Summary: Logan reveals the threat that hovers over Albion and, in doing so, changes events from the path that Fate and a certain Seer originally wrought. Fable III AU.
A/N: My intention with this story is to re-tell the story of the Princess of Albion in a very different light, and examine how small changes snowball to create an entirely different tale. Logan's decisions were what sparked the story of Fable III and his choices guided it down a particular path. What if, then, he had chosen a different course, perhaps without even realising it? For the most part, I will try to stick to a straight AU along these lines, although I intend to slightly alter other details that occurred before his return to Albion for the makings of a better story. Please do review, as I would love to hear the thoughts of my readers!
The first rays of dawn were cast over Albion as the Auroran ship sailed into Bowerstone Harbour, painting the world with a golden hue that seemed to promise the happy ending that Albion always received. Usually, the sight of his kingdom – his home – brought Logan great joy, especially after yet another expedition. No matter what corner of the world he travelled to, no matter what marvels he witnessed, for the King of Albion nothing could compare to the jewel of a city that his mother had built up through hard work, dedication and unrivalled leadership.
The reminder that it could all soon be swept away, however, chased any scrap of calm from Logan. He paced the deck ceaselessly, looking back at the horizon rather than forwards to his home.
The Crawler. Aptly named, he thought with a shudder, for a creature that made his skin crawl just to think of it. That laughing, mocking beast – the constant onslaught of those shadowy children – the screams of his men – the pressing darkness—
A hand on his shoulder jolted him out of his memories with a cry that he instantly tried to muffle as he looked over at the woman beside him.
"Dwelling on the Crawler will not halt it, King Logan," Kalin said. "But dwelling on a solution – for that, Aurora will be eternally grateful."
The reference to his promise was a dagger to Logan's conscience and he did his best not to grimace as he stepped away. Part of him wondered if he ought to tell Kalin that the Crawler would progress to Albion and, as King, his duty lay with his own people before the ragtag natives of a distant land. The thought of leaving them to the mercy of the Crawler filled him with shame, as did any action that Logan felt did not live up to the standards of his mother, but surely he could not justify spending money on an army for Aurora rather than Albion.
"Well," he began, clearing his throat awkwardly. "I cannot help but be concerned for the welfare of those in the Crawler's path."
Precise wording was a skill he had acquired as quickly as he could when he came to the throne. Despite being a young king, Logan had known the importance of being both just and intelligent and he had found that an important part of being as good as one's word was to know precisely what one was saying.
Or perhaps that was just the justification he cobbled together.
Kalin gave him a searching look, as though she suspected he was saying more than he let on, and Logan quickly looked away. Fortunately, the ship was just drawing into port and the ensuing bustle – including a good deal of gawking at the odd vessel and crew – allowed Logan to slip away without answering any further questions—
Well. Questions from Kalin, at least. Sir Walter, as always, was awaiting his return at the docks. No matter when Logan returned from a trip, the man was somehow always there to greet him. Usually, it was something Logan was grateful for; he would eagerly discuss with Walter what he had seen and learned, raising issues that needed attention in various parts of Albion and asking for advice on how to solve them.
Now, however, Logan wanted nothing more than a day of privacy in which to plan how much he would tell to whom. He needed the war room, Jasper and the treasury ledgers so that he could work out how to save six and a half million citizens, raise an army to fight an insurmountable foe and rebuild the kingdom once it had been ravaged by the Crawler and its demonic children.
As it truly began to sink in just how great the challenges facing him would be, Logan considered blurting out everything to the man who had been his mother's most trusted advisor. If Walter could not think of a solution, who could?
But… No. Patience. Planning. Preparation. That was what Albion required from him now.
Therefore, as he assured Kalin one last time that Aurora could count Albion as an ally and handed over a purse of gold to feed and find rooms for her men before returning home, Logan resolved to keep the news to himself for now. If nothing else, he reasoned, Walter would not be prepared for the sheer horror of the Crawler. How could one understand it, without living through it?
The old soldier, of course, recognised immediately that things were far from right. Quite apart from the lack of the ship and crew he set out with, Logan was thin and pale, ravaged by his struggle to survive what the Crawler had inflicted on him and worry causing even more weight to drop from him. The king had never been a heavy-set man, but now he was positively skeletal.
"What in blazes happened to you, Logan?" Walter demanded with his usual bluntness, bushy eyebrows drawn together in concern.
None of your concern, he nearly snapped, tempted to throw up his kingly demeanour to deflect questions. Such an act, however, he knew would not wash well with straight-talking Walter and would likely do more harm than good.
Instead, he forced a small, probably incredibly insincere-looking smile. "Hell, old friend. Hell. But I'm tired, aching and longing to be back at the castle, so I would ask that the discussion wait until later."
"Of course." Walter laid a hand on Logan's shoulder and guided him towards the waiting carriage. "Come on. And remember, whatever it is, we'll see it right."
"I hope so."
A gaggle of townsfolk had gathered to ogle at the Auroran ship and then at the king who had, for once, not returned with smiles and joyful greetings. Logan ignored them and was glad for their stunned silence; he was sure that if he actually looked at them – took in individual faces and identities – he would be sick at the possibility of their deaths. Instead, he climbed into the carriage and sagged backwards, not even attempting to cling to dignity. Eyes slipping closed, he heard Walter climb in after him and sit across from him.
"Rose will be waiting for you." A pause; Logan could feel Walter's eyes on him. "But I'm sure Jasper can keep her distracted until a… well, a better time."
Another stab of guilt. There seemed to be an endless supply of them now. Although there was a cavernous gap of twelve years between them, Logan adored his little sister. Given that their mother had died when Rose was little more than a toddler, Logan had been her world – a strange mixture of awkwardly strict parent, indulgent older brother and imperious king. Mostly, though, he had to admit, he played the indulgent older brother, unable to stand seeing her so much as pout. Being reunited with his sister was what Logan always looked forward to most about returning to Albion and he never neglected to bring her a gift; a little curiosity from wherever he had visited. It may not have much monetary value, but it always inspired a wealth of questions from the curious little girl.
Even with the horror of the Crawler hanging over him, Logan had managed to find something for Rose in Aurora. During one of his many sleepless nights, he had grown bored of lying on his pallet waiting for nightmares to eventually claim him. Instead, he ventured out into the city and began to explore the land that was already becoming a shadow of its former self. As he turned his eyes away from yet another letter to a lost loved one pinned to a building, Logan had spotted a spray of wildflowers pushing their way up through a crack in the stones that formed vague, haphazard paths through the main streets
At first, he dismissed them as weeds but, when he enquired about them the next day, Logan had discovered they were in fact quite rare and had collected a number of specimens for Rose. Some he had pressed on the voyage home, and some he had simply kept the seeds of; Rose, rather appropriately given her name, had been going through a phase of wanting to garden when he left. Not entirely appropriate for a princess, but Logan didn't have the heart – or, he had to admit, the time – to scold her.
"Have Jasper tell Rose I will receive her later," he decided eventually, not wishing to disappoint his sister entirely. Besides, it would hopefully work in his favour; Rose emanated cheerfulness and exuberance wherever she went, qualities that Logan could well use a dose of as the reality of their situation truly set in.
Walter nodded his acquiescence. "She'll understand."
Another long silence reigned, during which Logan could tell that Walter was desperate to question him further about his travels. Thankfully, the old soldier managed to restrain himself and keep to his word until they reached the castle, a fact for which Logan was very grateful. It had been the truth when he said he couldn't speak of it now – hell, he wasn't sure he could speak of it at all. How could he begin to put it into words?
Numerous nobles and a number of servants were awaiting his arrival at the castle to greet him. A groan echoed around the carriage and it took Logan a moment to realise it had come from him. Immediately, he sat up straighter and prepared to say a few words; it was one thing to ignore the rabble at the docks, but quite another to sweep past some of the highest-ranking people in Albion. King he may be, but Logan knew the dangers of being too unpopular. Hopefully he would never have to experience it first-hand.
Walter, he noticed, was giving him a smile; the same sort of expression he remembered from his childhood, when he would try desperately to keep up with and understand affairs of state.
"Nobody will blame you for skipping the niceties, Logan."
They would, though, of that Logan was sure. Or, even if he wasn't criticized, there would be rumours springing up immediately and by the time he was ready to face the world properly half of Albion would be convinced he was on the brink of death. No, better to at least show some willing now.
"I'll just give them a few words," he told Walter. Thankfully, before the old soldier could disagree, the coachman opened the door and Logan stepped out.
From the collective gasp and then hush that greeted him, Logan realised he must look even worse than he thought he had. Smiling was impossible – it would likely be more of a grimace – so instead he settled for what he hoped was a suitably regal expression. He stood straight, hands clasped behind his back, striving to give off an aura of a man who could not – who would not – be questioned.
"Good day to you all," he began, inclining his head to the courtiers. "It brings me great joy to return to Albion, and greater joy still to see all of you here, particularly at such an early hour."
Propriety, it seemed, had one good use after all, for when Logan paused, the courtiers immediately filled the silence with murmurs that of course they would greet their king upon his return. For the first time since he set foot back in Albion, Logan relaxed slightly. This exchange was something he could handle. He knew the lines, the steps in the dance.
"I must have torn you all from your beds, however, and since I intend to take to my own presently, I shall not keep you from your rest any longer," he continued. "I hope that I may count on your presence at dinner this evening, though."
Duties done, he made to enter the castle – the courtiers parted for him, bowing and curtseying and toadying in every way they knew how; the two-faced subservience always grated on Logan most when he was freshly returned to Albion and had forgotten how aggravating it could be – only for the doors to be flung open and a small body fly at him, arms latching on tightly.
"Logan! You're back! I knew you'd be back today, I said so at dinner last night, but Jasper didn't believe me!"
"Ah…" Foolishly, forgetting Rose's tendency to fly in the face of protocol, he had expected his sister would be kept safely occupied elsewhere until he was prepared to face her. Anger, albeit milder and more distant than it would be if he were not so exhausted, that Jasper had failed to keep control over the young princess strikes him, only to be followed by pride that his sister refused to let herself be ordered. A true princess in that respect; perhaps a way that was more important than protocol and frippery.
Scrambling for some semblance of control, Logan cleared his throat and gently but firmly pushed Rose away from him so he could get a good look at her, hands remaining on her shoulders. She had grown since he left, he was sure; an inch at the very least. If she kept up this pace, she would be taller than him eventually, perhaps even rivalling their mother. Her height ought to give her the air of being older, but she still had the gawkish look of a child growing into herself and, of course, she was dressed not one of the many ornate gowns that befit her station, but a too-big shirt and breeches, shoes neglected altogether. Combined with her uncombed bed hair – a shade of brown that is distinctly lighter than his raven hair and only heightened her resemblance to their mother – she looked more like an urchin than a princess.
Had she been a few years older, Logan would have had certain theories as to how she came to be wearing clothes that look as though they belong to a minor nobleman, but, knowing his sister as he did, not even the instincts of an older brother could imagine a scenario other than the obvious: Rose has clearly sneaked that friend of hers – Edward? Everett? – up to her room for companionship other than a puppy and an elderly butler and grabbed the first garments (taken off for nothing but changing into nightgowns) that came to hand when she realised her brother was home.
Her face was shining with happiness and Logan felt his own fear and doubts slide away when faced with such innocent joy. In a most un-regal move, he crouched down and pulled her back to him in a tight hug, never wanting to let go. There were so many things he ought to say, and even more than he wanted to say but wouldn't be proper in such a setting, but, propriety or not, nothing would get past the sudden lump in his throat. It threatens to strange him, plugging him against escaping words and incoming breath. More intense even than that, though, was relief; an irrational sense that everything would come well now that Rose was here, safe and whole in his arms. Disobedient, irreverent, precious Rose, who would roam like a gypsy if she could and feared nothing in the world, except perhaps her brother's disapproval and disappointment. Rose, whom he only just now realised he had been worrying endlessly about since he regained his senses in Aurora.
"Logan," she whispered, the unfamiliar note of uncertainty in her voice bringing him sharply back to the present. "Logan, are… are you crying?"
He was, he realised, and hastened to blink away the tears. To show such emotion in public brought a hot flush to his cheeks and Logan was thankful that his face must be all but hidden, given the position he was in. Thank the Light for small mercies.
"Of course not," he replied as steadily as he could, unable to stop a smile at Rose's raised eyebrows. "Truly, sister. Nothing could be wrong now I am home, could it?"
That got a smile out of her. "No, it couldn't. Where did you go, Logan? What did you find? Were there monsters? Did you fight them?"
The questions provoked a chill in Logan, which ran mercilessly down his spine and he fought not to shudder, fearful of disturbing Rose.
"I… I… I'll tell you later," he promised, delaying tactics his only hope. "For now, go back to Jasper. I daresay he'll have words for you."
Rose pulled a face at the prospect of a lecture – albeit a gentle one – about proper decorum for a princess. "I don't see why I have to act like a lady."
"Because you are a lady," Logan reminded her, and a laugh bubbled up in him; the first in what seemed like eternity. "Oh, I missed you, sister."
"And I missed you! So much! You're staying for a long time, now, aren't you, Logan? You won't go again soon?"
The blind seer's promise of five years of grace before the Crawler came to Albion rang again in Logan's mind like the tolling of a funeral bell and he shook his head as he let go of Rose. "No, sister. I promise you I will not be going anywhere for a long time."
Rose, bless her innocent heart, heard no foreboding in his words. She knew nothing of the Crawler and its evil, nothing of the trials of Aurora and the broken promise that would render Logan the most despicable of oath-breakers. All she heard was a promise of the presence of her brother, something to be celebrated, and Logan watched her charge off back to Jasper and the pup he had brought home after his last venture with a mixture of bittersweet happiness, melancholy and envy.
This was Rose, his sister, his princess, whom his mother had charged him with protecting and whom he would guard until the very last breath was pulled from his body, or may the Darkness take his wretched soul.
Rose, whom he now knew he needed to protect Albion for. Who inspired in him a greater need to defend than the hundreds of nameless faces he had seen at the dock. They were not his sister, his light.
Ideas were already running through Logan's mind as he straightened. Adrenaline rushed through his veins as he groped his way towards control of the situation, and it was enough to delay sleep for a while yet. Turning his head to Walter, he remarked, "I will take two hours to reacquaint myself with home again, Sir Walter, and then I would appreciate your presence in the war room. I have much to think on, and your advice would be welcome."
The old soldier's expression of relief at the promise of Logan's fears being shared assured the king that he would be easy to convince. The plan that was already forming was not one of ideal circumstances, but it seemed the best course of action nonetheless. Logan had a feeling that ideal circumstances were not to be something he was overly blessed with in the coming years.
If there was one thing he could do, though, it was make sure Rose would flourish.
It would be for Rose's sake that the Crawler never touched the shores of his Albion.
She was his Albion and he would do whatever it took to keep her safe.