Disclaimer: I don't own ittttt.

Notes: Written for the third round of FE Contest on LJ (theme: "yield") a few weeks ago, figured I should post it here before I forget! (Was going to edit it, but got lazy...)

The Day the Music Died

When the end comes, he is seated on his throne, plucking at the rotted strings of his old lyre and humming a half-forgotten ballad beneath his breath.

To say that he has been prepared for this day would be a lie. Indeed, he suspects there was once a time he thought this day would never come, foolish as the notion seems. For years now he has dreamed in patches of color and darkness, reliving the memories of his enchanted childhood through fragmented crystals of time, recalling the blazing ambition and brilliant visions that once carried him to adulthood. But it is as if he watches his younger self through a filmy blanket of fog: ever since the accident, his world has been muted and gray.

Ah, Golden Etruria, beloved kingdom of mine!

Tendrils of hazy warmth brush against his right shoulder. He recognizes it as the sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows, almost as if sent by Elimine herself as a sign of comfort. But he cannot fool himself. The sun has set too many times for him upon his royal seat. For him, it signals only the arrival of the soldiers, whose distant footsteps he can already hear.

He wonders if this is what his father had felt, all those years ago.

He had loved his father. Loved him, and pitied him. An old man crushed by the burden of a fractured kingdom, wits dulled by loss piled upon loss, too blinded by grief to see the decay that festered right beneath his very nose. He had loved his father, and sworn that he would surpass him.

You shall be my eyes, my ears, my hands. It seems so long ago now that he spoke those very words. Still young, still arrogant, such a foolish proud prince. It is strange to him that he still remembers the vows he swore then, when time has stolen all else from him. Together we shall root out the very seeds of corruption in this court, and pave the way once more to a golden future!

And they succeeded. Didn't they? He will never know if the cost was too great, never know the king he might have been. What he does know is the king he has become. And he knows that what he has accomplished in his long and fruitful reign is enough. It is more than enough. Surrounded by talented men and women, his faithful knight standing at his right and his clever lady adviser at to left, he shall be remembered in ages to come as the greatest ruler to grace Etruria since the Golden Age: the Bard King, Mildain the Milkeyed, most wise and compassionate lord.

He has been a fool to think he can rule on alone.

"The greater the height, the greater the fall," he remembers old Douglas saying. Honorable Lord Douglas, almost a second father to him. You have given me life once more.

Yes, he remembers: not the end, even then, but a rebirth. How many years had they staved off the darkness? It was always their presence at his side, their laughter ringing in his ears, and now their memory that reminds him of his duties, his vows, his old ambitions.

"A kingdom is nothing more than the sum of its people." That was Cecilia, who had loved him more than she loved the kingdom, but loved the commonfolk still more. Percival too had loved him, and argued, "A kingdom without a king is but a horse without a master."

Even to this day he wonders which of them was right. Perhaps they both were, if the Western Union is any indication. The island confederacy has cycled between chaos and stability ever since they declared their independence and abolished all kings and lords from their country. All are equal there, or so it is said. His memories, insubstantial as the wind, do nothing to either confirm or deny his doubt.

The people have deemed me unfit to rule, he whispers to his ghosts. Etruria loves me no longer. Words are inadequate; only music can express such grief, but he no longer trusts his own voice, and it has been many years since his lyre last sang. The darkness fell long ago, and now there is nothing but silence and noise.

The footsteps have grown louder now. He knows it is still not too late to change his mind. If he should but speak the word, those who remain yet loyal to him will answer his call to arms at once. The palace will be filled the clash of metal; its gleaming halls will be stained with blood. If he but wishes it, he can purge the kingdom of all those who would speak and plot against him, of all unjusts, of all who lack righteousness and purity. It is nothing he has not done before.

Instead he sits upon his gilded throne, strumming absently at the air.

He cannot see the faces of the soldiers who gather around, pointing their blades at him, but he can hear from their voices that they are proud men, passionate in the belief of their own righteousness. There is no hatred in them: they are crude and unpolished, but pure.

When they demand that he goes with them, he acquiesces despite knowing his likely fate, though part of him -- the part that lies muted and gray in some hidden, dusty corner of his mind, and even now struggles to break free -- screams that he is wrong, that they are wrong, and that this is not what he has striven and sacrificed for all these years.

It is better this way, he decides in the end. The king's duty is to the people, and if this is what the people want, who is he to deny them? He is the last of the long-lived line of Elimine. He will pass away into song and history like the dragons whose blood is rumored to taint his line, much as it does the newly reestablished royal house of Lycia. Perhaps he will go to the Union, or south to the desert, or to the Kingdom of Ilia, where green has begun to take root at last. He will die, not as Mildain, but as Elphin.

As the soldiers lead him away, they ask if he has anything left to say.

He hesitates. A smile flits across his face and is lost.

He whispers, "I have never stopped loving you."