Written for Undercover Dark Knight for FE Mewmew's 2011 Secret Santa Challenge
It was very, very rare that Arcadia saw any visitors nowadays, especially since the war had ended, aside from Lord Roy, of course. Yet the cloaked man who stood outside the town's main gate, casually playing with an immensely happy Fa and Idoun, was most definitely not Lord Roy—at least not unless his capabilities for disguise had greatly increased since the last time Igrene had saw him.
The traveler was dressed in a drab brown traveler's cloak which concealed most of his body. At the moment, though, he was standing under the tree with Idoun sitting nearby and Fa on his shoulders, wearing a rather exasperated expression on his weathered, stubble-encrusted, middle-aged, yet still roguishly handsome face. His hair was laced with tinges of grey, but still was mostly light, sandy brown, albeit at this point quite mussed due to both his travels through the desert and his playing with Fa.
Occupied as he was with Fa, he hadn't noticed Igrene yet, which allowed her to sneak quietly closer towards him, eyes narrowed in suspicion, and an arrow nocked and ready in the Silver Bow she never left home without. As she neared, however, she picked up more and more of their conversation, and it wasn't long before she came to the conclusion that the newcomer wasn't a threat, whoever he was.
Far from being a threat, this fellow seemed to be firmly under the thumb of his playmate. As Idoun sat below him (and Igrene noticed, with some satisfaction, that the Dark—no, Divine Dragon was smiling), he was holding Fa on his shoulders, apparently in order to allow her to reach the fruit on the…lower branches (he wasn't that tall). She was laughing and giggling, even more happily than usual. On the other hand, judging by the expression on her steed's face, he seemed to be quite embarrassed…though there was a twinkle in his eye that seemed to indicate he was having more fun than he was letting on.
"My dear lady, you are too cruel!" the man lamented melodramatically. "What did I ever do to deserve this treatment!"
"Hey! Matthew promised," Fa said. "You asked Fa to see Igrene, but Fa's never seen you before! So if you want Fa to take you to Igrene, you have to give a favor! And you said you would! Fa's smart, she won't forget!"
"Yes, yes, I understand, but surely you could have asked for a different favor, yes?"
"No! These fruits are yummy, but Fa always has trouble getting them. That's why Fa needs your help!"
"Alas! I am defeated. A man's word truly is his honor…Ah, Guy, now I know how you must have felt. Eliwood! Marcus! Won't someone save me?"
"It's not like this is that much trouble, is it? Fa—ah-HA! Got one!" She leaned forwards and reached her little hands out towards one particularly succulent fruit, grasping it and plucking it from the branch.
"Well, not quite, but you must understand, this is quite exhausting! My slender frame wasn't meant to bear such weight!"
"Hey! Is Matthew calling Fa fat?" She immediately turned her face down to give this 'Matthew' a most disapproving look, but in the process lost her grip on the fruit. Without losing a beat—and without losing his balance, Igrene noticed—the man lifted a foot in a swift blur of movement, catching the dropped treat and kicking it right back up into the air. Fa forgot her indignation as she squealed in delight, catching the fruit perfectly as it rose above her head.
This was enough to convince Igrene that there was something else to this mysterious traveler—and thus, she concluded it was time to make herself known. "Welcome to Arcadia," she said coolly, keeping her bow pointed to the ground but still readied, to ensure that their visitor knew she wasn't a threat but could become one quite quickly if necessary. "I take it you've already met Fa and Idoun?"
"Eh?" Surprised, Matthew turned around, blinking as little pieces of fruit fell in front of his face—Fa had already started eating. "Ah, yes, you're quite right, milady. And I presume you are—"
"Igrene!" Fa hastily leapt off of Matthew's back, scurrying to the ground and bounding up to her guardian. "Look who Fa brought! It's another person from the outside! He said he was looking for you, and I wasn't sure he was good, but now Fa knows he is! He helped get this yummy fruit! Look!" She held it up to the Sniper proudly, and Igrene smiled down at her in response.
"Yes, I see, Fa. Very good. Why don't you go back inside and share it with Idoun? I'm sure she's hungry."
"Okay!" Just as quickly, Fa turned around and took Idoun's hand. With her other, still holding the fruit, she again turned and waved it at Matthew. "See you later, Mr. Thief! Thank you very much for the fruit!"
"H-hey! I told you, Fa! I'm an "acquisition specialist," not a thief!"
Of course, she didn't hear that, having already taken Idoun and scampered off past Arcadia's front gate.
Igrene, for her part, took this as a sign to get right down to business. "So then, Matthew the Thief, she said you were looking for me. What do you want? And even more importantly, how did you know where to find me?"
"Hah! Not one for pleasantries, are you?"
"Not from a suspicious character who apparently knows how to find Nabata's most well-hidden refuge."
Matthew chuckled. "Can't argue with that, I suppose. Well, Igrene, I won't waste any more time. I'm here on behalf of the house of Ostia."
"Oh? You served under Lady Lilina? I don't remember seeing you during the war."
At this, a wave of distinct sadness passed over the man's face, and despite her suspicions, Igrene couldn't help but feel sorry for him. "No. I used to serve under Lord Hector, but I had retired by the time he…passed away. However, one of my younger colleagues in the Ostian intelligence service—one of the best men we had, in fact—also left this life recently." As Igrene's eyes widened, Matthew reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out a small envelope. "In his will, he specifically asked for this for this letter to be delivered to Igrene of Arcadia. Now, I sat out the Great Movement of Bern. I did a few odd jobs here and there, of course, but I already performed my service to my country and saw no reason to fight any further. However, Lady Lilina is busy with her duties, as are virtually all the other knights and servants of Ostia. As it happens, I was the only one who knew how to reach Arcadia and was available to do so." He shrugged. "And that, milady, is my tale. I shall take my leave now, if you wish." He held out the envelope to her, which she took. Before he left, however, she called out to him.
"W-wait. M…Sir Matthew. This man…what was his name?"
She closed her eyes. "And how…how did he…"
"Illness. I think it was fever brought on by a night of too much drinking. He was getting old, and his body just couldn't take as much as it used to, I suppose." Matthew chuckled. "Hah, I must seem callous, right? Forgive me. We spies live dangerously and often die horribly. At the very least, I take comfort in the fact that Asthor died relatively peacefully, rather than on the battlefield or at the hands of some torturer determined to extract his secrets."
Igrene didn't say anything—but she did nod. Both of them stood still for a moment, and then Igrene's dexterous fingers undid the seal of the envelope to reveal its content—a single sheaf of parchment. Matthew, for his part, thought there was nothing more to discuss, and turned away, preparing to begin his journey back to Lycia.
Igrene's eyes quickly scanned over the missive—there really wasn't much. All it said was this:
It may have been a dream, but it was the best dream I ever had. I know I told you to forget it, and I still hope you do—I guess that makes me a hypocrite. But I was always a weakling, we both know that. I can't ask you to forgive me, but I don't have the strength to take this to the grave with me: Thank you, Igrene.
She hadn't cried before, but now she couldn't stop herself. It wasn't much, though. No more than a single tear trickling down the side of her face.
This didn't stop Matthew from continuing his exit. Just the opposite, in fact—he knew it wasn't a wise idea to stick around. Of course, he found that he had to when he heard a loud "Wait!"
"M-Matthew," Igrene said. "G…Asthor…did he…did he say anything to you? Anything else?"
Turning around again, Matthew shook his head. "Sorry. The first time I even heard your name was when Asthor's executor told me to "take this letter to Igrene of Arcadia." He…if he ever mentioned you, it wasn't to me."
"O-of course." Igrene lowered her head, and whispered, "A dream…maybe that's all it was. Exactly. A dream…"
Unexpectedly, however, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. When she looked up, Matthew—that mysterious stranger—was there, his sympathetic brown eyes looking into hers.
"Dreams might not last forever, but they're still better than nightmares, right?"
Igrene still distrusted the visitor, at least a little bit, but in her emotional state couldn't bring herself to push even a stranger away completely. "I-is that so?" she asked, sniffling and wiping her eyes. "Tell me, sir. How would you know?"
Matthew chuckled again, and for a moment it seemed he wasn't much less sad than she was. "I once had a dream as well. Her name…her name was Leila."
Igrene said nothing.
"She's gone, now, of course. Didn't stand a chance against that assassin. That's just the life of a spy, you know? No matter what happens, if you get a job that's too much for you…you just won't make it. My fault for not making an honest woman out of her sooner. Ha, ha." He smiled, but there was no mirth in it. Not quite sadness either, though. More like…pensiveness. "But that's the thing, isn't it? The war with Bern ended three years ago, right? So it'd be twenty-three years since she died. And yet she's still in my heart. Funny how that is, eh? Most dreams are forgotten a few minutes after you wake up. Guess this one's setting a new record. Maybe the dream you and Asthor shared—whatever it was—will end up beating it, huh?"
She still said nothing.
At this, Matthew simply shrugged. "In any case, my work is done, here. Farewell, milady." He took a step back and bowed. Suddenly, a wild gust of wind blew through the area, sending up a cloud of sand and forcing Igrene to close her eyes and cover her face. After a moment it died down, but when Igrene opened her eyes again, she saw in front of her…nothing. Matthew was gone.
Definitely one of G…Asthor's comrades, the woman thought to herself. But not that it really mattered, anyways.