Disclaimer: I do not make money off of Fire Emblem.
Summary: FE7. One-shot. It is a little known fact that dragons dance.
Pairings: Ninian/Eliwood, implied others
Notes: With apologies to T. S. Eliot. (Also, not that it matters, but I have a semi-crack theory that Bramimond was a Divine Dragon and that resurrected!Ninian is essentially a "perfected" morph...)
At the Still Point of the Turning World
In my beginning is my end.
It is a little known fact that dragons dance.
In the histories and songs of the Ending Winter and the Scouring, there are countless descriptions of those great beasts: ferocious and barbaric, huge, bulking monstrosities of nature, terrible to behold. Unnatural creatures built of scale and stone, of ice and flame and magic. A cruel race; a kind that knows only death and destruction. These are the tales that dancers dance, in shallow mimicry of what once was. These are the victories that mankind celebrates, commemorated for eternity in legend and verse.
But what those poets and historians do not understand, you see, is that all life dances, and dragons more than most. For it is in their blood, those children of the stars. And so they dance, dance with the wind, dance to the drumming in their blood, the singing of the stars, that unheard music of the sky. They dance for life and for death and for all that was lost, long, long ago, and all that shall return. This is the way of the dragons, who know better than most that time, not death, is the destroyer of worlds.
So it is for Ninian, in her lover's arms, as they emerge from the darkness and into the light. Her old body is gone forever, but she lives on now in this new, fragile body, neither woman nor beast. There is a faint and unknown sorrow within her, mingling with triumphant joy; perhaps she grieves the passing of her kin, the parting with her brother, or for something she cannot yet understand, has perhaps long forgotten. They are all gone to other worlds now, the dragon of flame and her brother and Nergal and the one of shadows and dusk. And she is here, in between the vast dark spaces of the universe. She is no longer who she was.
But the blood of dragons runs through her veins yet, and the wind's laughter makes her blood sing. The breeze cradles them in its sweet, clean embrace, and next to them, Lord Hector swings a giggling, blushing Florina onto his broad shoulders, both of them laughing with the wind. Just steps away, Lady Lyndis's hand finds her knight's while her nomad friend watches on in a comfortable silence, and Ninian knows that they too are listening, listening to the song of the sky. Even Mark, tall and skinny and silent, wrapped as ever in his ragged green cloak, exudes a resigned contentment so unlike the tautness she has so often sensed in him before.
And Eliwood, Lord Eliwood holds her so close that she can feel the pulse of his heart synchronized with her own, his soft breath tickling her ear, as if he breathes life back into her. His arms are steady; his hands gentle but firm. She remembers, vaguely, being held like this in his arms once before, a month ago, a year ago, or perhaps it was someone else's body in someone else's arms in the foggy, distant centuries of the past.
She pulls away. He looks at her, concerned, asks if she's all right, if she's strong enough to stand on her own yet, and lets her down reluctantly only after she reassures him with a smile and a nod. Despite this body, despite everything, she is a child of the stars. As her feet touch the ground, she tugs him into a dance, and though he is surprised at first, away they twirl, giddy and laughing. One by one, the members of their company halt their respective activities, their chatter and their silence, their attention drawn by the easy, flying step of two lovers circling in time to the beating of their hearts.
As she dances with him, she knows only this: all worlds are one, and all their lives lie before them.
When Lord Eliwood takes her back with him to Pherae, he introduces her to his people not as a poor, exotic dancer, but a princess from a distant land. There are few who remember her last visit to Pherae, and fewer still who would believe her a dancer, despite her grace. With her pale hair and red eyes, her beauty is simply too ethereal, too alien, for her to have been some common entertainer, toiling in the streets to eke out a living. And it is not such an untruth, really. Nothing is known about the lands beyond the sea, if they do indeed exist, and in the end a princess is not so different from a vessel of power, a priestess. And so the explanation is accepted without much comment.
In the first few months, despite all Lord Eliwood's effort to shield her, Ninian receives countless curious, not always innocuous inquiries about her people and her land. These she answers best as she can, turning to layers upon layers of memory of that world now forever sealed to her. It hurts, in the beginning. But eventually, she starts getting used to her new role. The people love their lord, she finds -- which has not always been the case in the many lands she has traveled through -- and because they love him, they love her.
It is all very strange.
And yet even the best-loved lords must sometimes be cruel. This she learns as well, when Sir Marcus brings bandits and criminals before her love to await his judgment. Lord Eliwood is a man with a kind heart, but there are times a man must set aside mercy in favor of justice, especially in these early days, after the turmoil and unrest that has festered in his long absence, and the minor quibbles and power struggles of the lesser Pheraen nobles. And Ninian begins to understand: no longer now is she the one who needs protection, but Lord Eliwood who needs to be protected against the harsh realities of rulership. Just as the earth must bear the burden of harvest, so too must she carry his love and his pain.
But Lady Eleanora and Sir Marcus are there to guide her, and she has always been a fast learner. For these are the days of turning, the days of balance and of harmony, and she no longer fears. There is nothing left to fear. The shadow has passed. The days of darkness have fled.
And with it, her doubt.
So she dances.
She dances in the courtyards, she dances in the gardens, she dances in the streets. She forgets the frailty of her body and forgets her name, until she is no longer Ninian but only Lady Pherae, and her feet and her body ache with the ache of the people. And slowly, slowly they begin to notice. There is power in her dance, power that goes beyond stillness and movement, power that draws, that beguiles. Hardened mercenaries weep in her wake, and afterwards cannot explain their tears. Giggling children trail after her like ducklings in spring, and their widowed mothers remember what was, and dream of what will surely be. The most eloquent of courtiers find themselves tongue-tied in her presence, their quarrels and complaints forgotten, if only for some time.
Day after day, she feels the bonds that keep her anchored to this existence unraveling, the constructed shell of her soul crumbling with every step she takes. She sees the green buds peeking out from seared, blackened earth; she hears the laughter echoing from the hitherto silent wreckage of villages razed by men and time.
And when she lies in her lord's arms, listening to the whisper of growing things, she almost forgets how fragile life is, how fragile love and hope.
"Burn my body when I am dead," she tells him, one day.
Talk like this troubles him, she knows. But there are some things that must be said. She knows this now. And so the words fall from her lips, unbidden, determined.
Just as she expects, he frowns, his brows creasing in loving concern. "Ninian, what's the matter? Why this all of a sudden?"
But she shakes her head, places a silencing finger on his lips.
She has seen the burning grounds, the all-consuming fire. Do not forget who you are, oh child of the stars! the voices had whispered. And she had answered, I have not. I shall not.
And so, though it pains her to see the sorrow and confusion in his eyes, she says only, "Someday, you will understand."
"Someday, you will understand," she had told her brother. Despite all the years they had lived, he was still a child after all. But the truth is, she did not understand then any more than he had. Even now, truth remains elusive. Shadows lurk in the distant mists of her memory. Dragon and man, man and dragon. Everything fades.
This she dreams, one night, and many nights after:
A bed of blood and raging fire, her hair long and matted like a river, like coiling snakes. Memories like water ripple across her crumbling consciousness. Loneliness. Loss. The sliver of a crescent moon. Snow and ice. A cold that burns, and blood unfurling like red flowers against the white. And pain, pain deep and sharp and unbearable. And in the end there are only the deep still pools, smooth and placid in her mind's eye, reflecting nothing.
Perhaps it is only an illusion. Perhaps it is a portent of things to come. But there is little difference between illusion and reality, she knows, and who can say what course the river of life shall run?
She does not tell her lord of the dreams, nor let them shadow her days. For it is her love that keeps her bound, even now, to this transient life. But someday, even love will not be enough to keep her.
Their child will be beautiful, she thinks.
Strong. Beautiful. Kind.
The night of their wedding, she dances for him.
Her human body is clumsy and unwieldy, lacking the easy sinuous grace of her true form. But his eyes are warm as he watches her, and in the distance she can hear invisible music like a pipe. Not a word passes between them, but as she dances, the seasons fly past before her eyes and her heart is full.
The lives of men are but a blink of an eye to a dragon; how much more fleeting five years!
They will remember her as an evanescent, gentle spring breeze. And in time, she will be forgotten, like the fallen leaves of autumn.
But do not grieve, my love -- oh, do not grieve!
For surely we shall meet again, beyond the veil that separates the worlds...
In my end is my beginning.