Hero and a Priestess
Alright, true to my word I have managed to bring you another chapter. I hope you all enjoy.
Ike lay in bed, staring up at the high stone ceiling above him. It had been near two week since they had taken Nox and the peace treaties had not been going over well. Ike had attended the first few with hopes of seeing Micaiah and bringing an end to the fighting. Unfortunately, the silver haired maiden was nowhere to be found and unlikely to ever appear for fear that she might be captured again. Also, the Daein envoy showed no sign of bending to Sanaki's demands for unmolested passage into Begnion. The only silver lining to this terrible mess of a temporary truce was that Ranulf had, by some miracle, convinced Skrimir that his presence was not necessary at such a meeting. Had the lion prince gone he surely would have knocked out negotiators from both parties. Ike wouldn't have blamed him either. Queen Elincia and the dragons were representing the joint army of Empress Sanaki, who attended every meeting despite the slights the Daein men made towards her. King Pelleas himself spoke on behalf of his country along with a council of men that Ike had not recognized. Still, it did not change the fact that both parties requested the exact opposite of what the other wanted. Empress Sanaki demanded safe passage while King Pelleas told the Apostle to admit to being false and hand herself over to the Senate. Ike rolled over so that he now lay face down on the bed. He almost wished that these peace treaties would go on for a while longer, but he knew that battle would soon break out again. He was content just sitting in a nice heated castle, eating through the Daein stores that had been left behind, while his enemy starved and froze out in the elements. Food was the main issue that would force combat. It was something that was often taken for granted yet now it was of the utmost importance. With winter well underway there was little to be had for the Daein army.
Ike turned in his bed again. After sleeping on nothing but furs for months on end, an actual bed was far too comfortable to allow him to rest peacefully. The mercenary lay there all the same though, not wanting to get up quiet yet even though it was well past midday. From down in the yard below he could hear the clang of steel and the clack of wood as soldiers trained for the upcoming battles. The thought of fighting against Daein again irritated Ike to no end. It had been painfully clear who was pulling the strings behind this war when King Pelleas offered his terms. The Apostle must admit to her falsehood and be handed over to the Senate. It was so blatantly obvious. Why was Daein obediently being the shield for an empire that had brutalized its people only earlier that year? He had never actually got an answer out of Micaiah when she was still his captive. He knew there was something that she had wanted to tell him, some great secret that would shed light on this mystery, but she never got the chance.
"Micaiah" Ike whispered as if she were sleeping right next to him.
Her name brought a sad smile to his lips. There was no guarantee that either of them would live long enough to see the other under more agreeable circumstances. That thought saddened the mercenary. He didn't see himself dying anytime soon, not in Daein at least. The possibility of Micaiah passing in the near future was a very likely though. The number of things that could end her life was numerous. The cold, starvation, disease, a soldier from his army or simply a bad accident. The thought of death depressed Ike even more. The large man felt the need for company and finally dragged himself out of bed. Ike put on his usual green head band, threw on a black cloak he had taken to wearing in place of his traditional red one that was still in Micaiah's possession, and pulled on his boots. As he exited he took one last look in the room. It was one of few on the top floor. In all honesty, Ike fully believed it had been where Micaiah had slept during her short stay since he thought he smelled her in the bed sheets. However, that scent had quickly faded and he started to think it was his own longing for the girl that convinced him in the first place. With a heavy sigh, Ike closed the door and decided to make his way to the training grounds. Mia was bound to be down there and sparring with her almost always brightened his mood.
The castle was buzzing with all kinds of activity. The whole place had been packed with more than it was ever meant to hold. Nox had been big enough to house Daein's ten thousand men easily and could have held twice that many. However, it was not designed to shelter as large an army as was now taking residence in it. Every room was crammed full of either soldiers or supplies. Still, everyone was glad to be out of the cold of winter regardless of how close they had to be to each other. The mercenary continued on in silence, no one took much notice of him. All sorts of people bustled around the halls, those serving food, messengers, squires carrying freshly mended mail and weapons to knights and common soldiers alike, priests and various other healers going to tend the wounded, and every sort of person in between. Once Ike left the castle the sound of soldiers practicing met his ears. The snarls and hissing of laguz were amongst the shouts of men and the clash of weapons. He skirted along the outside of the practicing warriors looking for his mercenaries. It was they who spotted him first.
"Boss," Mia cheered merrily as she waved him over. In front of her Gatrie and Boyd were having a bout and neither was giving as much as an inch. "I've been itching for another go at you for a while. Get yourself warmed up and stretched out. I don't want to hear any complaining that you lost because of a stiff sword arm!"
Ike couldn't help but laugh. No matter how often she lost, Mia never lost confidence in her abilities. It felt good to back with friends and family. He hadn't interacted with them nearly enough in the past months. Ike noticed that a great sword with blunted edges lay at Mia's side as well. She grinned at him.
"I won't have you running off like a coward either," she poked fun at him.
"Now what sort of man would I be if I ran from a challenge from a girl half my size?" he teased back.
"A wise one," Ranulf said as he wrapped an arm around both Ike and Mia's shoulders. "This one has been beating everyone today. Beorc, laguz, mounted or not, it doesn't seem to matter. The Mighty Mia is always victorious!"
Ike and Mia both laughed, as did the mercenaries around them. It truly was good to clear his mind of the war for a bit. There was little more to be said as a sudden cheer went up from Boyd. He had knocked Gatrie to his feet with a sweep from his ax and had left quite a dent in the knight's armor from where he had dealt the finishing blow. Afterwards though, the green haired man helped his opponent to his feet, both of them grinning and congratulating each other on a match well fought. Mia grabbed hold of Ike's hand and dragged him out next. She tossed him his blade and drew her own. The weight of the blade far surpassed that of Ragnell and that of any blade of a similar size. Ike grinned, it had been too long since he held a training sword and not one that was intended for killing. Still, he called out to Mia and taunted her for handing him a weighted blade saying that she intended to win by a cheap trick. Quick as lightening, she struck back. Ike barely managed to get his own sword up in time. She had definitely gotten faster since they last sparred and a little stronger, but he was still the better fighter. Even with his bulky sword, Ike matched each blow and delivered a counter as fast as Mia could. He kept her back far enough so that she could not threaten him but close enough so that he could still strike her. He waited patiently as she continued to probe him for weaknesses, both playing it safely. It was then that the purple haired woman overextended herself just a bit too. Full awareness of her mistake showed in her emerald eyes as she tried to quickly pull back to safety but it was too late by then. Ike lunged forward bringing a heavy overhand swing down upon her. Mia lifted her sword arm up but the blow jarred the blade from her hands and sent her to her knees.
Ike extended an arm out to her and helped her back to her feet. Mia stuck her tongue out and called him a brute as she recovered her dented sword but said it all as a jest. Both laughed a bit as the next challenger stepped forward. Ike turned to face someone he did not expect to see. Brom stood before him, ax in hand, and ready to fight. Ike had not seen much of the farmer since he had told him of the potentially fatal wound he had dealt his daughter and was glad of it. A frown never suited that jolly man's face any more than rage had fit his demeanor but Ike had been witness to both, along with grief. He had heard that Brom had done nothing since but mope around the castle our stand atop the castle walls and stare in the direction of the Daein camp. He must have been fighting with the desire to abandon everything and rush to his daughter's side. Ike wouldn't have blamed him if he did. Brom seemed ready enough for a good match or possibly a way to vent his frustration.
Ike readied himself for the fight. Against such a slow opponent, it would be best to strike fast and hard. The large man charged and danced past the downward arch of Brom's ax. Ike was about to land a blow to the back of the farmer's leg when said man spun around and smashed his shield into Ike's side. The mercenary nearly lost his balance from the sudden impact and had to distance himself from his opponent. As Ike turned he could see the flash of steel as it descended towards him once again. He dodged this attack as well and hacked at the arm wielding the weapon, but the heavy steel plates guarded well against his sword. Brom swung his ax back towards the mercenary. Ike ducked under it and threw his shoulder into the gut of his opponent. The thick breast plate held, but the wearer lost balance and stumbled backwards. Ike was upon the farmer in an instant, keeping the man on his heels. However, Brom pushed back and tried to attack again. The mercenary's actions were almost simultaneous. He placed one leg behind the farmer's and hit the man savagely in the chest with his forearm. Brom went down with a crash and Ike stood over him panting slightly. The older man lay there for a second before bursting out with a fit of laughter.
"I never knew you were such a fierce fighter," Ike commented the older man as he helped him to his feet, glad that his old friend bore no great hatred towards him.
"War'll do that to a man," Brom huffed in his thick country accent. "I know ya did what ya had to an' all. Don't mean I like it one bit, but I don't hold it against yer or nothing."
"Thank you. I would hate to lose you too Brom. I hate fighting my old friends as much as you do."
"Much as I would," Brom corrected sharply. "You're the only one to wound an ol' friend in tis' 'ere war. Zihark an' Sothe be the only ones I know of. Jill turned so you can't do her no harm nor Tauroneo though he be a tough one to wound, he would. I'm altogether sick o' this war business."
"As am I," Ike offered comfortingly. "I won't hold it against you if you decided to leave or even if you changed sides. I must stay though. I've accepted a contract and if I break that, my reputation as a mercenary will be destroyed. No one would want to hire a contract breaker."
"You young folk shouldn't be doin' this here butcher's work," the old farmer grumbled. "It ain't fit for no man, tell the truth. You should try your hand at the plow. Farmin's honest business."
Ike merely shook his head and denied Brom's suggestion. Your hands were made for killing. A voice sneered inside the mercenary's mind. He frowned. It had been a while since he had last heard voices, but now they were back. Irritating as it was, Ike was more surprised that they had been silent for as long as they had been since the medallion burned so brightly. Ike never dared visit the herons and the medallion personally. He feared what that might bring. He remembered the story of how his father's strength grew many times over when he touched the medallion. That had happened during a time when the blue flames did not engulf the large bronze medal. Now that they created a small inferno, Ike did not dare to be anywhere near the thing. Suddenly his taste for training had soured. He apologized to the other mercenaries, grabbed his training sword, and took his leave of them. Ike returned his blade to the Greil Mercenaries' supply tent and made his way up to the top of the wall. He stood there and gazed out to where the Daein camp lay, hidden behind a cluster of pines and evergreen trees. In the barren grounds of no-man's-land, a lone tent of white canvas had been erected where the two armies had been arguing over peace terms that would never work. Ike turned on his heels and returned to the castle.
Several days passed with no further progress on a resolution to the stalemate. Ike stood atop the wall once more. A thick fog had settled over the field that day, concealing the tent from view. The skies were cloudy so no sun would come to burn the fog away. The mercenary crossed his arms and stood watch, as he had done every time since he opted to not go to the meetings anymore. Trying to please Queen Elincia and the dragons of Goldoa was costing him time, but it was allowing his weary troops to rest and preserving their numbers. Still, he would have preferred taking action. However, being on the wrong side of Goldoa could prove fatal for any country and upsetting Crimea's queen could lose him a third of his army. In the open field the overwhelming strength and speed of cavalry was of great importance and most of the Crimean army were mounted knights. Also, open warfare would pose a great threat to Micaiah's life so he wasn't about to try that either.
"My claws will fall out before they reach an agreement!" Skrimir complained loudly as he came to stand next to Ike. "I dislike waiting around!"
"Patience is a virtue befitting of a leader," the mercenary general responded without turning to face the lion prince. "I don't like sitting around for weeks either, but it had done wonders for our army. The wounded are getting healthy and strong again. The others are grateful for the chance to rest."
"That is you beorc," Skrimir grumbled under his breath. Ike knew that the lion had slept for nearly a full day when they took the castle he was so tired. The hot-headed prince would not admit to fatigue or injury but he too was grateful for a roof, a bed, and a fire. "I dislike this fog as well. I cannot see and we are upwind so I cannot smell them either."
"You think Daein will attack?" Ike asked, suddenly aware of how right Skrimir was.
"Only cowards would do such a thing! But Daein has proved to be a nasty sort that tries all kinds of devious tricks to win. I wouldn't be surprised."
"Kieran!" Ike called for the current commander of the Crimean knights. The man appeared in his crimson armor almost immediately. "I want you to have fifty of your best knights horsed and ready. Bring them so that you are within sight of the tent but do not move unless Daein does."
The knight hurried off to fulfill his order. Ike left Skrimir, saying he was going to go and join the meeting. The mercenary pushed past Nox's gates and strode out into the open field. The cold wind whipped at his back and his black cape snapped and swirled around him. Once he entered the fog, the sounds of the castle almost disappeared completely. The tent loomed ahead, emerging as if out of nowhere. Faint voices came from within and grew louder as Ike got closer. The mercenary stopped just outside, feeling a bit foolish for being overly cautious. If Daein had planned some kind of treachery, they would have probably done something already. They had plenty of opportunities to murder or kidnap Empress Sanaki as well as the dragons, Queen Elincia, and a few minor lords from both Crimea and Begnion that served as officers. Ike paced around the tent several times, barely listening to what was being said inside. However, as the voices grew louder and more heated within, he decided to make an appearance.
A gust of cold wind accompanied Ike as he entered the tent. Everyone went quiet and turned to see who the newcomer was. The tent had two entrances and Ike had to good fortune to have selected the one designated for his side. A large table separated the two parties, and a good thing to. Everyone seemed to be pushing forward to get at the other side. Queen Elincia's face was flushed red with rage and her hands were balled into fists. Lucia stood beside her queen showing just as much anger. Sigrun and Tanith each had one hand on Sanaki's shoulders and the other on the hilts of their swords. Ike noted that everyone else was armed as well, including Queen Elincia. The two dragons stood at either end of the table, they were supposed to be the arbiters in this conflict, and even they looked a bit enraged. The Daein officers looked furious as well. Their faces darkened even further when they saw Ike. Most of the Daein people despised him for his part in the Mad King's War; soldiers and officers more than anyone else.
"We did not come here to trade insults!" a man with thick gray hair and a beard of similar color growled as he turned to leave. The other Daein officers left before him. "You should have accepted our terms. They were more than fair. You will all die when it comes to battle! None of you shall pass through our lands!"
Ike did not like the sound of that threat. The others did not seem to pay it much mind as they grumbled and complained to each other about how the meeting had gone. The threat of attack weighed heavily upon the mercenary's mind as he approached Lucia. He had no desire to speak with Elincia but the blue haired swordswoman only showered him with complaints about the insults Daein had launched against the queen. He found similar results when he tried getting Sigrun and Tanith to head back to the castle as well. The dragons left easily enough, but everyone else remained. Ike finally tried to order everyone back to the safety of the castle, but only received harsh rebukes from both Queen Elincia and the Apostle. Ike grit his teeth and cursed the pride of royalty. The sound of hooves on hard ground quieted everyone down immediately. Suddenly, everyone was scrambling to get out. Torches were being tossed on top of the tent and the whole thing was quickly engulfed in flames. Arrows began to whistle past, one of them piercing through a green and white doublet to find the soft flesh of a Crimean officer. The mercenary groaned. Even though most everyone was armed, no one was armored. On foot, they stood almost no chance against the knights outside, but had less a chance inside the burning tent.
"This way!" Ike roared as he drew Ragnell and cut his way out. Everyone drew their steel, except Elincia, and rushed outside.
The tent collapsed in a swirl of flame and smoke just as the last of them passed through. However, outside the Daein knights were waiting. There were about twenty of them, all on horseback and well-armed. They closed in from three sides giving their prey no time to defend or escape. Ike knocked the tip of a spear up as a knight tried to impale him with it. The horse reared at the fire and a hoof nearly caught the mercenary in the face. He opened the beast's belly and, with a shriek, it went down with its rider. Before the man could recover Ike split his helm and head. The mercenary immediately found himself faced with another foe before he had the time to see how the others were doing.
"Protect the Apostle and the queen! Drive off the Daein cowards!"
That cry lifted Ike spirits immediately. The Daein knights took no time in fleeing either. Kieran would have chased them all the way back to the Daein camp too had Ike not stopped him. Battle would resume again soon enough. The mercenary glanced around and saw that the only Daein knight to have died was the one he killed. Six of his men lay dead though, four Crimean and two Begnion officers. One of them had been trampled to death, a few had been shot when they were escaping the flames, and the others had died by either lance or sword. Empress Sanaki's robes had been burned slightly but she herself was unharmed, Queen Elincia as well. Lucia, Sigrun, and Tanith had a few shallow cuts but were otherwise fine. There were three officers remaining, all of them wearing the crimson of Begnion, and they too were without any serious injury. Ike removed what was left of the helm from the man he slew. Beneath was a face he had seen only minutes before. The thick grey hair and beard of the man who threatened them as he left was unmistakable, even with half his head missing. Ike had not wanted to speak with either Elincia or Sanaki before but now he had to know what had been said during the meeting. He would wait until they were back within the safety of Nox before he asked. The mercenary followed both women and their guards up to the top level of the castle. When they were about to go to their separate rooms he stopped them and ordered them to go to his instead. Once everyone was inside and the door had been closed, he started.
"What happened before I entered?" Ike asked the group of females before him. Everyone raised their voice at once to speak and the mercenary couldn't make sense of what anyone was saying. "Enough! Elincia, you first. What happened? What insults did you make against Daein to make them attack us?"
"They insulted us first!" the queen snapped. "They said that I-"
"I don't care!" Ike roared as he cut her off. Elincia shrank back at the severity of his voice. "Are you some kind of child? Five of your men died today and two of Sanaki's! Are the lives of seven good men worth a couple of empty words? Now tell me, what was said?" The young queen lowered her head and hid behind her green hair. Ike looked to the others but each of them avoided his gaze. "Very well, you may leave then. Except you Sigrun, you stay." Once everyone had gone the mercenary sighed and walked over to the hearth to light a fire. Once there was one crackling away he turned his attention back to his fellow general. "I want to hear the whole story, Sigrun. I saw the aftermath of that meeting, even someone as gentle as you looked ready to kill. Tell me everything that happened."
"Very well, my Lord Ike," the mercenary reminded Sigrun that he was no longer a lord before letting her begin. "It started as it always does, we greet them and they us. After everyone from each side is introduced, we give our terms to Ena and Kurthnaga who then read them aloud for both sides to hear. Ours was read first. We requested, as always, that we be given unmolested passage through Daein to Begnion with promise that we will not be attacked from the rear once we have passed. We guaranteed that our armies would not harm the farms or villages along our way and would pay gold to the Daein treasury for allowing us to pass through their lands. However, Daein's requests were that we give them the Apostle and leave their lands. Oh, and this time they requested that you be turned in as well to answer for your crimes against the people of Daein. Afterwards, Empress Sanaki asked why Daein was helping the Senate and why they called her a false Apostle; to which they replied that 'no true Apostle would whore herself out to beasts and lowborn scum' and that was when it all fell apart. We called the Daein's cowards and bigots while they called us godless, indecent and made more personal insults against both the Empress Sanaki and Queen Elincia. The final, and worst blow of all, happened right before you walked in. Queen Elincia had just been accused of being a loose woman who slept with whoever it took to gain her crown and he beastly allies. She could not stand to be insulted anymore. She said 'at least I have chosen a strong and well respected lord to lead my army and not some silver haired prostitute from the streets of Nevassa!'"
"That was poorly done," Ike growled as his own anger flared. "I am no lord and Micaiah is not some street girl who earns her living by lying on her back! That's twice Queen Elincia has made a foolish mistake that has cost men their lives. We will be at war again because of this, though I do not doubt it would have come eventually. Leave me."
Sigrun apologized for how things had gone before leaving Ike alone. The mercenary sat cross-legged in front of the fire and watched the flames dance. He heard someone open the door and enter but he ignored whoever it was. A voice called to him, he immediately recognized it as Ena's but he did not turn around and only grunted in acknowledgement. She informed him that Prince Kurthnaga had gone to Daein to try and sway them away from violence. Ike dismissed her once her report was complete. It did not matter what the dragons did to stop the fighting now. War would continue. Daein stood no chance of surviving a battle in the open field. They lacked the numbers for that. This would be the final battle for sure and Daein would have to be destroyed. It was the last thing Ike wanted but it was what he had to do.
"Stay safe Micaiah," he whispered, hoping that someone would hear him.
And there you have it. I'm moving right along and am almost through part III of the game now. Anyways, I will have another chapter up in a few weeks again as I try to keep to this new schedule. You know what to do now, leave a comment. Anything is appreciated. Until next time.