Sleep of the Just
I do not own Fire Emblem or any of its characters.
Warning: more references to love triangles and some character death. Plus alcohol use and adults being adults. Enjoy!
If you long to burn an effigy
It should be of a man who's lost his way
Frelia and Renais had enjoyed many years of friendship, and whatever his feelings for his neighboring king, Innes maintained that rapport. In spite of the kinship bonds, Innes and his relations seemed mostly to meet at great occasions of state, and most of those were funerals. Tana's proved the worst of these. If she had died in childbirth, Innes might have at least found it in him to truly loathe Ephraim, but Tana's fall from her pegasus might be blamed upon no one save Tana herself and the caprices of fate. Innes did his best not to look at his brother-in-law; Ephraim made for an uncomfortable sight in the stark black robes of deepest mourning, his hair cropped short like a penitent monk's. Instead, Innes looked straight ahead, only to have Ephraim's twin drift into his field of vision. Eirika seemed oddly remote- ageless rather than young, wreathed in the stylized serenity of a goddess on an icon. The man she'd finally taken as her husband, the cryptic sage of the mountains, stood alongside her enveloped in that same aura of detachment. Only their small daughter, who kept her face buried in her father's shoulder, gave evidence that these people were yet human.
And yet, once again, she wished to speak with him alone.
"You must help him, Innes."
He did not ask her how he might manage the job.
"He is my brother, the other half of myself, and yet..." She turned her head, and he felt he could breathe in the strange presence she now carried with her. "We must each come to peace in our own way."
"I will do what I can."
"Thank you, Innes."
Even her smile had changed in some indefinable way. And Eirika turned away, went back to her husband and daughter to follow the path of Valega to peace. Innes, alone again, spun on his heel and went back on his way through the cool gray shadows.
The death of the Queen Consort of Renais caused much chatter but was of no real consequence. Tana had provided her husband two sons, and so fulfilled her dynastic role, and her story was in essence complete before the fatal tumble. The death of an old soldier in Grado caused far greater disturbance to the balance of power. Duessel had died peacefully of his age, and while of course there were the obligatory rumors of poison, they did not concern Innes. What did concern Innes, and should have had a like effect on his counterpart of Renais, was the unanimous sentiment that the late general had been the last honest man in Grado.
Ephraim had taken full charge of Grado's reconstruction- Frelia had supplied gold, and Jehanna mercenary police, and Rausten teachers and healers, but men of Renais did the bulk of the work, formed the core of the reconstruction forces. And fifteen years hence it was clear they'd made an utter mess of things. Grado was a structure with both leaking roof and flooded foundation, stricken with a creeping rot at all levels. The rot, Innes realized as information flowed in the wake of Duessel's death, would spread up to consume Renais and all of Magvel if not contained.
Grado needed a strongman to clean out its sewers, and none of the crowned heads upon Magvel could be that savior. Ephraim, still stumbling in the wake of Tana's death, had enough on his hands with Renais. Innes had the sprawling empire he shared with L'Arachel to manage- for certain she was not the one governing her part of the realm. And the insular King of Jehanna wanted nothing to do with anything beyond his sand-strewn borders. At the thought of Jehanna, the correct solution dropped into Innes's mind, as surely as a piece fits into a puzzle.
He summoned his brother king to Mulan for an informal conference on the Grado situation.
"I have our man for Grado at the ready," he said without preamble. "General Gerik will restore order to the capital. He acts with my complete trust and that of King Joshua."
"Yes," said Ephraim, though he sounded more polite than certain. "Even my brother-in-law does speak well of him."
Perhaps it was the advice of the reclusive Mountain Sage that tipped the balance to Gerik, but Innes did have his way, and soon the Jehannan general was on his way south with orders to do whatever proved necessary to fumigate the swampland.
"This place you've sent me to is a right mess." Gerik's voice came across clearly for all that the letter was penned by a Grado scribe. Innes made note of this potential security risk and decided to send Gerik a trustworthy Frelian secretary. But the sum of Gerik's findings proved worse than any rumor Innes had yet heard. Corruption was rampant- every public office from judge to ratcatcher was up for sale, and the military, the last bastion of honest men, in the aftermath of Duessel's death had become every bit as debased and politicized as the civil service. Only the Jehannan mercenaries kept order in check, as the demoralized Gradan army menaced the people as much as it protected them. Something else in Gerik's report bothered Innes.
Short on gold but overlong on fancy, the Renaitian governors of Grado had decided to fund reconstruction efforts through various schemes, including a "lottery" that treated slips of paper as though they had the value of gold or gems, a number of "trading bonds" that did the same, and other forms of speculation. One such scheme lured northerners and their riches down to Grado with promises of fair tracts of coastal land, all of which proved to be miasmatic swamp.
"Clever," Innes said to his most esteemed agent. "It's as mad as something the wretched Carcinese would envision."
Rennac bore the slight on his birth with the same impudent smirk he showed to all comers, up to and including his sovereign. Innes had no pleasure in the man's presence, but when he sent his spy south with orders to ferret out more on this speculation scheme, Innes knew the job would be done. Innes had a sword- figurative and literal- dangling over the rogue's head, and Rennac valued nothing as much as his own skin. Except, perhaps, the life and virtue of Her Majesty Queen L'Arachel.
Innes supposed that he did love his wife. Certainly he enjoyed her- he liked to twine his fingers through her pale curls, liked even better to bring her to arch that proud neck, to make less-than-holy oaths tumble from her sacrosanct lips. Figuring out her convoluted mind and untangling her chains of illogical logic was a pastime in and of itself. And she was so often helpful to him, for L'Arachel proved one of the most efficient means of disseminating a rumor. One offhand comment made to her in private would be spread from northernmost Rausten to the southern stretches of Jehanna in three weeks' time.
"I treasure you," he would tell her honestly. If he could design for himself an ideal woman, then have that abstracted perfection brought to living, breathing reality through some miracle, the woman would not be L'Arachel. But L'Arachel had been given to him through the graces of his father and the Everlasting, and so he would set her unique gifts to use. This time, the exact use that L'Arachel would serve would hinge upon the information her pet rogue brought back from Grado.
Six solid months passed before Rennac popped up once more in Frelia.
"That's a new page," the agent commented; his face, though pocked by mosquito bites, had lost not a shred of its insolence. "Fine-looking lad. Of good breeding, I'm sure."
Innes ignored the comments regarding Vanessa's son and set about interrogating Rennac.
"Imagine a tower of rubes with other rubes perched on their shoulders- suckers carrying other suckers, going on to infinity. That's Grado."
"How colorful. Whatever do you mean?"
"There's no real money involved," said Rennac, and his eyes widened for just a moment with what might have been genuine concern. "Maybe a little bit of gold in the hands of a few at the top, and the rest of it is pure faith. People owing millions and millions in nonexistent gold and gems, all of it attested to by worthless slips of colored paper."
"How has it sustained itself for this long?"
"There's always another sucker," Rennac said, and the smirking mask slipped back into place. "Besides, these people have a faith in their ventures that would nearly put Her Majesty to shame."
"Talk lightly of Her Majesty at your own peril. How long can this scheme continue to sustain itself?"
"Funnily enough, sire, I lied a few moments ago. There isn't always another sucker. You run out of them eventually. Then the whole thing bursts like a swollen corpse."
"You're thinking of the Carcinese Goldfish Bubble of 769? I knew this entire fiasco sounded familiar."
Innes pondered the issue long after he'd dismissed Rennac. Once a speculative bubble was inflated, there seemed no way to stop it. It ran its own course like a fatal disease, and to try to burst the bubble deliberately was thought to wreak as much devastation as the bubble itself. Rennac was quite right that the supply of gullible participants would, sooner or later, run out. And then what?
The Gradan Problem robbed Innes of sleep as no problem had to date. Even as Gerik made strides in reforming the civil and military service in the former empire, the threat of the speculation bubble persisted like the insidious poison of the Demon King's monsters. Innes remembered the effect well; a harmless-looking bite or sting that drew little blood would turn out to sap the victim's strength hour by hour until the victim was either cured or died of the poison. Grado was dying by degrees- in spite of Gerik's reforms, in spite of Ephraim's praise and proclamations, in spite of the medals and honors and all the fine words.
And Innes watched from the sidelines, knowing that there was no answer on earth to save Grado now. He must simply wait, until the corpse was dead and swollen, and only then he might let his arrows fly.
"You know this goes all the way to the top," Rennac said, and he had the documents to prove it. The architect of these schemes, these oh-so-creative means of funding an empire, proved to be the errant schoolboy who'd let doomed Prince Lyon do all his lessons for him back in their youth. At the very least, Ephraim had signed off on these bond and lottery schemes, had lent his name and reputation to that first core group of speculators who now balanced themselves upon the backs of a thousand "suckers."
"If he'd remembered the Goldfish Bubble of '69, he'd have thought better of it," Innes muttered to himself. "Never did know what to do with a problem he couldn't stab."
"You look so gloomy," L'Arachel said to him that evening. "You need a pleasant trip to take your mind off all these burdens! Caer Pelyn is astonishing this time of year..."
Innes did not go to Caer Pelyn. He sent Vanessa, who returned from her mission with the news that yes, the mountain village was lovely. But she had nothing more to say of the village or its inhabitants, and Innes merely wondered if silence indeed meant consent.
It took two years and five months more for the disease of speculation to run its course. One fine autumn day, the truth simply spilled forth: Ephraim had no gold to pay his creditors in Carcino, no gold to pay the Jehannan mercenaries. When the bubble burst in Grado, it took the financial stability of Renais with it. All Magvel rested at the edge of catastrophe, and yet Innes found himself energized anew. After so much waiting, his moment had arrived, and his action now must be swift, clean, and terrible. The speculation disease turned out to be an analogue of gangrene- he was too late already to save a limb, and now the entire arm must now be severed, before the infection proved fatal to the whole organism.
But first, there was a little clean-up job in Frelia to do. Innes burned the relevant papers and then settled the whole issue of Rennac within twenty-four hours of "officially" learning of the financial disaster. He said nothing of it to L'Arachel. He did not have to; legally they were as one, a single will housed in two bodies. The desire of King Innes was the desire of Queen L'Arachel, and the greater good of Frelia was the greater good of Rausten. Besides, it would be some weeks- or months- before L'Arachel even noticed Rennac's absence.
His work at home done, King Innes of Frelia set off for Renais, accompanied by his favorite page, a retinue of pegasus knights, and a clear resolve. He'd laid his groundwork carefully, after all- it was the only thing he could do during the last few years. Carcino agreed with him fully, Jehanna bore no dissent for his plans, and the letters sent to Caer Pelyn received no response. Innes wondered if Eirika's husband had decided that missives from the outside world were an unwelcome distraction and discarded them unread.
"This is a sorry business, Vanessa," he said to the knight at his shoulder.
"I trust in you, Your Majesty," she said only.
"You've been with me for all my battles, and I am... fortunate...to have you at my side for this one."
"I did promise never to leave your side," she said, for a moment she again seemed young and shy, a mere captain instead of a brilliant commander. "But is this a battle?"
"It will be, but I'm determined to win."
"Er, King Innes?"
"Queen L'Arachel made much of the humanitarian nature of this visit. She said that King Ephraim wasn't well..."
"There are times when Her Majesty says more than she knows... and times when she knows more than she says."
And they left the conversation at that.
Innes had not seen his brother-in-law in several years, and he decided that time had not been kind to Ephraim. The Renaitian king, no older than Innes, was aged beyond his years, with lines of care in his face and white strands shot through his unkempt hair. Even the piercing eyes seemed hollowed. Though not a broken man, Ephraim seemed at the least a severely dented one.
"Dear brother, our Tana would grieve to see you this way."
"Sometimes I feel as though all my good fortune died with her." Even the voice had changed; the ringing tenor that once had irritated Innes as much as it inspired their troops had grown hoarse.
Innes produced the bottle of Frelian whisky he'd brought as a gift and poured out two glasses. His informants claimed that the king of Renais alternated between immoderate drinking and outright abstinence; either he'd caught Ephraim during a intemperate phase or the lure of single-malt whisky proved too great a temptation.
"Speak of this ill fortune, if you would."
Ephraim downed the whisky in a single motion. Innes shook his glass and caused its contents to swirl in a small vortex. In the firelight, the whisky glowed like dark amber. He set the glass back upon the table untasted. He looked past Ephraim- now sitting motionless with his eyes closed- to the opposite wall and a portrait of Tana cradling her elder son. The boy had Tana's dark hair and innocent smile. Innes refilled Ephraim's glass. It was only a precaution; the first shot of whisky had already loosened Ephraim's tongue sufficiently that he could speak of the incipient disaster in Grado. Ephraim gave the account of his sorry state of affairs without regard to context or chronology. Had Innes not known intimately of these affairs, he'd never have pieced together Ephraim's statements into a sensible whole.
"This indeed is a tangled dilemma, brother. Rest assured that I will put everything at my disposal into solving this."
Ephraim reached for his glass.
"I can't fail, Innes. I've spent so many years..." His eyes seemed glazed for a moment, and he shook his head violently before continuing. "I've dreamed of the night Eirika and General Seth escaped from Renais as the castle fell. I watch them ride off with this sick feeling of hopelessness, and then I realize it's not Eirika and Seth any longer. They're my own boys, with no one to protect them save one another as they ride into the darkness."
Innes remained silent; the naked horror in the other man's voice was an uncomfortable thing to witness.
"We won't allow you to fail, Ephraim," he said in the end.
"I believe you do mean that," his brother-in-law whispered. The eyes, though smudged and bloodshot, were as vividly blue as on the day of their duel. They seemed to search Innes's face as though probing for the deeper mysteries of his soul, even as Ephraim raised the glass again to his lips.
"All Magvel yet looks to you for its inspiration. You're the beloved hero, the legend untarnished." His fingers, laced upon his knee, were still and relaxed. "I intend to make certain you remain so."
Ephraim paused in mid-swallow. He lowered his glass and cast Innes a quizzical look. The light of understanding dawned, as it usually did, a little too late.
The abrupt passing of King Ephraim cast a pall of collective sorrow over Magvel. The news was met with shock, yet in many quarters there was little surprise, as rumors of Ephraim's faltering health had traveled throughout the continent in recent weeks. At the unanimous request of the nobles and clerics of Renais, King Innes received the keeping of his young nephews, and under his tutelage they honed their skills in council as well as on the field. He arranged for the elder a brilliant marriage with the young princess of Jehanna, and to the younger son he promised the restored throne of Grado. To that end, Innes immersed himself fully in cleaning the cesspool of Grado's reconstruction efforts; more than a few men lost their heads to the king's justice, and the people grumbled that King Ephraim, if only he had lived, would have found a less messy way of dealing with things, but the results were beyond reproach. Each day, the rebirth of Magvel crept closer to realization, and each night Innes of Frelia slept the untroubled sleep of the just.
Author's Note: Look, Innes said he was going to destroy Ephraim. Yes, having Ephraim snuffed doesn't entirely gel with "being good at heart," but he's doing it for the sake of Tana's boys and all Magvel. OK, it's still pretty harsh... but it's not any more out of character than all the Innes/Ephraim yaoi. The idea for "General Gerik" came from his support conversations with Innes.
Epigraph again by Andrew Bird, from "Effigy" off the Noble Beast album.