Epilogue: The King and the Queen
A cold wind was blowing across the desolate plateau high in the mountains, far to the south of Crimea and closer to the sun than Elincia had ever been. Protected against the worst of the chill by a thick, white cloak, she stood in the middle of the plateau, waiting for the arrival of the one she had come to meet. In fact, she had been waiting for over an hour now, all alone except for Apollo, her new pegasus who had carried her to this godforsaken place now that Atlas was enjoying his well-deserved retirement. Elincia suspected that she was being deliberately made to wait, which irked her greatly, but she considered it a test of her patience and endured.
It had been four weeks since Geoffrey's death – organizing today's meeting had taken that long – and things were looking up all over Tellius. All foreign armies had left Crimea and returned to their home countries, and her new order had not met with any serious challenge so far. The dead had been buried – Geoffrey in the palace gardens, at a spot where Elincia could see his headstone from her window, and Ike and his comrades in a location unknown to her, chosen by the Greil Mercenaries who were understandably unwilling to so much as talk to her. She doubted that the company would last long after the loss of their leader and all of their senior members, and even if it retained its unity, her banishment decree was still in effect. She did not expect to ever hear from them again.
Crimea's domestic reforms were coming along nicely, too: The governors appointed by Elincia had taken up their work, and even though they might not fulfill all of her expectations, they could not hope to be more obstructive and unhelpful than the old nobles even if they tried. Said nobles had all gone into exile as per royal verdict, and it seemed that their families had resigned themselves to their loss of status – none of them dared to follow the example of Alm's granddaughter, and both they and Crimea were better off for it.
Everything is going well, Elincia concluded her internal review, prompted by boredom and the need to distract herself from the cold. Now if only this meeting will not end in disaster...
As if summoned by her thoughts, a small black figure appeared at the far end of the plateau and approached Elincia. She did not wave or otherwise make her presence known, but simply waited with her arms crossed before her chest (not to convey defiance, but because it was cold) until the figure arrived before her. It turned out to be a tall young man with dark hair and a red mark on his forehead, wearing a simple black robe that seemed much to flimsy to protect him from the wind.
"Greetings, Queen Elincia," he said with a polite smile. "I apologize if I made you wait overly long in this cold weather."
"It's fine," Elincia lied. "Really. I'm tougher than I look."
"Yes, you proved that beyond any doubt during the last few months," the young man said. "News is usually slow to reach our kind, but the tale of Queen Elincia's ascendancy turned out to be the exception to the rule."
"I hope your people don't believe all the horrible things my detractors accuse me of," Elincia said dryly, "because the truth is much worse."
"Ours is not a squeamish people... though I personally was saddened by some of the stories I heard." The young man raised his hand to pre-empt a reply from Elincia. "But I won't waste any more of your time with my concerns. After all, you did not come here to visit me. I merely came here to greet you as a matter of protocol... and because I wanted to see you from up close." He looked back over his shoulder, and Elincia followed his gaze to the far end of the plateau where a second black figure had appeared and was walking toward them. "My father will meet you now," Kurthnaga said and returned whence he had come, exchanging a single glance with the second, taller figure when they passed each other.
I'm nervous, Elincia realized as the father of the young man approached her. I shouldn't be, but I am. And he is bound to pick up on that.
Well, it can't be helped.
The man she had come to meet walked slowly, much more slowly than his son had, as if he had all the time in the world – which was not too far from the truth. He was probably the only person on the continent who could make Elincia wait, but she now realized that his slowness was not some sort of statement – he simply walked slowly because he chose to, as if it was already an affront to expect him to move at all.
After what seemed like another hour atop the solitary mountain plateau, the man she had come to see finally stood before Elincia, his arms folded before his chest just like hers. He was two heads taller than her, completely bald, and his small black eyes looked like they could stare a hole into the very mountain. He planted himself in front of her, his expression like that of a rock, and inspected her. She allowed his inspection to run its course (taking up another ten minutes at the very least), sorely tempted several times to speak up, but held back by the notion that he would consider it a sign of impatience – surely the worst of all sins for a man who moved at the pace of a glacier.
Finally, when he had drawn whatever conclusions he might from his inspection, Dheginsea began to speak.
"This is the first time a beorc has been invited into my nation in more than five hundred years," he said in lieu of a greeting. His words were not meant to honor her, Elincia realized, but simply to state a fact. "Name your business with Goldoa."
While preparing for this meeting, Elincia had given much thought to the problem of phrasing. She was certainly not going to ask Dheginsea for his approval of her hegemony, but she had to broach the topic of her new order somehow, preferably without appearing threatening. In the end, she had decided on the opener that was the most neutral, but also the least urgent-sounding. "I am here to talk about future relations between our countries," she said, and was successful at keeping her voice steady in the face of the ancient Dragon King.
"Goldoa has no relations with the outside world," Dheginsea said. "I did not come here to speak the language of diplomacy," he added with an air of annoyance. "Speak frankly. Rest assured that is not within your power to offend me."
"I'm glad to hear that," Elincia said and decided to take the Dragon King by his words. "What guarantees does Goldoa want?"
"I do not understand," Dheginsea rumbled. "Guarantees for what?"
"That I won't target you next. That I won't try to conquer your nation with my armies. That I won't try to subdue the last monarch on Tellius who is not treaty-bound to me." Isn't all this obvious?
"Are you announcing your intentions?" Dheginsea asked.
"No, of course not!" Talking to a stone would be more productive than this! "I'm just trying to address the concerns you must have about my sudden rise to hegemony."
"Goldoa does not concern itself with the outside world," the Dragon King said, almost word for word a repetition of his earlier sentence. Was he just pretending, or had he really no idea why Elincia wanted to come to an agreement with him?
Then it dawned on her that ancient though he was, Dheginsea truly had no idea how to conduct diplomacy – small wonder, seeing as he took pride in the fact that his nation had no foreign relations whatsoever. Was this meeting going to end without any tangible results?
"What would have to happen for you to go to war with Crimea?" Elincia finally asked her true question. Dheginsea's response was instantaneous.
"Goldoa will not go to war unless war is brought to us. That law is as old as our nation itself." He frowned, the first change in his expression since the beginning of the meeting. "Are you, by any chance, afraid that we will attack you?"
"I... I considered the possibility," Elincia said evasively. "Because I thought you might feel threatened by me."
"Many centuries ago, when the Begnion Empire ruled over all the lands of Tellius except Goldoa, they commanded a power just as great as yours," the Dragon King said in a tone rife with reminiscence. "But they still did not dare attack the dragon tribe. I am not concerned about your intentions. We will give you no reason to make war on Goldoa, and we will maintain our isolation... if only out of habit."
"What do you mean by that?" Elincia asked. "Is the real reason for your isolation no longer valid?" She wondered whether she was treading on dangerous territory here, asking questions that she was not supposed to ask. But Dheginsea had assured her that she could say nothing to insult him, and she felt she could take him by his word.
"Goldoa's isolation was born out of my desire to avoid war," the Dragon King said, surprisingly forthcoming with information. "Since we could not prevent the other nations from going to war, we could at least decide not to contribute to it."
"So that's why," Elincia nodded. "We never knew about Goldoa's motives, so the best we could do was guess." She unvoluntarily touched the belt pouch containing Lehran's Medallion. "You must have wished to keep the dark god from awakening."
"Indeed," Dheginsea said. "Nobody knows as well as I just what kind of threat the ... the dark god poses. But our isolation did little to contain the flames of strife," he continued with open dismay. "Even at the apex of the Empire's might, rebellions and uprisings frequently broke out, and the bloodshed never stopped." He looked at Elincia with an intensity that surpassed even his scrutiny of his earlier inspection. "But this time, things may be different."
"I share your distaste for war," Elincia said, happy to have finally found some common ground with the ancient ruler of Goldoa. "And I have something the old Empire didn't have... the means to prevent the other nations from rebelling against my hegemony."
"You are referring to the blood pacts invented by Begnion. We learned of their existence several decades ago, but it seems that they have only now been put to good use."
"Good use?" Elincia asked in surprise. "You mean you approve of my methods?"
"The ends justify the means," the Dragon King said with utter conviction. "To be honest, I had expected Begnion to use the blood pacts to ensure continental hegemony. But in the end, it makes no difference who wields that power, as long as it is wielded." For the first time during this meeting, he turned his gaze away from Elincia and looked at the sky, as if he was seeing something there that was visible only to him.
"Perhaps now, the flames of war will die down forever," he said, his voice almost longing. "Perhaps now, the continent will see the lasting peace that was once promised."
"I've been told something similar not long ago," Elincia remarked, recalling the enigmatic words of Prime Minister Sephiran. "By someone who said he had lost all hope for this world."
"I can imagine who it was." Dheginsea nodded. "He has suffered much during those many centuries of warfare... much more than I, who closed myself up against the world. Perhaps he will find a peace of his own now." There was something resembling a smile on the Dragon King's stony face. "And perhaps he will visit me again. It has been a long time since we last met, and we parted in anger."
Rather than answering them, the Dragon King's words raised even more questions about Sephiran's identity, but Elincia doubted that she would learn much more today. "So the dragon tribe will not oppose my ascendancy?" she asked just to make sure one more time before she left. "You will not try to overthrow me?"
"That is correct," Dheginsea nodded and locked gazes with her once more. "Goldoa will not move against you unless you force our hand."
"I promise that won't happen," Elincia said solemnly.
"I shall place a measure of my trust in you," Dheginsea replied. After that, he said nothing more for a long while, looking at the sky again, and Elincia took it to understand that their conversation was over. "Then I shall depart now," she said. "Farewell."
"Farewell indeed," Dheginsea said, as if the word had some hidden meaning only he knew about. "You beorc are so short-lived. Unless you break your promise, I doubt we will ever meet again." Even though she was still young, Dheginsea's sobering words made Elincia painfully aware of her mortality, and she turned to leave without another word. But before she could mount Apollo, the voice of the Dragon King resounded once more.
"Yes?" Elincia turned around and saw that Dheginsea was extending his right arm toward her. "Did you forget something?"
"I have felt a familiar presence ever since I set foot on this plateau," he replied. "You carry Lehran's Medallion with you."
"Yes," Elincia admitted. "I always have it on me. It's safer that way... to prevent accidents from occurring." She waited for Dheginsea to say something, but he remained strangely silent for a while, occasionally moving a facial muscle in what might have been a display of internal struggles. Don't tell me he wants to have it! she thought, immediately followed by the question: Would I relinquish it to him?
"I am... uncertain what to do," the Dragon King admitted. "I..." He hesitated again, and Elincia wondered what might give someone like him pause. "May I see the medallion?" he finally asked.
"Of course," Elincia said and removed the inconspicuous bronze medallion from her belt pouch. As long as you don't try to touch it. "Here it is." She presented it to Dheginsea, protected from madness by her thick fur gloves, and he looked at it with something like... regret? But Elincia was far from certain, since reading the Dragon King's emotions was like feeling one's way through a dark room while wearing a blindfold.
By 'familiar presence' he must be referring to the dark god... after all, he was one of the heroes who banished it centuries ago.
"I do not know if you can hear me," Dheginsea said, his gaze resting on the medallion. "But if you can..." He gulped, visibly reluctant to go on, but in the end he found the resolve to continue. "I am sorry for lying about you for so very long. If this beorc woman keeps her promise and the peace lasts... then I will reveal the truth to the world one day." He appeared to smirk, but he could just as well have been grimacing. "That is, in a century or two." Then he closed his eyes and exhaled, as if he had just done something tremendously difficult.
"Is that all?" Elincia asked, unable to make much sense of Dheginsea's words. Had he just apologized to the dark god? It had sounded like that, but it made very little sense.
"Yes," the Dragon King said and opened his eyes again. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Elincia replied and put the Fire Emblem back into her pouch. "Uh... could you explain to me what this was all about?" she asked.
"That is not for you to know."
And there I thought he had become personable. Oh well... I don't have to solve all the mysteries in the world.
"Then I bid you farewell once more, King Dheginsea," Elincia said.
"Farewell, Queen of Tellius," the Dragon King replied and turned his back on her, walking away every bit as slowly as before.
Queen of Tellius, Elincia thought as she watched him depart. Somehow, I don't think he was the last to call me that. She mounted Apollo, but did not take off yet: Now that she had gotten somewhat used to the cold, she realized that the snow-capped mountains of northern Goldoa, the highest on the continent, made for a beautiful vista. There might not be another living soul as far as the eye could see, but at the same time, the loneliness of these lofty peaks exerted a strange fascination on her. This was a place far removed from all the pain and grief and sorrow of the world, and for a moment, she could understand the appeal which complete isolation held for Dheginsea and his people.
But this is not for me, Elincia reminded herself. She had a country to rule, and a people to protect, and even with the blood pacts, there would still be pain and grief and sorrow... but hopefully not quite as much as during the past few months.
"Come on, Apollo," she said and pulled the reins of her pegasus, after making sure that Dheginsea had cleared the plateau. "We're going home." He snickered obediently, and a few moments later, Elincia was airborne in the skies of Goldoa, her mission accomplished and her grand work finally finished. With Dheginsea's promise not to oppose her hegemony, the last possible threat to her new order had disappeared, and she had finally brought about what she had once promised: The end of war. And not just the end of a particular war, but any war, at the very least for as long as she was alive, and longer than that if her heirs would stand true to her ideals.
Was it worth the price I paid... and the price I exacted from others?
As she soared through the sky toward her beloved Crimea, Elincia decided that history would be the judge of that.
Closing Notes: And that's it. I hope the ending wasn't too abrupt; I noticed that several reviewers seemed to expect more after the death of Ike. But I had always envisioned his fall as the climax of the story, because there's probably nothing that would evoke a similar emotional reaction in Elincia. And since I didn't want to repeat the epic finale of Radiant Dawn, I let sleeping gods lie, which is what one might benevolently call a twist after making so much of a fuss about the dangers of Lehran's Medallion. You could also call it reader deception, but as we all know now, the ends justify the means. Or something like that.
So in the end, Elincia pretty much won, no matter how much she lost. That, too, may not be welcomed by every reader, but I think it is a fitting end to the story, and the prospect of a Pax Elincia is really not that bad if you take a step back and look at it from a distance. After all, moral ambivalence was pretty much the ongoing theme of the story, and there doesn't really need to be a "message". If I ever want to spread a message, I'll write a proper manifesto.
Anyway, I'm rambling. So, thanks to everybody who read and reviewed the story (and assured me that I did not let Elincia drift into "complete monster" territory). Although it was pretty bleak most of the time, I had fun writing it, and I hope this won't be my last story written for this site. So long,