she rounded the corner, seeing two people she didn't know standing with her mother. There was a woman with long, purple hair about her mother's age and in similar clothes, white tunic and a blue shawl around her shoulders contrasting with her mother's gray, and the same narrow white headband – a symbol of the Ilian pegasus knights. And next to her was a girl around her own age, the same purple hair but cut short, wearing a blue dress and a brown shawl, a curious look on her face.
"Welcome home, mother", she said, politely but a bit flatly.
"Ah, Sigune. You know I'm always saying it would be healthy for you to have more friends your age, so I thought it would do you good to meet Juno. Ah, be sure to play nice with her. Oh, or if you'd like some tea, I was going to make some for Juno's mother here anyway."
"...I guess I'll play with her", Sigune said, reluctantly. Her mother smiled. "Alright. You two have fun.-", she stepped closer and leaned over, speaking quietly. "-Ah, still just moss-bread for supper tonight. But your mother will be going south again for a contract soon. We'll have more money for good food sometime next month... I promise, Sigune."
She suddenly felt ashamed, hoping Juno and her mother hadn't heard. It didn't matter that, with her mother being a pegasus knight as well, they likely weren't much better off, or that it was probably already apparent from the state of their home how poor they were. She felt something burning inside her, the anger and determination she often felt in the face of this shame to prove to anyone that would listen that she was worth something, no matter how much they looked down on her.
Her mother and Juno's went inside, leaving the two children alone together.
"So... Do you want to play?", Juno asked, seeming slightly apprehensive, probably catching on to Sigune's coldness. "...Sure. Follow me". She led her behind the house. "Umm... My name's Juno... Oh, I guess your mom already told you that, huh?". She looked back over her shoulder at the girl. "Sigune."
"Nice to meet you, Sigune", she replied politely.
They reached the garden, and Sigune picked up her lance off the ground. "Hey... Your mother is a pegasus knight too, right?".
Juno nodded her head yes. "Mhm!".
"What about you? Are you going to be a pegasus knight?".
"Hmmm...-", she paused. "-Probably. My mom and dad are both soldiers. I've already started learning some things... Just a little, but still."
Sigune held out the lance in front of herself sideways. "Here. Show me."
Juno hesitantly took the lance from Sigune. Planting her feet firmly on the ground and holding it at rest, she swung it up and brought it to the ready, swiftly stepping forward and thrusting with it. She reversed her steps and repeated her drill three times, her movement flawless. She turned to Sigune again, handing the lance back to her. "Uhh... Was that any good you think?".
She took it from Juno. "...From now on, you're going to be my rival, ok?".
"Huh?", Juno asked. "...You don't want to be friends?".
"Well...-", she wasn't sure what to say. "-I guess we can be friends too. But I still want to know who's better. I hate losing to anyone."
Juno smiled. "Ok! If you think I'm good enough that you want to compete with me... I'm happy. I don't think I've ever had a rival before!".
"You know I'm not going to go easy on you!", she said back. Even if she had said she would be Juno's friend, it didn't mean she wouldn't see her as a rival first and foremost. With Juno having proven her talent for the lance, Sigune suggested they play jousting, and that afternoon they found blunt sticks in the slowly rotting shed in the garden and set about playing for what felt like an hour or two, although likely well shorter, before Juno's mother called her to the front of the house, insistent they return home before darkness fell.
Their mothers knew each other well enough, so they often had the opportunity to play together, and Juno introduced her to her friends. Every game they played, she always wanted to be on the opposite team as Juno when there were teams at all, and every time she gave it her all, no matter what. At first she still treated it as a rivalry more than a friendship, and she felt out of place with Juno's friends. But, in time, she found herself softening just a little. Eventually, she found herself just enjoying their company, though she still tried to play it cool and act like she tolerated them more than liked them. And throughout it all, she never lost her competitive edge. As she got older, her play jousting with Juno became more serious sparring, even if their relationship had become more of a true friendship and less of a simple rivalry.
It was one winter day, four years and a few months after they had first met, that Juno came to her in tears. It was the first snowfall of the season, and by that standard, even for Ilia, it was unusually thick, leaving a carpet a few inches thick across the ground by that night. She had stepped outside, looking up at the dark sky as it continued to fall when she saw a lantern down the rutted country road, its surface shrouded in white, and out of the darkness and swirling snow she saw her, walking slowly.
"...Juno? You're here at this time of night? You know you've kept me waiting since yesterday. And now it's too late to spar, so...-". She trailed off, feeling a pang of guilt as Juno, silent, came close enough for her to see her face clearly. She had dark circles beneath her eyes, and tears streamed down her cheeks from them. She had never seen her look so pained before in all the years she had known her.
"...Sigune. Oh, gods, Sigune, my... My...".
"-...Come inside". She ushered her in to her empty house. Once again, her mother had gone away on assignment and, by now, figured she was old enough at just shy of fourteen to look after herself. But without her here she had felt lonely and lost, even if she had been somehow making do the past few days. Juno set the lantern down on a table in what passed for a parlor as Sigune stoked the hearthflames and took down from over them the kettle of tea she had clumsily brewed for herself, pouring its contents into a cup and passing it to Juno, who had slumped down on the bench, its hard wooden surface covered by tattered pillows.
"...What's wrong, Juno?", she asked as she sat down next to her. Juno took a sip of the tea, wincing perhaps at its heat or perhaps at Sigune's attempt at brewing it, and turned to face her. "My mother and father, they... They didn't come home...". She felt an awful, sinking feeling. "Oh no... Juno, I...-".
The words eluded her. She tried to think of different explanations. Perhaps she meant what she said literally, that they simply hadn't come home. In the unseasonably heavy snowfall, after all, it wouldn't be unexpected for travelers to be waylaid. She suddenly felt stupid. Juno was sensitive, but was always sensible and level-headed as well. For her to react like this simply because her parents had been late in arriving home wouldn't be like Juno. Her mind drifted to Juno's sisters. Shanna would never know her parents at all, but that seemed almost merciful compared to Thea, who had been just a newborn when she first met Juno, losing them so young.
"-...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Juno."
Juno nodded in acknowledgement. She felt so guilty that there was nothing more she could do for her than this. She wrapped her arms around her, and Juno slumped towards her, laying her head on her shoulder and quietly sobbing. "...We can stay here as long as you need". They sat almost in silence for a while longer, Sigune's embrace loosening and Juno sitting back up, finishing her tea and setting the cup down on the table.
"Do you want to stay until morning? It's so cold tonight...".
Juno shook her head. "No... I... I need to be back home for my sisters. They're... I'm...-", her tears, newly dried, welled up again. "I'm the only one they have now."
"...You're wrong", Sigune replied. "You're a precious friend to me Juno. Anything I can do to help you I will. And that means they have me too."
Juno's tears kept coming, even faster now, but somehow, she smiled through them this time. "You've... You've never said anything like that to me before, Sigune."
"...Come on. I'll walk home with you. I don't want you to be alone in the dark and the cold."