This is a "what if" story about Elincia, who happens to be my all-time favorite FE character (tied with Hector), and her struggles as the queen of a small nation in a hostile world. "What if" or "AU" doesn't mean that people act out of character and that I make random stuff up, but simply that there is a point where the story of of this tale diverges from the story of Radiant Dawn (right after the Endgame of Part 2, to be exact). Events will develop differently from that point on, but everybody's characters and motivations should still be recognizable.
The main players of the story will be Elincia, Geoffrey and Ike, but I plan to make full use of Radiant Dawn's humungous cast of characters for supporting roles. The plot is based on a simple premise, but may not go where you expect it to go (I think this is supposed to be a good thing). Character development will happen, as well as a character death. Or two. Or five. You have been warned.
The fic will be multi-chaptered and probably pretty long, but I've successfully completed long stories before, and I promise not to drop the whole thing halfway through (unless I keel over dead, which would really suck). Feedback in the form of reviews will be much appreciated, but I won't make the continuation of the story dependent on a certain number or anything like that. That said, feel free to hit me with any criticism that comes to your mind, and I hope you enjoy reading this.
And... here... we... go!
Part I: Queen of Anguish
Chapter 1: Sundered Heart
A cold wind was blowing across the battlement of Fort Alpea, chilling Elincia to the bone in spite of her padded suit of light armor. Staring down at the makeshift gallows erected in front of the fort, the Queen of Crimea felt as if she was standing on a snow-covered mountain peak, freezing to death with not a friendly soul nearby.
In actuality, her dear friend Geoffrey stood only paces away from Elincia, in arm's range if she chose to extend her hand. What little warmth his touch might have given her would have been enough to make her feel less miserable, but she did not reach out to him. This was something she had to endure on her own, although she knew not how.
"I will be strong, Lucia," she whispered to herself, and closed her eyes for an instant. The temptation to simply stay like that was powerful and threatened to overcome her, but she forced herself to open her eyes again. Anything less would feel like wronging Lucia, cheapening her sacrifice.
"Your Highness!" The loud voice of a rebel soldier reached Elincia's ears up on the battlement. "Your trusted friend will now die. Let this burn forever in your memory!"
And that is precisely why I mustn't close my eyes, she thought. And yet, at this moment, she wanted nothing more than turn around, flee the battlement and hide in the darkest corner of Fort Alpea.
"People of Crimea... Behold a true queen! YOUR queen! Long live Queen Elincia!"
Lucia's voice, unbroken by her mistreatment at the hand of Ludveck's men, pierced the veil of sorrow around Elincia's heart, and she took a step closer to the parapet. How dare she wallow in self-pity when it was Lucia who was about to be robbed of her life? When she was standing tall and proud amongst her captors, praising a queen who was so utterly unworthy of praise?
I will never be as strong as you, Lucia. But I will do my best.
Two rebel soldiers stepped toward the gallows, which consisted of little more than a wooden platform and two beams supporting a crossbar to which a sturdy rope had been tied. There was no trap door to quickly break the neck of the condemned, so the soldiers seized the end of the rope and yanked it backwards. Elincia cringed when Lucia was pulled upward, the noose tightened around her bruised neck. She did not struggle or squirm or anything of the sort: She held her head high, trying to meet the gaze of her queen and childhood friend one last time.
Elincia felt her throat constrict, as if she, too, was being choked by an invisible rope. Her hand traveled involuntarily to the hilt of her sword Amiti, but there was nothing she could do with it. Even if she were to mount her pegasus, Ludveck's men would simply finish Lucia off before help arrived, cutting short the last few seconds of her life.
A choking noise nearby made Elincia peer to her side for an instant. It was Geoffrey, who was staring at his sister dangling in the noose, his fists clenched and his skin pale. Never in his life had she seen him so helpless and desperate. But even though a word from Elincia might yet save Lucia, Geoffrey did not plead with her. He had done so before, and had been denied, and that was that. Having accepted this horrible reality of Lucia's impending doom, the commander of the Royal Knights remained as silent and motionless as a rock.
"It is not too late to change your mind!" The voice of the rebel soldier had a desperate edge; he knew that by killing their only hostage, he and the rest of his men were condemning their Duke, not to mention themselves. "Your friend can still be saved! Release Duke Felirae now!"
But Elincia had made up her mind before: As much as she resented her position, she was the rightful Queen of Crimea, and the duties of that position weighed heavier than the obligations of friendship. She did not even bother with a reply, adding her own silence to that of the crowd of onlookers, who had ceased in their noise the instant Lucia had been pulled up. She wondered whether the people – her people – approved of the execution, approved of Ludveck's rebellion – did they think her a weak queen, too?
Not after today, she thought, and hated herself for it.
Another gust of wind enveloped Elincia, and she shivered. The wind ebbed away as soon as it came, but she found that she could not stop shivering, her gaze locked on the blue-haired figure dangling below.
Forgive me, Lucia. Your death is on my hands. If I had only quelled the rebellion sooner...
I swear, I'll never let something like this happen again!
Two more times, a rebel soldier called out to Elincia, begging her to reconsider, his voice increasingly nervous shrill. But before he could finish his last plea, one of his comrades interrupted him, shook his head, and pointed at Lucia's lifeless body swaying in the wind. The soldier stared in shock at the corpse, as if he had only now realized what he had done, and fell silent.
"Lucia..." Elincia whispered, and her hands and limbs trembled uncontrollably. The two hangmen let go of the rope and Lucia's body slumped on the wooden platform. She looked like a doll carelessly thrown away by a child who had found a more interesting toy, and Elincia found the sight more than she could stand. Her legs gave in, and she stumbled forward, reaching out for the parapet to support herself. Still trembling, she missed, and would have fallen off the battlement had Geoffrey not stepped in and thrown his arms around her waist.
"Your Majesty," he said as he gently pulled her to safety. "Elincia. I... I..." Words failed him, and Elincia allowed herself to rest in his strong arms for a few seconds. She silently cursed her weakness at the same time as she was grateful for his presence.
Now that I have lost one of my dearest friends, I must value the others all the more.
Even as she futilely tried to hold back her tears, part of Elincia was surprised by her own powerful reaction. Had she not watched both of her parents cut down by Ashnard without collapsing? Had she not heard their last labored breaths as the Mad King turned his attention to her, a fiendish grin on his face? She still re-lived those moments from time to time, during particularly troubled nights, but they had not had the same effect on her as this.
Back then it was Geoffrey, too, who rushed to my aid, she recalled. Then, unrelated:
My parents rarely visited me in the royal villa, to keep the secret of my existence hidden, even though they resented that necessity. But Lucia has been at my side for as long as I can remember... That must be why it is so much worse this time.
The sound of a man clearing his throat roused Elincia from her stupor. Several Crimean soldiers were with her on the battlement, peering at their queen with sympathetic, but also expectant expressions. Geoffrey immediately shot an angry glare at the man for distressing the queen, but Elincia softly shook her head. "It's all right," she said, and let go of his arms, making a first, shaky step with her own two feet.
"I'm pathetic," she said, angry at herself. "Displaying weakness again. That's what made all this possible in the first place!"
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Eli... Your Majesty," Geoffrey said, returning to his usual mode of addressing her in the presence of others.
"But I must be," Elincia said resolutely. "On myself... and on others." She walked towards the parapet again, satisfied that her legs had almost completely stopped trembling, and looked down once more. The eerie silence from before had made way to increasingly loud murmurs among the crowd surrounding the gallows, and nervous agitation among the rebel soldiers.
They're not even a threat anymore, she told herself, and tried not to linger on the white-clad corpse lying in the middle of the throng of men. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she turned around and faced Geoffrey, who seemed to regard her with more devotion than ever.
"This crime cannot go unpunished," Elincia told him, and noted with satisfaction that her voice did not waver. "I must demonstrate strength now more than ever!"
"Your Majesty," Geoffrey said, "I am your loyal servant. Just give me an order and I will fulfill it, no matter what it is."
"Take all of your knights who can still fight and disperse those murderers," Elincia commanded. "We must retrieve Lucia's body, so she can be buried properly."
"It will be done," Geoffrey replied. "But what if the rebels surrender? Which seems very likely, given their hopeless situation."
"Kill only those who resist, and let those who would flee, flee. And take care not to hurt the onlookers."
"As you wish," Geoffrey said. "And yet..." he added after a moment of hesitation. "It is an unseemly thing to say for a knight, but part of me wants to slaughter them all." His face was an expressionless mask, but there was a savage edge to his voice that Elincia had never heard before. It seemed that even a virtuous knight like him had his limits.
It was not that she could not relate to Geoffrey's feelings – indeed, part of her shared his unbridled fury; an emotion she had not felt since facing Ashnard in the gardens of the Royal Palace three years ago. But just as she had allowed the surviving Daein soldiers to return to their country after their defeat, she would permit these rebels to return home again sometime soon – even those who had led Lucia to the gallows. After all, they had merely acted as executioners – the real murderer was somebody else.
And this somebody would soon learn just how cold and callous this queen could be.
"I cannot allow a massacre among my people. Not even among those who took up arms against me. Direct your ire against the real culprit behind Lucia's death."
"Ludveck," Geoffrey growled.
"Indeed." Elincia glanced at the other soldiers, whose undivided attention rested on their queen. "I promised earlier that he would stand trial," she said, "but that was before... before..." She almost choked up and concealed it by spitting out, which resulted in several raised eyebrows among the men around her – as far as anyone knew, this was probably the first time the queen had spat in public.
"According to Crimean law, the punishment for treason is death," Elincia continued. In fact, she had put a hold on all executions shortly after her ascension to the throne, but she now realized that this had been a demonstration of weakness – one of the many that had led up to this day. "Therefore, a trial would be mere formality."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Geoffrey said. "Not that you should concern yourself with my opinion, Your Majesty," he quickly added. As with everything he ever said to his queen, it sounded utterly sincere.
"On the contrary," Elincia rebuked him. "I should have listened to you more." She recalled now that Geoffrey had volunteered to bring Ludveck in before he had even started his revolt – if she only had listened to him instead of sending Lucia...
Elincia realized she was drifting off into despair again, and shook her head violently.
"Once you have cleared out the remaining rebels and recovered your sister's body, I want you to drag Ludveck out of his cell and to those gallows," she said, cold rage burning inside her. "Don't even bring him before me again, just string him up there for all to see."
It felt strange, hearing these words coming out her mouth – a few hours prior, Elincia would have been shocked at the notion of denying even a man like Ludveck his trial. But things were different now. She wondered if Lucia would have approved of her vengeance, but that kind of thinking would get her nowhere.
"I'll see to it personally, Your Majesty." There was a hint of satisfaction in Geoffrey's voice that Elincia found unsettling and reassuring at the same time. Unsettling because it went against Geoffrey's character, but reassuring because it vindicated her own vengeful emotions: She was not the only one who wanted to see Ludveck pay for what he had done. As long as Geoffrey did not object to her orders, she knew she was doing the right thing – his devotion was different from blind zeal, and he would tell her when he feared that she was straying from the path of good.
We are only humans, after all. We can stand only so much pain before... before something has to give.
"Any further orders, Your Majesty?" Geoffrey asked.
"No, that is all."
"By your leave, then," her knight said and went on to fulfill his duty. Elincia stayed on the battlement and looked at the white-armored soldiers whom she had led to victory only minutes before. She feared that they would accuse her of hypocrisy, that she had changed her mind about executing Ludveck only after her personal loss, but the men were seemingly unconcerned with such details: All of them had lost friends and comrades in the battle today, and, if anything, Elincia's decision to forego mercy only made her stock rise in their eyes. "Is there anything you would have us do?" one of them asked.
"Uh... yes," Elincia said after a moment's thought. "With the Royal Knights riding out, we need more men to guard the wounded rebel soldiers, at least until we're sure they've been disarmed."
"I might 'disarm' some of those scum myself," another soldier said and moved his hand across his arm like a saw. "If you know what I mean."
"Don't!" Elincia said sharply. "They... they were only following the orders of their duke. They didn't have much of a choice."
"It's probably not my place to speak, Your Highness," a third soldier said, "but they did have a choice. All of us had. They just made the wrong one."
"Perhaps so. But they're still Crimeans. Still our countrymen. We must be able to forgive them, or we'll never know peace again."
"If you say so, Queen Elincia," the first soldier said, sounding not particularly convinced. "Well then, let's go to work, you lot!" he called out, and the other soldiers followed him down into the courtyard of Fort Alpea. Elincia's gaze followed them for a while, and she noticed that the sorting of the dead had already begun: The fallen rebel soldiers were unceremoniously thrown onto a corpse pile, while the bodies of those who had stayed loyal to their queen were being neatly lined up to be buried individually. The wounded, too, were split in two groups: The rebels were merely given herbs and the occasional vulnerary to take care of their injuries, while the clerics with their superior healing staves dedicated themselves only to Elincia's men.
This is perfectly normal, she thought, recalling similar scenes after the battles during the Mad King's War. They look out for their own first. I could enforce equal treatment, but that would only lead to needless resentment. It's enough that the rebels are not being mistreated.
And perhaps that soldier was right. Perhaps they deserve it for making the wrong choice.
Elincia was disgusted by her own thought, but before she could reflect on it more closely, her attention was directed at the scene below by the hoofbeats of the Royal Knights charging out of the fort with their Geoffrey in the lead. They clashed with the remainder of Ludvecks's men, but it could hardly be called a battle: As expected, the men were demoralized and did not put up much of a fight; many of them did not take up arms at all and simply fled, and the remainder took advantage of Geoffrey's first offer to surrender to lay down their arms.
While the rebels were led inside the fort to be confined, Elincia watched Geoffrey make his way to the gallows. He knelt down in front of his sister's body for a minute, then gently lifted her up and carried her inside the fort. Although he must know that his queen was watching him from above, he did not look up, absorbed in his own grief.
Of course he is. Lucia was every bit as close to him as to me.
Elincia spent the next few minutes in a strange state of anticipation, staring down at the entrance of the fort and waiting for Geoffrey to re-appear. When he finally did, she heard it before she saw it, because a tempest of curses and insults rose among his men. Even the Royal Knights were not above jeering at the shackled Ludveck as he was being led to his execution – not only had he rebelled against the queen, but had the much-liked 'Lady Lucia' murdered, and from what Elincia could hear from her vantage point, the general consensus seemed to be one of 'good riddance to the traitor'.
His death won't bring Lucia back. But it'll prevent a repeat of a similar tragedy in the future. Let the nobles call me soft again after today! They'll finally get the queen they wanted.
Then again, they'll probably find something to complain about. But somehow, I have a feeling they'll be carefully wording their criticism, so as to not arouse my anger.
Elincia never wanted to be feared by anybody, but now, she had to admit to herself that it might be useful to be feared by some.
"My queen! I beg of you, have mercy on me!"
Ludveck's voice roused Elincia from her thoughts, and she saw that he had been dragged to the gallows. Geoffrey was standing to the right of the Duke of Felirae, and a red-haired knight to his left – she quickly recognized him as Captain Kieran. Kieran was the one to put the noose around Ludveck's neck, while Geoffrey seized the other end of the rope, ready to execute his queen's command.
"Please, Elincia! Mercy! Show me your famed mercy!" Ludveck was looking right up to her, his voice desperate and shrill – a far cry from the confident, downright smug tone he had taken not long ago, when Elincia herself had traded blows with him.
In the face of death, people reveal their true character.
"Mercy! Mercy!" the duke cried again and again. Geoffrey, too, was looking up to Elincia, waiting for her reply to this last plea. Elincia felt a pang of pity for the wretched noble below, and was suddenly assailed by doubts. Was she perhaps acting too rashly? After all, this was not something she could take back.
But she had only close her eyes and recall the image of Lucia dangling on the gallows; her beloved friend of two decades turned into a lifeless puppet on string.
Burned forever in my memory, indeed. You got exactly what you bargained for, Ludveck.
"I have no more to say to you," Elincia cried out. "By your actions, you have judged yourself." Unsure that her words carried all the way down to the gallows, she drew Amiti from its scabbard, its blade still bloodied, raised it into the air, and brought it down in a gesture that could not be misunderstood.
Do it, Geoffrey!
Geoffrey obeyed his queen's command, and Ludveck's pleas were abruptly cut off as his feet were lifted from the ground. The kingdom's first knight was struggling to keep the Duke of Felirae in the air, but he did not request aid, nor was it offered: Everyone knew that Lucia had been his sister, and clearly, no one wished to diminish his revenge by assisting him.
I pray this is the last time any of us has to avenge anything, Elincia thought as she watched Luvdeck's futile struggle: The former rebel leader would not die with dignity, but swung himself back and forth, trying to kick Geoffrey who took the blows without flinching. Elincia felt no amusement at this sorry display, but there was a cold satisfaction that could not be denied.
"Queen Elincia!" a melodic voice suddenly sounded behind her. She turned around, and saw that the heron princess Leanne had ascended the battlement (or flown up here? Elincia had not heard the flapping of wings, but then again, her attention had been elsewhere). She was accompanied by her guardian, the aged raven Nealuchi, who was missing quite a number of feathers, but seemed otherwise uninjured, though his sorrowful expression made it clear that he knew what had happened.
"I heard... of your friend," Leanne said as she came closer, her voice fraught with sympathy. "I am very sorry."
"T-thank you," Elincia stuttered, taken aback by the two laguz' sudden arrival. She made an involuntary step back and hit her lower back against the parapet. "I'm glad to see both of you well." Only now did she notice that her voice sounded much hoarser than usual, especially compared to Leanne's voice that almost like singing even when she was merely talking.
"You look very sad," the princess said, and she made another step toward Elincia, oblivious to her discomfort. "And I feel..." Leanne suddenly stopped and put a hand on her forehead. "What... is this?"
"My Lady Leanne, are you feeling well?" Nealuchi came to the side of his ward immediately and inspected her with visible concern.
"Much sadness," Leanne sad. "And other feelings. Bad ones... anger..." She took a step backs from Elincia, and the queen noticed that she was avoiding her gaze.
"My apologies, Your Majesty," Nealuchi said, "but you know how sensitive the herons are. All the negative emotions on the battlefield have taken their toll on her." He raised his hands in the air and shook his head. "I was against this from the very beginning, but she insisted!"
"That's quite all right," Elincia said, raising her palms in a placating gesture. She was feeling incredibly dirty, having been caught gloating over somebody's execution. She knew about the herons' abilities to look into a person's heart and mind, and she did not like what Leanne was seeing in hers.
"But it's strange that she would only be affected now, after the battle is over," Nealuchi mused, scratching his white goatee. "She was holding up so well before. I wonder why that is."
"Yes, me too," Elincia said nervously. She looked at Leanne, but the heron princess was still avoiding her, whispering something to herself in the old language. "Perhaps you should leave this place," she suggested innocently.
"Yes, I think you're–"
"The traitor is dead!" Kieran's voice suddenly boomed through the air from below. "Long live Queen Elincia! Long live Crimea!"
Elincia spun around on the spot and leaned over the parapet, looking down just in time to see Geoffrey let go of the rope and watch Ludveck's body slam on the gallows' wooden platform while the onlookers erupted in cheers. The sight of the corpse evoked a strange emotion in her, one that she had only felt once before in her life: When she had beheld the corpse of Mad King Ashnard, murderer of her father, mother and uncle. It was a feeling of rightness: That this person deserved to be dead, ought to be dead, that his death was more natural than his living had ever been.
"Now what kind of spectacle is going on down there?" Nealuchi asked when Kieran's cries were echoed by hundreds of throats, and made a step toward the parapet. "My eyes aren't what they used to be, but–"
However, before the aged raven could take a look, there was a dull thud, and both he and Elincia turned their heads, only to see Leanne lying collapsed into a heap, pressing both hands against her head in visible discomfort.
"My Lady!" Nealuchi leapt to her side. "What is it – ah, curse my wandering mind!" He knelt down in front of Leanne and carefully lifted her on his back. "We're leaving immediately! I'll carry you, just like when you were a child, remember?" In response, Leanne mumbled something in the old language again while wrapping her slender arms around Nealuchi's neck.
"I'm sorry for the sudden departure, Your Majesty, but this old one is going to heed your advice. We can return later, when Lady Leanne has recovered."
"What... what is she saying?" Elincia asked, fearful for some reason.
"She's sensing very powerful hatred," Nealuchi replied absent-mindedly as he walked toward the parapet. "It's the emotion that makes the strongest impression on the herons."
"Hatred," Elincia repeated stupidly. "I... see. Then you really should be going." She watched the old laguz spread his black wing and leap of the battlement, quickly gaining height even with Leanne's weight on his back. "And thank you for your assistance!" Elincia shouted when they were almost out of earshot, her own words almost drowned out by the ongoing chants from the men and women assembled in front of Fort Alpea.
"Long live Queen Elincia!"
"Long live Crimea!"
Though still confused and more than a little bit frightened by Leanne's sudden collapse, Elincia was accustomed enough to her role as the queen to turn towards the cheering masses and wave, eliciting yet another surge of triumphant cheers. When she drew Amiti once again and raised it high, the cheers became positively thunderous and did not ebb away for a long while. But all the ovations in the world could not make Elincia forget Nealuchi's words:
"She's sensing very strong hatred."
Was I really feeling hatred? It was the same emotion as with Ashnard.
Back then, nobody seemed to have noticed anything, even though Leanne and her brother Reyson had been nearby.
Perhaps my hatred for Ludveck was simply stronger. Didn't I wonder about that before?
Once more Elincia felt dirty, as if a part of her had been exposed in front of Leanne that nobody should ever have seen. Or was she simply too concerned about appearances?
So what? she thought in defiance of her own shame. I, too, am capable of hatred. It's only human, after all! Not everyone can be as tranquil as the herons!
For no reason she could name, Elincia suddenly recalled the original purpose of Leanne's presence: She had been looking for the Greil Mercenaries, to 'save her brothers', whatever that might mean. And not for the first time in the last few days, Elincia wondered were in the world Ike and his company might have vanished to.
If only they had been nearby... Perhaps they could have helped. Perhaps they could have saved Lucia.
Elincia shook her head, wary of such futile thoughts. The idea of the Greil Mercenaries staging a daring rescue of her childhood friend was like something out of a story.
"But things like that don't happen in the real world, do they?" she whispered to herself.
Prompted by the still ongoing cheers below, Elincia raised her hand and waved again, although she was feeling no joy; in fact, she was completely worn out from the battle and what had come afterwards. But there would be little opportunity for rest – she had so much work ahead of her. Dissolving the rebel army without creating undue resentment, mending the wounds that Ludveck's rebellion had torn, dealing with the no doubt upset nobles, nominating a new Duke of Felirae...
And getting used to living in a world without Lucia.
That would be the most difficult part.