Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. I just like playing with the characters.
Summary: FE6,7. One-shot, tie in with "Days of Waiting." Rath and Dayan have a fundamental disagreement over the future of the clan, Shin tries to mediate, and Sue is forgotten.
Pairings: None (except maybe slight one-sided Rath/Lyn subtext)
Notes: It's not necessary to read "Days of Waiting" first. And as I have mentioned in other places, my Sacae is a mixture of mostly Mongolian influences, with a bit of American Plains Indians and Bedouin and other influences tossed into the mix. (Also, I prefer the spelling Jute over Djute. And yes, as you will know if you've played FE6, Hanon is female, not male. And last but not least, for those of you who hate doing the math, this takes place 12 years after FE7, i.e. 8 years before FE6.) (3/29/2008: FIXED FOR SCENE BREAKS, EFF YOU FANFIC NET)
Those Left Behind
Shin knew something was wrong as soon as he woke up. The breeze whispered and sighed in his ear, even more mournful than it had been the day his father had died, not three moons ago. Indeed, something had been wrong all summer: he had seen hardly hide nor hair of the deer and rabbits who usually roamed the plains, the land was dry and brown, the grass yellow and withered, and even the wind had hardly stirred for many weeks.
Little Sue, granddaughter of the chief, was waiting for him outside the ger where he dwelled with his mother. Sue tugged solemnly at his sleeve, indicating that she wished to go for a ride. Shin shook his head, but the girl glared at him, refusing to move. He pried away her grip on his sleeve, clucking at her as one might cluck at a wayward lamb or a stubborn horse, and gently shoved her in the direction of a gathering of women busy with their weaving before hurrying away towards the chief's ger.
"Hold the dog!" he called out as he approached, and soon enough the chief's widowed sister emerged.
"Ah, young Shin. Are your herds grazing in peace?"
"Yes, honored grandmother. Mother Earth has been bountiful."
The chief's sister inclined her head, and showed him inside.
The chief and his son were sitting cross-legged by the hearth, facing each other. Neither man looked up to acknowledge Shin's entrance. Shin sat down by the chief's son, in the spot closer to the entrance. The chief's sister offered him a bowl of koumiss, and he accepted it.
Only then did the chief speak, his voice a dark, menacing rumble. "Do not be foolish, son!"
Shin looked at the chief, then at the chief's son, then back again, startled. He had never seen the chief so angry, not even when news had come of the death of his father, who had been sworn brothers with the chief.
"We of the plains cannot afford to be divided among ourselves," replied the chief's son.
"This is the way we have always lived! Would you have our people starve in the face of your cowardice?"
"No, Father. But to make war upon the Jute now is greater foolishness."
"Pah! You dare call me foolish, when it is out of mere sentiment that you would not fight? Tell me, son, just what did that girl mean to you? That sister of the dog who calls himself chief of the Jute!" The chief's expression softened slightly, as if regretting words spoken too hastily. "There are many equally worthy women among our own Kutolah. If you so desire, take another wife from among them; you shall have all my blessings."
It was some time before the chief's son responded. "And you, Father? Can you claim that you are not moved by sentiment as well?"
"You!" The chief's gaze flickered briefly to Shin, acknowledging his presence for the first time since he had entered, before turning back to his son. "Your wife died in her sickbed, an unfortunate thing indeed, but a woman is a woman. Women can be replaced -- but my own sworn brother, the man I grew up with, fought side by side with, the man I trusted with my very life, and who trusted me with his in turn... It would be a blow to my honor to let his death go unavenged!"
Shin lowered his head. After all, it was his duty as well to avenge his father against the Jute dogs who had murdered him. At the same time, he felt uneasy at the proceedings: this conflict between the chief and his son had been ongoing for more than a week already, and yet before now, it had never come to such personal blows.
The chief's son, however, remained unrelenting. "If we go to war now, all Elibe will see our weakness, and come swooping in like vultures gathering at the abandoned battlefield!"
"This is the business of the Jute and the Kutolah alone! What does it matter to those foreign dogs?"
"Those foreign dogs are hungry for power. They would not hesitate to take advantage of us!"
"Chief, if I may speak," said Shin, in the ensuing silence. "What Brother Rath says does seem to have some reason to it..."
"You too, Shin? How can you face your widowed mother like this, or your dead father in the next world?"
Before Shin could reply, the chief's son said, "Set aside your petty grievances, Father! Would you doom our people for your own selfish purposes?"
The chief's face contorted in rage, and in that moment Shin understood at last why it was said that even the Silver Wolf's direst enemies fled from him in fear when they encountered him in battle.
"And you call yourself a warrior of the Kutolah! I am shamed to have such a son as you!"
But the chief's son was not intimidated. He stood, dark eyes flashing, and stalked out of the ger without another word.
After a moment, Shin spoke up tentatively. "Chief --"
Shin bowed and quickly scampered out. Standing there waiting for him again was little Sue.
"What is wrong, Brother Shin? Why is Father angry? Have he and Grandfather fought again?"
But Shin shook his head and brushed past her. He could see the chief's son riding away in the distance upon his distinctive white mare. He leaped onto his own horse, a blue roan tethered nearby, and urged it into a gallop. The chief's son made no move either to slow down or increase his pace, and eventually Shin managed to catch up. For some time they rode together, neither one speaking.
The chief's son had always been a bit unorthodox, but Shin had always admired and respected the older man nevertheless. It was said that the chief's son had spent the majority of his youth away from the tribe, wandering around from clan to clan, and even among the foreigners. It was only natural that he had picked up strange notions through his various journeys. But all the same, the chief's son was most skilled with the bow among all the men Shin had ever known -- he had been the archery champion for twelve years running at the annual springtime festivities in Bulgar -- and he was a good father to Sue. Indeed, the chief's son had even taught his daughter to ride and to shoot, though it was said to be unnatural for women to take up weapons. In response to those whispers, the chief's son had merely pointed out, with an odd wistfulness, the new chief of the reassembled Lorca, who was said to be a woman, one proficient at both swordplay and archery, and with Lycian blood running through her veins. And after all, had not the revered Divine Warrior Hanon too been adept with the bow herself?
At any rate, it was because of the great respect and admiration he had for both men that Shin was so eager to see the chief and his son reconciled now. Shin was, in fact, determined to do whatever he could to help resolve their current dispute.
After a while, their horses tired and slowed to a walk, and Shin took the opportunity to speak up.
"The chief didn't mean what he said, Brother Rath. He's actually very proud of you. Everyone knows it."
When the chief's son did not respond, Shin continued, "He didn't mean the insult towards your deceased wife either. After all, he was the one who arranged the marriage in the first place, wasn't he? He would not have done so if he did not think her worthy of you."
Still the chief's son said nothing, and Shin worried that he had inadvertently angered the other man further. But at last, the chief's son said, "I know."
They came to a stop atop a low knoll overlooking the encampment and the vast plains beyond. The chief's son dismounted, and Shin followed his example. A slight breeze stirred, providing the barest relief from the harsh midday sun. The horses wandered off to graze. Overhead, a hawk soared lazily past the drifting clouds. Shin watched its flight until it was little more but a speck on the horizon.
"The chief only wants the best for everyone," he said. "It has not been a good year for our herds."
"It has been many summers since we last had a good year."
"Then you do understand, don't you? Why we must fight."
The chief's son did not respond.
"These plains..." Shin gestured at the rolling lands stretched out before them. "They are not big enough to hold two such clans as the Jute and the Kutolah. If we do not seize more grazing land for our herds soon, we will starve. Why hesitate, brother? This will not be the first time we have fought another tribe, and our warriors are not weak, nor cowardly."
"I know this well, little brother," said the chief's son slowly, as if choosing his words with care. "Even so, it is folly to wage war upon our own brethren in such a time as this."
Brethren who have shown us nothing but disrespect, and who have even murdered my own father! Shin wanted to say. Instead, he asked, genuinely curious, "What would you suggest, then, Brother Rath?"
The chief's son hesitated. It was a long time before he spoke again, and when he did, his voice was so soft that Shin thought at first that he had misheard.
"We must settle down. Learn to cultivate the land, as the foreigners do."
Shin was stunned. He had not been able to understand the deep rancor present between the chief and his son earlier that morning, unable even to imagine what could have possibly arisen from what he had thought to be a simple disagreement, to lie so bitter between them now. But now he did. Now he understood the reasons behind the chief's implacable fury, and the reasons behind his disgust. Shin himself had only seen sixteen summers, but even he was as proud as any Kutolah warrior of his own heritage, and it was some time before he found the words to reply.
"You would have us deny our very spirit, our very way of life, the customs that have sustained us for more than a thousand years!"
He bit back his anger then, waiting for an explanation. But when the chief's son did not deny his accusations, Shin felt his heart sink. He had grown up watching the backs of three men: his father, the chief, and the chief's son. And now his father was dead, and the chief's son might as well be too, for the blasphemies he spoke. Shin turned to leave in silence.
The voice of the chief's son stopped him.
"Thirty summers have I seen now. Half of those I spent away from our people."
The other man's gaze was turned south and west, to some point far off in the distance. Shin stared at him wonderingly. The chief's son was a man of few words, and in all time Shin had known him, he had never heard the other man speak of, or even so much as hint at his past.
"I was less than four at the time. But I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. A moonless night, the air thick and heavy with smoke, the beat of the shaman's drum slipping and sliding in and out of my hearing, blending with his wailing song..."
Shin released a breath he had not realized he was holding. "What did the shaman see?"
The chief's son shook his head. "He told me, that night... that I had been born into this land to stop the burning."
"A dark flame that would consume all."
Shin processed this information quietly.
"So I left, and wandered on my own for many years, returning to our clan only after I believed I had fulfilled my destiny. I rejoined our people, and have lived among them since. But now, I wonder. I wonder if that was truly the dark flame that was foreseen, or if the great burning has yet to come..."
After that, the chief's son spoke no more, and they rode back together in silence, each absorbed in his own thoughts.
A few days later, the chief's son disappeared, along with his white mare.
The chief was furious.
"That fool!" he thundered. "Running away at a time like this!"
"He will surely soon return," said Shin, though a tangle of doubts plagued his heart as he thought of the prophecy, and the all-consuming flame.
Another day had passed before Shin noticed that little Sue's favorite bay roan had also gone missing, and hurriedly sounded the alarm. The girl was nowhere to be found in the camp. Though they had planned to pack up and ride further north that day, the chief rescinded the orders to move out and dispatched search parties instead, one to the north, one to the west, one to the east, and one to the south. But still no one could find her, and as the days passed, Shin watched the chief's fury fade steadily to open anxiety.
A little girl of eight summers! thought Shin. Only half his age, and still inexperienced with the ways of the world, no matter that she could wield a bow as well as any boy her age. The doubt that had clouded his thoughts ever since his conversation with the chief's son was replaced by a deep guilt. Though he had sworn to the chief that he would protect and watch over Sue as his own sister, he had completely forgotten about her in face of greater worries. Never again, he thought. Never again.
"What if something happens to her?" he asked his mother one night, unable to sleep.
But his mother only shook her head. "You must trust in Father Sky and Mother Earth. They shall guide her home."
And indeed, at last, a full week after the chief's son had left, Sue was spotted upon her horse to the west, a small, lone figure silhouetted against the dying light. Shin rode out to meet her.
"Where have you been?" he said, unable to disguise his relief.
The girl was visibly upset, but she shook her head and refused to say a word.
No words were needed.
When they returned to the encampment, they found the chief waiting for them. Shin dismounted, then helped Sue dismount as well. The chief watched them all the while, some unnameable emotion shadowing his dark eyes. At last, in an uncharacteristically demonstrative gesture, the chief gathered his granddaughter into his arms, and said, "Come. Let's go back."
Then he glanced up, and looked at Shin for a long, long time.
"We will not fight."
Shin held back an expression of surprise. "Chief?"
But the chief turned his back on him. "May your dead father in the next world forgive me!"
Shin could only watch as the chief and his granddaughter headed back to their ger side by side, and the last light of the sun faded to darkness.
And he thought then: perhaps he could not understand the travails that the chief's son had undergone, nor agree with the older man's vision for the future. Perhaps he never would. But all that mattered little.
For one thing alone would Shin never be able to forgive the man he had once admired as a brother --
Leaving behind his own daughter without so much as a farewell.