Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. I just like playing with the characters.
Summary: FE6,7. One-shot. People come and go, but through it all, Lucius remains.
Rating: T for language, violence, and sexual implications. Nothing graphic.
Notes: Eh. Honestly, I dunno. It was hard to write this one though it's been long in planning (since 2007 I think), and I'm still not satisfied. Both Raven and Lucius have been written better than this by other people (julian-schu's Zornhut is the definitive Raven fic imo); there were just some things I wanted to play with here that I'm not sure really worked out that well. In other words, this sucks, why are you reading it? D: (Notes are at wariskind on LJ.)
Sunlight on a Broken Column
But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The children ask him, sometimes, for whom it is that he waits, those late warm afternoons, as they sit bathed in sunlight diminished to hazy pools of gold.
The only answer he grants them is a smile.
"I've given up on revenge," he had said, on the long journey back to Lycia, when Nergal lay dead at last, and the dragon he had summoned with him.
"Where will you go, my Lord Raymond?" Lucius had asked, despite knowing the answer already.
"I promised my sister I would cease all thoughts of vengeance," Raymond had replied. "But my heart is not yet at ease. I must know the truth!"
The truth. Lucius bowed his head. "But what of your sister? Do you mean to -- abandon her, again? I thought you promised..."
"Lucius," said Raymond, with a familiar look of exasperation, tinged with unfamiliar bitterness. "Who do you think I am? Who do you think she is? There is no place for me in her life. Not anymore."
"What she remembers of me is naught but a dream. Let her treasure that! Or would you have me take her along with me? She is not meant for a mercenary's life -- just as I am not meant for a nobleman's."
"Then let me go with you."
Raymond stiffened. "Don't be ridiculous."
"But why not, my lord? It is a lonely path you choose. And I would not have you think yourself alone."
"And drive yourself to an early death? No, Lucius. I told you before --"
"I want to go with you, Lord Raymond."
"I am Lord Raymond no longer," he snapped, dark eyes smoldering, an ugly sneer plastered on his face. "How many times must I tell you?"
Lucius caught his sleeve. "You will always be Lord Raymond to me."
At that Raymond looked away. "What of your own dreams, Lucius?" he said at last. "I know you have long wished to establish an orphanage. A haven for those who have lost everything else, a chance at a normal childhood... Will you give that all up?"
"My lord, I --"
"No, Lucius. We part here." For a brief moment he turned his intense gaze back to Lucius. Then he wheeled sharply on his heel.
"Wait for me."
Sometimes, Lucius still has nightmares. Of long ago days, living -- if indeed it can be called living -- in poverty and filth and squalor. Dark stone eyes and cold-hot-sticky bodies blurring with cruel laughter and flickering candlelight. The sickly sweet smell of decay. Squirming white maggots. Fear, bone-deep. You are an abomination of nature! An abomination of God!
(Death, at least, had been easy to understand. One killed or was killed. Both his father and the man who had killed him were no different, in the end. Death, he can forgive.)
Blasphemous boy! Vulgar child! You are a gift from the hells sent to tempt me!
(Hunger, too, is easy to understand. One eats or is eaten.)
White skin upon white sheets, blood staining dark and a fall of gold. Shame and pain and despair, twisting and coiling within him. Grunting, breathing. There are no tears, no voices in the silence.
There is only darkness and the memory of light.
In the end, Lucius went to Araphen. The castle town of Araphen, second only to Ostia in size and power, lay on the outskirts of Lycia, on the boundary between civilization and the plains of Sacae, and only days away from the harsh mountains of Bern. It was a land home to many orphans, many of mixed heritage. Lucius found an abandoned church in a quiet corner of the city and enlisted local townspeople to assist in rebuilding. Within just months, he had taken in his first few children and settled into their new home.
Raymond, to his surprise, stopped by to visit.
"You're doing well for yourself." There was a strange look on his face.
"Yes," said Lucius. "And you, Lord Raymond?"
"I'm busy," was his terse reply. "Just thought I'd come by to make sure you haven't worked yourself to death yet."
"Ah, Lord Raymond --"
But he was already gone.
One time, one hundred times, one thousand times they have this conversation:
"Lord Raymond! Welcome back!"
"I'm leaving for another job on the morrow."
"But you only just arrived."
"You nag at me like a damned woman."
Nothing ever changes. Raymond leaves. Lucius is unable to stop him.
Sometimes, Lucius thinks the only person who ever could have stopped him was his sister. But perhaps it is already too late. Perhaps, even then, it was already too late.
The orphanage continued to grow. Though they were impoverished, barely scraping by on alms and money generated from their own meager produce, Lucius and his children were not unhappy. The days were filled with stories and laughter. And though Raymond's visits grew less and less frequent, Lucius thought -- perhaps, perhaps. Perhaps old wrongs could be righted after all. The mistakes of the past would be undone. Or perhaps there was no need.
Some seven years after their first parting, and two years after his last visit, Raymond appeared on his doorstep once more.
"Where have you been, Lord Raymond?" Lucius demanded. "What's happened to you?"
There was a newfound swagger in his walk and a smirk on his handsome face, cold and cruel, but at Lucius's words Raymond's expression went blank, but for his eyes, dark and stormy.
"That, Lucius, is none of your business."
"How can you say that, my lord? Two years it has been --"
"Yes, and what of it?" Raymond leaned in, uncomfortably close.
"My lord," said Lucius, stepping backwards. "What of your truth? Have you found it yet?"
Raymond drew back violently, as if struck. "Damn it, Lucius," he hissed. "I did not come back -- for this --"
He whirled away and was gone.
"Father Lucius, who was that man?" One of the younger boys, new to the orphanage, clutched fearfully at his sleeve.
"Do not be frightened, child," whispered Lucius over the pounding of his own heart. "An old friend. Just an old friend."
He returns that very night.
He is leaning on the shoulders of a scantily clad woman. Lucius smells the drink on his breath as Raymond dismisses her.
"Lord Raymond, Lord Raymond," he murmurs. "Whatever happened?"
"I killed them," says Raymond, voice cracking. He forces out a broken laugh. "Those bastards who drove my parents to their death. I hunted them down! Every single last one of them."
"Do not call me that!"
Lucius shivers. "But my lord, you promised --"
"Do you think I don't know that?" And then, "Damn it, Lucius. Did you know?"
"Did I know what?"
"Don't play stupid!"
"My lord --" Lucius begins, but Raymond pushes him against the wall and presses chapped lips against his mouth. A wave of shame rises within him, followed by disgust. He struggles against Raymond's grasp, but Raymond has always been the stronger of them.
"My lord," Lucius gasps. "You know not what you --"
"Yes. I know not. You -- you lied to me --"
"My lord --"
"Why did you not tell me -- that my father was a fucking coward?"
"Oh," says Lucius, stunned. Pieces of the puzzle fall suddenly into place. "Oh... I did not know. I did not realize..."
Raymond slumps against him, burying his face against his shoulder. "Don't lie to me."
"I'm not," Lucius whispers. "My lord, please believe me."
For a long time neither of them speak. At last Raymond looks up, tangles his fingers in Lucius's hair, and leans in once more.
"You're beautiful," he mumbles.
Lucius can feel his body tensing, the blood draining from his face. His voice is hoarse, and words will not come to him.
"My lord... I am a man."
Raymond lets go of him, clearly shaken. His eyes are wild and unfocused. He stares at Lucius, as if seeing him for who he truly is for the first time in their lives. "Do you think I'm stupid? Do you think I don't know --"
Lucius scrambles backwards, blinded by the darkness. "Lord Raymond, I am not your sister. I am not --"
Raymond raises a fist -- "Don't you dare speak of my sister like that!" -- and just as suddenly remembers himself. "Lucius, I --"
Something in Raymond visibly crumples. Lucius watches him warily, gasping for breath. Lucius is trembling and he cannot stop. There are tears running unbidden down his face. And Raymond will not look at him.
"Forgive me, my lord," he mutters. "Forgive me --"
Raymond slams his fist into the wall and is gone without another word.
This time, Lucius knows he will not return.
It was another man who came instead that winter, dark and tall as ever but grown so skeletal Lucius almost mistook him for a ghost.
"Rest..." said Karel. "Let me..."
He collapsed. Lucius caught him: he was lighter than expected, despite his height, his frame more like a child's than a man's. Lucius brought him to his pallet and laid him down while the children watched on, curious and awed.
That night, Lucius slept on the floor.
He nursed him for about a week before Karel came to his senses again.
"Why?" said Karel. He had cropped his hair short, and the strange, terrifying light that had so often shone in his eyes had dimmed, but the aura that surrounded him remained dark and intimidating.
"Because you came to me," said Lucius. When it seemed that Karel did not feel the need to continue, he added, "What were you doing wandering around in the cold like that? This may not be Ilia, but you could have killed yourself!"
"Maybe I was."
"What?" he said, taken aback, not quite understanding. But Karel would say no more. So instead, Lucius said, "Tell me, Karel... are you afraid of death?"
"Fear," said Karel, "is for the weak."
"Then," he said softly, "are you afraid of life?"
It was some time before Karel answered. "I can no longer taste the blood I spill. My blade hungers and thirsts, but nothing satisfies it."
"Is that why you came?"
"If you came to me for advice, I cannot give it. You must find your own answers."
Karel seemed to ponder this. "Are you afraid of death?"
"I don't know," Lucius admitted. "I would be lying if I said I didn't, but... You and I, we have both killed. It is as you said. No matter who we are, our hands are all stained with blood. It is only that our reasons are different. But are they truly? And does it make a difference in the end? I don't know."
"Are you afraid of life?"
"I believe that all life has value."
Karel snorted. "You are ignoring the question."
Lucius bristled unconsciously, then sighed. "Didn't you?" Then he said, "Life is not something to be trifled with. Whether it is another's or your own. That is what I believe. I have always believed that -- I must believe it. Even if I am afraid, I cannot run away. For in the end life and death are one. Just as men cannot live without embracing death... If you would know death, then you must first open your heart to life."
"More of your cult's circuitous sophistry?" But there was no venom in his words.
"To know the secret of death is to know God. That is what Elimine taught. I... do not think death is to be feared. Even so, I do not think anyone wishes to die. It is only that they wish to live, free from pain and suffering."
"Your God is a morbid one." But death, perhaps, was something even Karel could understand, for then he said, "There is no freedom from pain in death."
A few days later, he was gone.
Truth, Lucius has come to realize, is often just another word for something he would rather not name, perhaps, indeed, has no name of its own.
Trouble stirs afoot in Ostia, such troubles that even he, in distant Araphen, soon hears the news. The young marchioness is dead of illness, only one of the many victims of the recent epidemic that has already claimed three of Lucius's children. A number of noblemen have been found dead as well: not murdered, but perhaps it could be said, driven to death -- rumors abound of a mysterious stranger who threatened not with a sword but with words and dark, long-forgotten secrets. And unrest has plagued quiet Caelin ever since her beloved steward left, almost two years ago now.
Marchioness Ostia's passing is mourned, but not much, for she was a retiring, unobtrusive figure, and few are the number who truly knew her. Even less noteworthy are the dead noblemen, cruel, corrupt men whose loss is more celebrated than mourned.
And yet corrupt as they were, those noblemen have families who survive them, servants and subjects now not only lordless but penniless, lands that lie barren in disuse or overrun by bandits.
Is the marquess too paralyzed by his own grief to act? Is he biding his time before sending in the army to claim these properties and lands for himself? Is he too busy playing petty games with Etruria and Bern? Will Laus take advantage of his hesitation? Will Thria step in before that? Will war come to Lycia once more?
These are the questions the people murmur, and the questions that reach Lucius's ears.
He has no answers for these, nor for the doubts that simmer in his own heart.
Two more years passed without incident. Children came and left, some to better lives, some to worse.
When spring arrived, Lucius was awoken one night by a hesitant knocking at the door.
He opened it to find, of all people, little Nino.
Only she was no longer little Nino: she had matured, grown more beautiful, more womanly. Her small frame had filled out with curves; her bright eyes had lost their wide-eyed wonder. And clutching at her hands were two young boys, green-haired twins who could not be more than four.
"Hello, Father Lucius," she said, and even her deceptively cheery voice had lost its old girlish tones.
"Nino," he said. "It is you, isn't it?"
She beamed. "I'm glad you still remember me."
"But of course, child." He hesitated. "But why have you come?"
The moonlight cast a shadow across her face. "Bounty hunters," she whispered. "They came for Jaffar. He left in order to protect us, but I'm going to go find him and bring him back. And you're the only one I can trust with our sons."
Her words took only an instant to sink in. "Nino -- you don't know what you're saying."
"I do," she said, and the stubborn, determined tilt of her chin reminded him of the sweet child she had once been.
"It's too dangerous," Lucius insisted. "I am sure Jaffar can take care of himself. But if you go, then you will be targeted as well --"
"I can take care of myself too! But Jaffar -- he hasn't touched his blades in years --" She was on the verge of tears.
Guilt battered him, but he pressed on. "Nino, calm down. Think this through. Would you have your children suffer the loss of their mother as well?"
"I won't lose him!" she said fiercely. "I've already lost so much. We all lost so much... But the two of us had each other, and that was enough. That was enough. I can't lose him now. I don't know what I'd do without him. I don't want to be alone again! Never, ever again."
"But you aren't alone," murmured Lucius. He looked at the twins, huddled together on the ground, already sound asleep. In their flight, they had probably not had much time to rest. "Why don't you come in, have a cup of tea? We can talk some more in the morning."
Nino tilted her head, face softening at the sight of her sleeping sons. But she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't." Her eyes took on a distant cast. She reached back, brushed aside the soft waves of her hair, still cropped girlishly short -- then untied something from around her neck and pressed it into Lucius's hands. When he looked down, he saw that it was a pendant. The cord was stained with blood, but from the coloring, it did not seem new.
"He left it behind," she said, with a calm, haunting serenity. "So you see, I have to go to him. Right now, somewhere out there, he's all by himself, all alone in the world..."
Lucius knew, then, that any further attempt at dissuading her from her chosen path would be useless.
Resigned, he said, "Do you have any clues regarding his whereabouts?"
She nodded. "Uncle Legault gave me some information. He's the one who told me about you too."
Legault, he recalled, was the ex-Black Fang member and thief. Lucius closed his eyes momentarily, then held out the pendant, intending to return it.
But Nino only smiled at him -- a smile that was at once both the sweetest and the saddest smile he had seen in all his thirty-two years. "Keep it," she whispered, and there was nothing more to be said.
So he asked, "What are their names?"
She told him.
Lucius waits. Sometimes, it seems, waiting is all that he can do.
It has been five years. Including Lugh and Lleu, there are seven children now. That is all he can afford to keep, and barely, despite the mysterious donations he receives from time to time. Yet even that small number is enough to fill the orphanage with noise and chaos. Children will be children, after all, and he finds too that he has grown used to this peaceful life, difficult as it can be.
Lugh, the older twin, grows more and more like his mother with each passing day -- or what she might have been had she grown up apart from the influence of the woman who had pretended to be her mother. Lucius suspects the child has inherited Nino's preternatural talent with magic as well; though the children say nothing and Lucius pretends that he has not noticed, he is well aware of the Fire tome incident.
His brother Lleu is more of a cipher. He is a sullen child, lacking in respect, reminiscent of another young boy Lucius once knew... What little he says is sharp, bordering on cruel, and he scowls as often as Lugh smiles, almost as if deliberately exposing the truth behind the optimistic mask Lugh puts on for the younger children. Save for his appearance, there is little of Nino in him, but in both twins there is even less of Jaffar. Perhaps that is for the better. Nevertheless, Lucius cannot help but find that notion disheartening, cannot help but search constantly for hints of that mysterious man-child he remembers in these boys who are as much of his blood as they are of Nino's.
The twins, Lugh in particular, are good friends with Chad, who is the eldest by a year. Chad's Sacaen mother had left him with Lucius just months after the twins' arrival; whether the father was Lycian or Bernese, however, Lucius cannot tell. Chad is a quiet child, standoffish to strangers, but possessed of a good heart. He is always sharing his food and his belongings with the others. He lets his guard down only occasionally: when with Lugh, when watching over the little ones, when eating, or when drawing. Lucius encourages the boy in his artistic endeavors. Chad has talent, and though perhaps his heritage will keep it from ever being fully appreciated, it is the least Lucius can do. He does not want to see those clever fingers turned to other activities.
The next eldest are Abby and Max, always bickering over everything and anything. Abigail is a feisty child, and Max takes great pleasure in riling her up. When that happens, either Lucius or Lugh must play peacemaker, stepping in to pry them apart, and more often than not, these sessions end in tears. Despite this, the two are near inseparable.
Ivan, at age six, is the happiest of the bunch aside from Lugh. He is always laughing at something or other, always scampering about with the stray cats and dogs that sometimes frequent the orphanage grounds.
Eliot is the youngest, a shy, withdrawing boy, who does not seem to have learned to speak yet, and does not take well to Lucius's attempts to teach him. It worries Lucius, but he does not push the boy further. All will come in its own time, he thinks. For each person there is a unique path, and no one can say where it shall take them. All Lucius can do is pray for the guidance of God and Elimine.
But prayer cannot feed them, nor can the humble garden of roots and tubers Lucius and the older boys grow in the back. Soon, they are forced to resort to begging in the streets once a week, just to make ends meet. Though it is an option he has long been reluctant to take, Lucius writes to the Church in Etruria, petitioning for funds.
As expected, his pleas go unanswered.
It should not come as a surprise when Chad begins to disappear every now and then, always returning with food, or articles of clothing, even the occasional toy -- but it is disappointing. Lucius does not question him about the origin of these items. He does not need to. And yet what can he do but turn a blind eye? The little ones are fed and happy. They are surviving, even in these hard times. The children are growing into fine, responsible individuals. What more can he ask for?
One week before the twins' tenth birthday, Lleu runs away, leaving behind just a curt note in precise, impeccable handwriting. "I want to train my dark magic on my own. I'll be back soon."
There is not even time to wonder how or where Lleu picked up dark magic. Instead, as with all who have come before, Lucius can only wait.
(Though Lleu returns just months later, in another three days he leaves again. This time, all he leaves behind is, "I'm going on a journey to train my magic.")
The year little Eliot turned seven, news reached them of Bern's invasion of Ilia and Sacae. Lugh fretted, hoping that his brother was not traveling anywhere near those parts; Chad remarked, when he thought Lucius was not listening, that the pickings were leaner than ever. Lucius took note of the news, but did not worry overmuch. Even at the border, such occurrences seemed so distant, so far away. It was difficult to concern himself over the doings of Bern when he had begun skipping meals so that the children might not, and their clothes had worn so thin that he did not know if they would last through the winter. His health had never been the best, but now it began to deteriorate at such a frightening rate, even the younger children could not help but notice. Lucius himself observed the steady crumbling of his body with a sudden, all too keen awareness of his own mortality.
That summer, Lugh began to do odd jobs here and there to supplement their meager income. That summer as well, Lucius's petitions finally received a response: a sister he had once been acquainted with -- though then as a knight, and not a woman of the cloth -- had come across his unanswered letters and taken pity upon them. The former Dame Isadora could not guarantee much, but Lucius appreciated even the little aid she managed to provide.
That summer, Lucius received his final visitor.
He was sitting outside, watching over the young ones at their play. For a second he thought it was a trick of the light, but then he blinked and knew that what he saw was no mirage. He stood, dropping the book he had been reading. Words rose, trapped in the back of his throat, halted on the tip of his tongue.
The visitor stopped at the end of the road. His face was lined with weariness, stern but not scowling. His hair was dark and red as blood. On his back he carried a little girl with hair the color of the sea on a cloudy day.
Their eyes met.
The man stepped forward, at first hesitantly, but then with gathering certainty. He did not stop until they stood face to face once more.
To Lucius's surprise, the man smiled wryly, silent apology etched in his dark gaze. And in a single moment, all the years that lay between them swept away as if they had never existed.
"Welcome home," Lucius whispered. "Raven."
(Later, he would learn that the girl was about the same age as Eliot, that her name was Shae, and that she was the orphaned granddaughter of one of those Ostian noblemen who had killed themselves in shame, all those years ago. He would learn that Raven had raised her as his own, and had given up the blade when he realized he could no longer afford to live the life of a mercenary with a child in tow. He would learn that the mysterious donations he had received were in fact, as he had suspected, sent by Raven when he had the money to spare.
But all that came later. In that moment, there was only the sunlight glittering on their shoulders, and the slow understanding that passed between them in the silence like a gentle warm breeze.)
The soldiers come without warning, as soldiers are apt to. They ride down the lane and across the back yard, trampling over the shoots sprouting in the garden, shouting and jeering as they come.
These are men who do not know hunger. Because he knows this, Lucius can forgive them.
He runs out into their path, blocking their way. Please go by another road, he says. Your horses are destroying our humble garden, our only source of sustenance.
The soldiers only laugh, yelling at him to move out of the way. But Lucius stands his ground.
Please go by another road, he repeats.
From the corner of his eye, he sees a flash of moment, the glint of metal. A great shout arises, and in the next moment Raven is at his side, brandishing a sword before them. He can hear the children screaming and sobbing, as if from a distance.
He can smell smoke.
Run, little ones, run! he cries, knowing that Lugh and Chad will take care of everything, trusting in the protection of God and Elimine. And to Raven he says nothing, for no words are needed, even now, at the end of all they have strived for.
The first strike hurts, but the one that follows does not. His body feels lighter than air. He weeps for the children, for Raven, for Nino and Jaffar (Take this, my boy, he had said to Lugh, pressing the pendant into his small hands), and all those who have gone before them. But he is not afraid. He is not afraid...
As the fire blazes on, two bodies lie together, hand in hand, their peaceful faces an unexpected oasis in the inferno.
By the next morning, there is nothing left but sunlight bright against ash and bone.