Title: The Winter Of Our Discontent
Character/Pairing: mostly an Erk centric piece. Hints of Erk/Priscilla, Erk/Serra and Erk/Nino
Summary: Erk takes over Pent's position as Mage General and wonders at the lives he could have lived.
A/N: The request itself called for something of an AU. Needless to say, this has a definite AU tinge in many a timeline. I know Etruria isn't Illia but it seemed high enough to get some snow.
Done for Lucathia as a Yuletide Madness pinch.
Erk pulled out another dusty, unused tome in from the endless bookshelves. Arcs Magicka, History of the Magics, Magic of Elibe... His master had never seen it fit to even remove one of these volumes from their shelves. There was so much dust that perhaps not even the Mage General before Pent had read these.
Erk carried them in his arms and set them on the studying table around him. It had grown cold outside, and there was little better to do than to read the dry history and comment upon it. There was a possibility of him being invited to parties, but Erk did not resemble his master. He didn't have that same dry wit that Pent possessed and he didn't have a Lady Louise to guide him seamlessly into the elite.
These days he never left the libraries. He ordered a cot to be placed in near a large west window. More often than not his room was left pristine and without his presence as he bedded down in between shelves of books.
No visitors had come since the Summer save for the coming and goings of servants. When he heard a knock at the door, Erk raised his gaze from the volume. He did not bother to move from his place for even in Master Pent's and Louise's absence, they were inevitably finding servants to ensure he didn't starve to death. (And how ironic, he thought, that he was the master and Pent now was a mere scholar and magician – one even under his jurisdiction )
"Come in," he said
The door opened to reveal not Nettie or Helsa, but a woman he'd once known. She wore a cloak trimmed with fur. It was forest green to match her eyes and offset her flaming hair. She seemed thinner than he remembered, he wondered if memory had failed him or if life had treated her poorly. It was as if Priscilla was stuck in a tragic play, one that she could not escape from. Even her tiny steps forward contained tragedies as fate turned a cruel side to her even to the end.
Her face betrayed nothing, she was as always, a true lady.
He had remembered hearing about her arranged marriage two years ago to an Ostia noble. Erk had thought he was in love with her once, but he had wanted to gain a title, a house and a name for himself before he asked for her hand. He was a mere six months too late. He had mourned and given her up. Studies filled his life now, just as they had when he was younger.
As time passed it regressed, it grew cylindric and repeated itself.
"Erk," she said. "Or should I say, Master Erk."
"Please, don't think of it. We are old friends, after all...Lady Priscilla."
"Yes, old friends..." She said.
"Forgive my inhospitality, I had only expected one of the servants Mas– Pent sent me."
She inclined her head in a nod. "I understand. Please, do not concern yourself with it."
In her presence, he felt the same sort of warm, golden feeling of memories. It had been revived,
a phoenix rising, logs sent to a waning flame. This was not magic, for magic was something he could understand. He had pushed this far away to have it suddenly thrust in his face with old loves and old memories.
"Your former client– I met her the other day," Priscilla said.
"Hmm? You mean Serra?"
"Yes, Serra. She is wed to a knight in the house of Ostia close to where I reside. They are expecting a child, as am I."
The words seemed damning, the final nail to the coffin of his exhumed love. He swallowed and his stomach knotted.
"I am happy for you, Lady Priscilla."
"Thank you," she said. Her voice as always was gentle with a trace of sadness.
"I don't mean to seem rude, but what brings you to my doorstep?"
"My husband is paying a visit to family members. I heard you mentioned and wanted to see for myself."
I wanted to see you again. I wanted to say goodbye.
"I'm married to my books, as you can see," Erk said. He gestured around to the academic clutter, the books spread out with notes cast on yellowed paper.
She was as she had always been, a half-realized dream, a fragment. He wondered if he had ever loved her, or if he had become infatuated with her tragedy. Had some inner part of him longed to save her from her sadness? He placed such reasoning aside. Love was not reasonable, it was not something that could be metered or explained in books. It was worshiped and adored and lauded above all. It was misunderstood and misshaped and carved to delusion but it was not known.
Perhaps the mystery was what made that cursed emotion so irresistible after all.
Erk kept a white silk ribbon among his things. It was wrinkled by time and had nothing but sentimental value. It was given to him (bestowed on as an honor) by the bossiest, most troublesome client he had ever worked with. She had such a high opinion of herself, it was hard to get a word in edgewise. She was the most obnoxious, loudest most annoying person he had ever met.
And yet... Erk could not bring himself to throw it away. He used it as a bookmark in oft-read books to hold the exact line of dialogue and phrase.
Sometimes he touched the soft material and felt the ghost of a smile spread over his lips.
Erk found out about her disappearance quite by accident. He did not keep up with the gossip of nobles and servants alike but had overheard a cleaning woman mention a Black Fang member had been on the run.
He hadn't known the bright girl long, and had only marveled for a moment at her intrinsic genius. She had been little more than a fellow student, a radiantly gifted girl that he could have been close with. He had met the girl late, but before he had truly fallen for Priscilla. Idle thoughts turned to marriage and children, when her hand touched his, he could almost see the world they could create together.
It was a life that could have been his, but with a few twists. Had he returned earlier, and not found her by the side of an assassin. Erk fell for a red-haired tragic girl who was more ghost and dream than any reality of his.
As the wind blew deep and merciless outside Erk turned another page. Another winter had come to rest upon the walls of his manse. Priscilla had died in childbirth last winter. He had only found out when his letter was returned by a skilled serving woman who had been devoted to her mistress. The fall before that Pent and Louise had been lost in an accident, they were survived by their two children.
The tides of war were coming again over Elibe. He could feel it in the air, Bern had become hungry again. He predicted that it would not come for a few years yet, but it would come. War itself was as inevitable as love. They were the same of two sides, love and hate constantly switching and sometimes residing in the same place.
He heard about the death of Hector months after Ostia had been overridden. He wondered at Priscilla's child, the girl whose name he had never known. It was something he never talked about her, as if not mentioning her bonds would make them disappear.
Grey streaked his hair now. He never left the libraries if he could help it. Servants were extraneous. They left meals where he could find them and moved like specters of another land. His life was one of books. It was a life he had almost throne aside, for those few months when he was younger. War gave one another perspective. It did not enrich lives, but it could teach a person the meaning of value.
Soon he would give up this position. He was already lost past for it, his successor had been chosen some time ago. A Lady, a Valkyrie who had grace as well as intelligence. Sometimes he sees Lady Louise in her, and sometimes he sees Priscilla in her though she does not resemble them exactly. It is in certain gestures, how she inclined her head when she nodded or how she smiled.
The pages turned as the snow outside blew into dunes. Ghosts mingled in the twilight of his life. Pent, Louise, Priscilla, Serra and Nino. They flitter through his mind more and more as the time passed. Even knowledge cannot keep them away for long. He had by all means achieved the childhood dream he worked so hard for. And yet all those cuts and accidental missteps, those missed paths taunt him in the twilight of his life.
Love, war and knowledge, they were all the different representations of the same basic force, only inversed or reversed, taken to or pressed out of. When time came down to it, the force remained the same. It had taken him twenty years to learn that lesson.