A/N: And here's Garon's fic, like I promised. This isn't going to cover as much time as The Invisible Princess did, nor be as long—about 6 chapters by my estimate. I considered spreading it out to cover the beginning of Garon's reign, but it's more a counterpart to Invisible Princess, an examination of his viewpoint during that period, Chapters 4-6, to be exact. So some of the characterizations and events may make more sense if you read that, now or later. Mostly because I wanted to look at the concubine wars. It starts shortly before IP Chapter 4 and will end shortly after IP Chapter 6.
Like Aftermath, this is going to update on a "when the chapters are done" basis. And like Aftermath, I'll finish this no matter what, barring an unfortunate and unforeseen accident or death. So don't worry about the lack of a proper schedule.
Also, I don't think I have to warn you, but this is not going to be a happy fic. The concubine wars were a dark time with dark acts, and I am not going to shy away from that. I hope that doesn't discourage you from reading this anyway, but I figured I'd give you fair warning.
Disclaimer: Fates isn't mine. The cover art isn't mine either-that was drawn by Kylee, at kynimdraws dot tumblr dot com. Many thanks to her for giving me permission to use it.
Penelope was a sweet girl. She was seven years old, bossy and petulant and headstrong, but actually quite nice deep down. She loved coffee even though she was too young for it and would sneak into the kitchens to steal a cup. Her favorite color was orange and she was good at maths, she hated dresses and she was scared of wyverns and she liked to climb high places so she could see the world spread out beneath her.
Now, she would never do any of that ever again.
"An accident, Your Highness," his butler and retainer, Raoul, said as Garon turned away from the corpse of his daughter with a sigh. Her body had been laid carefully on a table, to be wrapped in a white cloth and taken away for cremation later. Her red eyes were closed, her angelic chocolate curls framing her head like a halo. Were it not for the broken angle of her limbs, she could have been sleeping. "She slipped and fell from her balcony."
"She fell," he repeated. The perpetual ache in his heart throbbed dully. "Of course."
That's what everyone will say. She fell. Young Princess Penelope was leaning over the balcony outside her room and lost her balance and fell and died as soon as she hit the ground, how utterly tragic. No one will mention how Lady Bernice's daughter had been seen suspiciously skulking about the area, or the rivalry Lady Bernice had with Penelope's mother, or the slight smug smile she was said to have worn when the body was discovered. There would be rumors of foul play, of course, but nothing would actually be done. Regicide was a crime punishable by death, but the women at his court have turned it into a game, a game where you can dodge punishment if you cover your tracks well enough. And his concubines were very, very good at covering their tracks.
His daughter was dead at the hands of one of her half-sisters, on the orders of one of his former lovers, and all Garon could feel was tired.
He pressed a final kiss to her cold forehead and turned away. Another child dead, another funeral to be planned. What he wouldn't give for a stiff drink.
The next few days passed in a blur of activity and preparation for two funerals. Two, because the fourth day started with the discovery of Penelope's mother, Gertrude, lying in her bed, eyes staring sightlessly up. There was a goblet loose in her hand, a few droplets of wine laced with wyvern venom clinging to the rim, and for once Garon couldn't tell whether she'd actually committed suicide or if she'd been killed beforehand and her body arranged to look like she had. Gertrude had cared for Penelope about as much as the other concubines cared for their children—that is to say, very little—but she knew Garon grew displeased with those who failed to protect his children. She had not had much of Garon's favor to begin with; the loss of her daughter would have spelled the death of her ever earning more, and with it the death of her social status and general future. It wasn't impossible for her to decide taking her own life was all that was left for her.
He ordered her corpse brought away, the concubines giggling at the sight of her body bloated in death. They did not live in the same wing of the palace—when this idiotic "concubine war" had started, he'd immediately sent them and their children into separate parts of Castle Krakenburg, in the vain hopes distance would protect them—but they were like vultures; they always seemed to know when death and trouble were afoot. The show over, most of them disbanded, the women drifting off for their own activities that day. Only one remained, lingering by the pillars in the hall, her daughter hovering by her side. She flashed him a pretty smile, and reluctantly he went over to see her.
"Bernice," he sighed. "I have a lot of things to do today, so make this quick."
The lavender-haired woman dipped into an exaggerated curtsy, her daughter mimicking the motions. "Of course, King Garon. I wouldn't dream of taking any more of your time than necessary."
Bernice had started out a nobody, a lowborn from some remote village who had dabbled and practiced dark magic until she was on-par with Nohr's most trained sorcerers. Ambitious to the core, determined to never go back to her life of poverty, she clawed her way into Garon's court with nothing but her magic, her wits, and her beauty. Dark magic had little place in courtly intrigue; it left a certain residue in the air and it was too easy to trace. But she had other skills, other talents.
Garon would never forget the look of disappointment in Katerina's eyes when he confirmed that Bernice's bastard daughter Camilla was indeed his. He hadn't been able to help it! She'd been so lovely, with her rich honeyed voice and silky purple hair and voluptuous body in its sorceress's robes, and he and Katerina had been fighting, and—excuses, all of them. He knew they were just excuses. He was in the wrong, and he was shamed.
But Bernice was the first of many. Tanya, a camp follower he'd slept with while stressed and on the road, had shown up with a bundle in her arms, and then there was Edith, a noblewoman who promised her family's allegiance in exchange for a child, and then Ariadne and her attractive intelligence, and then, and then, and then. One after another after another.
Every single time, he told himself he would stop. Every single time, he would fail, and another woman would birth another bastard. Women were his alcohol, his gambling addiction, and he couldn't shake it. It certainly didn't help matters that many of the women in his court actively tried to seduce him. It was like expecting an alcoholic to resist a bottle of ale, when the ale was following you around and practically begging you to take it.
Bernice cleared her throat, bringing him out of his memories and back to the present. "I merely wanted to inform you that Camilla is ahead of all the other children in her lessons."
"Indeed?" Although he knew Bernice was merely trying to make herself look good by proxy, and although he knew that Camilla had likely killed Penelope, pride swelled in him nonetheless. His eyes dropped to the young girl, who was keeping her gaze downcast. His voice softened. "Look at me, Camilla."
She slowly did. Her eyes were sad, haunted, and that was all the confirmation he needed. Camilla was such an adoring sister. She was so full of love and always had a kind word to say to her half-siblings, no matter how nasty they could be to her; so very protective of her younger ones and concerned for her older ones.
But like all his children, she longed for her mother's approval the most, and would obey her orders without question. If Bernice told her to assassinate one of her half-siblings, she would do it, no matter how much it broke her heart. And she had, and now Penelope's body was being prepared for her funeral, years too early. But he didn't blame her for what she'd done, not when her mother wielded her like a weapon. He would tell her not to blame herself if he didn't know the words wouldn't do anything to make the guilt go away.
"It pleases me to hear you're doing well," he said instead, and her face practically glowed at his praise. "You would make any father proud."
"Don't rest on your laurels, however," Bernice interjected. "Never forget, Camilla, that life is cruel. You must be cruel right back if you wish to survive."
Camilla dipped her head, her face melting back into its blank mask. "Yes, Mother."
"Remember, though," Garon added, "Cruelty doesn't necessitate isolation. You can be equally as cruel to your enemies as you are kind to your loved ones."
Bernice dared to direct a glare at him before, remembering who he was, hastily smoothing her face over into a smile. "Your words are valuable treasures, Your Majesty. Thank you for offering them. Camilla, come."
His daughter repeated the thanks and scurried off after her mother, but a little bit of light had returned to her eyes, and Garon hoped dearly his words would assuage her worries and fears. He offered a silent prayer to the Dusk Dragon, as he did daily, to guard his children's hearts as much as their lives, especially the heart of his second-eldest-no, eldest now-daughter.
After another long day managing the affairs of Nohr, Garon was looking forward to returning to his wife. But when he reached the royal suite, Katerina wasn't present. A quick search revealed her to be in their son's room, sitting on his bed. Xander was nestled under her arm, asleep, the open book on Katerina's lap depicting the legend of the Dusk Dragon and the foundation of Nohr.
She looked up and smiled when she saw him, raising a single finger to her lips. Garon nodded, gazing down at Xander, his face softening involuntarily as it did around all his children. His eldest son had inherited his blonde curls and most of his facial features, but his eyes were different, soft brown like Katerina's instead of Garon's red. He was such a shy boy, quiet and reserved and not particularly skilled at anything, and it was devastating to his self-esteem. Even Garon's words that his lack of talent didn't matter, that just having his presence was a blessing, didn't do much for him.
"I heard about Gertrude and Penelope," Katerina whispered, gently tucking Xander into bed and stooping to press a kiss to his brow. Garon extended an arm, and she took it, following him out of their son's room. He drank in her beautiful face, letting the sight of it serve as a balm to his aching soul.
His wife hailed from a high-class family responsible for breeding and raising some of the wyverns for Nohr; it was only natural she'd grow up with a talent for handling the animals. Like many in Nohr, she took to mercenary work, she and her wyvern managing deliveries and honing their battle skills in equal measures. Garon's parents had arranged for them to be married to secure her family's loyalty early in his life, and they'd often played together as children. Falling in love with her was easy; doing right by her was not.
Katerina's position on his concubines was a precarious one. She was definitely hurt by his weakness, but at the same time she could understand why he kept the women around. Some of them hailed from noble families, bringing their wealth or land or men or loyalty to his court, and kicking them out risked losing their family's allegiances. Others had nothing but talent to their name, talent enough to overcome all adversity and earn high positions, talent he did not want to risk crossing or losing. And then there were the children—how would they react if he had them separated from their mothers, or threw them out with them? No, letting them stay was the best choice.
Except for the small fact that the women always fought like cats, vying for his favor and for various positions of power. And worse, they encouraged their children to do the same! No matter what he did, he couldn't seem to stop them. He was a failure, and his children were paying the price for it.
At least Katerina herself was safe from the political intrigues of the court, though that was mostly because she was so beloved by Nohr that anyone who killed or replaced her would face much public wrath. Still, understanding why he let the women stay was different from accepting the fact that he strayed, and his infidelities were often a point of contention between them. But tonight, she didn't raise the subject. She always knew how the guilt and grief gnawed at him when one of his children died. "How are you feeling, love?"
He pulled his crown off, letting it dangle loosely in one hand as they reached their quarters. "Exhausted," he sighed, dropping into one of the plush chairs set in front of a toasty fire. Katerina took the one opposite, an apologetic look on her face.
"Then I'm sorry to say I have something that will make your evening worse."
Garon contemplated just asking her to put it off until morning. But the affairs of the kingdom demanded immediate attention. "Very well. What is it?"
Rather than answering, Katerina handed him a scroll with the Hoshidan royal seal on it. "It just came in…"
He took it and ran his tired eyes over the contents. It was, overall, a short and simple proclamation: Hoshido was raising the taxes on food. Such a short thing, but so impactful…
"They can't do that," he said numbly when he finished reading it.
Katerina sighed. "It seems they are."
Nohr and Hoshido had a long and tense history. They had served on opposing sides in the First War, and even after peace was brokered remained suspicious and wary of the other, frequently clashing in smaller wars and battles. It wasn't until Nohr's crops began to fail a hundred years ago that they even tolerated the idea of approaching Hoshido for peaceful reasons. Fortunately the Hoshidan king of that time had been willing to negotiate, but unease and racism still permeated both countries to this day.
Nohr's reputation as warmongers, while unfair in Garon's opinion, wasn't entirely inaccurate. They had few natural resources other than minerals, ore and gems, and they did make money off that, but not everyone had the skill or the desire to work in mines. Those who didn't—and there were many—chose to join the mercenary guild to be trained in various skills and dispatched to take on jobs in other countries. The guild had people of all professions, from assassins to thieves to poachers to regular soldiers, and they were one of the biggest contributors to income; at the beginning of their foundation, they'd promised the ruler of the time to give a portion of their earnings in exchange for the ability to operate freely. And they earned quite a bit.
But not enough for Nohr to reasonably pay what Hoshido was asking and still have enough money to cover the rest of their expenses.
Rage colored his vision red as his hands shook, threatening to tear the letter in two. Hoshido had done this knowing that they would have no choice but to pay money they couldn't afford to part with. Nohr's only constant source of food was taking advantage of them.
It took all of Garon's self-control to not crumple the letter up and throw it into the fire. If Katerina hadn't placed a hand over his, her cool touch returning him to his senses, he may well have. Instead he very careful put it down and rested his hands on his knees, curling them into fists. "Damn Sumeragi," he growled. "Damn Hoshido. Damn them all."
Three things happened in the next week.
The first was Garon writing a hasty letter beseeching Sumeragi to reconsider and praying fervently that he would listen.
The second was receiving a second letter at the end of the week, politely telling him the new prices were non-negotiable.
The third was Garon, left with no choice, ordering his soldiers to start raiding Hoshido.
A/N: And that's the prologue to get the battle rolling. Now, Garon has a lot of concubines and children, and keeping track of them all could get difficult. So here's a quick guide to the ones with an involvement in the plot—you may hear other names get tossed about, but these are the only ones who are actually important. The women have their classes in parenthesis next to them, and the kids have their ages (see if you can guess what their classes are based off!):
Katerina (Wyvern Lord) - Alexander (Xander) (7 going on to 8)
Bernice (Sorceress) - Camilla (6 going on to 7)
Jeanette (Adventurer) - Josephine (Josie) (4)
Vesta (Maid) - Leonidas (Leo) (1)