Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. I just like playing with the characters.
Summary: FE6,7. One-shot. They whispered that the cold had twisted her heart, frozen it into a dark and ugly thing.
Rating: T for language, sex, violence, themes.
Notes: So yeah, I've always thought Sigune was the most fascinating boss in the entire (two) game(s)... Her story was just begging to be written. Anyway, this story is loosely connected to "A Thousand Snows" and "Sand and Moonlight" as well as the other fics in this universe, but it's not necessary to read them first. Aaand I should probably add that this is a pretty dark fic, even by my standards (which, then again, are probably not that high). Nothing graphic, but consider yourself warned.
"Sigune always tried to act bad, but she was really a kindhearted person. If only we weren't in times like this, we could have... War is a painful thing."
- Juno/Noah B support
"You might think the Athenian women have taken wing: they have taken wings. One of them, a nightingale, Procne, makes for the woods. The other, a swallow, Philomela, flies to the eaves of the palace, and even now her throat has not lost the stain of that murder, and the soft down bears witness to the blood."
- Ovid, The Metamorphoses (tr. A.S. Kline)
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!"
- John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"
I will never lose to you.
Do you promise?
I swear. On Barigan and the Dragon. I promise...
The urgency in her lieutenant's voice could mean only one thing, Sigune knew, as she shook herself out of her reverie. She strode to the wall's edge, scanning the horizon. Through the howling wind she made out dark shapes approaching.
"So they've made it through," she murmured to herself, smiling grimly. Then she turned.
A rush of wings. A fall of feathers.
She was twenty-seven, and she had seen her doom.
She saw the blond man first, dark cloak wrapped about him, riding forth upon his tall black horse. She knew him for who he was, and laughed. Come, come, she thought. And know that your end is here. Close after him followed a pale woman upon a pale steed, and she laughed again atop her own winged mount, for she saw then that they were the same, and yet not the same. In the distance rode another, gray and worn, and with scorn she watched him struggle through the storm -- faithless man, even now unaware of his own wife's fate.
And now, before her, she saw two enemy knights flying out from the gloom. As they neared, she recognized them, and their names echoed through her mind.
You would fight me then, oh children? she cried. You sisters of my long lost foe?
She would not lose. Death, then as now, was the only truth in this world, and she had seen it long ago, welcomed it freely into her arms. She would not lose. Never. Not to the memories. Not to the words unspoken, to the silence that prevailed, even now. She would not lose.
They came at her like a pair of frail birds, dancing through the snow.
She was twenty-six, and the fate of Ilia lay in her hands, fragile as a newborn dove. The Generals were both missing. Dead, perhaps. It mattered little.
"You are the one known as the White Devil?"
The man before her, they said, was called Murdock. The strongest of the three generals of Bern, they said. Such things meant little to her. But it was good to know that Bern did not underestimate her. And strength was something she could respect.
"Your reputation precedes you."
She smiled, without humor. "I am honored."
"Have you given any thought to our offer?"
Direct and straight to the point. She liked that. "Of course."
"And your answer?" He watched her carefully, and she bit back the sudden urge to laugh. She was not such a fool.
Later, as she flew over a remote mountain village, she saw children starving to death on the empty streets, frozen dead things in the dark, stained snow. A lone, emaciated woman sat, rocking back and forth, weeping mutely, gazing off into the distance as if awaiting the return of some loved one gone to war, never to return. The sight disgusted her. She descended in a sudden fit of rage.
"You pathetic old bitch! Are you so weak that you even need someone else to put you out of your own misery?" she screamed.
She received no answer.
The snow was strewn with brittle, shapeless things.
Twenty-three, and they whispered that the cold had twisted her heart, frozen it into a dark and ugly thing. The thought amused her. Her name had come to be known and feared by all those in the business. The wing she commanded was equally known as the strongest all of Ilia had to offer, and the missions they received had only grown more and more numerous. It was rumored, even, that she was well on her way to becoming General; indeed, all but guaranteed the position as soon as the previous one stepped down. Sigune relished the feeling of power the whispers gave her, and took cruel pride in the woman she had become, the reputation of terror and ruthlessness she had built.
Just months previously, at Edessa, a familiar voice had drawn her to halt.
"Why, if it isn't little Sigune, all grown up!"
She had turned. It had been that damn knight. And with him, General Fiora, haggard and weary. The years had taken their toll. Sigune remembered that she had been a beautiful woman. It had not been so long since Sigune called her captain and mentor, but that beauty had since withered, faded, harshened.
"Oh! And what a marvelously dazzling young lady you have become!" said the knight, taking her hands, smiling charmingly. Sigune froze, recoiled in sudden disgust. The knight's face fell in almost comical confusion, and General Fiora placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"It's been a while," said Fiora. "How have you been?"
"I see." The woman hesitated, then managed a small smile of her own. "I'm glad to hear that. I probably shouldn't admit this, but you and Juno always were my favorite students..."
Sudden dread tumbled into her stomach. "Juno?"
Fiora, realizing the misunderstanding, hurried to explain. "Oh, you hadn't heard, then? It's nothing bad..."
"Indeed, just the opposite!" the knight exclaimed, unable to hold back any longer. "Little Juno has gotten married! Can you imagine? What a lovely bride she must have made..."
For a moment Sigune could not speak.
"Married?" she said at last.
"Yes," said Fiora, after a quick warning glance directed to the knight at her side. "To General Zealot of the knights' division, if you could believe it. They met on the battlefield, apparently."
"On the battlefield," Sigune repeated blankly.
Fiora nodded. "She turned in her resignation just last week, asking me to look out for her sister. Thite, the one who just left on her solo training journey -- she was under your tutelage before, I believe? At any rate, they're hoping to start a family of their own as soon as possible..."
"Oh?" said Sigune, interrupting in the most disinterested tone she could manage. Then she sneered, glancing significantly at the general and her knight. "And what about you?"
Her intended effect was immediate. Both general and knight colored, and seemed, almost unconsciously, to draw apart.
General Fiora said, coldly, "I do not follow your meaning."
In truth, the general was not so much older than herself, but in that moment, Sigune thought she might almost pity the other woman.
"Oh?" said Sigune again, giving a careless shrug. "Well, I must go meet with an employer. If I may excuse myself..."
She did not look back as she strode away.
Twenty. Juno came to her in the night, two little girls trailing alongside her, like a mother leading her young daughters.
"These are my sisters," she said, smiling. "This is Thany --" She gestured at the younger one, who was already running about the room without heed, then pushed forward the quiet, solemn child who had been hiding surreptitiously behind her, clinging to her waist, observing. "And this is Thite. Girls, this is my old friend Sigune. Say hello."
The girls stopped their respective activities and stared at her, and Sigune stared back, feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Juno laughed.
Sigune turned her glare onto the other woman. "What do you want?"
To Sigune's surprise, Juno actually looked embarrassed.
"Thany is still too young, but Thite here is ready to begin her training. And I was wondering... Well, there's no one I would trust more with my sister than you."
Two years ago, Juno had been named a captain, and Sigune had followed soon afterwards. As such, taking on new trainees was one of her expected duties, though the responsibility had yet to fall upon her. There had been fewer and fewer girls who chose the path of the pegasus knight, in late years. It was hardly a glamorous job, after all. And most of those who did had been assigned to other, more experienced captains.
"She wouldn't be too much of a burden on you. Thite's a good girl. I've already taught her to ride, some of the basics of combat..."
Her throat felt thick and clogged when she replied at last, though Sigune could hardly say why. "Yes," she choked out. "Of course. I'll do it."
"Will you?" said Juno. The smile that blossomed on her face was dazzling. "That's wonderful!"
Sigune ducked her head. "But you'd better not forget this. You owe me one now."
"I won't," promised Juno, and the smile was still present in her voice.
"Hn. We'll see about that."
But long after they bid her good night, Sigune could still hear Juno's shimmering laughter fading into the distance.
At sixteen, her wing was hired by a group of Etrurian nobles. Her captain told them that the contract was only for a year; they were to fight at the Ilia-Etruria border, where the two largest bandit groups in the region had recently formed an alliance with a few minor nobles and begun to stage organized uprisings against neighboring duchies.
Sigune did not like the Etrurians. They smiled too much, and too freely, and their laughter was civilized and false. There were no other women among them, unless one counted the occasional chaste Eliminean cleric, or the mounted healers, daughters and wives of noblemen all. Some of the girls in her wing returned the smiles they received, and even joked and chattered with the other soldiers. Sigune did not. The men only laughed, and whispered that she was cold.
Once, she caught a grave, fair-haired young man staring at her. He seemed scarcely older than herself. A squire, thought Sigune, to one of the older Etrurian knights.
"What're you looking at?" she snapped.
He seemed startled, but showed no hint of embarassment. "My apologies. You reminded me of someone I know."
"Is that so?" she said, in a mocking tone. "Some girl waiting for you back home?"
He stiffened. "No."
His voice was cold and final, and Sigune left him there with one last, derisive smile.
It was not the last time she saw him. She saw him again the next day, and the next. Often it was by coincidence, but more often than not she suspected that it was by design. On his part or hers, she could not say. Despite his youth, he fascinated her. Even in a crowd, he seemed set apart from the rest. Distinguished, somehow, from the rest of the gaudy trash that paraded around in their phony smiles and fancy robes and expensive armor. Oh, he was certainly handsome, she could not deny that. But that was not what drew her. Rather, she thought, there was a distant harshness to his demeanor that reminded her, somehow, of herself.
Some two weeks later, they met again around a campfire. The men were joking and carousing, in celebration of their victory earlier that day. A successful raid indeed, thought Sigune. There were new faces around the campfire now, some giggling, some weeping, some blank and unresponsive.
She wondered how long they would last.
The fair-haired squire held himself apart from the revelry, drinking in determined silence.
"Not going to join in on the fun?" she sneered. He turned slowly, glaring at her. "Or are you too good for that?"
He turned away again, not deigning to answer.
"Oh, I see," she said then, laughing. "You're saving yourself for that girl of yours."
At that he finally spoke. "I will not --"
"Will not what?"
"I will not become one of them," he said, and his sudden fierceness startled her.
She laughed bitterly. "So you say."
He stood shakily, turned to leave. But she grabbed him, perhaps more than a little drunk herself, and kissed him hard on the lips. He stiffened, pushing her away, but she held on, refusing to let go, until at last he appeared to give up and kissed her back. She moved her hands to the front of his waist. Again he tried to break away in protest. But years of fighting and training had made her strong, and he did not seem inclined to fight back.
"Cecilia --" he breathed.
She kissed him again, and after that they spoke no more.
In the darkness, it was easy to pretend.
One year later, as her wing's contract drew to a close, Sigune met with the young squire one last time.
"I'm leaving," she said.
He refused to look at her, as if doing so might cause him shame.
A sharp bark of laughter escaped her as she studied his proud, silent profile. "Well, it's been nice. Go back and say hello to that Cecilia of yours for me."
He rose in sudden anger, but she was already gone.
Later, she would hear that he had been knighted after his exceptional performance during a major battle at Remi. The last she heard of him, some years afterwards, he was still rising steadily through the ranks, well on his way even to the coveted position of Knight General of Etruria, despite his youth.
She was not surprised.
Most girls became fully fledged pegasus knights at fifteen. Sigune and Juno were no exception.
Sigune had always thought that day would be the happiest of moment of her life. But in the end, the only thing that remained emblazoned in her memory, illuminating the darkness of that day and the days and the weeks and months and years that followed, was Juno's brilliant, joyful smile.
Fourteen, and she was all alone. Such things were not supposed to happen, thought Sigune. The older girls had never said -- the Captain had aways promised -- dangers of the battlefield, never this, never --
She tried to cry out, but choked. Someone yanked her head back with a fistful of hair. "Little bitch!"
A foot in her stomach. She squeezed her eyes shut. But she could not close off her mouth, her ears, her body.
She was thrown to the ground. Her back pounded against the cold earthen floor. Dust filled her nostrils. There were hands all over her, reaching, pinching, grabbing. Laughter. Hot breath against her skin. Her fingers closed on straw and empty air.
Kill me, she moaned. Kill me.
But no sound escaped from her lips.
She was twelve and she had never seen a prettier girl. Pale and delicate, face framed with dark lilac curls and adorned with a sweet smile.
"Hi, I'm Juno," said the girl, and even her voice was as soft and pretty as a little lark's. "Looks like we're both going to be training under Captain Fiora for the next two years, huh?"
Sigune replied with something rude she had picked up from the docks near her home village, hoping to shock the girl, preferably into tears. But the girl seemed utterly unfazed.
"You're Sigune, right? Well, I hope we'll get along!"
They did not get along. Juno, despite her deceptively slight frame, was not to be underestimated; she was a quick learner, and quick with the sword, and she had been riding pegasi since she was a child. In the months that followed, Sigune had to struggle to catch up. She could not hide her resentment and dislike of the other girl, and did not even bother to try.
What made things even worse, Sigune thought, was the other girl's indefatigable optimism, born, as she had come to find, not from naivete, but sheer willpower.
"I wonder when the Captain's going to get married..." murmured the girl one night, as they lay awake, watching the stars.
Sigune scoffed. "What business is it of yours?"
"Just wondering." After a moment, Juno said, "But I just don't understand. They're so obviously in love..."
"Captain? With that man?" Sigune did not bother to hide the scorn dripping from her voice.
"Well, you can't help who you love."
They fell silent.
"If only they would just speak to each other --"
"They probably have their reasons."
"Yeah. I guess." And then, "Say, Sigune. What are your parents like?"
Before she could even think about it, the words came spewing from her mouth, bitter and acrid. "I never knew my father. Some mercenary, I suppose. And my mother? Just some useless lovesick bitch, some weak, silly twit of an Etrurian noblewoman who ran off with him, harboring delusions of romance. She's dead now. Wasted away, pining for him to the end. Dead, and good riddance."
"My mother's dead too," said Juno quietly. "She died when I was born. But, my father remarried a few years ago. She's a nice lady. More like a sister than a mother to me, though. She's the one who taught me everything... Oh, and now I have an adorable little sister to take care of! Two, actually. I just got the letter from them today. I wonder what she's like... Thite was so cute as a baby, but she's been growing into such a blunt child! I wonder what they're going to name her..."
Watching the soft, animated look in her eyes as she chattered away, Sigune could not bring herself to tell the other girl to shut up. Instead, she listened in silence to the rise and fall of her voice, and dreamed of spring in the lowlands.
She did not know then, of course, that mere months afterwards, both of Juno's parents would die on the same battlefield, hired by opposite sides.
A few weeks later, after an incident involving a group of drunk men and a frighteningly angry Captain Fiora -- even her disgracefully immoderate colleague of a knight had been shouting in a hypocritical righteous fury -- Sigune stood at Juno's side, quivering with indignance and something approaching rage.
"You're such a damn fool," Sigune spat.
Juno did not reply. Sigune could not look at her. She wanted to take hold of her pale shoulders and shake her. She wanted to --
"I'm going to become strong," Sigune said abruptly. "I'm not going to end up like -- like some weakling. Not like my mother, not like you. Never. People like you -- I just can't stand your type. I can't stand you. I --"
"Thank you," said Juno in a quiet voice.
Sigune was not certain when the tears had come. She rubbed fiercely at her eyes. "I'm going to become strong," she said again. "I'm going to become strong!"
For a long time Juno considered her in silence. At last, a look of quiet determination spread over her face.
"I will never lose to you."
Twenty-seven, and her life was drawing to a close.
What she had always hated most about Juno, thought Sigune, as she laid broken and numb in the snow, was how understanding the damn woman had always been. If only Juno had hated her, hated her in return... Everything would have been so much easier.
She could not stand the look of pity in Juno's sisters' eyes.
Death spilled warm from her, a dark red fountain. Ah, Juno. Do you remember? She lifted her hand weakly, reaching out to the sad, drawn face that hovered above her. Pale lips formed into soundless words. The darkness spread out against the sky. White wings unfurled, mere specks against the vast and stifling gloom.
It had been many years since she dreamed of the green country.