Shadows Under the Oak Tree
By Tenshi no Ai
(C) Intelligent Systems and Nintendo
(Bondage 101. Welcome to Corinth.)
When Canas began to wake up, the first thing he realized was that he was on a soft bed.
It was a nice realization. Since he began his journey from Thria, a province of Lycia, back to his homeland of Ilia, beds had been few and far between. Straw, grass, and the back of caravans intent on rolling over each pebble and pothole were poor substitutes. Once in a while he had been lucky to get a job as a tutor or scribe, but it was to his utmost dismay that no one cared for scholars in this day and age. The fact that he was a practicing shaman didn't help matters, nor did his rousing discourse on the (somewhat) unfounded bias against that most ancient of magics. He was unfortunately used to not being heard.
So. The bed. It was so comfortable that his mind stayed fuzzy and indistinct longer than he was used to. At his mother's home, the beds were little more than boards covered with a thin bedsheet. It was supposed to facilitate useful thought processes more quickly, because no one could--or wanted to--lay around after they woke up. This bed even had a pillow, and that was enough to make him decide to sink back into sleep. He tried to turn onto his side and found that he couldn't. When he attempted to move his arms, then his legs, he was met with failure.
When he opened his eyes, it was to his horror to find himself tied to the bed.
Was I...accosted by bandits? he asked himself, craning his neck to the right to stare at one bound wrist. He tried to flex his hand, with limited success. The knot, as far as he could see, was expertly tied. Peering down one leg, he noticed that his boots had been removed. Only his boots. This only added to his confusion, because bandits were not commonly known for taking footwear and tying their hostages to soft beds. At least, he hadn't read anything like that before. They were more well-known for striking a man dead and leaving his body to rot where it lay, which was certainly more understandable than...this. Whatever this was.
As he turned his head to the left, his monocle dislodged itself and fell onto the white sheets. He would've cursed had he been the cursing type. Instead, he sighed. Come what may, he was going to go through it half-blind and bound.
It was at this low point in his life that a helping hand literally appeared--a blurry one, at any rate--and replaced the monocle, though it was slightly askew when the hand withdrew. "There now. Is that better?" a soft, feminine voice asked from somewhere to his left.
"Yes, thank you," Canas replied automatically. The thought then occurred to him to look at whomever had just spoken, and when he did so he frowned. Sitting on a chair across from his hip was a young woman with hair and eyes that strongly resembled the milky green jade in the two-hundred-year old tome Talisman: The Conducive Qualities of Minerals and Metals. Though she was dressed like a peasant, with thicker clothing to contend with Ilia's year-round chill, there was an ornate-looking book resting on her lap. Try as he might to read the title on its spine, her hands partially obscured it. It did look somewhat familiar, what with its red-with-gold-trimmings design. "Err..." He realized he was on the verge of asking about the book and tried to steer his thoughts to more pressing matters. His arms were going to sleep. "Excuse me, but may I ask why I am, ah, bound to this bed?"
She had the grace to look sheepish as she answered, "That would be my doing. We do not often receive visitors, and you are a suspicious character, sir."
"Oh. Forgive me." This too was an automatic response. "I assure you, I mean no harm. I'm on a quest for knowledge, and am currently seeking someone."
The woman looked skeptical. "You are a scholar, sir?"
"Excuse me for saying this, but you are a liar."
His eyes widened. Of all the things he had been called on his journeys, 'liar' wasn't one of them. "Ah, forgive me. Why...did I say something wrong?"
"Because of this." She reached under her seat, and pulled out a black tome. To Canas' furthering dismay, he recognized it as his Flux tome. Her expression hardened as she continued with, "It fell out of your satchel when you were carried here, though I was fairly certain when I first saw you. Shamans are not appreciated here."
"Oh, err...I see." It seems that the misconceptions over elder magic exist even here, even though my mother claims Ilia as her homeland, he thought, worry coloring his inner words. He wasn't sure what to say to the woman who seemed upset now, although he catalogued the fact that she was learned enough to read the ancient language of the title. "This village...exactly where am I?" he asked. His last memory was of trudging through shin-high snow.
Her expression softened once she put down the elder magic tome. "This is the village of Corinth. You were found half a mile away by one of the woodsmen. Had you stayed out there any longer, you would've died."
Corinth? "This is really Corinth?" Canas asked, suddenly more happy than someone who has been bound against their will should be. "That's wonderful news! Did you know that only the barest of directions can be obtained for this village? It isn't even on any of the maps I used--"
"Sir, you almost died!" the woman snapped. "Do you know how many heated wraps I had to make to stave off the frostbite you had contracted? How many logs I had to burn? How many sp...oh, is your 'quest for knowledge' more important than your common sense?"
"Ah, forgive me." He was about to say more, but his monocle was starting to slip off of his face again. "Excuse me, could you--yes, thank you," he said as she replaced it, less askew than before. "Now, err, could you perhaps direct me to a house?"
Momentarily taken back by the flatness of her response, he stared at her. Her mouth was one thin line of determination as she glared at him, and he had to wonder why she held such animosity for him. Then he remembered that she knew he was a practicing shaman--though the truth of it was much more complex than that simple description--and shook his head in protest. "Miss, I wouldn't...not all users of elder magic are, dare I say, evil. That is the work of superstition and prolonged bias, something I object most strenuously to."
Closing her eyes, she pinched the bridge of her nose with slender fingers. "Yes, I understand. However, you can't just--look, you're a suspicious person who has found his way into a village that no one outside of Ilia should know about."
"But I am an Ilian," he argued weakly. His legs were uncomfortably numb.
"From where? Edessa? That's at least a week away in clear weather."
"Actually, I was born on Mount Themscyera."
The look the woman threw him was one of disbelief. "Only the esteemed Mountain Hermit lives there."
He nodded almost frantically, remembering a passage from a cleric's book that stated prolonged blood loss from extremities would render that limb useless for the rest of his life. That would be a long time, if his mother was any indication. "That would be my mother you speak of."
She said nothing for a long moment, her light skin paling all of a sudden. "L-Lady Niime is your..." With a start, she stood, set down her tome on her chair, and got to work untying his bonds. As she leaned over him, Canas caught the scent of irial flowers. According to the comprehensive Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna, it was an edible flower that flourished in northeastern Ilia, but he thought they smelled much better than they tasted. Even after she moved down to release his legs from the rope the light perfume still remained.
"Thank you," he said once he was unbound. Unable to move while the numbness still remained, he happened to notice that he could now read the spine of her book. "'Fire'," he read, before his gaze flickered up to her face. "You're a mage," he stated in wonder. That would explain her familiarity with the language of magic.
"Sage," she corrected in a quiet voice. "I am the village herbalist, though I like to think myself its protector as well. Forgive my haste in judging you, I...I know that my magic is weaker compared to the dark energies shamans use, so I thought of using a more extreme method to subdue you."
Tingles from his returning blood flow caused him to wince in discomfort. "It is no problem. I am, ah, used to that conclusion."
Tucking her hair behind her ears, the woman turned away. "Even so...a son of Lady Niime..." Shaking her head, she gave him a contrite look that made him rather distressed to see it. He had a strong aversion to making people uncomfortable. "You said you were looking for someone. Who might it be?"
"'Harnan and Viola, sages of the first order'," he recited from memory. "My mother told me that the man is a descendant of the Albion bloodline, one of the most potent anima users in the history of Elibe. I thought to study under him."
"To become a mage?" the woman asked, now looking vaguely pleased. Canas shook his head, trying not to move too much and accidently send a flare of needle-like sensations roaring through his limbs.
"No, I consider myself a scholar first and foremost. Though I am training in the use of elder magic, I find myself fascinated with the other systems. I was hoping to study the materials he has undoubtedly stored, in order to get a better understanding of the anima system." The strangest look crossed the sage's face at this; it seemed to Canas that the woman was puzzled, shocked, or some combination of both. "Did I say something wrong?" he asked.
She shook her head quickly. "You wish to see my parents, then. I...if it pleases you, I will take you to them."
"Your parents?" he asked in wonder. "What a coincidence! I would be most grateful if you took me to them!" He noticed the flutter of emotion on her face again and realized that, with the whole episode of being tied to the bed, he had forgotten to introduce himself properly. "Forgive me for not saying this sooner, but my name is Canas."
A small smile graced her face. "I am called Lily." Rising from her seat, she nodded at him. "You're probably hungry. Once you've recovered your mobility, please come to the kitchen."
As she left the room, Canas stared up at the ceiling and ignored the slight pain in his neck from turning it one way for too long. The bed was tempting him to close his eyes, but the thought of a home-cooked meal awoke his stomach. Oh, how wonderful, he thought happily. If there is truly evidence that providence exists like the Elimineans believe, this would surely be it!
While Lily got ready the next morning to set out of her home, she was preoccupied with the growing thought that her houseguest was an idiot. Or rather, that his priorities were in the wrong place, which amounted to the same thing in her mind.
When Gouterry found the shaman-scholar face-down in the snow that morning, Lily had been the one summoned by his son. Seeing the adolescent's face blotched red, his breath short puffs of air as he fought to calm down, she had immediately feared the worst. She had taken her emergency box, which included a number of medicines, antidotes, and things if the worst had already occurred, and raced to the village entrance, where the broad-shouldered woodsman held the pale man who wore dark colors. Gouterry had been so good as to retrieve that man's satchel as well, though after a cursory examination she wasn't sure if he would ever need it again.
The Flux tome had fallen out on the way to her house, and she almost left that man there with it.
She was forced to treat him in her room, just for lack of convenient space; it was her preference to visit and treat people in the comfort of their own homes. Familiarity soothed the spirit and body like nothing else, she knew. Canas had none of that, but his body had responded well to her treatment of the chills that wracked his body. If he had not been a magic user and therefore somewhat resistant to extreme temperatures, recovery might not have been possible. Unwilling to undress her unconscious patient, she had been forced to dry his clothes using a Fire tome and her hands as small irons. Once she felt that his temperature was adequate, she set to work tying his limbs to the bedposts and waited until he woke up.
A strange man indeed, she thought, securing her long hair with a large metal clasp and tucking it under the collar of her cloak. It's rare to see someone so focused on study...probably even at the cost of his own life. That's bound to happen sooner than later if he continues to sink his soul into the dark arts.
Once she had stepped into her boots and straightened out her clothes from under the heavy cloak, Lily made her way into the small sitting room at the front of her house. Canas was there, sitting on her couch while writing notes into one of his tomes. She couldn't help but notice that he was in the same traveling clothes from the day before and wondered if his bag only held books. Shaking her head at that unpleasant thought, she walked over to his chair and patiently stood by while his pen scritched on. When he finished his annotation, he turned towards her and smiled. "Good morning, Lily. I was just indulging in some light reading before our trip."
Light reading? She stared at the book, which had a title in some complicated language that looked akin to ancient magical runes. It was as massive as the dictionary of plants, animals and their habitats she owned, which she could hardly throw a foot in front of her. "I...I would certainly hate to see what you would call heavy reading," she replied in a vague sort of way. Sarcasm wasn't her forte, but there was just something about him that brought strange thoughts to the surface.
He chuckled, closing the tome and placing it inside his satchel. "Yes, well, the pursuit of knowledge makes any book as invigorating as a brisk morning walk." Standing, he hefted the bulky bag over one shoulder. It surprised her now, as it did last night when he had finally been able to stand, to see how much taller he was compared to her. And, in her belief, how thin and undernourished.
"Are you sure you wouldn't like to partake of breakfast?" she asked. She was used to running around in the morning with nothing more than a cup of tea to calm her hunger, but a houseguest was a houseguest.
"Oh, I wouldn't want to put you through the trouble," he protested, looking embarrassed at even the thought of it. "As you indicated, your parents live fairly close by."
He really doesn't understand, does he? "Yes, they are close by," she repeated before walking past him to open the door. The hinges creaked and she vowed to ask Soveingy to repair it before the storms arrived.
Corinth was a small village. A beautiful village. Her village. Just a small hamlet snuggled at the base of Mount Athene, it was already several hours awake as she stepped past the doorway. Chilly winds caressed her face as the spirits of the sky greeted her, and she smiled as they cooed and chattered like affectionate doves. There was a fresh layer of snow on the ground that crunched beneath her feet; she could hear Canas close the door and unsteadily follow her, making her wonder how long he had been gone from Ilia that he would be so uncomfortable in the snow. The scents of fresh bread at Grandma Yunice's house just down the way warred with cured ham at Tinae's meats shop and nudged at her empty stomach, causing it to growl in annoyance. Blushing, she tried to trudge on, ignoring the delicious smells in favor of the many spirits swirling around her.
"My, what a quaint town," she heard Canas murmur as he caught up to her. "It looks very near self-reliant, even with its considerable distance from the majority of Ilia's towns. I would think this place near inhabitable if I were not seeing this before my very eyes..."
"'People cannot find Corinth with a map, but they can very easily stumble upon it'," she said, quoting her late grandfather's favorite saying. Iris hadn't agreed, she remembered. Perhaps that was why her sister had left in the first place. Adjusting her cloak as a way to draw her mind back to the present, she glanced over at the shaman-scholar. "This is a place made for anima users. Here, we either accept the forces of nature, or..." She spread her arms out, a common gesture of her father's. "Well, you understand. Nature governs even those who invite darkness into their souls."
Wide-eyed, he looked ready to say something, but instead he exhaled heavily. "It is as you say. I can't help but wonder if calling elder magic that most ancient of magics isn't really just a misnomer when nature has preceded it. Then again..."
She carefully shook her head, making sure not to jerk her hair out of place. "Darkness and light have far more in common with humans than nature. That's why--
Iris, you should've stayed here, where only nature reigns
--I find this is the best place for me."
Canas nodded, a slight smile on his face. "I see. If you don't mind me saying so, the village complements you very well. In my travels, I have found that most anima users are inclined towards studying their path in all sorts of wonderful books, but there are few who actually choose to live completely surrounded by nature."
Laughing, she covered her mouth with a gloved hand. "Oh, well, we are still civilized here. A pegasus knight of the union comes once a week to trade when the weather permits it. I can receive all the tomes I ask for, and when the storms come we just hunker down and do our best." She stared at the path before them, which lead to the sparse woods at the foot of the mountain. Brilliant red leaves still clung to the branches, autumn colors in winter.
"Very odd to see such a phenomena," she heard him murmur.
"They're red oaks. Their leaves endure the winter while maintaining their color." She paused, then said, "They are the village symbol."
"Ah. Interesting. The few trees that cling to the cliffs near my mother's house grow little in the way of foliage, even during the summer months."
Lily nodded. The only thing of worth on Mount Themscyera was the Mountain Hermit, every magic user knew that. With a steady gait they passed under the flame-colored leaves. The shaman-scholar was looking around in rapt attention, and she took a moment to study him. His purple hair was longish, the ends from his neck past his collar, yet he was clean-shaven, something she noted admirably. The thing that struck her most was how soft his eyes were; it was as if he absorbed everything that happened and understood why they happened without bearing any grudges.
He had an intelligent heart. That was what her mother would've said, and Lily would've agreed.
Sighing inwardly, she returned her gaze to what lay before them. To think such an honest face belongs to a man who would devote himself to darkness. Of course, his mother is the same way, but Lady Niime is...beyond our ken. "It's just a bit farther," she said as a flicker of thought broached the surface of her mind: Lady Niime is a force of nature herself, or so my parents have said.
"Oh, that is a relief to hear. It appears that I am, err, feeling a bit overwhelmed." She turned to look at him at those words, her eyes narrowing at his sheepish expression.
"I asked you if you wanted breakfast."
"Ah...forgive me. The very thought of being so close to a source of knowledge is, err, quite persuasive."
This man is beyond my understanding as well, she thought with irritation. If all scholars are like him, it is a wonder they live long enough to pass off the fruits of their knowledge. "Don't worry, we're near," she said, making a passable attempt at calmness. I will have to see Tinae about some meat for a proper stew after I deliver borscwath needles for Erina's eldest.
Beyond the oaks was a clearing just before the mountain began to climb towards the gray skies. Lily walked forward seven paces, then stopped. "Here, sir," she called, turning to look at him.
Canas, with a decidedly befuddled expression, adjusted his monocle. "...Here is what, if I may ask?"
"Here is where my parents are."
Silence reigned for a long, untouched moment before the shaman-scholar approached her side. "I...did not realize..." she heard him murmur, sounding as if he felt he was in a faraway dream. Pity swept over her then; why did she not just tell him after he said their names?
But he had traveled such a long way, she told herself. I could not just send off one of Lady Niime's sons so rudely. That is just not the Ilian way.
"They succumbed to disthrenya five months ago. I don't know if you study outside of magical tomes, but its common name is--"
"Sleeping Death, that which steals over those who have lived a long life." He knelt down, gently laying a hand on the patch of snow before him. "It is different from natural causes because it is preceded by a mild cough."
"I thought it was a cold," she whispered, closing her eyes as she aimed her face towards the summit of the mountain. "But there is no known cure for disthrenya here. I know of the possible ingredients, but I cannot leave without endangering anyone. I have...accepted that, under the circumstances, there was nothing I could do."
"I...I see." When she opened her eyes and looked down at him, she found that his head was still bowed. It touched her to see him exude such respect for her parents, for people he hadn't even had the pleasure of knowing.
"I know you have traveled a long time just for your studies, and I am sorry that I cannot bring back that wasted time. I..." Here Lily paused, unsure of her next words. She envisioned it as if two paths laid in front of her, diverging from this single decision.
He is...kind. Even for what he is...I think my parents would've been pleased to know that someone like him has such respect for our bloodline.
"Winter is already upon us, and you really shouldn't be wandering around at this time. I wouldn't be able to, in good conscience, call myself a guardian and an Ilian if I turned you away. If it pleases you..." She tightly clasped her hands and prayed to the spirits that she was not making the wrong decision. "I would be happy to let you study all the tomes we have. It would take a while, but you are welcome here, sir...um, Canas."
Still kneeling on the snow, he turned to look up at her. Lily was surprised at the intensity of joy in his eyes. "Really? How wonderful! I have nothing of value to recompense for your kindness--"
"Don't worry about that. Please." Smiling, she turned back to the village. "I have some deliveries to make, but if you can wait I'll be sure to make a proper stew for you."
"That sounds magnificent," he replied, and she heard the shuffling sounds as he stood up and swept bits of snow from his clothes. "You do not know just how much this means to me..."
Probably, she thought as she half-listened to his chatter, so similar to the spirits of the land. I'm not even sure what this means to me.
-to be continued...-
This isn't a love story.
I take that back. This is a story where love is earned after many years and experiences, but respect and companionship are first and foremost. There's something slightly contradictory when it comes to information about Canas and his wife; Canas and Pent's support makes it sound as if the marriage is just another quest for knowledge for him, but FE6's Niime and Hugh A support has Niime saying that the two wanted to get married, even though she was opposed to it. Well, maybe both are right. Let's see how it goes, okay? If you have any questions, comments, sage advice or whatever, I'll be more than happy to accept it. Thanks for reading!