Disclaimer: Fire Emblem ain't mine.
Summary: A fic in three stand-alone parts, which together form a larger overall thematic arc.
Part One - Ephraim and Myrrh, an almost love story.
Part Two - As the years pass and it becomes clear Ephraim intends never to wed, Tana begins to immerse herself more and more in her search for an old comrade. The tale of the other princess and her knight.
Part Three - Eirika is old and graying when she finally returns to Caer Pelyn.
Pairings: Part One - sort of Ephraim/Myrrh, mentions of Seth/Eirika, Innes/L'Arachel, and one-sided Ephraim/Tana, and hints at others.
Part Two - same as part one, but replace the not-quite Ephraim/Myrrh with a not-quite Cormag/Tana, and obviously much more emphasis on the unrequited Ephraim/Tana.
Part Three - huge focus on Eirika/Seth, Eirika/Saleh (if you squint, hard), implied Ewan/Amelia, mentions of/hints at others
Rating: K+ for possible slight swearing in part two, and for lack of fluff.
Notes: The title of this fic comes from the Alice Walker poem below. Part one shares its title with a short story by Ursula Le Guin, but is far from comparable to Le Guin's story in both content and quality.
1. The Bones of the Earth
in a garden
- Alice Walker
Deep within the shadowed woods there dwelled a dragon, and there she passed the days in quiet and peace, and was content.
But one day the darkness came -- true darkness, darker even than the cool shade of those tall solemn trees that had been her home for so long -- and thereafter the world was changed, and she too was changed with it. And so it came to be that she found her contentment replaced by a deep and unshakeable feeling that was not quite joy, and not quite grief.
"It is too bad your sister could not come," she said, looking up at him with her little girl's eyes and her little girl's voice. "Saleh did so wish to see her again."
"It's a good thing Eirika already has Seth," the prince, now king, replied wryly. "Else she might actually have taken him up on his offer and disappeared into those mountains by now, and left me with all the work."
"Poor Saleh," giggled the little girl who was no girl, and when the prince-now-king frowned at her in jest, added, "Poor Brother."
"Do you know," said the young king then. "Do you know, they're getting married. In just a month's time. I was surprised, actually -- not about them, of course, but at the response of the public when we announced the wedding. I almost expected there to be a huge uproar about Eirika marrying beneath her station. You know, scandalous affair between the royal princess and her knight and all." He laughed, shook his head. "But the people love them dearly, are truly happy for them. They're all just incurable romantics, the lot of them."
"A month?" said she, for time passed differently for her, within these shadowed woods in which she dwelled.
"Yes. Very soon. Would you like to come? To the wedding? I mean, we would love to have you there, Myrrh. Seth and Eirika and I."
She tilted her head then and for some time she was quiet as she tapped at her chin and stared into the distance at some lost place beyond space and time.
"No, I suppose you wouldn't," said the young man, forcing the dejection from his voice. "Weddings are rather noisy affairs, I suppose, troublesome, really, all those people milling about and shouting nonsense at each other, rather like they're on some bloody battlefield, except no, I don't really mean that --"
"Are you happy for her?" she said softly.
He paused before he answered, slowly, as if struggling to untangle thoughts and words as they left his mouth. "Seth has always been like a brother to me. Even my father always treated him like another son, rather than just a mere retainer. He is a good man.
"I think... I think I knew. Even before the war, and everything happened... They cared for each other, even then, though it was after the castle fell that their love truly began to blossom."
She nodded, a gentle, rocking motion.
"When will I see you next, Brother?" she asked.
"I'll come again," he said, patting her head kindly, "after the wedding."
The wedding was a great success. So much of a success, indeed, that a few members of court had taken up dropping sly (and some not-so-sly) hints now and then, even as they discussed issues of finance and country with him.
"Ah, young love," declared one such courtier. "Weddings do such a wonder for morale, don't you think, King Ephraim?"
And he supposed it was true. Seth and Eirika were happy, and they shared their joy with the rest of the kingdom. Prior to the marriage, Seth had resigned his position as general, citing both that old injury he had received at the hands of Valter, as well as a desire to step aside for future generations of brave young knights, but he remained one of Ephraim's most trusted advisers. He and Eirika often rode out together to the countryside, offering aid where it was needed. They were much loved by the people.
"They do indeed," replied the young king then, with a vague smile upon his lips. "However, they also place quite a strain upon our treasury."
Ephraim may have been many things, but he was not stupid. He knew what it was they wanted of him, and found it was a prospect he would rather not dwell upon for long. He spent some months evading the issue as the clamor gradually died down, until the matter was finally dropped altogether.
"And here I thought your marriage would be enough to last them for years!" he complained to Eirika in private, nearly a year after she and Seth had been wed.
Eirika made a face at him. "You should hear the songs they sing about us."
Ephraim laughed. "I have, actually. Should I sing one for you? Let's see, how does it go..."
She silenced him swiftly with a glare, but then it faltered, and she sighed. "But you know, brother, you do need to start thinking about these things. You're going to need an heir..."
"I know. But Eirika, I'm still young, you know? We're still young. And it's so soon after the war... We aren't anywhere close to finished with rebuilding Renais. We have far more urgent things to be concerning ourselves with than marriage and heirs."
"Are you..." Eirika began softly. "Are you upset with me, brother? I've been meaning to talk to you, but it seems like we never have a chance to be alone together anymore these days..."
"Upset?" he said, puzzled. "What do you mean? -- Oh."
"Do you think we should have waited?"
He looked at her face, troubled and sad, and drew her into his arms. But the gesture seemed somehow strange and alien, and he pulled back.
What she had said was true. They had all been drifting apart ever since the war, and even now it seemed fate was conspiring against them.
But to her, he said simply, "No, sister. Your happiness is my happiness. And I am glad for you."
"You missed Saleh," announced the little girl, sucking happily on the candy stick he had brought her. "He came just the other day."
"Is that so? How is he doing?"
"He seems very happy," she said. "He told me Ewan finally returned for a visit. Brought a girl with him, too. Amelia, I think."
He tried to imagine it, but could not. In his mind Ewan would always be that rambunctious little boy with a taste for practical jokes, and Amelia that slip of a girl who at first could barely even hold a lance properly.
"Amelia? I thought she went with General Duessel to find her mother."
"Yes, she did," the little girl agreed. "But after that she set off to wander the world with Ewan. Saleh says they're still young, but they'll settle down eventually, and when they do, it'll be in Caer Pelyn. He says he's looking forward to seeing how much Ewan will have grown by then. Is something wrong, Brother?"
He shook himself out of his thoughts, startled. "No, no. I was just thinking..."
She cocked her head, questioning.
"I was worried you'd be lonely, living here all by yourself," he said, thinking of that old offer -- so long ago now, it seemed, though hardly three years had passed since then. "But I guess you've been getting along just fine, huh?"
She must have known what was on his mind, for she chewed thoughtfully on her candy before replying. "I lived alone for many centuries. I suppose I'm used to it." And then, with a shy little smile upon her face, she added, "But Brother, of everyone who comes to see me, I look forward to your visits most."
He smiled back at her. "Thank you, Myrrh. I'll make sure to drop by more often, then."
In the fifth year after the end of the war, a great tremor shook the earth and destroyed near half of what had once been Grado. Those who survived fled. To Jehanna, to Frelia, to Renais. Providence, whispered the more religiously minded. Divine retribution, punishment for black traitors and blacker deeds.
But Ephraim remembered still Lyon, the boy who had been his friend and Eirika's friend. And he thought too that no matter what had happened in the end, they had still been friends. That would never change. And so as king of Renais he extended a hand to their former ally, turned enemy. Even though Renais itself had yet been restored to but a shadow of her former power and glory; even though all the other countries turned their backs on Grado's plight -- save Jehanna, whose own lands had too been affected mildly by the quake, and whose queen, it was said, hailed from Grado herself. Only after seeing the noble example Ephraim set did Frelia and Rausten join in to lend their aid, and Carcino, last of all. And Ephraim thought then that old dreams might come to fruition yet.
Two more years passed, and Eirika grew heavy with child. After some discussion, she and Seth decided to move out of the castle and stay in a quiet villa in the countryside.
"Just for a while," Eirika reassured her brother. "Until we've settled down a bit, and gotten used to parenthood."
Ephraim took one glance at her blushing, joyful face and smiled, though sadness lingered in his heart. As twins, they had always shared the deepest of bonds, and yet suddenly the thought occurred to him that now here was something that they would never be able to share.
"As long as you need," he said. "As long as you want."
Goodbye had never seemed so final.
The shadowed glen had always seemed to him solemn and timeless, as ancient as the earth itself. He thought, sometimes, that perhaps it had been there even at the dawn of the world, and would remain even until all else had turned to ashes.
"Do you think..." he said, "that you will ever have children?"
"I do not know," said the little girl solemnly. "Our people are scattered. I have not met another of my kind in many years. Not since... not since my father died, and before that there was only him."
"Oh, Myrrh, I --"
"My true mother and true father died when I was still too young to know them. My foster father was all I had. I knew no other children but myself. Perhaps someday I will be the last of my race. Perhaps, even now... I am the only one who is left. But I do not think I mind."
"My father told me once..." she said, struggling to find the right words, "that we are both human and monster. And because we are both, we are also neither."
"... I see," he said then, and he did.
Eirika gave birth in early autumn, during the first week of harvest, to a pair of twins, a boy and a girl. When the news reached the other countries, King Joshua and Queen Natasha of Jehanna sent their blessings; King Innes and Princess Tana of Frelia, as well as Princess L'Arachel of Rausten, hurried to Renais to visit the new mother in person.
"Congratulations, Eirika. Seth," said Innes, nodding curtly at both before turning to nod at Ephraim as well.
"I'm so happy for you, Eirika!" gushed Tana, wrapping her friend in a tight hug. She did not, however, repeat the gesture as her brother had, though Ephraim noticed her glancing at him awkwardly when she thought he was not looking. "To tell you the truth, I'm a little jealous!"
"What lovely babies!" exclaimed L'Arachel. "Of course, I'm sure when I have children, they shall be just as beautiful, if not more so!"
Ephraim was amused to note the slightest flush on Innes's face as he said, "Naturally, my children will be quite handsome."
None of them were surprised. Even so, silence descended upon the room.
L'Arachel grinned smugly. "I see you are all shocked. I certainly would be, were I in your shoes! But yes, alas, it is true. Men all around the world are now soon to be deprived of this lovely --"
Innes interrupted her. "Yes. We are to be wed after L'Arachel's coronation, next summer. We came, in part, to invite the three of you."
"If Eirika is strong enough to travel by then..." began Seth.
"Yes, we'll be there," said Eirika. "We'll definitely be there."
Ephraim grinned. "Certainly took you long enough."
Innes only smirked. "I do believe I win this round, Ephraim."
Ephraim noticed Tana blushing in the corner, and wondered if the King of Frelia would be quite so smug if he knew of the match all the Renais courtiers had pressing for lately.
"I don't know what to do," said Ephraim. "Especially now that Innes and L'Arachel are getting married... Frelia and Rausten will flourish and prosper beyond everyone's wildest imagination, with their union. They're going to be unstoppable. Even I can see that."
The little girl giggled. "I can imagine. But is that such a bad thing, Brother? Are you not happy for them?"
"I am," he said. "But I have my own country to consider. My advisers -- they wish for me to wed Tana, so that the balance of power is not disrupted. And really, when I think about it, they do have a point, as distasteful as it is. Not that it's such a terrible prospect in itself; I mean, I've known her since we were children, and... and I know... that she's been harboring an infatuation for me, for nearly as long. And she and Eirika have always been the best of friends. But..."
"But..." prompted the little girl gently.
He hesitated, suddenly, and did not know why. "I -- I've known her for so long. She's... she's like a sister to me."
"Is that so?" said the little girl who was no girl, gently as ever, and suddenly the silence between them seemed to him stretched and unfamiliar, unbearable.
"I have to go," said Ephraim. "I'll come by again soon."
In years after, tales of the infamous wedding between Innes of Frelia and L'Arachel of Rausten spread and flourished throughout the land, until there came a time when any man or woman who could claim to have been present at that wondrous spectacle became, in their own towns and villages, as if royalty themselves, envied and revered and clamored after.
Ephraim, however, remembered little of it afterwards.
He remembered Tana, flitting about like a shadow, ever near, ever on his mind. She'd asked him for a dance, at long last, having gathered up her courage over the hours and days, and he had accepted, but it had all of it seemed like a strange but curious dream, a dream from which he could not wake.
Eirika had pulled him aside later that night, cradling one of the twins in her arms.
"Ephraim, if you don't love her, you should let her know. You can't just leave her hanging like this. You have to set her free."
"I do love her," he'd protested, but the words had rung hollow in his ears.
"Yes," said his sister sadly. "You do. But not enough."
He was thirty-six when he visited the Darkling Woods for the last time, and realized with a start that in all the time he had known her, the little girl had never changed. There she stood before him, watching him with her little girl's eyes, laughing with her little girl's voice, smiling her little girl's smile. Eyes that saw too much, a voice that spoke words wise beyond its years, a smile of things intangible, things murky and unfathomable, things faded, unreachable.
He never went back again.
Tana came alone to see him on the eve of his fortieth birthday.
"I love you," said Tana. "I always have, and I think I always will. But... I can't wait forever. I -- I can't."
She fled before he could see her tears, but even so he knew.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to the emptiness.
Many years later, Seth came to him.
"My king, my brother, Ephraim -- I have held out this long, but I have not much longer left."
And Ephraim realized that just as the former general had foreseen, that grievous wound he had suffered that long ago night had never truly healed.
"My friend, my brother, Seth -- you have served me well. If there is anything you wish, tell me, and I shall do all that is in my power to grant it."
The former knight shook his head. "I have nothing to ask of you, my king. For I have lived a full and happy life. I am content."
And Ephraim bowed his head, and wept, for the first time in many years. "Seth --"
"Don't cry," said Seth. "Eirika -- it will break her heart to see you so."
"Does she know?"
"Yes. She says nothing, but I think she knows. I... I do not regret the choices we have made. But I am sorry that I must leave before her."
"I will take care of her," said Ephraim. "She is my sister. I will take care of her, and I will care for your children, and your children's children, as if they were my own. This I promise you, Seth. It is the least I can do."
The look within the other man's eyes at that moment spoke more than words could ever tell.
After the funeral, Eirika moved back to the castle with their children, already now adults in their own right, with burgeoning families of their own, for what had been at first a temporary stay in the countryside had turned to decades.
But as the weeks passed, Ephraim saw that the unhappiness within his sister's eyes lingered on still. There was a hole in her heart that could not be mended, could not be filled. And he realized with a heavy heart that though siblings they might be, and twins at that... he no longer knew her.
"Go," he said to her, the first day of the second month of her stay. "This place holds too many memories for you."
And when she looked at him with eyes filled with grateful understanding, he thought that perhaps he had not lost her after all, had never truly lost her.
"Go," he said again. "I set you free."
The last he heard of her, she was dwelling peacefully in Caer Pelyn, quietly living out her days.
Deep within the shadowed woods there dwelled a dragon, and there she passed the days in quiet and peace, but she was not content. For something within her heart had stirred, and the world had been changed, and there was no turning back.
He was dying when he came, and dying as she cradled his silver-white head in her lap, stroking his wrinkled face.
"You're still the same as ever..." He chuckled, a harsh, dry sound. "I wondered. I should have known."
"Why did you come?"
"I don't know. I don't know. I thought I'd never come back."
"Yes. Yes. I suppose I did. We all did. I don't think Innes ever forgave me for breaking his sister's heart... What would he have done had I married her instead, I wonder? That man..."
"I missed you."
Silence, but for the rustling of leaves in the breeze.
"Strange..." he murmured. "I had forgotten how peaceful this place was... Even in the darkness and gloom, not knowing what else might be out there..."
"I'm glad I met you," she whispered, and brushed his eyelids shut.
There she buried him, deep within the heart of the woods, where no sunlight reached and the stones and the trees and the air had existed long before the dawning of the world, and would linger on even after the rending of the very fabric of the earth.
last edited 9/07/2007. Parts two and three are not so much a continuation of this as they are a parallel to it. All three parts are separate stories in themselves and can probably stand alone reasonably well, but I'm putting them together as one fic because to me they are three parts of a larger story.
3/29/2008: FIXED FOR SCENE BREAKS EFF YOU