When someone had a message that they needed to send, very few options were available. A letter could be sent with a traveler or a merchant, for instance, but it may or may not be delivered, let alone in a timely manner.
Pegasus knights could be hired to deliver a simple note, but their services were costly. Some even thought parcel delivery to be beneath them and would refuse such a mundane task.
Most people paid a neighbor's son a few silver to take a note or deliver a package if it wasn't harvest season. It was cost-effective, and generally speaking, reliable.
Serra had received nothing in the way of news for years. The last time she'd seen her old friends had been at the grandest wedding on the continent. They had all looked healthy at the reception—Lady Lyn, Erk, and even Priscilla!—but she couldn't help but wonder if they were still doing well.
Lucius said that no news was good news—and she supposed that he had a point. She would rather hear nothing at all than something terrible.
The tea was weak, but it was the best that they could offer. She smiled at Mary, the wife of the farmer who owned the fields around the orphanage. The middle-aged woman had brought with her a barrel of flour, a sack of potatoes, and, as a special treat for the children, a small bag of sugar.
"Poor Lord Hector," Mary sighed, her forefinger tucking a few loose strands of hair behind her ear.
Serra's interest was piqued, and some of her fatigue faded to hear the familiar name of someone who had once been a friend. "What happened to him?" she asked carelessly. "Did he get himself kicked out of court? It wouldn't surprise me the least bit if he had!"
Mary's expression changed, and it took Serra a moment to notice it. The older woman set down her teacup before placing the little spoon beside it.
"You didn't know?" was her gentle query. "Well, I suppose I only heard myself a few weeks ago, and that was months after the fact."
Her patience was waning. "Well, what happened?"
"His wife," she answered, her words coming to Serra's ears as if they were being spoken very slowly underwater. "Did you know her well? She passed away a few months back. They say illness took her, but it all happened so suddenly that it could have been anything, really."
Tea spilled down the skirt of her dress, and the teacup and saucer clattered across the floor. It was a good thing that it was only made of tin.
Florina had been a cute girl, but with age came maturity, and the petite girl had become a beautiful woman. When Serra had last seen her, walking down that long aisle, she had thought, if only for a moment, that her friend had become prettier than her.
"Funny, isn't it," Lucius told her, as she lay sprawled out on her thin mattress. His fingers gently combed through her thinning, tangled hair as her pillow soaked up her tears.
"Nothing funny about it!" she snapped.
A gentle smile smoothed out the lines across his tired face. "All those years you spent healing the sick, tending to broken bones and wounds of the flesh. Did you think that you would never see death?"
She stilled, though her tears continued to fall. "She didn't deserve it," she managed to say.
"Did Lord Elbert? Did Athos?" he asked. When she didn't answer, he continued. "Serra, there was nothing you could have done."
The sheets shifted as she clutched them in her hands and turned over to face him. Her face was a startling shade of red. "How do you know?" she challenged him. "How do you know?" Fresh tears took the same course as their predecessors. She had never wanted to shake him so badly in all her life.
A part of her knew, deep down, that Florina had been given the best of care. Surely, she could find some measure of comfort in that fact! But she couldn't help but doubt. If she had been there, would she have seen the signs soon enough? She was the best, but what good was being the best if she couldn't be there to help?
For a moment, she regretted the orphanage and the seventeen young lives they had taken under their wing, but it wasn't long before she came back to her senses.
"I'm sorry," she said, lifting the hem of her skirt to brush away her tears.
Lucius did not seem to notice. He stared at her with an odd mixture of sympathy and understanding. She remembered he had been told of Raymond's death only a few years earlier.
He had not cried as she had, but she had seen him mourning, all alone. Guilt pulled at her, then. She ought to have gone to him when she had seen him sitting alone in the gardens.
"Funny, isn't it," he began again, his fingers urging her to turn around.
She complied, and his fingers quickly undid the pins that held her hair up. He untangled it with his fingers before he continued.
"We know all our lives that someday, we must leave this place." Slowly, he began to braid her long hair. "It's strange that we know this, and yet…whenever someone dies, we become angry, or sad, and we don't understand why they're gone. We ask Elimine, we ask God, with tears in our eyes and burdens in our hearts, why, and for what reason. But all alone…we know that someday, we, too, must go."
He tied off the braid with a piece of yellow ribbon and leaned forward to kiss her cheek.
"Why is that, do you think?"
She leaned back against him and let out a sigh as his arms wrapped around her in a loose hug. "It's easier to be the person to die than it is to be one of those left behind."
"Exactly." He smiled against her still-wet cheek and held her a little closer. "We know that we must go, someday, and we are prepared for that…but we never expect it to be someone else."
Inspired by the lovely Shimizu Hitomi. I intended to have this finished for the Fire Emblem Contest's seventh contest, but alas, I took ill and could not finish it on time. (But here it is anyway.) Feedback would be lovely! Thank you for reading!