Title: A Song For Rebirth
Day/Theme: 9/14) live by disillusion glow
Character/Pairing: Gawain/Elena, Lillia
Summary: And the transformation from Gawain to Greil was made of this: a song, a Heron girl, a woman and two deaths. Gawain/Elena, backstory speculation.
A/N: Gauntlet Challenge, 17. a bird cries out in sorrow.
I came upon this one randomly, I was attempting to sleep and somehow the thought came along of 'How on Earth did Greil and Elena even get together anyways? They aren't exactly likely to cross paths.' And then it came to me how different he must have been back then. For example, Gawain was one of the King's four riders, which means he's probably went on plenty of Laguz hunts and yet Greil is working under the beast king himself. Where's his Daein prejudice? I doubt someone who was liberal and pro-Laguz could rise as high as Gawain did...which means there must have been something to change him along the way. I tried to avoid the 'saved by love' cliche and ran into the 'magical Heron' cliche. Oh well.
Finding out details proved harder to find than I thought, though. Because of this the timeline is a bit AU, or at least 'rearranged for artistic purposes'
Anyways, I'd had this in a state of The Purgatory Of Stuck Fics when I suddenly had an idea...right when I was swamped with other stuff I had to write. Nice going.
Also for Searains. This was supposed to be her Christmas present, which should clue in how long this has been stuck.
Gawain would have continued his life just on the path he had taken if it hadn't been for a song. He would have walked past in his life, walking where her foot had tread day by day. They would have walked by and never noted each other's presence. He would have remained a rider up until his death, probably. He would have lost his life in Crimea during the onslaught, a spear in the back by some lucky Crimean soldier who would swiftly get the ire of Gawain's men.
But it started with the song of a dirge of the funeral pyre and ended with an ancient song in an unknown language like a lullaby. Gawain had served under Daein's gates for fifteen years. He'd raised up from being a poor soldier's son up two one of the ranks of the four riders. Gawain had held swords since he was a mere child. In fact, the story went that his father had put a dulled sword in his hands. Barely out of his crib and he was already that much closer to making his first kills.
But the cracks had formed for some time, ever since the plague of the royal family, ever since the king's untimely death.
He had died from a fall, the new king said.
The obvious sword wounds were explained away as rocks and sharp points, fallen and rent down the cliffs. But it wasn't his place to ask, to start an insurrection, and kings and loyalties changed all the time.
This king could be considered merciful for not slaughtering all the nobles and most loyal knights, and 'cleaning house', so to speak.
And so it went. Things changed under Ashnard's rule, class structure was abolished and the only rule was that of strength. Some even rejoiced, feeling as if they'd finally found some freedom.
The cheering lessened when people began to disappear and stories of secret blood sport leaked out. The stories of the cruelties done to subhumans, however, were passed about as anecdotes.
Did ya hear that one? Our king eats a Hawk steak every morning and a Cat roast every night. Them subhumans ain't got a chance with a man like him around.
The assignment was simple. He was to clear the area surrounding the Palmeni Shrine of the subhuman infestation that had sprung up from their altruism. Considering the
Or at least that was the main reason given, the official one. Before he was to leave, the king called him to the throne room. He bowed on bended knee and saw only the fur-lined cape of a king and armor of a warrior.
There is some important progress there that must be checked. Tell the head of the Palmeni Temple, he will understand what I mean.
Gawain looked up. Ashnard, the new king had a wild look in his eyes, like that of a rabid animal.
What else could he do but obey? That was the fate of any knight, risen high or not.
In the end, they were all pawns to the whims of their kings. Just pieces on a board to be sacrificed at will.
Palmeni Temple was several days from the capitol, in a particularly mountainous country. There had once been a boom in the growth of the area with the rumor of copper hidden in the caves, but none were found to substantiate that claim. All that was left of those days were collapsing mines that housed legions of bats and the skeletal remains of a buildings which had made up a few mining towns. The only ones who traveled here were the ascetics and pilgrims, or those so racked with guilt for their sins that they took to weeping in the temple for forgiveness.
He never stayed in this part of the country, never kept to temples and their affairs. He was a warrior, not a priest or innocent. He'd seen enough atrocities to make men believe that they were alone in the world with no gods above them and certainly no guardians of mercy.
The whole reason for his proximity to the shrine itself was a scheduled subhuman hunt, one which had gone satisfactorily. They had routed the band of Cats hiding in the scrub bush and mountains and shot down all but three of the Hawks. While Gawain was of quite a high command, in Daein no one was too high-born to take down the beasts and scum of the earth. Anyone who refused would be labeled a subhuman sympathizer, so few except for the invalids would turn down an order of subhuman hunting.
Besides, most everyone in Daein loved a little hunting.
The small troupe that had traveled with him was already at ease. They laughed about the campfire and cleaned the blood off their armor. Some left it on, like a badge of honor.
Haw haw! I hope them subhumans can smell me coming so they'll know to start runnin' early.
His men were too languid after a rollicking hunt to stir up much trouble in his absence. If the drink got to them, his second-in-command could handle things well enough until he got back.
So it was that Gawain, one of the four riders came to the shrine. It was not a huge cathedral, the type he'd come across in the capitol, yet neither was it particularly modest. It had been founded by an addled eccentric who had much wealth and a penchant for religious reveries. He called the place Palmeni after a voice he likened to be his personal god but that was more likely another facet of his madness. Still, he had willed away his formidable fortune and placed a jewel of a cathedral in the middle of a badlands which offered only a home for bandits and coyotes and the many rocks.
Truly, only a madman or a beast could choose a place like this.
He came to the gates, which were rusty and unadorned, pastoral things. The first thing that assailed him was not the scents, but the sound of a song. Her thought at first it was one of the hymns, but it was no hymn he'd ever heard.
Not that he'd spent a lot of time in temples.
The song was of some foreign language, one he had never encountered before. It was lilted, as if an accent or an inability to pronounce the transliterated words. He stepped into the courtyard of the temple. Flowers bloomed there, cared for by the order of priests and nuns. They were white, and filmy, like the snow itself, of a variety that was hardy enough to withstand the temperatures. On the far side were gardens, full of northern crops like hardy turnips and Snowbeets.
A young novitiate stood surrounded by ivy and stone at the well. She had not completely shorn her hair yet as was the custom of the fully initiated nuns, yet it had already been cut into the pageboy style of the initiate. Her hair was a dark blue, like an upcoming storm or unkind sea.
He removed his helm and held it at his breast, in a way completely unbefitting her rank, but suitable for a lady nonetheless.
"I'm here on the king's orders to see the head of this temple."
"Oh," She with a smile. "I'll lead you to him right away."
He was lead in through a mess hall, an austere sort of banquet to be free of the pestilence of the beasts. There were narrow rooms that lead off from the path, as dark as crypts and filled with the sound of hymns and the turning of pages.
The leader of the order was an aged man named Father Phonias. White hair spilled loose and thin from out of his oblong white hat. His vestments were the same snowy plains of white as his hair, only occasionally broken by a brocade cloth stitched with colorful designs of flowers and beasts, of a tale lost to the ages.
"Elena, we'll need you to guide him to the quarters. Usually I'd accompany you to our inner holy areas, but my back has been acting up all morning. I can barely walk. Can you continue the inspection alone? I could ask Brother Starre to help, if you need."
She bowed her head respectfully.
"I can manage it, Father Phonias.."
"That's good, my dear," he said. He smiled, the skin on his face as thin as creased paper.
"This way, please," she said.
There were a great many halls they passed through, until Gawain got the sense that he was being lead in circles to disorient him and prevent any unauthorized return to this hidden place.
If only he had a pocketful of crumbs, or a string to tie about the jutting stones to wind his way out from the labyrinth.
He would only have to trust her.
She drew him deep in the temple to a bedroom lined with runic inscriptions. They were coal black and bled together. No windows lit this place, and only a small candle lit the room. Upon it lay an angelic being, or the closest he'd ever come across beyond the religious texts he'd once glimpsed as a child when helping a local priest. Her face was a ashen, her body nigh skeletal and feathers fell from her wings like melting snow. When she saw the lantern Elena had held, she shuddered and moaned in fright.
Elena quickly extinguished it and came to the creature's side. She bent beside it and whispered a soft mantra of it's alright, it's alright. When the moaning had finally ceased, she turned back to where he still stood at the doorway.
"Is this what you sought?" she said. There was a sense of indignation, of challenge in her voice.
"I...suppose. It was not specified as to what my task was, only that I 'check the progress' of something."
"Then is was this after all," she said, her voice harsher than the gentle lilting sound he had head before.
She stroked the hair of the beautiful creature beside her, as if it were a child, a beloved younger sister.
"She was bought by the king and brought here. ...With no sunlight or greenery, she fades a little more each day. She won't live much longer.".
"What is she?" Gawain said.
"A Heron," Elena said.
Gawain frowned. "A subhuman?"
"They're called Laguz," Elena said. Her tone was a gentle, but firm chastisement.
Gawain had never seen sub– Laguz outside of the snarling mangy creatures he'd hunted. A few scrawny cats and Hawks inhabited the harsh lands but most had been either killed by the hunts or the land itself. By the time the hunters found them it was almost a mercy-killing. Gawain was not one to revel in the prolonging of death as some, and he never let those under his command fall to such depths either. Death was not a thing to be teased, pulled aside while the man was left in agony and weeping for those absent gods to free him from the choking binds of life.
Gawain had never seen the Laguz as something that could be beautiful, or having the qualities of humanity. They were beasts, things that all of Daein taught would tear through and devour their livestock and kill their children and wives if given a chance. It was a citizen of Daein's duty to protect their loved ones from such monsters. And yet, here was a delicate thing before him. In this form the girl looked almost human. Without the wings she would have been simply a very lovely, fragile girl. With them, she passed into the realms of the goddess.
"...the other ones, the laguz– do they have similar forms?" Gawain asked.
"I once read a Begnion book of history..it said that all Laguz are like this. The animalistic form is used for battle, among other rituals. They bleed, they feel pain, they have souls."
She stared at him, a gentle defiance, an iron first in a velvet glove.
It had never occurred those times that he had hunting that they were the beasts who tore away the cubs from the mothers and killed families while they slept – not the laguz. The thought was an unsettling one.
He could find no reason to destroy such a pure creature, even if she was a hated subhuman. He saw no trace of the monster within her, no trace of the beast. Of course, it was simply one favored breed. One more human than the others, a peaceful anomaly to the savages.
"What is it she's being held for?" Gawain said finally.
Elena tilted her head, curious. "The king doesn't trust you enough to divulge that?"
"I don't believe he trusts anyone," Gawain said.
She brought out a large bronze medallion. It was wrapped in a thick white cloth that seemed to have once belonged to the Heron. There was an interwoven pattern of vines that was blotted out by dirt and grime which spoke of a long journey.
"Lehran's Medallion," she said, almost reverently. It was a dull piece of metal with some engravings, one that was not particularly noteworthy, the sort of thing one would find in ruins of past civilizations.
"There was a story that long ago the dark side of Ashera was locked within and lulled to sleep by the song of a Heron. Whenever the whole world is engulfed in war, it is said that the dark side of the goddess will be unleashed on us again."
"A legend of old," he said.
She turned to him. "Haven't you heard? There is grain of truth in every legend."
She put away the medallion while the Heron girl keened. She leaned down and rocked the Heron until she quieted.
"She thought we were going to make her sing again," she said.
"That song...it was a Heron song, wasn't it? It was beautiful."
Elena smiled for the first time since he had brought her there. It felt like a victory, however small.
"She sings it often, I was able to pick up on the structure. I've probably butchered some of the pronunciation... it seems to be a lullaby of some sort."
She wiped away specks of dust from her skirts as she stood. The Heron girl had turned to face the wall. He could see her withered, once glorious wings better now. They had a sickly, grey tinge where once they must have been.
She was a flower wilting for lack of rain and sun and air. Plucked away and rootless, left to fade to nothing in a place that would be her tomb.
"Tell your king that he will kill her this way, and that ino progress/I was made."
With that, she opened the door and motioned him to follow. The door closed behind them, the stone before a sepulchre to an innocent.
She muttered something, which he at first thought was a complaint, but when the flame of the lamp ignited.
"She used to scream for long periods of time. Now she barely has the strength."
"Does she sing?"
"She did earlier. Now that she is pulled out and made to sing, she does not have the strength."
"So you sing for her?" Gawain said.
"You're quite the astute one. I'm probably butchering the language, but she seems to find it a comfort."
They walked through the tunnels up to greet the light of day. It had never been more welcome to him before.
He sent a messenger to the capitol with the news of the progress, or lack of progress as it was. He did not think that King Ashnard would be a patient king, and he hoped deep down that his gut instincts were wrong and that he wasn't damning this poor boy to death.
Don't shoot the messenger, indeed.
A scout came an hour later with the news of the three Hawks they had missed. The birds had been too young to leave the country entirely, and had stuck far too close to the place where the elder Hawks had been slain. Their orders side orders, besides checking on progress had been quite simple: eradicate the subhumans plaguing the temple entirely.
A stir went across his men, the excitement of an oncoming battle already there, forged into them.
Gawain had always been clearheaded, not given to the bloodlust that infected some of his other soldiers. He had risen to the highest command with that kind of clearheaded quick thinking that could save entire battles and even wars.
"Are you ready, General Gawain?"
Would he ever be?
He rode out towards the hills, he rode on slightly ahead of his men, a habit only he ever did. Others stayed back, let the men fall for them. Gawain took battles side by side to his men.
It was what made them respect him, it was one of the reasons why he was where he was now.
The scrub brush didn't offer much camouflage.
"Split up," he said.
"Koss, Phinn, Jake, you go to the left path, Keelan, Dell and Vincent, you're to the right."
"And you, General Gawain? Will you need back up?" Keelan said.
"I don't need backup," he said.
His men filed out, and he waited for them to go out of sight before he moved on. Gawain was steady, but not cocky. There was little to fear from a scraggly Hawk youth.
He advanced further until he came through the ruddy hills and to a strange hut of sticks, like a nest. The Hawk youth shivered as he approached. His eyes were defiant, yet fearful. It was just a child, and in this form, so close to human that save for the wings and slanted ears, it looked like any human boy. There was lines of thin cuts over his chest, as if he had gotten caught in a briar. There was a larger wound in his shoulder, likely from an arrow of the previous hunt. Gawain saw the Heron yet again, her resplendent wings huddled close as she shriveled away. For the first time his thoughts truly congealed as the doubts he had about his country came to the surface.
"General, there you are– you've got him cornered–" Keelan said.
Before Gawain could turn, before he could call them back one of his highly prized archers fired into the child laguz. It gave a cry as it stumbled, and more arrows fired into it. Blood spurted from the punctures and new splintered cuts over its body. It whimpered and shivered, a long last cry of mother–! then breathed no more.
Gawain stared down at the body, dumbstruck. He'd seen a thousand or more men die, many by his own blade, but this was one of the first to truly twist at him. It'd been a child, and more human like than he'd ever seen the subhumans as being.
It had wanted its mother in the end. Suddenly he felt less the hunter and more the murderer.
But then, what warrior wasn't a murderer – just a sanctioned one. In the end a life was a life.
"Is everything al right, commander Gawain? I didn't mean to defy your orders, but the left path was a dead end and we thought it best to rejoin you," Keelan said.
"No, it isn't," he said.
Their king was dead and an usurper held the throne. He'd seen a innocent girl shut up to her death, seen a boy killed. He hadn't gotten to the status of rider to suddenly become sentimental.
"I need a drink and a rest, that's all," he said.
He left the Hawk youth to the carrion and did not allow himself a second glance back to see that battered, arrow-filled body with its glassy eyes and all-too-human face.
By the time he arrived at the Palmeni Shrine, it was already growing late. He rested at the rusted gates and caught sight of her. She wasn't singing tonight. She sat outside on the stone bench across from the well.
He took those steps forward, to her, to the sanctuary of Palmeni Temple. The sound of armor on stone was a sound that couldn't be hidden. She set aside her mending and looked up at him with only an expression of faint surprise.
"You look tired."
He chuckled, mirthlessly. "I look haggard, like death warmed over."
"Sit," she said.
There were few other chairs and none he wanted to sully with the blood of the last hunt, so he compromised by leaning against the stone walls. When she returned, it was with a rag and shallow bowl of water.
"I thought I told you to sit down," she said.
"I didn't want to dirty your bench," he said.
She sighed in a mix of exasperation tinged with something like affection.
"Have it your way."
She stood on tiptoe to remove his helm and dabbed a wetted rag over his neck.
"So you had some glorious battle today?"
"If by 'glorious battle' then you mean slaughtering children, then yes."
"Ah....That is the way of war," she said.
"I'm surprised you're even talking to me. I figured you'd lock me out and tell me to take my bloody hands elsewhere."
She glanced at him sideways. "I don't dislike you. I dislike your king. There is a difference."
"Such words could get you executed," Gawain said.
"That's why I'm telling them to you. You won't tell."
Gawain cocked his head and half-smiled. "What makes you so sure?"
Rag in hand, she was poised at his cheek. Her eyes met his, held his gaze in a way that was strong, and yet without furor.
"Your eyes are kind. They say they're the window to the soul."
"There's no kindness in war," he said.
"You did what you were ordered. Isn't that a soldier's life?"
"We murdered a child who called for its mother after being ganged up by a group of archers."
She wrung out the cloth. She wetted it again and brought it across his dusty, blood-speckled lips. She lingered there, her gaze meeting his, the rag just resting on his mouth.
"You're changing. You're not the man who came here originally."
Could a person be changed in that short a time? Or maybe the change had been happening all along. A crack from those sword marks written off as the work of sharp stones, a crack for the feral gaze of his king, a crack or a song, a crack for a dying girl and the death of a child.
He didn't say any of that. Instead he let his gaze fall over her, her novitiate's clothes, her shorn hair, her slender body cloaked in white.
"Why did you want to become a Sister?" he said.
"Devotion, escape of an arranged marriage, being orphaned, those are the usual reasons," she replied, with a certain casual carelessness.
"But what was your reason?"
She thought a moment. A swath of blue hair fell into her face, and she pushed it aside.
"I met a traveling bishop who whispered into my ear that peace was not an ideal or mere concept in stories. I looked hard, beyond a mist that settled about him and suggested normalcy and saw deep black wings. I asked of him if anyone else saw his wings, and he said that no, I was the first."
She nodded, and sank into a reverie of the before.
"He was trying to pass as Beorc and quite successful at it.... He was beautiful in a way I did not know was possible. I wanted to be like that, to be a member of the Order so I too could one day find a way to turn peace from a thing found only in fiction or a temporary state."
He didn't need to ask, for this person who had come across her and changed her path must have surely been a Heron as well.
"Why did you become a soldier?" she said.
"Well there isn't much to tell," Gawain started, "I had a knack for the sword and was too cocky to be a farmer."
"It fits you," she said.
He chuckled. "To be a murderer?"
"One can use a sword to oppress or protect. It's a choice."
"I thought you wanted peace."
"Peace always has a price, and that price is often blood."
She sighed and rung out the rag a final time.
"You should get out of that armor. I'll heat some water for you to bathe in."
"No need to, I should head back–"
"Oh you misunderstood me," she said with a smile, "I wasn't asking."
"You're a daring woman," he said.
She giggled, a hand over her mouth. "Oh General Gawain, you have no idea."
The next day, his breakfast was interrupted by an approaching figure. He wasn't even a third of the way through his porridge yet. The traveler turned out to be a Sister of the order, one who he'd never seen before. This one was fully initiated, her hair hidden by white cloth.
"Sister Elena told me she had need of you. She said to 'meet her by the well'."
She bowed, her wiry fame folding in on itself.
"I'll come," he said.
His men lounged about, half curious to the news. A single sentence and they'd be calmed, their attention diverted.
"I'm needed at the Temple. Our work here is mostly done so we will be going back to the capitol before the night comes. Get ready to move out."
Murmurs, mutters. Their chatter was happy, relieved to be gone of the place. Whatever wilderness charm the place may have once had was long lost on the men. They desired soft beds and a place free from the reddish dust that found its way into everything, until it was a layer under their clothes over their food.
She held a white sheet in her arms, a bundle of laundry, maybe? When he came closer, however, he knew what it was she held.
"I wanted to give her a decent burial. They were going to toss her away to be food for the carrion eaters," she said.
"Where will you bury her?"
"Out back where the flowers and Snowbeets are being planted. I think she'd have liked them."
He took the macabre bundle from her, even if she could've likely taken it on her own without too much trouble. The Heron girl was lighter than even his gauntlets. She felt like holding something airy and lost.
When they came to the furthest gardens, he pushed back the sheet for one last look, one last goodbye.
In death Lillia had faded. She had shrunken, her body frozen in a fetal position. She looked impossibly small with her tiny hands crossed gripped together. It hadn't been a peaceful death, it had been a lonely one; for her home had already been razed, but she had missed the pyre.
Elena made a sign of warding over the Heron girl's body and began a chant, a death hymn, maybe.
When she had finished the prayer, she left in the direction of a ramshackle shed. She procured a spade that was dulled and rusted with age. The ground of Daein was rough, often frozen and filled with clay and rocks. It was hard to plough and even harder to live as a gravedigger. Still, Elena pushed on in her futile attempt. She barely skimmed the surface with her shallow scrapings.
Gawain put his hands over hers.
"I'll do it."
She allowed him to take the spade from her grasp. He pushed the shovel in deep to the clay filed soil. Daein was made of clay and rocks and more often than not, the ground was frozen.
Still, tough grounds or not, they were still no match for his steady hand.
It took hours, and Elena said nothing as he worked. She sat hunched over and clutched herself, her arms folded about her knees. Maybe she was mourning, or maybe she was praying. Maybe even a bit of both.
When the hole was big enough, he laid her to rest where there was only rocky earth to be her final covering and scrub brush to be her shade. A spray of dirt fell over her pallid remains. She looked just as fragile as she had in life, maybe even more. He filled in the hole as Elena watched, dry-eyed beside him.
"It would be easier to form a pyre, but I couldn't bear to. She was terrified of fire after Serenes burned. I wanted her to be in a place where her bones would rest with the greenery she loved."
She withdrew a dirty, thick cloth, the last of the Heron girl's things.
"She entrusted the medallion with me. It seems that the king wished to turn legends true after all.."
"You'd betray the king?" Gawain asked, only partly incredulous. He knew the answer before she said it.
Elena raised her chin in defiance. "Would you serve a king who orders that?"
She motioned to Lillia's lifeless corpse. "She was innocent."
He didn't reply.
"Have you ever wondered about the plague? Have you ever looked at the king and wondered if a monster has come to reign over us?"
And with that, she'd said every thought that had troubled him since the death of the previous king. Every execution he questioned, every rumor from the front line. He'd quieted those nagging thoughts, but thrown out in the open, it was impossible to ignore.
"I'll go alone," she said to his silence. "You don't have to worry about me. I'll go off to a place where they'll never find me. I've involved you too much already."
"You'd throw away your life? You've no way to protect yourself."
"I cannot serve my duty to this country any longer." She bowed her head, in sorrow, in determination.
Gawain saw the choice laid before him. One, to leave and go on back to his life of Laguz slaughtering, to a king who already showed the seeds of tyranny, to one day wake up and find himself ordered to unleash slaughter upon the countryside – upon his own country men.. Or–
"...I'll go with you," Gawain said. He'd known the choice he'd make before he said it, known when he stayed his hand at the Hawk youth, known from that first unsettling feeling at the sight of the young Heron.
His life and everything he had built in it would have to be cast aside. His armor would be left, his wealth, his name. Everything would go to the same ashes that had consumed the Serenes.
"You don't have to do this," Elena said.
Gawain took off the horned helmet of a rider and dropped it on the ground. He plunged his sword through the top, and created the kind of wound no one could survive.
But that wouldn't do, not without dried blood to spatter the insides.. He unsheathed his dagger and raked it across his arm. Blood oozed to the surface and he let it drop over the helm.
"Gawain is dead," he said.
A slow smile spread over her face. In gratitude, in the sort of connection of two co-conspirators.
"Then who are you, handsome solider?"
Gawain remembered the priest he'd known in his youth, a scholarly sort with tiny spectacles perched on his aquiline beak of a nose. He'd read from a book of legends, the tales his name had come from. He thought of a search, a quest, the ever ideal that everyone strived for, and the mistranslation he himself had taken on in his younger times.
They slept during the day and walked at night. Elena was most probably afraid, frightened by the unknown world around her but she never showed it.. She slept near for safety and warmth but Greil did not touch her. He felt aware of her presence, aware of her breaths and how she moved.
In inns they slept in one room. He was Greil, a soldier discharged from duty due to an arm injury, along with his young wife. He found her to be strong-willed, yet gentle, her will was firm, yet never used carelessly. She was much less sharp with him than she had been at the temple.
They were both weary, but each played the part of husband and wife well. At times, he'd rest his hand at her back, between her shoulder blades. Other times she'd nestle into him and rest her head against his shoulder.
Still, there was a point he never crossed. Their affections were for show, to erase any niggling doubts that might remain to the public eye of their status as man and wife. He slept on the floor with little more than some folded cloth and a blanket for warmth. He was a soldier, one who'd bedded down on cold ground with nothing but stony ground to rest his head against. And yet, a bed had never looked so enticing as this old cot where she slept. Her hair had grown out slightly since they had left, and already came to her shoulders. Her hair grew fast, it seemed.
His days were spent in a fog of the tedious travel and hiding, the staying in inns and the charade.
He had been careful to cover their tracks, and as of yet, it seemed no horsemen followed after them or anyone recognized them.
She kept the medallion tied around her waist, hidden under her clothes so no thieves would pluck it away.
So went the days.
That night she came to him, feathers and moonlight in her touch. Her breath was warm against his neck as she leaned up.
"They'll suspect something if we keep this up," she said.
"I thought we played it well."
"Not quite well enough. The last inn's proprietress asked me why I'd let such a handsome man sleep on the floor."
"Indeed? She's an astute woman. Then what role should we play then? Brother and Sister won't work too well, I suppose you could be the niece of my late friend who I am guiding to Crimea."
"No, none of those. I will play the role of your wife," Elena said. She smiled up at him, daring him on.
"You already have been," he said.
She leaned up to whisper something intimate, for him alone. "Oh, but for real this time."
Greil took her hands in his, they were as delicate as the Heron girl's, and just as white. She grinned, a tad mischievous, and leaned up to him.
"You barely know me," he said.
"I know that you are a man who was willing to give up his whole illustrious life for a race you had been taught to hate, and for me. I know that you are kind, and good, and that is all I need to know to love you."
His hands tightened over hers.
"Aren't you going to kiss me, handsome solider? Don't make me do all the work."
"Be careful what you wish for, girl, or you might regret it," he said, teasingly.
She laughed as he kissed her forehead, her neck, each cheek and then finally, her mouth. She was much smaller than him, her body as slender and fragile as the Heron girl's had been.
Everything about her felt so right. He let his fingers skim through her hair, and let free the last barrier. Maybe he had known that it would end like this the first time he had heard her singing the song, a song for sleep and the renewal of life, a song for rebirth. It had been the last part, the release to leave behind Gawain and bring forth Greil.
He traced his coarse, warrior's hand to her pale cheek. She leaned into his touch.
And that was all he needed to know.
She was married in the same tattered dress that they had traveled in, though she had tried to wash the dust from it. There were white blooms laced into her hair instead of a veil, and a senile, dottering old priest to attend to the ceremony. He of course must have suspected a child on the way to be the reason for such a hasty marriage, and neither corrected this thought. It would be better to be remembered this way.
There was no company with them save for the sky and clear air all about them. The earth beneath was cool, the grass welcoming. Birds perched into the trees. The border of another country was close, one of dense trees and where roars pierced the night.
They stood together, man and wife, she in her blooms and tattered clothes, he in the rough tunic and pants of a peasant. They paid the priest and left the place with little more than the clothes on their backs and some uncertain future spread out before them.
"What will you do? You're a man without a country now," she said.
"I won't swear allegiance to anyone, but I'm not suited for anything other than work with a weapon."
"I can't imagine you as a farmer," she said wryly.
He brought her hand his mouth and pressed a kiss to the back of her palm as if she were some high lady and he, merely her knight.
"Do you think you can stand being the wife of a poor country mercenary?"
"As much as one could stand being the wife of a poor smithy or poor rancher."
She looked out at the scene around them for a moment, taking in the sight of it all.
"Where will we call home?"
"Gallia," he said.
It was the last possible place anyone would look for a former Daein general. Greil wasn't renowned for being wily for nothing. Gallia, a place where green trees were pressed so close as to shut out the sun. A place that would have been a far better place for a Heron to live. A place where the memory of her could be set to rest.
She nodded, her face all serenity as she clasped his hands.
"Wherever you go will be my home," she said.