Fools Rush In
Rushing into a situation without first thinking it through was indescribably stupid. Fiora had vowed to never, ever do such a thing herself so long as she could help it, but even the best-laid plans could be laid to ruin under the right circumstances.
The corridors of Castle Pherae were bustling with the usual early-morning activities, and Fiora found herself blatantly ignored. She might have thought it unusual in the past, but the unusual had become her normality.
His hand was warm, and his eyes were full of earnestness. She liked that about him. He wasn't as physically strong as most of the other men, but he possessed the wit and passion that they all lacked.
For a moment, she feared a confession—something she was not yet ready to hear fall from his lips. To her utmost relief—and perhaps a degree of disappointment—he spoke of equality.
She was the middle of the teeter-totter in her family. Florina was so timid that even if she thought something through, she would be too fearful to act, and Farina always charged into the fray without bothering to give the consequences thought beforehand.
Fiora thought things through and then she acted. She had always prided herself on being the middle ground.
The grounds of Castle Pherae sprawled over acres of open grass. There were a few trees scattered about, but they were unsightly things, their gnarled, twisted branches reaching upward. But for what, she often wondered from her window. For what?
Beauty, perhaps. They lacked it, as she did, and maybe they thought that they could touch the beautiful blue sky if only they weren't rooted quite so firmly into place.
The tips of her fingers brushed against the oak of the doorframe above her.
Equality was a strange thing, and she thought on it for longer than she ought to have. What had his words meant? Had they held a deeper meaning? Reading too much into it could spell disaster for her, she knew, but she couldn't help but feel hopeful.
The river water was cold against her face, and when she brushed it from the tip of her nose, she noticed her reflection beginning to settle beneath her.
"He was only being kind," she said to herself.
Makar whinnied softly at her from his stall in the very back corner of the stable.
She smiled at him and held out a cube of sugar. His nostrils flared, and his lips tickled her hand as he tried to find it in the dark.
It was a shame, she thought, that he could see the light from the stable doors from where he stood, but like the trees reaching for the beauty of the sky, he could never touch it, never feel it.
She unlatched the stall door.
His joints were stiff, and he moved much like an old, old man. She waited patiently, just as she had when he was a foal and he had tottered over to her only to butt his head against her chest for a treat.
"My lady! My lady!" one of the stable hands called, and held out a halter and a lead. A halter? She almost laughed. Pegasi were not common horses. Makar would follow her to the end of the continent; he didn't need a halter.
But she nodded gratefully and slipped it over his head.
The morning light washed over both of them as they left the stable. She led him to the back of the building. Grass stretched out for miles, and she could see one of the wretched trees clawing at the heavens. She turned back to her pegasus, who had begun to clumsily nose at the front of her dress as if she might have a treat hidden there.
When she saw Lord Eliwood take the arm of the dancer, Ninian, she put down her currycomb and turned away. "I'm such a fool," she said to no one in particular.
She could never compete with Ninian. The other woman was practically a goddess. Did she have any faults? If only a bit of timidity counted as a fault! Everything about her was lovely, even her voice.
Ninian unknowingly tipped the scale. Fiora decided that no matter how handsome Lord Eliwood was, it would not do for her to try to win his heart when her competition was far more likely to succeed.
She turned her attention to other things.
Many years had passed since she last held a hoof in her hands, but it still felt as familiar and comfortable as it always had.
"My lady…" It was the Stable Master. "We take excellent care of our horses."
He was offended.
Makar was not a horse.
She set his hoof back down only after she managed to dig out a small stone that had been causing her pegasus undeniable discomfort. After straightening, she handed the lead over to the short, dignified-looking man standing before her.
"There is no doubt in my mind that you do, Sir," she said, forcing herself to speak gently.
It really was no wonder that Lady Lyndis had run away.
Though everyone in the army had experienced death in their lifetime, they had hoped, perhaps foolishly so, that they would not have to experience it on the battlefield.
Ninian's body looked broken. It folded so easily in Lord Eliwood's arms.
She hadn't known the woman, hadn't wanted to know her. Perhaps she had even been jealous of her.
But tears gathered in her eyes and slowly spilled over, probably because she had never been able to stand the sight of a grown man weeping.
Only a year after the Dragon's Gate had been sealed, there had been a ball. Fiora remembered feeling terribly lost, there, and alone, as Lord Eliwood had gone to mingle with assorted acquaintances and had spoken of nothing but business propositions, taxes, and other things that did not concern her.
Lady Lyndis had been a sight for sore eyes. So, too, had been her knights, who stood nearby. Sain even offered her a smile, which she returned gratefully.
"Lady Lyndis," she began, approaching the younger woman. "I am most sorry to hear about your loss."
Lyn paused, a small cake of some sort halfway to her mouth. She gave her a bright smile. "Thank you, Fiora." The cake went in and was promptly swallowed. Fiora wondered if she had even tasted it. "How are you faring here?"
"Well enough, I suppose." She looked down toward her feet and then back up, giving the room a sweeping glance before letting her gaze settle once again on the Lady of Caelin, who continued to pick up food to eat, seemingly without a care in the world.
Other ladies of high standing were in circles around the room, talking and looking their way. Fiora knew they were talking about Lyn.
"How do you do it?" she finally asked. How could she stand to let other women talk about her? How could she stand the scrutiny of court?
"Do what?" Lyn's mouth was full as she spoke, but she quickly remedied the situation by swallowing everything. She washed it down with some wine and then looked at the women behind Fiora who were no doubt discussing her eating habits. The noble lady of Caelin gave them a brilliant smile and promptly shoved some kind of sandwich in her mouth. Once it had disappeared, she turned back to Fiora. "That's how I do it." Then, after a quiet laugh, she shrugged, "I think…that I've already accepted the fact that most people don't think I'm good enough to be a lady of anything. A lot of people even feel genuine hatred toward me."
Fiora could not imagine anyone hating Lady Lyndis. She was quite rough around the edges, and perhaps not as…civilized as most people would prefer her to be, but she was a good person.
Lyn's fingers squeezed at the sleeve of Fiora's dress. "Fiora," she said softly, her green eyes pleading. "My situation is different from yours. Pick your battles carefully. You are the wife of a marquess, now."
Fiora knew what she meant. Everything she did reflected onto Eliwood, whether her actions were good or bad.
"I understand," she whispered, but Lady Lyndis had started to eat again.
"I don't know why I've been so hungry lately," the Sacaen plainswoman said, seemingly to herself. "I'm just," another sandwich found its place in her mouth, "so hungry."
As terrible as she felt to think it, Ninian's death gave Fiora the chance to spend more time with Lord Eliwood. His blue eyes were tired, but he seemed to enjoy her company, and oftentimes sought her out on his own.
Ninian hadn't even been dead a month before he took her hand in his and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him.
The rest of her life.
Her mind flailed.
What about Ninian? What about Nergal? What about everything? She hadn't had time to think it through, not at all.
"I know it's crazy, and I know it's sudden…"
Had he even bothered to think it through?
"I know it's not like either of us, but…"
Oh, his eyes were so earnest.
"Fiora, I know what I want, and what I want is you."
He leaned close to her; she could feel his breath as it fanned over her lips.
"Let's do something a little crazy, together."
Could she really answer his proposal with a let me think about it?
"Please marry me," he whispered.
She leaned into his kiss.
She couldn't think about it, and, she realized as she traced the freckles across the bridge of his nose with her lips, she didn't want to.
The circle of vultures in their fancy dresses and jewelry gave Fiora false smiles as she approached. "Good evening," she said to them politely.
"Good evening, Lady Fiora," they answered. "I trust you are well?"
"Indeed. And you?"
"We are doing decidedly well!" one of them piped up, though her gaze was still settled on Lyn instead of any of her conversational partners. "Do you know Lady Lyndis well?" she asked finally.
"Not especially well," she returned cautiously. What an odd question.
"She eats like a sow," one of the older ladies said in a whisper. "Her knights will have to roll her to their wagon by the time she is finished."
"If they have a wagon."
"Do you think Caelin can afford that? It looks like they can scarcely afford decent clothes for her."
"Or decent clothes for her bodyguards."
"Oh, look! Another piece of cake!"
"That makes…what, the fifth?"
"In the name of Saint Elimine…"
"Maybe she's in the, you know, family way."
"But she's not married!"
Laughter erupted from all of the women, and Fiora's arm felt strained from the angle she held it at. She worried that if she let it go, her fist would meet the face of at least one of the ladies present.
She was relieved that she had not brought her spear with her.
Pick your battles carefully, Lyn had said only minutes before. But Fiora could not help herself. "So what is it that you say about me when my back is turned?" she asked coldly, but left before any of them could answer her.
If Ninian's death had hit them hard, her resurrection had an even greater effect. Eliwood stared at the beautiful girl whose life he had taken with his own two hands, and… Fiora did not know what to think.
In the end, in the space of a breath, Ninian left through the Dragon's Gate. Eliwood honored his promise to her.
But she couldn't help but feel as if maybe, just maybe, he had only chosen her because of the promise he had made. A silly, crazy proposal of marriage. She ought to have released him from it.
Fiora hadn't been surprised when, only months later, Pherae heard the news about the Lady of Caelin's disappearance. Some said she eloped, others said she ran away. Nobody really knew the truth, and in reality, it didn't even matter.
Fiora could only hope that the other woman was happier, that leaving Caelin had been the right choice for her.
She thought that maybe it had been.
Nobody talked disagreeably about Lyn of Caelin around Fiora again. In fact, they hardly spoke to Fiora at all. At court, at dances…the other women stood together, and Fiora was the one who had to approach them.
An interesting social rule, she thought. That the lady of the highest standing had to do the approaching.
She knew they didn't like her, but still, she had to walk up to them and smile gracefully, ask them how they were doing, if their husbands were well, if their children were well. They would, in turn, ask how she fared.
And then they would be left in an awkward silence.
"You should probably make more of an effort," Eliwood said once, as he distractedly wrote a letter to Hector.
More of an effort? She wondered. How could she make more of an effort?
"After all," he smiled at her a little sadly. "You were the one who insulted them, first."
"Only because they insulted Lyndis," she answered, but her voice was soft and had lost its edge.
"Fiora," he paused, and looked at the oak of his desk before he favored her with the sight of his eyes. He looked tired. "Lady Lyndis has always managed to take care of herself. I am certain she did not need you suiting up like a knight to rush to her aid."
She did not know what to say. What could she say? "That does not mean that I should have to listen to them talk disrespectfully about her just because they do not like her."
"We are adults, yes?" He didn't even pause in his writing. "Let us make an effort to act as such."
The return trip to Pherae had seemed short.
"Hector says you're marrying Eliwood," Lyndis said one evening.
Fiora flushed a little, but smiled. "Yes."
Lyn beamed back at her. "Tomorrow we're branching off for Caelin. I wanted to wish you well before then."
"Thank you, Lady Lyndis."
"Just Lyn, please." The other woman stretched and sighed. "I was hoping it would take longer to get back to Caelin," she whispered under her breath, "but I'll be back before I know it."
Perhaps, Fiora reasoned, she ought to have questioned Lyn's words all those years ago, but at the time, she hadn't wondered at all if she'd meant something by them. She'd only assumed that Lyn wanted to escape things like learning to read and write.
Breakfast was a quiet affair with Lord Eliwood at one end of the table, and she at the other. All of the chairs between them were empty, with no children to occupy the cushioned seats. She looked down at her rounded belly and sighed. Soon enough, she thought, she would have a baby, and by extension, a better reason to stay in Pherae.
For just a moment, she envied Lyn's freedom.
"Is something wrong, Fiora?" Eliwood asked. He was always so busy. His face was lined with worry and stress.
I'm lonely, she wanted to say. I'm not allowed to do anything.
It's no wonder Lady Lyndis turned tail and ran.
But instead, she forced a winning smile onto her face and unfolded her napkin. "No," she said. "Nothing is wrong."
Inspiration was kind of a mix between the songs Fools Rush In and Fools Fall in Love. I can see Eliwood and Fiora working out, but Fiora feels very out of place in higher society (to me). More notes over at LJ. This was written for the sixth FE Contest challenge there (theme: wager).
Feedback would be great.