Stirrings

-

"I thought I might find you here."

Up on the smallest balcony in Castle Renais, Ephraim strode forth to meet his sister, who watched the moonlit horizon past the railing's edge. The night was festive, the moon having spilt her bag of sugar, speckling the sky with stars. The air was crisp and somehow sweet, perhaps from the scents of bakers' goods wafting up with the wind from the city below. A bell rang out, faint but clear.

"You know me too well, brother," Eirika said, waiting as he took his place beside her.

Ephraim laughed, but it was not whole-hearted. Fatigue had taken much of his spirit.

"I thought you might try to see the stars tonight before you retired," said he.

"Perhaps…brother, was the thought of finding me here more akin to an instinct?"

"Yes, actually, that seems right. Not quite a stirring, but something like it, yes."

"I read once in one of Lyon's old tomes that twins are the same soul shared by two bodies," Eirika said.

Ephraim smiled and shared a glance with his sister. "I believe you told me that some time ago," he said. "I can believe that. It quite makes sense, actually."

"It's a comforting thought," Eirika admitted.

"Mm."

There was a lull in the conversation, then:

"My sword arm has gotten stronger, brother. I've taken your instruction to heart. I still have much to learn, of course."

"I'm glad to hear that. Your skills have improved tenfold even since this war began. I don't think you give yourself enough credit!"

Ephraim stood by the stone railing and leaned over. Below them, the green hills of their homeland rolled downward until they met the city. The towers and storefronts of what might have been a toy town from such a distance were lit with many yellow lights and some red. Eirika stood beside him and watched what he watched.

"I want to be able to protect us all," Eirika said as she surveyed each inch-wide street and finger-tall tower. "I want to have the power to do what none other can, a power to give the gifts that none other can…a power that is mine and mine alone. Is that selfish of me, brother?"

Ephraim shook his head. "Not at all. We all want to have that power."

"If I had known…" her voice grew more insistent, "brother, if I had been stronger back then, maybe—"

"Listen to me, sister," Ephraim said, holding Eirika's shoulders. "All we have is what is in front of us. We stand in a castle that was, for however briefly, held by a man who immersed himself in what had been…he had only that for solace."

They shared a silent moment of sorrow.

"But we cannot look back," Ephraim continued. "We don't want to ever forget what we're fighting for. We've come this far. We cannot go back."

"I'll do everything in my power, brother. I do not want to feel helpless."

"You're not," Ephraim insisted.

"I know. Still, sometimes I feel like I am."

Ephraim shared a secret that wasn't a secret. "Sometimes I do too."

"I know."

They stood without moving. Ephraim looked forward at the horizon and Eirika looked up through the purple-black water of the sea of stars. Both twins enjoyed standing under the moonlight for different reasons: Ephraim felt strong, loved by the light's gentle caresses, and Eirika simply felt as though she were home.

"Somewhere out there, Lyon is waiting for us," Eirika said. "Is he watching the same sky as we are? Can he see the stars from where he is? Does he feel as small and simple as I?"

"He will be strong," Ephraim said, shifting uncomfortably from one leg to the other. "Until the very end."

"We've done so much good already. I wonder if there is something more, something we don't know. I suppose all we can do is march onward."

"Do you remember when we spoke the other day, Eirika? This war…the stirrings in my heart call me to fight. It is a need, a longing that stirs me. I have to keep my lance arm strong or else I fear I might lose myself. I know it seems strange and low, a man's restless desires. Forgive me this. I suppose I am a man of many contradictions."

"It is all right, brother. I know your intentions are true."

"Are they? Truly?" Ephraim said. At times he had wondered. He did as a warrior-prince was meant to do: rally and inspire his troops, mull over the restoration of his homeland and his castle in disrepair, prepare for the battles to come, both little and small. Still, it was the simple pleasures that he enjoyed the most. Evading and countering an enemy soldier's strike, sitting and watching a sunset silently with his sister, feasting in a grand hall, and thinking about a time when not grasping his lessons fully was his greatest concern. Some small part of him would have traded his country, his colors, and all of his titles for a few more years of his childhood, where Innes and Tana and Lyon came and went and they all sat together and laughed. Another part of him would have traded everything for a few quiet years of his manhood, alone with his sister, where the food and drink came endlessly, and there was no one else around to disturb them. It was a selfish thought, one he would not tell even the blood of his blood.

"Truly," Eirika insisted. She stood close to her brother, wanting him to know that she was always close if he needed her as she needed him. He could lean on her as she often leaned on him. Perhaps it was simple, but if he was happy, then she was as well. If ever Ephraim fell, she wanted to be there first to lift him up. She wondered if those were a woman's 'restless desires'. "You are a good man. I believe in you."

"I will end this senseless war," Ephraim said, his eyebrows furrowed, his jaw cast in iron. "I will give us—give us all—a place where we can live without sorrow or worry. I won't be denied this, not by soldiers of Grado nor demon kings. Dear sister…the day when I can again see you smile in earnest…widely and sincerely like you did when we were young…I would very much like that."

"As would I," Eirika replied.

"That day will come soon," Ephraim promised.

"If you will it."

"If we will it."

After a brief pause, she said, "Of course, my brother."

"Ah! I've an idea, Eirika!" Ephraim said, clasping his sister's hands in his. "When we have a quiet moment, let's sit together and set up a chessboard. Lyon always said my mind was in need of a whetstone!"

"Oh, brother, be serious. This is no time for games."

"Come now, it will be fun! Or have you grown too old to enjoy a bit of sport?" Ephraim grinned.

"N-No, that's not it. Simply…"

"Or maybe I'll lift you up into the air and let you soar like a pegasus again, like I did when we were little; do you remember that?"

"Bro-therrr," Eirika whined, turning a cheek. "You're embarrassing me…"

Ephraim laughed. "Ah, I'm only teasing, only teasing."

"I know," Eirika said, smiling faintly. "To be honest, I'd like to play a few games with you too. And we will! Soon, I promise."

Ephraim embraced his sister and looked her directly in the eyes. He was solemn and his face expressionless. "Eirika. The same stirrings that call me to battle also call me to…"

Eirika put her arms around her brother's shoulders and spoke ever more quietly, her face as calm as his. "I understand. If you wish to lie with me, I am yours. I will be there for you."

For a moment, they silently held each other in their arms as they did when they were children. In the dim light of the waning moon, they could only see each other's eyes, faces when they stood as one. The night had ceased its noisemaking, and the world was so still it was mystical. The twins shared a look that said they could feel the magic.

"But—no, not now, not here," Ephraim said at last, kissing her lightly. "Not as we are."

"I understand, brother." She began to cry soundlessly.

"Eirika…why are you so sad?" Ephraim reached out and stroked his sister's cheek with a gentle hand, wiped her tears away. It reminded her of a time before she could hold a sword.

"It is simply that…aside from this, brother, I have nothing else to give."