Title: The Snake That Eats Its Tail
Summary: Volsung. Sigmund. One spirals into the other.
Disclaimer: I don't own Infinite Undiscovery.
Volsung comes at night.
She has heard of his tragedy, seen the eclipse and listened to the whispers of exile on the wind. The city of Cassandra wears mourning black for its Queen and what should have been a happy occasion crumbles like a sandcastle on the beach.
His soul is heavy with grief and guilt and regret and it steals her breath as she rises to greet him. Like all aristo, his passion is papered over with logic but it is a thin and fragile shell that cannot protect her. His face is sombre but the rage in his eyes is honed sharp with determination.
Volsung has a cause, and like that, he is most dangerous of all.
"You should not have left Cassandra," she says quietly. She cannot imagine leaving Halgita. The land is bought and paid for in blood, hers and her followers and her enemies. She will not let go until she has no other choice.
He ignores her disapproval. "There is nothing there for me," he says.
"There are your people."
"My people," he asks flatly. "My people? My people who bade me exile my son? My people who stood by as my wife killed herself? My people?"
"Yes," she says, voice soft and brutal. "You are their King. You took that role, that duty, now you must fulfil it."
"Fine," he says and dread blooms deep in her stomach. Volsung does not give in. He plans and retreats and feints but he does not give in. "I will return to Cassandra if you would grant me one favour, Empress."
Svala swallows before she can speak. Her throat is as dry as the desert. "Speak it," she orders and prays to the Moon that it is something she can give. She cannot imagine what request he would make, now, when he is dancing on the knife edge of madness and grief.
"I would have my Glyph removed." His face is as carved from stone, so determined and resolute it is.
"Impossible," the word escapes from her mouth.
He withdraws a scroll from his jacket. "My researchers have been working on it for some time. The ritual has been perfected."
She takes it from his hand numbly. "You have performed it?" Why? cries her mind, her soul. It is so inconceivable, so alien. Why would he want to be less than he is, to reduce himself from aristo to less than a meage?
"Not yet." His smile is wintry. "This will be the first." It is said as though she cannot refuse. And she cannot. He will go to another and another, until he gains what he wishes. Volsung does not accept defeat.
"And then you will return to Cassandra?" she asks. It is a small victory, but one she must have.
"If that is your wish." He shrugs as though he no longer cares. Cassandra, the city, the people, it means less than nothing to him now.
It isn't until after the ritual is done and a child lies on the altar that her small victory turns to ash in her mouth and she realises he has out smarted her at every turn.
And for the next twelve years, Cassandra burns.
She names him Sigmund, names him victorious protector, and watches as his beloved city burns under the feet of her army.
He grows a strange child. Some days, all she sees is Volsung, serious and commanding and so intense it burns. Other days, he's merely an awkward child, playing with Eugene and fumbling through his lessons. He takes to the sword like he is born to it (or, she thinks, like he has already conquered a nation) but stumbles through speeches, preferring silence to long declarations.
"Sigmund, dear heart," she says, as he enters her throne room. "How was your day?"
"Empress," he says, so formally, so properly. She has raised him as her own son, yet still there exists this gap between them. It is not entirely his fault. "My lessons are progressing. My instructor tells me that tomorrow I will start with a shield."
"That is good news," she replies. The Starseer has used the word destiny but she knows it is merely an echo of Volsung's determination that shines around Sigmund. One day he will find a cause to fight for like Volsung fought for Cassandra. She hopes he will not die for it. "Stay safe," she requests, though she is years too early.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Sigmund says, bowing before leaving. Even at six, his young face is solemn, almost sad. He walks like a King.
"That child," her minister says from beside her, "has an old soul."
And Svala can do nothing but laugh.