Disclaimer: I do not make money off of Fire Emblem.
Summary: FE3. One-shot. She was just a simple peasant girl masquerading as a princess masquerading as a general. And I'd sworn my undying loyalty to her.
Rating: T for language.
Notes: Samson/Sheema probably ties with Camus/Nina as my FE3 OTP. (Possibly even winning out over it...) The first person was unexpected though; I usually hate writing and reading first person. And "Dover Beach," which is one of my favorite poems, could probably fit any number of FE couples, but it just kind of struck me in particular as fitting here.
edit 12/05/08: fixed for official English spellings/names to the best of my abilities. Do let me know if you catch anything I missed.
edit 02/24/09: fixed to NA localizations. Again, let me know if I missed anything.
Flowers on the Sea
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
- Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"
I wasn't sure what I was expecting when they told me I'd been hired by the princess of Gra. I'd met my share of princesses by then, you see. I guess they're all right, but I'm not too fond of them all the same. And besides, this new princess was a complete unknown. For all I knew, they'd just plucked some random farmgirl out of complete obscurity to serve as a puppet for their own purposes. I mean, she was supposed to be a bastard. But with the old king dead, any useless shit from the backwoods could have claimed royal blood, and none the wiser.
So I wasn't too impressed, as you might imagine, when they dragged me down to meet her that day. But a job's a job, and a man's gotta feed himself somehow. I'd been a gladiator, once. Then shit happened. I left the arena for good, settled down in a nice, peaceful village. The villagers liked me well enough, though they detested the other village just over the hill -- some ancient feud over the nearby freshwater spring, or so I'd gathered -- and I guess my rivalry with the retired knight staying there didn't help matters either, though looking back now I can't say why the man rubbed me the wrong way. Knights and all their high and mighty talk of honor and duty and crap like that, maybe. Never could stand that type. A killer's a killer, no matter how you present him.
Anyway, after the war, I knew I couldn't go back. Maybe it was because all that fighting had awoken the battlelust in me once more; maybe it was because I'd never truly felt at home in Altea; maybe it was because I always knew a man like me would never be able to truly settle down. But at any rate, I knew it was time to move on. Now, I didn't have any intentions of going back to the arena, either, but I figured I'd wander around, get hired where I could. War is chaos, sure, but it's nothing compared to the aftermath. The pickings were far from lean. It was a good time to be in the mercenary business.
About two years passed like that, and I guess I started growing a bit of reputation much like I had in my gladiator days, because next thing I knew, I was hanging around at some tavern or other, not liking the rumors I was hearing at all, and then these official-looking men bearing the empire's arms came in looking for me. And I knew then I wasn't gonna like what I had to hear from them, either.
Two days later I was trussed up in some fancy new armor emblazoned with the leaping fish of Gra and brought to the castle. It was pretty airy for a castle, actually, with wide open spaces, and smelling of the sea. That put me at ease a bit, I'll admit. I've never felt comfortable in those dank stone fortresses of the mainland.
But it didn't keep me from my surprise upon entering the throne room and seeing the girl who sat alone there in the full regalia of a mighty warlord. I'd never seen old King Jiol myself, but I'd heard plenty of the man, and not a single good word among them. But this girl, she was... well.
I would call her beautiful, but she wasn't. Not quite. There was a certain coarseness to her, though she carried herself with quiet nobility; the armor didn't suit her, but neither would a gown, I suspected. She had neither Princess Elice's effortless warmth and poise, nor Princess-now-Empress Nyna's melancholy elegance. She had neither Minerva of Macedon's confident strength, nor the sweet innocence of Minerva's little sister. She didn't even have that fierce optimism that characterized Prince Marth's girl, that princess of some obscure island kingdom who-knows-where.
What she did have, as I would come to find, was pride, tempered with compassion, and the iron will of the sea.
Her name was Sheema, she told me, standing stiffly to greet me. Her voice was low and gruff, almost boyish. In that same matter-of-fact tone, she proceeded to tell me that I had been hired not just to fight for her, but more importantly, to whip into shape the sudden wave of recruits that had followed her ascension. Now, that attitude, that posture, I'd seen it all before, in my arena days. Surest way to tell the newcomers from an old hand. It was all bluster, and behind it all I could sense that she was nothing but a frightened young woman who'd gotten herself into something way out of her depth.
I didn't say that to her, of course. Hell, if I were in her position, I'd have been scared out of my ass too. Emperor Hardin had gone nuts by all accounts -- he was the only reason Sheema had even been installed on the throne now, of all times. The Alteans so resented by Gra were tramping all over the place in rebellion against the empire, and under Prince Marth's leadership, would soon bring the battle here, no doubt. All the old knights had been killed during the previous war; the country was overrun by Archanean soldiers sent in by the emperor, ostensibly for protection against Prince Marth, but more likely because Hardin feared further insurrection among the people. And now the hopes of all the kingdom had been pinned on one person alone: the bastard daughter of old King Jiol.
To tell the truth, it was pretty terrifying, how they loved her. There wasn't a single soul who could have claimed to love her father, except maybe his own dead mother, but they were absolutely crazy over Sheema. Maybe it was because she was a woman. Maybe it was because she was one of them. Whatever it was, all the young men and women of the kingdom had suddenly cropped up in droves, clamoring one after the other to sacrifice themselves for their newfound princess. How much crazier can you get?
I guess she must have been kinda lonely, though. I had my hands tied about up to here dealing with all those recruits, but she often came to watch our training sessions. Sometimes she'd even ask me for a few pointers afterwards -- in private, of course. Couldn't afford to show any weakness before the soldiers who had put so much faith in her, after all.
Eventually we took to talking. Just minor things at first. I talked about how my mother'd up and moved us all to Altea when I was young, because there was nothing left for us in Gra. Eking out a living on the streets. Begging for scraps, sleeping under the open sky, at the mercy of the winds. And later, life as a gladiator, living day by day on blood and senseless slaughter. The life I'd left behind long ago.
In turn she told me about her own childhood, in a small fishing village on the northern coast of the kingdom. Growing up without a father, not knowing who her father was. Subsisting on an annual pittance sent by the king (to buy her mother's silence, she'd said, an underlying current of bitterness breaking through her usual restrained demeanor), supplemented by her mother's work as a basket weaver. Her training in the use of a spear, as all women of Gra are trained, so that they might defend their homes against pirates in their husbands' absence. And though she and her mother never were quite fully accepted by the rest of the villagers, it had not, all in all, been an unhappy life.
That all ended when the queen died. King Jiol found himself suddenly bereaved, and heirless to boot. He got to thinking about that pretty fisherman's daughter he'd once fucked while on official business of some kind or other, that girl he still sent a bit of money to every year, when he remembered to. And imagine his surprise when he found, upon examining the records, that she'd borne him a daughter in the fifteen years since he'd last seen her! It was no son, to be sure, but better a girl than nothing.
The soldiers had descended upon their village without warning. The next day, she'd woken up to find her mother now wed to the king, and herself surrounded by servants fussing and scraping and catering to her every need.
I'd laughed, then. I couldn't imagine it at all. But she'd been deadly serious. She'd thought it was a joke, herself, she said. But a single glance at her mother's face had dispelled all notion of that.
A few nights later, as they approached the castle, she ran away. She headed for the mainland, for Pales, the capital of Archanea, far beyond her father's reach. Managed to find a decent job as a maidservant in some nobleman's household. But there, her luck ended. Mere months later, Gra turned against Altea. Pales fell to Dolhr. Through it all she managed to survive, but just barely.
So the years passed. Dolhr collapsed. Pales and Archanea were freed. Hardin married Nyna and took the reins, reestablished the Holy Empire, swallowed up a bunch of the minor kingdoms, Gra included. But of course, to establish at least some semblance of legitimacy he had to install someone on the throne who was popular with the people, and not too obviously his puppet.
That's about when they found Sheema. You see, people remembered. They remembered that peasant woman King Jiol had taken to wife and who had died under suspicious circumstances within the year. And the servants, they remembered her grown daughter. The sailors who had taken her across the sea, the merchant caravan who had let her join them on the way to Archanea; the other maids from the household where she had served -- those who'd survived the destruction, anyway; the soldiers who'd heard the name upon old King Jiol's lips as he lay dying at Prince Marth's hand. They all remembered her, in bits and fragments and traces of rumors. Hardin's men followed those rumors like a pack of hounds. And they found her, all right. Starved, half dead, crawling about with the dogs in the streets of Pales.
Why'd you agree to this anyway? I'd asked her once, before she told me all this. She'd refused to answer me then. Well, now I knew.
And here we were, awaiting the final wave of destiny that would surely sweep us forever from the pages of history.
Maybe I felt sorry for her. I guess you could say that. Sure, she'd led a tough life, but that could be said of anyone who lived through those dark days. And she wasn't a woman you could easily pity. No, she was too proud for that, and she possessed a gravitas and charisma most men with twice her age and experience only dream of having. People were drawn to her, the way a moth is drawn to the light. She was more than just a princess to them. She was a symbol, of hope and rebirth and the promise of tomorrow, of the imagined resurrection of a glorious past that had never truly existed.
I don't know if she bought into all that crap herself. Maybe she did; maybe she didn't. But she felt responsible for them all the same. They were her people. Her soldiers. Her citizens. She belonged to them.
But all dreams come to an end, as they must. Altea arrived, on the heels of tidings of victory after victory against Hardin's Empire. All those kids who'd been proudly boasting of heroic sacrifices and eternal glory suddenly got a dash of sense kicked back into them. Most of them scampered back home, tails between their legs. Those who stayed only did so because they were too afraid to flee, afraid of getting tracked down by the Archanean troops stationed here, or too damned ashamed of themselves to do anything but hold their positions dumbly, frozen in place like frightened hares facing the hunter's arrow.
I didn't blame them. I mean, who were we kidding? Even with my lackluster, last minute training -- an army of fresh recruits, of kids who'd never killed anything bigger than a boar at most, facing an army of Altea's seasoned elite, under the banner of Prince Marth himself! I knew their strength personally; I'd made a living of fighting the dregs of the kingdom in their famed arena, even fought alongside the prince during the previous war. The Prince of Light, the Starlord, they'd called him then. I didn't know if they'd still call him that now.
But Sheema, she wouldn't run. I must witness the final days of my Kingdom of Gra, she said, and I told her she was just being used, but of course she knew that. She'd known that from the start. You don't owe these people anything, I wanted to tell her then, but I didn't. Wouldn't have been any use. Bastard she might have been, but she was the king's daughter nevertheless, and there was no way she could abandon her people.
Instead, I told her I'd stay with her, right to the bitter end.
Why? she'd said, surprise blooming across her face, and in that moment her usual steel cracked, and all of a sudden she'd looked startlingly vulnerable, more so than I had ever seen her before. After all, it wasn't like she could pay me anymore. She'd run out of the gold Hardin gave her long ago, while struggling to feed and arm her precious recruits. And it was true that my decision went against all my better instincts. Throwing away your life pointlessly makes you no better than a dog, or so my mother once proclaimed.
I don't know myself, I'd admitted. But... sometimes there's things a man's just gotta do.
Call it pity if you like. But in that single moment, I'd caught a glimpse of who she truly was: just a simple peasant girl masquerading as a princess masquerading as a general.
And in that same moment, I'd sworn my undying loyalty to her.
I think maybe it was then that I realized I was in love with her. It was a pretty preposterous idea. I'd bedded more than my share of women over the years, but like I said, I'd never been much of a settling man. But I'd been so caught up in her image and her cause, no better than those poor fools I'd scorned and trained, that I hadn't even noticed how her presence, her very existence, had begun to change me. Sounds stupid, sure, but that was the truth. I caught myself staring, forgetting myself. My days grew defined by her, and her alone. My nights weren't any better. I wanted nothing more than to protect her, protect her from grief and pain and everything that was in my power to prevent.
I knew I was in trouble then.
I wasn't the only one. The remaining soldiers rallied around her with sudden, fierce passion. Still too frightened to actually take up arms against the incoming Alteans, but no longer willing to let themselves get pushed around by Hardin's men.
But it was different for them. Here I was, a grown man who had faced down death countless times, and lived to tell the tale each time -- at the complete and utter mercy of a girl, a young woman who had spent a third of her life running away, and she didn't even realize it.
But that was all right, I decided. If we ever got out of this mess alive -- if -- I'd leave. My contract with her had long expired, and I'd only promised to stay for the duration of the battle, to stick with her through the last of her fool's resolve. If by some chance, Prince Marth was still the man he'd been, perhaps even managed to make her change her mind... well, I'd have no more obligation to her, then. And it was probably better for both of us, in that case, if we never saw each other again. I knew the limits of what I could promise to her, and what I couldn't.
I thought it'd be easy. Boy, was I wrong.
When I saw her talking to Prince Marth, I knew my faith in the kid hadn't been misplaced. And when she came up to me afterwards to confirm as much, I was truly glad for her. But when I told her I was leaving, well, her reaction was nothing like what I'd expected.
"Samson..." she said, in a raw, troubled tone, none of her usual composure on display, and something in my heart constricted at the way she said my name. "Do you really have to go?"
"You don't need me anymore," I replied, shrugging carelessly. "From now on, Prince Marth'll take care of you."
I was about to head off then, when I felt her hand, rough and callused, on my arm.
"Don't go!" I turned back to her, startled. Her voice was gruff and awkward, and she wouldn't look me in the eye. "I don't want you to go..."
I didn't really understand what was going on, why she was acting so unlike her usual self, why she still wanted me at her side when she had been so determined to dismiss me before the battle. But I did understand this much: if I left her now, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
Hell, I thought, why not? If she wants me, I'll stay.
So I did.
After the war ended, I followed her back to Pales. There was no place for her in Gra anymore, she said. Prince Marth had asked her to take up the throne again, but she had denied the request. As long as I remain, our people will never be truly united, she'd told him then. She was probably right. There were still those who had yet to give up their dream of an independent Gra under Sheema's rule. And I knew better than she did that she would never truly be happy on the throne. Kingship was a great and terrible responsibility. I didn't envy the prince one bit.
But we were free, now. As free as men could be, in this world. Sheema shed her armor and took up basket weaving (and just as I'd suspected, the Archanean women's dress suited her just as little as the armor had -- but damn if she wasn't beautiful anyway). I set aside my sword and took up a job as a stablehand. We made ends meet, somehow.
She wove all things together. I told her I couldn't promise much, but she didn't mind, and life seemed to make a little more sense than it once had. Things seemed right, fitting in a way it had never before. I promised her that I would stay by her side forever. And maybe that was enough. Maybe that was all we needed, even knowing the futility of mortal promises, knowing that we were doomed to be forever ignorant to what tomorrow might bring.
Every spring she wove a net of flowers, a blossom for each of the dead, and we would journey down to the southern coast. As night fell, we would wait together at the edge of the sea. She would cast the net of flowers out to the beckoning waves, and we would watch as the petals disintegrated, swallowed into darkness like ghosts. We would remember those days of hope and confusion, when we stood together at the brink of shadow and change.
And as we faced the darkness before us then, we would laugh in the face of slow and inexorable destiny, secure in our knowledge of each other.
For to the sea must all things return.