Disclaimer: I do not make money off of Fire Emblem.

Summary: FE6,7. One-shot. Post-game. Miledy and the remaining soldiers of Bern are still clearing their dead from the battlefields when Guinevere finds a stash of love letters from King Desmond to her mother.
Pairings: Desmond/Guinevere's mom. Hints at others.
Rating: T, for decomposing bodies and mild descriptions of rituals loosely based on RL sky burial.

Notes: Virtual cookies if you recognize the FE7 cameo. Notes at wariskind on LiveJournal.


Carrion Skies

Though the faith of Elimine had gained a firm stronghold in Bern since the days of her father's father, some of the old customs still held firm sway among the people. It was no different among the wyvern riders, those proud, fierce knights of the sky, who even now followed the old ways in half-superstitious, half-reverent secrecy.

This Guinevere knew well, as the former princess of Bern, and so she was not surprised when, barely a day after their return to Bern Keep, Miledy sought a private audience with her.

"My lady," said Miledy, for the lords and ministers and generals of all Elibe had no doubt already begun bickering over the fate of Bern, and it would be months if not years until Guinevere would be instated as the new queen, if at all. "The first of the ceremonies will be held tomorrow."

Guinevere nodded. Despite the bitter cold, the air was thick with the inescapable smell of death, a constant reminder of everything they had lost. It would be weeks before the last remnants of the dead could be cleared from the freezing fields, months before the spectres of their memory began to fade, years before Bern would be restored to even a fragment of her former glory.

Her kingdom, her people. Lying broken across the hard, mountainous land.

"Will you not come, my lady?"

At that, Guinevere looked up sharply. Miledy's expression was unreadable, but Guinevere sensed, or perhaps imagined, a distant grief in her bearing.

"I do not think," she said quietly, "that I shall find any welcome there."

"Please. I realize that this is a selfish request, but..."

"But you are my most loyal knight," said Guinevere then, and smiled. "And my dearest friend. Very well. If that is what you wish, then I shall go."

"My lady..." murmured Miledy. She bowed. "Thank you."

o-o-o

Guinevere could not sleep. The keep had been aired out immediately upon her return -- the bodies of those who had fallen were by then long cleared away, the carcasses of the wyverns burned in a great bonfire on a nearby outcrop -- but even so, the lingering stench could not be scrubbed from the floors, the walls, the very earth. Even when her nose grew used to the smell, she felt suffocated in her old bowers, in this dank stone fortress that had been her home since birth, but had never truly been home to Zephiel.

Her brother. Even now, it hurt to think of him. Handsome and mad and dead upon his cold, hard throne.

She shook away her memories, and with a skill honed from years of practice, slipped past the watchful guard of the soldiers outside her room. Aside from her guards, no sentries were posted; there were hardly any men to spare, though a few Etrurian soldiers had been stationed at the keep as part of a makeshift government, and Roy had offered to lend her some of his own, personal troops before he had left to return to Pherae. But she had turned him down. Reliance on others was something she could not afford in these times. It would be seen as a shameful weakness, and she well knew of the wolves and vultures who laid in wait, watching ever for the right moment to swoop in and claim what they could of the tattered remains of the kingdom. Indeed, the entire scene seemed set for an assassination, she thought wryly, recalling the stories about the fearsome Black Fang that had alternately frightened and entertained her as a girl, when she had still been too young to understand.

And yet there was Miledy, and Miledy's brother Zeiss, and sweet Sister Ellen. She was not alone. The thought gave her some comfort, as did the Aircalibur tome in her hands that General Cecilia of Etruria had gifted her at their final parting, a token of the friendship they had forged during and after the coup d'etat in distant Aquileia.

Her footsteps led her down familiar empty halls and the dark, dusty corners of her childhood. When she stopped, she knew immediately where they had taken her. For a moment she hesitated. Then she reached out and pushed. To her surprise, the door creaked open, and she stepped inside, into the room where her sickly mother had dwelled until the end.

Guinevere muffled a sneeze with her free hand and held up a lantern with her other. The flickering light illuminated the years of neglect and disuse, the layers of dust that had settled upon the walls and the spare furniture. The bed stood by the small window where her mother had moved it in her final days; pens and parchment laid scattered atop the nearby vanity, forgotten.

How strange. Her father King Desmond had ordered the room sealed after her mother's death, promising death to anyone caught disturbing the place. Someone before her had clearly disregarded his orders, and yet the room itself seemed untouched.

No, not untouched: on the bed, Guinevere saw now, laid a stack of papers, disconcertingly out of place. As she neared, conscious of a nagging sense of disrespect towards the long departed, the mother she had barely known -- she saw that the pile was topped by an unsealed, neatly folded stationery envelope. She knelt and picked up the envelope. The papers beneath it were yellowed and wrinkled: not the worn creases of letters that had been handled and read so many times that they were about to fall apart, but as if someone had crumpled them in anger before smoothing them out again.

Who could it have been? Certainly not the king himself: he had been mad with grief, unable even to bear any hint or suggestion of his lost love. And certainly not Zephiel, who had then still held his father in at least some semblance of respect, and surely would have complied with his wishes. And the queen, Zephiel's mother -- Queen Hellene's hatred and resentment of Guinevere's mother had rivaled that of King Desmond's hatred of herself even to the end, mere years later, when in wretched despair over her son's apparent death, she had swallowed the same poison that had doomed Zephiel.

The first line of the topmost letter, written in a dark scrawl Guinevere recognized with a sudden jolt as King Desmond's hand, caught her eye.

My dearest love...

She froze. For a moment the shadows of the past seemed to rise and take hold of her.

Then, taking a deep breath, she began to read.

If only you had been here to see the triumphant look on that Etrurian whore's face! She thinks she has nagged her way back into my graces, back into the castle at long last, usurping your place here. Ha! That venomous woman does not realize the truth: that she and that filthy son of hers play right into my hands with this move.

I shall beat them at their game yet.

Guinevere recoiled at the words on the page. The letter dated to the last year of her mother's life. By then the sickness had already overcome her almost entirely; even Guinevere had been kept away, so that she might not fall ill as well. In truth the contents of the letter did not surprise her; they rang true to her memories of her father. Even as a child, she had known him to be a proud, petty, overbearing man, terrifying in his jealous hatred. It was that hatred that had twisted the noble Zephiel of her girlhood into the monster he had become, and for that alone, she would never forgive him.

And yet Guinevere forced herself to read on.

Do not think I have forgotten the promise I made you, my love. I shall not forget. I shall never forget. May you live to see it fulfilled, and our daughter on the throne!

o-o-o

Not until the wee hours of the morning did Guinevere return to her chambers. And yet tired as she was, she woke again soon afterwards, before dawn, as was her habit. Miledy was already waiting for her, as was Zeiss.

"Ellen?" Guinevere murmured as she pulled a fur-lined cloak over her shoulders.

"She's still sleeping, Your Highness," said Zeiss before his sister could even open her mouth. He looked uncharacteristically embarrassed. "Not that -- I mean --"

Guinevere smiled. "No, I understand. That's good."

They said nothing more, and brother and sister moved to either side of her.

Miledy brushed her fingertips against Guinevere's arm. "Cold, my lady?"

Guinevere shook her head. "No." She reached up, patted the other woman's hand gently. "Thank you."

Together, they left the keep and began the long, cold journey to the sacred mountain where the wyverns nested.

o-o-o

Dearest,

Do not blame yourself. Have I ever blamed you for being unable to bear me a son and heir? Never. Never you, my love, but Fate herself -- the gods, both old and new -- they I have cursed, night and day, to the very ends of the world! But for you, my love -- how could I do anything but rejoice at the news that, after all these years, you have given birth to a daughter? Our child? A true child of Bern, a true daughter of Harmut!

Indeed my joy knows no bounds. I will make her strong. As strong as any man, better than any son of Etruria. A woman to rival even Zephiel.

And in time, I shall seat you at my side at long last: no longer a mistress, no longer a poor merchant's daughter -- but a queen. A queen to rival all others.

Never again shall you be scorned, when that time comes. Because for you I would do anything -- even should it doom me, in the end.

But enough of such talk. What will you name her, my love? Are you and the babe in good health? And your father? I notice you did not mention him in your last letter...

o-o-o

As they approached the crowd gathered at the base of the nesting grounds, Guinevere could feel the stares drawn towards them. Some were openly hostile; some blank, some sharp and searching. But in all their gazes was recognition, and Guinevere knew them as they knew her.

Survivors of the last stand at the Dragon Temple.

The last wyvern riders of Bern.

At her side, Miledy and Zeiss held out their arms, palms facing up, showing that they had come unarmed. Guinevere mimicked their gesture in silence. Her hands, though gloved, were numb with cold.

No one moved. Guinevere scanned the crowd; a handful of riders huddled near the back, visibly separate from the main contingent, caught her eye. Their apparent leader was a man of middling age and slight build, with a startling streak of white through his otherwise dark hair and a scar running through his left eye. Her gaze lingered on him for a few beats longer. As if sensing her scrutiny, the man looked up, and their eyes met.

To her surprise, the expression that graced his face was proud, but not unkind. After a moment, he nodded, and began to push past the throng. Miledy and Zeiss stiffened, reaching for nonexistent weapons. In only a few long strides, he stood within paces of them.

And then he dropped to his knees.

"Your Majesty!"

A sharp wind arose in the stillness.

"You may rise, sir knight," said Guinevere. Her mouth was dry and there was a slight quaver in her voice, but her words rang clear across the gathering.

When the knight stood again, he was smiling.

Miledy nudged her, and she stepped forward, the folds of her gown swishing about her ankles. The crowd parted as she neared. She continued her slow procession through the ranks, trying to ignore the stares burning through her back, until at last she reached the foot of the mountain.

And though she had never had her brother's gift for rhetoric, her next words came as easily as if she had spoken them in her dreams ever since she was born.

"As you have given us, so shall we return!" she cried out towards the heavens, and even as the last echoes of her voice faded into the void, she uttered a harsh, guttural shriek.

There was a rush of air, and beyond the horizon, a dark cloud emerged.

The wyverns of the Bernese army had arrived, and with them, the first of the dead.

o-o-o

The day we both have dreaded has come at last. The treaties have been signed, the proclamations penned -- I am to wed the princess of Etruria. A woman I have never even met!

The soldiers love me not. They have never respected me, but they now they scorn me utterly -- too weak a man to oppose the machinations of the Church, so weak as to meekly acquiesce to marriage, diluting the blood of Hartmut with that of Etruria, all in the name of peace! The nobles despise me for turning down their offers of their own daughters. Even those damned priests are unhappy that I insist on continuing to carry on my correspondence with you.

Can I please no one?

...

You know as well as I that I was never meant to rule. It was my brother who was heir, not I. My perfect, faultless older brother -- curse him and his early death! But in the end, we are all of us mortal. Even my brother could not escape his fate. How my father must have despaired! How he must have wished our places were exchanged!

Often I have wished I were never born, and yet who then would rule in my brother's stead? The line of Hartmut is weak and failing... And then, I would have never met you.

...

Do you remember when we first met, my love? My brother was not yet dead, and my men and I were on a hunt. And you -- you had wandered from your father's caravan and lost your way. I thought you were a wood sprite at first, a little sparrow taken human form, come to spirit me away...

...

You know not the comfort you give me, in these dark days.

o-o-o

Miledy's wyvern was the first to arrive. Guinevere knew without looking whose body it bore; she gazed on nonetheless out of respect. The cold, dry winter clime had mostly slowed the decay. Even so, the body had become mostly unrecognizable. In life, Gale had been a handsome man. None could call him handsome now, but neither would they scorn him for his Etrurian blood ever again. They were, after all, all of them naught but flesh and bone, in the end.

Miledy saluted in the old fashion as her wyvern soared away, bearing her lover on his final flight to the offering cliff below the nesting caves. Her eyes were dry; she had cried all the tears she had left to spare long before this moment, Guinevere knew. Other wyverns neared, circling upwards. Their respective riders saluted in turn at their passing.

Before long, a second shriek sounded. Two wild wyverns emerged from the caverns and barreled into the sky, tearing the body between them into pieces. Others soon emerged as well, some plummeting back to earth, chasing falling scraps.

Guinevere reached for Miledy's hand. They watched the feasting together in silence, as the sky was filled with an eerie dance of wyverns rising and falling through the air, accompanied by haunting cries.

"Bern shall rise again," she whispered. Tears welled in her eyes, but not of grief.

She thought instead of the letter in the envelope, that final letter that had never been sent.

And she knew, come what may, that she would not fail.

o-o-o

My love,

I write now what I know I should have written long ago. Perhaps it is already too late. Perhaps you shall hate me for what I write. But things cannot go on like this. We cannot go on like this, Desmond.

You say that you were never meant to rule. You say that you should have been born a simple peasant. But my lord, I say that you are wrong. For you are a man who knows all the burden of duty, and none of the burden of living. And are you not of the blood of Hartmut?

In this world, there are two kinds of people: those who rage against fate, and those who accept their destiny, and rise forth to conquer it. But my lord, I say that you are neither. For you are a man who would rather sit drifting, buffeted and tossed by the fickle winds...

History shall remember me as naught but a nameless, faceless woman. The Other Woman, the mistress of the king who brought about the collapse of a once-proud nation. For surely you must see that this is the inevitable end your hatred leads us to. If this be our fate, then so be it! But I shall be heard, Desmond. I shall not wither away here, in shadow and silence, while your anger blinds you to our doom. I shall be party to your indulgence and self-pity no more. No longer, my love! No longer!

No, my lord. I shall do instead what you have never had the courage to do. Tomorrow I leave for my old village, and I shall take our daughter with us. Guinevere, our sweet little fledgling child. How quiet she is; how plain -- a kestrel to Zephiel's hawk! You fight to seat her on the throne, but my lord, have you ever considered her happiness? My happiness? Have we become naught but tools to your whims? Your love, my lord, has become poison, a prison, a cage. This is not what I wanted. This is not what you wanted.

You are no longer the man I knew.

And so I bid you, my lord: remember me when blood falls from the sky like rain. Remember me when the groans of the dying sound from the earth and great hosts crush our banners beneath their heel, and shadow darkens the land. Remember the choices you and I have made.

And remember that I love you.

The End