Feel free to do whatever you'd like, except swearing a lot in reviews. Italics denote thought. It is usually the tactician's point of view.
I do not own Fire Emblem and my writing this fan fiction is not for any profit. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo own the IP for Fire Emblem. The words are my own, other than the various conversations, and support conversations, that are in Rekka. Some characters are not from fire emblem are also mine, I suppose. It's unfortunate really, because if I did own Fire Emblem, which I do not, FE 6 and FE 8 would actually be challenging and Radiant Dawn would have real support conversations damnit!
Ah, and I'll take recommendations for pairings, other than the Lords, Nino, Heath, Vaida, and FE6 canon for obvious reasons.
I run straight for the aviary. Hurtling through the corridor, running while crouched low, pumping my legs for every ounce of speed I can muster. My cloak is fluttering out behind me as the portraits of Bernese heroes and Kings glare upon me, in all likelihood disgusted by what was unfolding before them.
"And were these still hallowed halls with any trace of the glory and honor of bygone ages remaining in them, I would not be doing this."
It is a pitch black night, the moon obscured by the clouds and not a torch to be seen. There is yet hope for Kayleth Winterfell: Third Rate Apprentice Tactician of the Kingdom of Bern sworn to the service of His Majesty King Desmond, heir of Hartmut.
"St. Elimine guide me… your humble servant has not much time before the sentries are alerted to his absen…"
The sound of sentry bells echo throughout the palace, and as though in one of the great poet and writer Shakespeer's plays, they cry 'havoc!' and let loose the dogs of war. My chest clenches as fear takes hold of me.
But I dare not stop running.
Ah! The aviary! Thank God the Wyvern Knights are drunk after the parade.
"Halt! Stop in the name of the King!" I hear.
"Does that command ever work?" I scoff, and hop on Elaine. She is a magnificent beast. Mother of two and veteran of a dozen campaigns. I knew I made my choice well-indeed, that choice was one of the few father approved of-as grey wings beat a hurricane and strong legs launch Elaine and myself upwards. I laughed as I felt the exhilaration of the winds billowing out my cloak, my body defying gravity, and my spirit defying a tyrant.
A famed philosopher of olden times, Lockae, had once said that the path of honor is not always to follow one's lord blindly. Indeed, if the lord proved unworthy, one must be willing to remove him even if it means probable death and reneging on one's oaths. The path of honor is to execute one's duty, no matter the cost. One had to be willing to give up honor to do the right thing; doing what is right is the path of honor. One must hold to one's ideal of conduct even if it is hazardous and unprofitable to do so.
The philosopher, of course, was beheaded, and all three generations of his family executed.
To the west, then, to Etruria and Lycia. The rest of the continent must be ready to defend itself when the time comes… when Bern's armies shake the earth with every step… when wyverns blot out the sun….
It is day.
I must recoup my strength, and Elaine must feed.
We have a long, long journey ahead of us.
However, try as I might, I cannot simply drift to sleep.
Instead, my body ignores my entreaties. Even my mind dismisses them.
I remember my tutor, Master Hobbes.
Master Hobbes paces back and forth. As though nervous about something
"What's wrong, Master?"
Master Hobbes turns to me, as if noticing for the first time that I was there.
"Oh, it is nothing of import, little lord," Master Hobbes said, waving his hand dismissively, "just the musings of a fool."
"Well, the musings of a fool amuse me. You would do well to amuse me Master Hobbes." I said, enthusiastically.
Master Hobbes was my tutor for five years. Upon discovering, to his great disappointment, that his son is not particularly athletic or magically gifted, my father was determined to have me be useful in some capacity. To his delight, he found that I was a natural in scholarly activities, and was even more delighted when he found that one of those included military tactics and strategy.
I met Master Hobbes for the first time when I was fourteen years old. He taught me everything; that is, everything except military matters which I learned from my father and theoretical magic which I learned from my mother.
The ancient language, art, architecture, bartering and commerce, agriculture, mathematics, the sciences, medicine, government and politics, philosophy, history, literature, finances, mining… these were just some of the things I learned from Master Hobbes.
"Well, young lord. I think you have been rather receptive than any of my other students have been," Master Hobbes said, slowly.
"Of course, Master. You taught me everything I know! Even father is impressed by how knowledgeable I am," I beamed. "And though I probably will be old enough, and knowledgeable enough, to teach my sister all that you have taught me, I wish you to stay in service of my-err… my father's- house so that you may teach my sister, too." My sister was outside, playing with the servants. She had a little wooden sword in her hand. She was whacking the two servants who were dragged into her game. The servants dare not even pretend to fight back, of course. "Even if she turns out to be a Wyvern Knight instead of a lady or a scholar."
"But what I am about to teach you next… it could get you into trouble," Master Hobbes swallowed. "In fact, I need your word that you will never reveal to anyone, especially your lord father or your lady mother, that I even breathed a word about this subject to you. It may very well mean my head if they find out."
Instantly curious, I nodded my head. "I, Kayleth Winterfell, heir to the dukedom of Hamor, do so swear by my honor and integrity. May St. Elimine strike me down if I renege on my oath," I looked at Master Hobbes. "Do you need a document written in blood, too?"
"Lord Kayleth!" Master Hobbes said reproachfully. "You know I frown on such barbaric practices. Remember your lessons about medicine. More often than not, soldiers die of infections after getting wounded in battle, and modern medicine can only do so much to prevent infection; better that you never need to disinfect wounds!"
"Yes, Master," I said, Knowing that I had him in my hands. "Please, continue your lecture."
"Well, young lord… it is a theory called the social contract. Why is it that some people are born noble and others born commoners?"
"Coincidence with a side of divine will I suppose," I replied.
"Well, you see, the social contract is an unspoken and unwritten contract between the people and the government. The government protects the people in return for taxes and mandatory military duty if necessary. The premise is quite simple. The nobles are the intermediaries between people and government. The noble protects the commoners in his, or her, lands. The commoners support the noble with labor. The nobles pay a portion of those taxes to the monarch, who protects the nobles and grants them fiefdoms."
"Yes, I know that is the foundation of modern civilization. It is how we won in the Scouring, is it not? I'd say it worked rather well, then," I said.
"True, true, and yet…. Forgive me my lord, but what do the nobles and the knights protects us from now?" Master Hobbes asked. "What is being given to the peasants in return for the fruits of their labors? The answer, truthfully, is that there is no great threat that compels Bern to have as large a standing army as it does. Yes, there are bandits and pirates every once in a while. But do the nobles and knights truly protect us from such threats? I regret to inform you that they only protect areas prosperous enough to be worth protecting. You know from your lessons in economics, of course, that it is the enforcement of property rights and the sense of security that incentivizes the commoners to work hard, yes? But without the protection of the nobles and the knights, the countryside, which is the great majority of Bern's lands, has been stagnating."
"Wait… that sounds awfully close to questioning the authority and wisdom of our King, Master Hobbes. I urge you to exercise caution," I said, fool that I was.
"Of course, forgive me, I had not intended to do that," Master Hobbes said hastily. "Well, the lesson is that, nobles have an obligation to their subjects. It is called noblesse oblige. It is the fulfillment of that duty which makes nobles deserving of their rather extensive set of rights. A noble who cannot fulfill that duty is nothing less than a fraud and a thief. I can only hope, my lord, that you will fulfill that duty; I would be surprised, and terribly disappointed, if you were not to prop up your rule with the pillars of justice and security. Remember, my lord, that compromise is merely a dishonorable truce between duty and fear."
The lesson ended that day.
Master Hobbes was never seen again.
I learned that the walls have ears.
I was sent on a journey around the world for four years; for if one knows himself and one's enemies, he would never be in peril in a hundred battles. I was attached to a mercenary company working exclusively for my father as tactician.
I believe Master Hobbes is, to this day, awaiting rescue in my father's dungeons.
Coward that I am, oathbreaker that I am, fool that I am, I did not act on my suspicions. But this I do so swear. By the innocence of my sister, by the strength of Elaine's wings, and most importantly, by my duty and honor as a steward of the realm, I will look for him, and rescue him if my suspicions prove to be correct. Because Master Hobbes saved my soul.
I led Elaine to the barn, but the peasants didn't mind. It would be ages before Baron Reimer thought anything of it, and they could always claim that the army "requisitioned" the livestock. Besides, thirty gold pieces more than covered any trouble they might get into; it was more than the average Bernese peasant earned with two full years of heavy labor.
"Lord Kayleth …"
I whirled around, my head taking a moment to identify the familiar voice.
"Athielle… under other circumstances I would be quite happy to have met you. You should be aware that you will not take me," I warned, slowly unsheathing the jeweled knife. "This knife will find my heart before you do, and I doubt even the King would take kindly to the news of a certain Duke's signet dagger in his heart in broad daylight with dozens of… potential eyewitnesses."
"Peace, lord. Though it is true I come at the bequest of the Duke, I have no intention of harming you." Athielle held up her hands, stopping five paces away from me.
Athielle was a Wyvern Knight, twenty-five years old. Crimson-haired, well-built, and tall for a woman. She was also the star pupil of my father.
"Step back," I murmured "I have very little faith in the word of a Wyvern Knight, even you, nay, especially you. Did you think I would be long ignorant of the massacres?" Athielle flinched, and stepped back three paces. "Did you think I would not know of the Conclave's view on the matter of Prince Zephiel? Did you think I would be an unquestioningly obedient dog, as you are?"
I threw my head back and laughed for the first time in months "Our beloved King should have ordered me killed; I will never bend my knee again but to the true heir of Hartmut, and Hartmut would never, ever, have killed unarmed civilians and children," I trembled "children, some no older than six, watching as the fabled Wyvern Knights of Bern butchered their parents before turning their spears on them. Some "rebels" they are… when they did not raise a stick in their own defense."
I continued, sensing my target's defenses weaken, "Why, I seem to remember a certain red-haired Rider with long tresses of hair blowing out in the wind; she speared a matronly lady right in the back of the head!"
Athielle glared at me, "Would you rather have had the recruits have their way with her first? Or left the villagers to the tender mercies of the local Barony? I…"
"Yes, yes," I cut her off, sneering, "Athielle, Wyvern Knight of Hamor, the very spirit of mercy. There is much glory and honor to be had in riding down rebellious subjects armed with petitions and truth," I smirked.
Athielle lunged at me, her body curling in to tackle. Damnation. She got closer while I was taunting her. I lifted the dagger and proceeded to thrust it at my heart.
"Oof," the only sound I could manage as the air rushed out of me, the dagger falling away from my breathless body. "Such shame… unable even to take my own life when it matters." Taking advantage of my weakness, Athielle restrained my arms with her knees, and put her own dagger to my throat.
"Would you kindly order Elaine to stand down?" She asked.
"Elaine, sit." The wyvern obeys, never taking her red eyes off the dagger, ready to avenge her partner should the occasion arise. This was not the only occasion in which I came to believe that the wyvern was the only living creature, other than my own sister, that truly cared for me.
"Good, now you will listen," Athielle commanded through clenched teeth, no doubt wary of the wyvern's claws and oh so sharp teeth.
"Why in the world would I do that? I do not particularly care whether you kill me or not. It serves my purposes almost as well as suicide, without the added dimension of eternal damnation," I snorted "now that I think about it, it is not so bad an idea."
"You will listen," Athielle snarled, her grip tightening, pricking my neck to draw a drop of blood "because I have made my choice."
"Your choice? What choice? You've made your choice quite clear," I snapped back, "sleepless nights and unending nightmares if you have a shred of conscience and eternal damnation if you do not have the common decency inherent in all human hearts. I'll kill anyone who I deem unworthy of life. Peasants without even the means to rebel do not count among those who are unworthy of life."
"I have not turned you over to the authorities yet, have I?" Athielle pointed out, a hint of frustration in her voice. "By choice, I mean the choice between the Prince and the King!"
Stunned, I could only listen as she continued, "No doubt you are wondering what happened to my sense of duty and honor. Know only that I have spoken with your father and asked. The answers were unsatisfactory, and unworthy." Athielle closed her eyes. "You were right… General Vaida was right… you were even right about duty."
"Err… remind me what I said about duty?" was all I could manage.
Athielle opened her eyes again, and grunted, "Surely you remember your own oaths? To serve Bern and the King. I've realized, that with King Desmond, the two are mutually exclusive. And Bern comes before King."
"Hahaha, and you have only figured this out now? I thought women were supposed to be more mature than men are, and you're at least five years older than I am." I kept chuckling. "Ah, now I remember. I also told you something a renowned philosopher, Shaw, once said about duty, that when a stupid person does something he is ashamed of, he will claim that it is his duty."
"And fifty times prettier," she muttered, "but that is not the point. I've come to ask you of your plans and to advise you before you go on your way."
"Sorry, but my plans are revealed on a need-to-know basis. Besides, you do realize that despite my experience at war, I have no army to command? Though I am the son of my father, I hardly think even the most optimistic would believe that I inherited any of my father's martial prowess… nor my mother's magic. True, I had one year of Wyvern Knight training, but you saw me, and handily humiliated me, at training."
Athielle's eyes gleamed, as if amused. "Surely you do not think my hopes are riding solely on you? I am not your father's best disciple for no reason." Sheathing her knife, she stepped away from me. I got up. I asserted my masculinity by quickly placing Elaine between Athielle and me.
"That is all well and good, but speak your mind quickly. I have delayed long enough as it is. Elaine needs to eat. I need a nap."
"Bern is strong. Well, it is the most populous. There is not a single country that can hold its own against Bern." Athielle started, turning and looking to the west. "But together, and prepared. Yes, even the King would not dare attack an entrenched and well-prepared defense. You would know better than I do, of course, but it takes the invader roughly three times as many troops as the defenders have in order to win."
"Depends on the composition and the experience of the army, as well as the integrity of the supply line, morale, terrain, quality of arms and armor, and leadership but yes, more or less." I answered.
"Yes, yes, my point being that if you warn the Etrurians and Lycians, the King will be less inclined to send Bernese soldiers to their deaths. I suggest contacting one of the three Generals of Etruria and the newly crowned Marquess of Ostia."
"Why not those of the other nations?" I asked. "Surely the other nations should be warned, too?"
"If you so wish, go ahead. But you know as well as I that the other nations do not have a centralized political system; it would be impossible for Sacae or the Western Isles, for instance, to formulate a coordinated decision to act quickly. The savages." Athielle sniffed. "Anyhow, my point being that only Etruria and Lycia have the political infrastructure that makes it possible to mobilize with the appropriate alacrity."
"Perhaps we are not as civilized as we think we are, seeing as only we have a political system that allows what is no less than absolute tyranny." I replied.
"Now, now, my lord. You know as well as I do that our system comes from having to shoulder the greatest burden in the Scouring. Without Hartmut's willingness to sacrifice, without the might of the Wyvern Knights, and yes I suppose the blood of countless peasant conscripts, humanity would not exist. We need only a strong and wise ruler." Athielle paused. "One who cares for the welfare of his subjects."
I chuckled. "Since you seem so willing to bend the knee, let me tell you a story before I take a nap, Athielle. Once upon a time, there was a hunter and he had a loyal hunting hound. Together, they caught many an animal. But the winter grew cold and the food scarce. The hunter killed the dog, ate his flesh, made boots out of his skin, and used the bones to entertain his next dog. That is the essence of the Bernese political system. Think what you will of how that story applies to you. I'll give you a hint, though, you are definitely not the hunter."
"Bern's nobles have forgotten why they have seigneurial privileges." Seeing Athielle's puzzled expression, I explained, "An esoteric term for manorialism. The nobles supposedly take care of economic and legal matters for peasants in their fiefdom because the peasants are considered too ignorant to do it themselves. In return, the peasants are required to work their noble's farms for a number of days. Since it is evident that the nobles would take most of the surplus produce they have no matter how much they work, the peasants are disinclined to be more than barely self-sufficient. Bern not only needs a strong and wise ruler, but also needs reform to replace obsolete institutions with ones that encourage growth."
"Well, I'm a common soldier my lord, so I don't pretend to understand such things." Athielle said. "I will leave such matters to scholars like yourself. However, for the Prince Zephiel to become King, there must be no international warfare. It'll unite the people in their obedience to the King. Therefore, I suggest you recover your strength and let Elaine feed as much as possible before your journey." Athielle paused. "Good luck."
"Thank you. Good luck to you, too." I suddenly regretted having goaded her. I was prompted to do something I do on the rarest occasions. "And… I apologize, Dame Athielle. With more like you, the Wyvern Knights may yet prove themselves worthy of the trust of the Bernese people."
"Hahaha," Athielle laughed, "your lord father would be displeased if he knew that you apologized, and to a common Wyvern Knight at that. Goodbye, Lord Kayleth."
"It must be my drowsiness. I promise you'll never see me do so again." I grinned.
I watched as Athielle went back to her own wyvern, probably on the other side of the hill overlooking the village. Then, I turned around, grabbed Elaine's reins, and headed into the Barn. I fell asleep promptly. There were no dreams.
I woke up. Darkness. An excellent time to cross the border. To the endless plains of grass. I would lose any potential pursuers there. Thank heavens father sent me on a trip around Elibe before.
I approached Elaine. She seemed well rested. Tense, though. She can sense that I'm in trouble. Fortunately the first thing a tactician learns is to raise the morale of the troops. The first lesson in Wyvern Knight training is about the connection between wyvern and Rider; it takes both to make a Wyvern Knight. Half a year is spent on studying the anatomy of the wyvern and every quirk and tic that one's wyvern has.
"Oh, don't worry Elaine." I whispered. "Although I am sorry that I dragged you into this mess. The fugitive's life is no life for such a noble creature."
Elaine snorted, and lowered her gaze, allowing me to pet her head.
"I shan't regret anything if I die failing in my mission. I would have tried my best. If I have but one regret, it would be that I have cut your life short with human folly, my friend. I need you to know, though. This is for your honor as well. I will not have you party to the crimes of the travesty that calls himself King of Bern."
Elaine unfurled her wings, signaling her readiness.
"Show them how a First Rate wyvern flies, girl!" I shouted.
Powerful legs kicked out and majestic wings flattened the air as Elaine and I soared through the starry night skies.
"I am telling you, Sergeant, that I do not need papers to go beyond the borders!" I shouted.
The soldier looked at me dubiously, his bow yet slung on his shoulders. "But the rules say…"
"This is a special occasion, Sergeant. I must have absolutely no paper trails to trace me. You know," I got closer and whispered in his ears "that other nations' spies could track me with a paper trail."
"Well, I still need you to come down to the border patrol station, my lord. Besides, you have no proof besides the dagger that you are a noble at all. And no proof whatsoever that you are under the King's orders!" The Sergeant said, unperturbed. "I need you to hand over your wyvern's reins to me, my lord."
"No… a random patrol ends my mission so easily? That is unacceptable; I will not allow it." I thought.
The soldier approached Elaine, holding his bow in one hand and drawing an arrow. How dare he! Without thinking, I drove the signet dagger into the soldier's head. He crumpled without a sound. Blood gushing out at regular intervals from the fatal wound. Blood staining my fine robes. Blood staining my hand. I stared at my hand, appalled. I had commanded soldiers to kill before. But to have blood on my own hands.
"If only I was a little more patient. Two hours and the sun would have set again. What if this soldier has a wife? Or worse, a child? My impatience, no, incompetence, may well have created a widow or an orphan!"
My stomach heaved as its contents flew out of my mouth. A fat lot of good I would do for Bern when I resort to killing where I could have simply knocked the soldier unconscious. Unnecessary violence, the last refuge of the incompetent.
I staggered back to Elaine. She put her head next to mine and licked me. I shuffled onwards a few more steps, and collapsed on the saddle.
Elaine took off. I struggled not to empty my stomach on her.
Four days, and not a stream to be found. Water ran out two days ago. The last source of water I saw is at least three days away. How is this the land of the horse lords when there is no water for them? I've accepted that I'm lost. There still is food left, but what good is it when it's dried meat?
I got Elaine to get to the ground. Perhaps a little rest was in order. Yes, just a little nap.
I got off Elaine, and promptly collapsed to the ground. Lying down apparently took a lot more energy than I suspected.
"No, no, no, no, hear me my body, you cannot fail me now. Duty demands it. Honor demands it." I try to stand up, but my body seems to weigh much more than my legs can support. "Master Hobbes… Alice, my baby sister… Prince Zephiel… Bern… I am sorry. I am so sorry, forgive me. I die a failure. Hartmut forgive me. But I have no regrets. Better that I fail with honor than to follow the path of damnation and subservience to tyranny."
At least I do not for the sake of life forsake all reason for living. My eyes shut, and I knew no more.
To address some concerns from reviews.
Only the first chapter is in the first person, and it is done that way because I thought it best to introduce the tactician's thought processes, priorities, quirks, and whatnot that way. All other chapters are in the third person, and tactician-centric.
The pretty obvious references to real-world philosophers and writers exist to give readers a sense of the times. There will be no meeting Shakespeare, interesting as it may be. That said, this Elibe assumes a certain level of civilization and academic knowledge that I'd be remiss not to give credit where credit is due.
This fanfiction is probably not fit for anyone looking for an ideal Elibe where everyone sits around in a circle and sings kumbaya. This is Elibe, a continent with sociopolitical development stuck between feudalism and enlightenment. As such, men in that circle would be killed, and women in that circle would be raped by bandits passing by.
This fanfiction is also not fit for anyone looking for a morally unimpeachable tactician. That said, this is a tactician-centric fanfiction and the tactician is not beyond redemption, which is the driving force in Kayleth. Although, if judged by modern moral sensibilities, this tactician should be executed.