I seriously have not proofread this at all. which is nooooot a good idea
Chapter Two: beneath the World Tree
They returned to Caelin in the heart of summer. Her grandfather, who had recovered enough to start pottering around the castle again, rode out to receive them despite his healers' warnings. Lyn was gladder than words could express to see him; she had been terrified that she would never speak to him again, even after Hector's poor spy had confirmed his survival.
But there was little time for tearful reunions, this time around. Caelin had been rife with turmoil and unrest ever since Laus attacked; many had lost their homes and crops, nearly half of the knights who had been in the castle and not on patrol throughout the canton had been killed, and Lord Hausen was thought dead by all but a few who knew the truth. Chancellor Reissmann, who had served as steward in Lyn's absence, had barely been able to maintain stability throughout the past year.
There was much she owed the chancellor, Lyn thought, and told him as much as soon as she had the chance, utilizing the formal phrases of gratitude she had made sure to learn from Kent.
Chancellor Reissmann looked briefly at her with amusement and perhaps just the slightest hint of approval before replying, "My lady, there is no need for such formality. I merely acted upon my duty to Caelin, and to your grandfather. Besides, now that our Knight Commander and subcommander have returned, along with our heir --" Lyn noticed a slight emphasis on that last "-- I am sure the recovery of Caelin will be swift to come."
In truth, she had not yet been formally declared heir since Lundgren's death. It had mattered little to her; she had had no desire to take the throne. And, after all, who now could challenge her claim? Only she and her grandfather remained, of the blood of the house of Caelin.
"I will do my best to live up to your expectations," said Lyn, and only just remembered not to swear on Father Sky and Mother Earth.
Chancellor Reissman inclined his head in response, and Lyn turned to leave.
"Ah, one more thing, milady."
"You turn... seventeen this year, I believe?"
Lyn nodded, curious as to what her age had to do with anything.
"Your lord grandfather has expressed interest in holding a coming-of-age ceremony for you, now that you have returned."
"But..." she began, uncertain of how to phrase a response without seeming rude. In the end, she opted for honesty. "I have already come of age," she said, a question lingering in her tone.
"Ah," said Chancellor Reissman again, with an expression on his face Lyn could not quite place. "I have heard... that in Bern, Ilia, and Sacae, and in certain Lycian territories, fifteen marks the age of adulthood. In the greater part of Lycia, however -- Caelin included -- it is seventeen."
Lyn wondered, with some amusement, if this was why Reissman had always treated her more like a silly child than Caelin's heir-to-be. (The thought was a relief, for she had always feared he found her somehow... lacking.) And if this had been one of the reasons behind Kent's initial hesitation -- but it was too embarrassing to dwell on the latter, with her confession and his reply still fresh on her mind. So she decided to set the thought aside and ask later.
"Well," she said, now wondering why he had come to ask her approval. "If that's the case, I don't see why not. As long as it's not some grand and complicated affair..." It wasn't just that she dreaded such a thing; she was fairly certain they could not afford it, when they were still in the midst of reconstruction.
"Of course not, milady. Just a banquet and a simple ceremony of acknowledgment. I will take care of all the details."
Lyn could not hold back her sigh of relief.
"Thank you, Chancellor," she said, and wandered off to find her grandfather.
Her mother had been an odd bird, or so Lyn had always thought. With her chestnut hair and her hesitant, accented speech, she had always seemed terribly out of place among the other women of the tribe, who moved and chattered with sureness of foot and quick, easy laughter.
"Maddi!" they would cry -- for they called her mother maddi, lark, in much the same way as they called her 'Lyn' instead of 'Lyndis'. "Do you need help with your mending today?" Or, "Would you like to come with us to the river to do the washing?"
And always her mother would smile, but shake her head quietly, no.
Lyn had been four when she first became aware of what a strange and solitary creature her mother was, when she first became conscious of the differences that set her mother apart from everyone else. She remembered asking her father about it -- for it was her father who had taught her the ways of the world and of their people, and how to ride and to hunt and wield the blade -- but could not remember, now, what he had told her in response. Whatever he had said, however, must have satisfied her, for Lyn had never again been troubled by those differences as she grew up.
And yet, when she learned of her true heritage, she was not surprised. Perhaps deep inside she had known all along, the way she had always known that she was Lyndis, and her mother was Madelyn, no matter what the others called them. The way her mother had insisted on teaching her to read and write, though those of the plains had no need for writing; and to speak the strange lilting language of Lycia, which only those who traveled often to Bulgar knew and used. The way her mother had sometimes, when she thought no one was watching, gazed beyond the mountains to the south, with a look of yearning on her face.
No, it was not surprise that struck her, but a slow, unsettling realization that grew stronger as the days passed: that though she had loved her mother, and loved her deeply, Lyn had never truly known her.
In her dreams, her mother was always there, gentle and kind and beautiful, murmuring soft words of comfort and assurance. But beyond that, Lyn's memories were a blank. What kind of a woman had she been? Why had she fled her homeland, to dwell in a strange and distant place? Lyn wondered, often, if Madelyn had felt much the same as she herself did, living now in Caelin, so far away from the plains of her birth. At least Lyn had her friends here: Wil and Florina, and even Kent and Sain. But her mother had had no one but her father.
Her mother had been a true lady; that much at least she knew. She could hear it in the way her grandfather and Chancellor Reissmann spoke of her, see it in the way they sometimes looked at her as if seeing someone else, the way the marquess of Araphen had looked at her, but without the disgust.
Her mother had been a true lady, and she was her mother's daughter. And so Lyn knew that she, too, could become a proper lady if she only tried.
She must, for the sake of her grandfather, her only remaining family.
I will learn to love this land, because my mother loved it.
I will learn to love this land, as she learned to love the plains.
The banquet, as it turned out, was a horrible affair anyway. Her gown was itchy and got in the way of everything, and her hair had been braided and pinned up so tightly she was convinced she was going to go bald. And she was so nervous she couldn't even enjoy the good food the cooks had come up with (she was surprised, as food in the castle had not been much better than the fare they had been subjected on the march with Eliwood and Hector, if not worse -- Eliwood had at least had that funny looking squire with quite the talent for cooking).
Above all, she was painfully bored.
Her grandfather, or maybe the chancellor, had invited all of the lesser nobles and landowners of Caelin. She had been seated at the highest table with the most important of them, in the place of honor, and forced to endure all the staring and inane snippets of conversation that drifted her way. Not to mention the endless hollow compliments and well wishes. One would have thought that constant proximity to Sain for more than a year would have inured her to such things, but the truth was, Sain was more entertaining by far. Once she had gotten used to him enough to realize that she ought never to take him seriously, at least.
She was, she suspected, supposed to take these well wishes seriously, however.
What she would much rather be doing, she decided, was talking to Kent. And perhaps asking about who all of these people were, and which ones were worth remembering (or alternatively, which ones she had to remember), or teasing him about how handsome he looked in his dress attire. It would have to wait, however. As Knight Commander, Kent was in charge of securing the castle and the grounds while all these guests walked around the place. It was for their safety as well as hers, he had assured her, and she had been tempted to ask him if they thought she would suddenly go into a rampage and kill all of the guests in a fit of irritation. But she hadn't, because she knew that wasn't what he'd meant, and she didn't think he would find it as funny as she did. He had been tired, lately. The military was in need of major restructuring, he'd told her, now that they had lost nearly half their forces. But most of the knights were adverse to change.
So Lyn forced herself to think of something other than Kent, and watched the local entertainers her grandfather had hired sing and juggle and prance around the hall. Most of the other lords and ladies were chuckling at their antics, so Lyn faked a look of bland amusement instead of the yawn that threatened to creep onto her face. Meanwhile, she began to look around the rest of the hall, studying the faces of those who had come.
One particular face caught her eye. She had always had a good eye for faces, and something about that face struck her as familiar, though she could not say what. Its owner was a pleasant young man -- younger than Kent, she guessed, but older than herself. He sat at an inconspicuous table in the corner, along with several other lower-ranking nobles. His hair was a curious shade, dark with a hint of sky or sea, much like her own. He was smiling at something someone had said, but his eyes were reserved and gave away nothing.
For some time the mystery of what the young man had found so amusing occupied her. But then, before she knew it, the banquet had ended, and the nobles were either departing to their own holds or being escorted to the guest chambers. Lyn wondered if she had accidentally missed the simple ceremony Chancellor Reissmann had mentioned. But perhaps the ceremony would be held later, in private, like the coming-of-age ceremonies she remembered on the plains.
She began to search, instinctively, for Kent.
"Excuse me. Lady Lyndis?"
An unfamiliar man's voice. She whirled around, startled, almost reaching for her sword before remembering that she had left it in her room, because no lady in her right mind would be caught wearing a sword to her own coming-of-age. (Chancellor Reissmann hadn't actually said that, but the voice of warning in her head when she'd been preparing for the banquet earlier was definitely his.)
It was the young man she had taken notice of earlier, and for a brief moment of panic she worried that he had caught her staring and taken insult. But that was clearly not the case, as he continued to speak.
"I don't believe we have met before. May I introduce myself? My name is Torsten."
"Lord Torsten," said Lyn, somewhat bewildered. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Just Torsten, milady. And yes, in fact. I know it is presumptuous of me, but I have a favor to ask of you."
"What --" she began, when she noticed Kent heading towards them with an expression she recognized as relief on his face. She grinned. "Kent! Have you finished with your duties so soon?"
Kent nodded, a small smile gracing his features. But then he stiffened, noticing that they had company. "I have, milady," he replied in a cool, neutral tone.
"And who might this be?" queried Torsten, and Lyn was thankful that he seemed more amused than insulted by her obvious distraction.
"My apologies. This is Kent, Knight Commander of Caelin," she said. "Kent, this is L -- um, Torsten."
She turned to Kent, expecting bewilderment to match her own, only to find that his mask of courtesy had dropped to reveal a startling, livid fury.
"You -- you're --"
At that he seemed to remember himself, and took a deep breath. When he spoke again, his mask was back in place, but there was an underlying edge to his voice. "Lord Lundgren's son. A pleasure."
Lyn's heart skipped a beat, and this time she really did reach for a nonexistent sword. "You!"
The man held up his hands in a placating gesture, a wry, lopsided grin plastered on his face. "Yes, my father was Lord Lundgren. I had no intention of hiding this from you, my lady. Though I had hoped to impart the truth to you in a more -- delicate manner."
She gritted her teeth. "What do you want?"
The man glanced at Kent.
"Whatever you have to say to me, you can say in front of him."
Torsten sighed. "Very well. As you may know, my lady, my dear mother and I were stripped of title and lands after my late father's treachery."
She had not known. Had the chancellor told her? Had it simply slipped her mind?
"And you want them back."
"No. Of course not. My father did a foolish thing, and now we must bear the consequences. No, my lady Lyndis. My request is of a far simpler nature. I ask only to be given a position in court, no matter how small -- I wish to make amends for my father's mistakes, and to be given a chance to prove my loyalty: to Caelin, to your grandfather, and to you."
Nils, Lyn had noticed, often wandered off in the evenings to be by himself. Even Ninian did not know where he went, but he always returned by dawn, so no one questioned his disappearances. He was far from the only member of their little troupe with unusual habits, after all.
Lyn could understand it -- that desire to be alone, to be apart from all others. Perhaps in the past she would not have, for to be alone on the plains meant almost certain death, even at the best of times. But half a year of solitude had taught her that survival was possible, had drained that old fear from her and left in its place something else entirely.
Still, they were now in Bern, in dangerous territory. Bandit territory. And a young boy of such unusual coloring was bound to attract notice.
So one evening, when Kent and Sain were distracted by something or other, and Eliwood and Hector were having a fascinating but utterly incomprehensible discussion or argument of some sort, and Mark had turned in early for the night, she followed him.
It was a more difficult endeavor than she had imagined it would be. Nils moved with surprising swiftness, darting deeper and deeper into the forest near their encampment. The trees were tall and dense. From time to time she caught glimpses of the moon, but the forest canopy was too thick for her to see the stars. She felt a distinct, rising sense of unease as she maneuvered through the shadow and the darkness. It was the same discomfort she had felt the first time she stepped into the woods near Castle Caelin, and realized that the wind tangled and snarled in the branches of the trees.
In the end, she even lost sight of Nils. But after a brief moment of panic, the faint sound of music guided her, and at last, she stumbled upon a small, moonlit clearing.
There in the center stood Nils, singing, his voice high and clear, like a bell.
"When I was young and foolish still, I swore an oath to my true liege..."
Lyn stilled, drawn by the melancholy of his song. But after a few more lines he broke off and turned, as if he had been aware of her presence all along.
"I was worried," she said, embarrassed that she had been caught.
Nils smiled, and she relaxed. "I appreciate your concern, Lady Lyndis."
Curiosity overpowered her embarrassment then, and she blurted out, "What was that song? Surely that wasn't all of it?"
The boy inclined his head. "It was a popular melody long ago, but the words were different then." His strange red eyes took on a wild, distant cast, and for a moment Lyn forgot that he was only a child, a child who had, just weeks ago, been horsing around with Hector like any normal boy his age.
"I've heard it only once recently, though," he continued quietly. "Last year, in a small inn on the Caelin-Tania border. It's a very long song. I'm afraid I didn't catch all the verses." At that he looked rather sheepish, and Lyn could not resist the urge to grin and ruffle his hair.
"That's all right," she said. "Come on, let's go. Everyone must be looking for us by now!"
He took her hand, and they went back.
A few days later, they were sitting by the campfire when she found herself humming snatches of the song. At her side, Kent started, and stared at her.
She turned, intrigued. "You know this song, Kent?"
"I do," he said. "I am surprised that you are familiar with it, milady."
"What is it?" she asked eagerly. "I've only heard a few lines of it."
"Telfer's Lament. He was one of Roland's most loyal vassals. After Olivier, Telfer was the one man Roland trusted more than everyone else. The three of them fought side by side all through the Scouring. But..."
"But?" She had some idea, now. Perhaps all those history lessons with Chancellor Reissmann had paid off after all. But Kent's explanations were usually more interesting. (She could usually coax him into including the bloody details.)
"In the end -- after the war -- they had a falling-out. Eleven years after the end of the Scouring, Olivier led a rebellion against Roland, and Telfer sided with Olivier."
She frowned, not having expected that last. "But why? Weren't they friends? How could they betray him like that?"
But Kent only shook his head. "Telfer seemed to regret it, in the end. They say he composed this lament the night before their final battle. It became popular among the commonfolk after the Sundering of Roland's legacy. But eventually Roland's four children banned the song as treason from all their lands. It was the only time all four ever agreed on the same thing. Not many people still know the song."
"But you do." She hesitated, suddenly uncertain why she felt so desperate to hear it in its entirety, and equally uncertain of her right to know. "Can you sing it for me?"
It was a long time before he replied, and his face seemed so distant that she regretted she had ever asked.
"Sain would do it better justice," he said slowly. "But I do not think he knows it."
"If you don't want to --"
He shook his head again. "I'll sing it," he said, slipping back unconsciously into the lilting cadence -- so different from Hector and the Ostians' clipped accent -- that Lyn had heard the Pheraens and her Caelin-born comrades use only among themselves. She almost did not notice when Kent began, half-singing, half-chanting in a low tone:
'Until the day this land knows peace
He stopped abruptly, perhaps conscious of the stares they had attracted. "I have forgotten the rest."
Lyn bowed her head, subdued. "What happened? To Telfer, in the end?"
"He died at Roland's hand in that final battle. Olivier was captured and executed, but Telfer... At his dying request, he was buried under a great ash tree, with his head facing west."
Though she could sense his growing reluctance, she still had one last question. "Who taught you the song? Your father?"
"No," he said. "My mother."
She found Sain dashing out a hasty letter in the stables. When she approached, he looked up with a guilty start, but upon seeing her, all humor fled from his face.
"Any news yet, Commander?" she asked quietly, schooling her own face into a blank slate, the way her father always had when meeting strangers or adversaries.
Sain did not bother with any such effort. "No, milady," he said, and she could hear the emotions simmering beneath his barely controlled tone.
Her disappointment must have leaked through then, somehow, for his eyes softened. "Rest assured, Lady Lyndis, you will be the first to know, when..."
She blinked, bit her lip. "Thank you... Sain."
When she stepped outside again, the pale light stung her eyes. She collapsed beneath the shade of a nearby tree and stared at the fallen leaves scattered about the ground.
After a while, she stood and headed back to her chambers.
First posted at ff.net on 11/11/09
Haha, it appears that my picketing worked. I'll have to try it again sometime in the near future, to make certain you continue to update in a timely manner.
[utilizing the formal phrases of gratitude she had made sure to learn from Kent] Aww, Lyn, learning stuff. But she does owe Chancellor Reissmann quite a bit, considering all he did in her absence.
I love the little things up there about the coming of age ceremonies, Lyn's thoughts concerning Reissmann's treatment of her, and then Kent's hesitation. It's all so interesting.
I really, really like Lyn's thoughts about her mother. It seemed, even from the in-game dialogue, that Lyn wasn't especially close to her mother. And I know firsthand what it's like to live with someone and not even know them.
The last two lines of that scene, about how she'll learn to love Caelin? Wonderful. It's so Lyn.
[He had been tired, lately.] This fits Kent to a T when you go into a post-game scenario. Mostly because of, as you put it, the military needing restructuring. And God knows that military would need some work. A lot of work.
I love that she reaches for her sword. It would be a natural reaction, poor girl.
Hahaha, Lord Lundgren's son. Amazing. The guy seems nice, but I wonder if we can trust him. Hmm...
Nice job with the accents of the various cantons. I like that Pherae and Caelin are so different from Ostia. It makes things horribly interesting to imagine, haha. And then, Kent's mother. Aww...
Hmm, and then that last scene, with Sain. I wonder what's going on! Ahh! I have a theory about the scene in the last chapter, now, but I'm not going to guess or mention it, just in case I'm wrong in the end, haha.