By Any Other Name
Disclaimer: I do not own Fire Emblem or any of its characters.
Warning: Crack pairing ahoy! This is, as indicated in the description, a story about George and Minerva. Yeah. I dunno, blame the manga adaptation, I guess. No want, no read.
The first time he sees her, it is as a target, one too high and wild for his bow. Rather than waste a shot, he studies her as she transits above, the wings of her war-dragon striking the air with the sound of leather beaten at a tannery. Even at this distance, he sees her colors plainly-- red, in varied depths, in the shade of sunrise, of summer flowers, of freshly spilled blood. Behind her, in a flurry of white feathers, sail a squadron of pegasus riders. George raises his longbow and sets his sights on the most tempting target, a wobbly flier to the rear of the squadron. But she is just far enough away to not be a sure kill; loath to sully his reputation as the best shot in Archanea, he lets them pass. There will, he knows, be another time.
The second time he sees her, the shifting tides of war have made them allies. George has signed aboard the rebel alliance, this so-called Archanean League, for the sake of his princess, and his former target has her own reasons. George encounters her in the practice-yard of Castle Deil during the League's occupation of a place George remembers as the pleasant estate of a family friend. They practice for a while in silence, independent of one another, and it is only when his quiver is empty that she sets down her blunted lance to congratulate him on his precision. He takes the time to collect his arrows before he goes to her; he stands close enough to see how the perspiration darkens her auburn hair.
"Commander Minerva." He addresses her by the title she has earned, not the one she was born with.
"Marquess Menedy," she says as she gives him a sidelong glance from bold-lashed eyes. Her voice is low and has a slightly husky quality; it suits her height and her sharp angles. A princess, to George, is Archanea's lovely Nyna. Minerva of Macedon brings to mind the old days when the few women who dared to rule answered to "Prince" or even "King."
"Marquess Menedy was my father," he replies. "My name is George."
The corners of her lips grow taut as she considers him, but George thinks for a moment that he sees, beneath those thick lashes, a glimmer of some odd emotion. Amusement, perhaps, but he cannot say truly.
"Well met, George," she says. The rest of their conversation is brief and unmemorable; an impression of the Macedonian commander is already fixed in George's mind.
They win that war, then sleepwalk through a peace that slides into a second war before anyone realizes what truly is happening. Last year's allies are outlaws, last year's heroes live beneath the shadow of execution, and Archanea's armies are swollen with savages who exchange blood for gold. A foreign-born emperor sits on Archanea's throne, while Nyna is banished to the shadows by her "dearly beloved husband." George finds himself fighting at the Chiasmir Bridge, under the proud banner of Archanea yet surrounded by men so base that to shoot them would be a waste of his arrows. It almost comes as a relief when his former student Gordin, an archer in service to the Prince of Altea, approaches George to invite him into the rebel company. George swears an oath before Gordin-- not to Altea or its exiled prince, but to something greater and more dear to his heart.
"I will draw my bow against my own country, to bring back the Kingdom of Archanea as it was."
From the deck of the rebel flagship, George sees his former comrades-- and the banner of the Holy Kingdom-- disappear into the fog of the Chiasmir coast. His new comrades are an odd crew: from Altea, a prince without a country and his handful of followers. From Macedon, knights with no commander. And among them, George, a man with neither country nor king.
Minerva, too, defies her old categories; this time, she is not an ally, not a target, but a prize. She is high on the list of the treasures the alliance hunts, counted alongside Starsphere shards, holy weapons, and other kidnapped women. They find Minerva in Khadein, and by that time, her knights already act like another wing of the Altean army.
"Hello, Princess. Long time no see," George greets her.
"Minerva," she corrects him.
The sullen look in her eyes that gave her a smoldering quality isn't as apparent now, and at times he sees an openness, a flash of vulnerability. It is only a flash; she fights as passionately as ever. But the air of the tragic never really leaves her, and her knights, this time, have exceeded their commander. They no longer turn toward her as plants to the sun. The White Knights of Macedon gravitate now to the Altean prince, and Minerva stands a woman alone, neither leader nor follower.
The world is a charred and broken ruin when peace lands with the crash of a dying dragon. The death of Medeus the dragon lord is an anti-climax; for George, the great moment of the war is the liberation of his homeland and its capital city of Pales. While the Altean-Macedonian alliance spends the aftermath of the taking of Pales in feverish preparation for the next phase of war, George spends those few days in quiet reunion with old friends-- Dame Midia, heiress of Deil, and her lover Astram. For those fleeting hours, they build themselves a shining image of the Archanea to be, Archanea under Nyna without foreign interference. George learns all too soon that he would have been better off if he'd passed that time getting drunk. Empress Nyna, beautiful and insubstantial as a messenger from heaven, tells George she is leaving the continent in another's keeping, and disappears without a trace. George, on his knees in the Great Temple in Pales, swears fealty to his new king-- the King of All Kings, Prince of Light, Lord of the Stars, savior of the continent, beloved one of heaven, sovereign of the world of men and of dragons. As George speaks his words of love and obedience to his master, he thinks that all those who died for Nyna are now moaning in their graves.
George is pleasantly surprised by King Marth, at least in the first year of the Unified Kingdom. The leash George is fitted with proves a long one; the king focuses his personal attention on his native Altea and on the countries that have been most devastated by the wars-- Grust, Gra, and Macedon. George's motherland is only partially destroyed, and so he is given leeway to rebuild the former Holy Kingdom as he sees fit.
Security is the greatest concern of his people. Most of Archanea's knights now lie in shallow graves, victims of unjust execution, victims of the spite and jealousy of Nyna's late husband. As for the mercenaries that once flooded the streets of Pales, George posts warnings that sellswords are banned from the capital on pain of death. He'll shoot them all himself if he must. Still, he knows he cannot hold the city alone. George has visions of a band of knights sworn to protect not any lord, but the citizens themselves, the unarmed and the vulnerable. Free Knights, he calls them. The Free Knights of Archanea, men and women who will never follow an order against their conscience. Midia and Astram sign onto the plan immediately, and soon George is joined by two other bowmen-- his former student Gordin, and the Talysian named Castor. They fight off bandits, free inmates from brothels, and do no small part to keep the spun-glass peace from crumbling. The lovely house in Pales that belonged to Midia's family becomes their headquarters, and before long the original five are joined by eager recruits. For a brief and colorful time, George glimpses a future that looks, on the whole, agreeable.
It doesn't last. The king offers George the newly-created position of Archer-General of the Unified Army. George's first impulse, of course, is to decline the honor, to let it go to one of the Altean archers who served so ably in the war. It would be a shame to lose Gordin from the Free Knights, but he would do well, and Gordin's younger brother might also fit the role. But the offer is not made in confidence, on a walk through the palace gardens or in some other private moment, but instead is proposed at the council table, in sight and hearing of the bishops and high officers-- and it is therefore an offer George cannot turn down. He understands his role immediately; Archer-General George of Menedy will be a public symbol that the remnants of Archanean nobility support their foreign-born ruler. Another Altean in high office would add to the impression of a takeover, whereas reliable Sniper George could downplay the situation nicely.
George loathes military politics as much as he despises court charades. But he can feel the tug at his collar as the king pulls back on George's extra-long tether, and George has no choice but to yield. On his release from the council chamber, he takes a rambling path back to the house of the Free Knights. There was freedom in the chaos of war, George thinks. Peace has brought them stability, but also constriction. The evidence of new order, of the new way of living, is all around him. The abandoned palace of Bishop Volzhin is in the process of being converted to the new Royal Academy of Magic. The estates of House Adria and House Samsufe have been confiscated and broken apart; Adria's fortress now serves as a home for wounded soldiers, while Samsufe's manor is an orphanage. The estates of House Leifcandith will likely share the same fate, given the recent ill-planned rebellion of the house Head. Marquess Leifcandith acted out of fervent loyalty to Empress Nyna; he honestly could not believe that the empress would abandon her throne after so many died to place her upon it. If George's father were alive, he might well have had the same reaction to Nyna's abdication. But six hundred years of history are nothing under the new mandate of heaven.
His father served, and died for, the holy line of Adrah. The late Marquess Menedy would be lost in this century.
George has no more time for fighting bandits on the outskirts of town. He remains a nominal member of the Free Knights, but leadership of the group passes to Astram. The sting of this transition awakens old memories; in George's youth, the noble families of Archanea would swap out their children by royal decree. George still remembers his father's resentment on the day when George was sent down to Marquess Samsufe for three years of indoctrination. The education didn't take, except in the sense that George rebelled against it, but Noah of Menedy never got over the sense that his son had been, basically, stolen. This, to George, feels about the same.
To make the situation still more obnoxious, the duties of Archer-General have precious little to do with archery. The king has a fixation with siege engines, and George gets the responsibility of building new and better ballistas. George scorns the work at first-- what are ballistas but giant crossbows, crude devices any fool can learn to shoot in a week? At least the project allows him to work with some disreputable and interesting types-- men of low birth, most of them from hellhole villages in Grust, all obsessed with the ways and means of dealing out long-range death. The planning sessions become nearly as enjoyable as the rounds of drinks that follow each evening.
After some months, the king sends George down to Macedon to confer with the Governor-General there about the state of the reformed Royal Dragoons. Archers, of course, know all the weaknesses of aerial combat, and His Majesty wants Sniper George to give an honest account of his war-dragon brigades and pegasus riders. The business part of the trip goes well enough, and George finds himself with the time to engage the Governor-General in a lengthy session of reminiscence on the days when she was a White Knight and he was his own man.
"So, where's your former princess hiding these days? Did she take off on that beast of hers to travel the world?"
The Governor-General looks scandalized at first, then sorrowful.
"Not quite. She's entered a convent."
George stares, and stares again, and eventually decides the general is telling the truth.
"I heard the rumors, and thought them... incredible," he says at last.
It's not a joke, not that the Governor-General ever was known for her jokes. She takes him there, to the damnable convent, under the guise of the usual tour of public works. Behind the austere walls, the Governor-General makes arrangements with Bishop Lena, and so George (Marquess Menedy, Archer-General) gets an audience with Sister Minerva (former knight and princess). And so, George sees for himself what the new age has done to the great commander of Macedon. Her hair is longer now, slicked flat and held back with a ribbon. It does not suit her in the slightest. They can put her in a shapeless white robe, George thinks, but they can't disguise the angles of her face, or those heavy-lidded eyes that once held unquenchable fire.
"What are you doing here? You're no cleric, even now."
"Where else does a woman go when she has no place in the world?"
If she has no place, George thinks, it is because she convinced herself she has none. Or she allowed someone else to convince her of it. He looks at the ribbon in her hair, at the sack of a robe, and something in him begins to burn.
He sees her once more before returning to the mainland, and this time brings with him a gift of flowers-- not sweet roses or waxen lilies or showy peonies, but the velvet tassels of the amaranth. Amaranth brings to mind crushed rubies, fresh blood, low-burning embers, and it serves as a message to the humble sister. The amaranth never fades, and neither should she. George welcomes his next mission to Macedon, and the next. The Royal Dragoons are, after all, important to the stability of the realm.
In the fourteenth year after Unification, Marquess Menedy asks his sovereign for permission to marry.
"Of course you may." The Hero King's eyes show a flash of almost childlike delight at the idea of Sniper George in love. "My congratulations. Who is the lady?"
When George tells him, the king immediately turns sober.
"You may have the lady-- if she will have you. Best of luck."
And with this, the king gives his blessing to another unlikely endeavor. But unlikely endeavors fare well in this era, George thinks. Still, the going is slow. He returns each year to Macedon with an armful of amaranth blossoms, and each time he asks her the same question. Each year, she gives him the same reply.
The Free Knights persevere. Their ranks are stable; fresh recruits apply for entry even as the older generation loses its spark. Castor, who all along has been supplementing his income doing spy work for the queen, retires to Talys to "spend more time with me mother." George assumes Castor is simply moving to a different base for his spying, and doesn't much care. Midia and Astram have children now-- four in all, two boys and two girls for the perfect post-war family. Midia spends more time pouring kaffe for guests as Lady Diel than she does in the tiltyard as Dame Midia, while Astram lives more and more off memories of past glory as Archanea is steadily molded by foreign hands. Only Gordin still gives a full measure of passion to the Free Knights; he never has bothered to marry, and he still calls George "Mister," as student to teacher. George decides that Gordin, too, lives with one foot in the past.
George, though, floats along, without love for the past and without grand dreams for the future. His current dream is difficult enough to maintain. He remembers his words to Gordin, so many years before: "I will bring back the Archanea of old."
This, though, is not it.
In the second year of the Regency, she hesitates.
"Maybe, George. Maybe. Not now, but later...." Her voice, grown still more husky with the years, catches. "There are some people I might want to see, before they disappear."
Disappear into history, as so many already have done. They never speak of the dead, but the shadows hang around them all the same. Shadows of the dead and the missing, the loved and the hated, do a dance around them as Minerva brushes her fingers over the amaranth tassels. George feels certain that, this time, she nearly said yes. But she goes back inside her convent, and he returns to his siege machines, and the ghosts rule the day a little while more.
In the fourth year of the second reign since Unification, Sister Minerva agrees to leave her cell. She sends him a letter; George likewise takes a ship down to Macedon instead of resorting to warp magic. He has waited so long that the final journey alone has its own strange satisfaction. He finds her with her hair unbound, as it should be. There is no grand ceremony for the marquess and his bride, only the joy of having Bishop Lena join their hands with her own husband looking on as witness. There can be no better symbolism, no more appropriate rite; as the thief goes to join a holy woman, so the sniper embraces a dragonknight. This, he sees, is the true freedom of the new era. If the Archanean and the Macedonian can be as one flesh, as one soul, then peace truly has come to the world. Minerva wears a crown, not of beaten gold but of amaranth blossom, and for the first time in his life, George thinks he might recognize joy.
He takes her north and east on one of the new sleek ships that make the journey more pleasure than travail. They walk the decks together, in the time-honored manner of newlyweds taking their first voyage, and the wind whips her hair into a scarlet torrent. They breathe not a word of the past or the future-- all time is today, all places are bounded by the glittering sea, and George is almost sorry when the voyage ends. Still, he finds amazing pleasure in seeing Pales through her eyes. She knows the capital as it was during times of war and misrule, and the rebuilt city astonishes her. The mundane astonishes her; there are so many children, she says. Everyone has shoes. Everyone has enough to eat.
Of course, the office of the Archer-General intrudes at last into their sphere of wonder. Among the fine ladies of Pales, the new marchioness attracts attention simply because of her age. There is disappointment that Marquess Menedy hasn't selected a nubile young lady of proper breeding to carry on his noble line, and this strange woman from the south-- a former holy woman, no less-- seems an eccentric choice even by Menedy's standards. No one scorns Minerva for her past deeds. The exploits of the Red Dragonknight are ancient history; most of those who faced her on the battlefield are dead anyhow.
Some, however, remember.
"Commander... princess...." The self-assured Dragonknight Commander, she who is now what Minerva once was, stammers at the sight of her former lady.
"Marchioness Menedy," Minerva corrects her with a cryptic smile. She glances at George from beneath half-lowered lashes, and he fights to hide his own smile. And loses the battle.
"Marchioness." The Commander recovers her poise nicely. "It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady."
And so a bit of court charade proves itself useful. The eccentric Menedys return to their estates leaving triumphant confusion in the polite circles of Pales. The ancient manor, for so long more of a mausoleum than a residence, now at last becomes their home. More than a home: it is their world entire. He builds her a garden of amaranth bowers, knowing full well that when they both are dust, this estate will revert to the Crown and be sliced up for some charitable endeavor. The fleeting nature of this place they share only adds to their enjoyment. Let others worry of their place in history, for they are through with history and its toil. She wears her crown of drooping blossoms, red upon red. Her hair, like the flowers, has not faded.
They wear the masks in public, as Marquess Menedy and his lady. Behind the walls of amaranth, they are, at last, simply Minerva and George.
Author's Notes: Well, it's crack. But, seriously-- cool, competent, worldly George is probably the only guy in the Archanea games who is worthy of Minerva, and she deserves more than to just vanish into Lena's convent like FE3 implies. Hey, even I want a happy ending sometimes. This is another of the "Tales of the Unified Kingdom," and so runs concurrent with "Forsaken." Also-- I usually run with the NoA romanizations for the Archanea gang, but I draw the line at 'Jeorge' with a 'J'-- sorry! Points for figuring out which character is Palla and which one is Catria.