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run cried the wolf

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Radagon passes through the gates of Caria manor in the dead of night, the accusing eye of the moon muted and diffused through the heavy veil of clouds. The most he has to show for his endeavours are the unwieldy large case in hand and worn-down excuses under his tongue. The excuses have been read aloud a thousand times by now, but lies tend to gain a certain credibility the more use they see. The case is an outlier, and to a point, carrying it gives him the distinct impression that he was skulking around the premises rather than making a routine trip home. 


Not that it’s necessarily an unfair assessment. He is the outlier in what he has. 


He delays entry to the manor itself in favour of circling around to the back, the unlit path faintly marked out by the dull glow of the crystal growths. The rain soaks his hair through, clinging to him like an inescapable second skin. Entry to the tower on the far side of the field offers little in the form of respite from the water coursing down the back of his neck.


The inside is dry, at the very least, if dark. The soft everpresent magic lights barely cast his shadow as he relieves himself of the case, placing it in an area where it would look otherwise inconspicuous. He grimaces at the soaked state of the wood. The lining consists of several blankets to serve as padding and nothing else in the way of something waterproof. It’s highly doubtful that the object inside was affected, but he did quite like the case. 


He leaves after a perfunctory inspection, unwilling to deal with the consequence of his newest pet project under such miserable conditions. It’s a small form of cowardice, one he would normally despise had he not been so thoroughly defanged at this point. Enough time spent playing house tends to wear down accumulated armour. 


The manor proper is accessible via side door, yet again reinforcing his persistent impression that he is a trespasser on his own land. Caria has a tendency to chew on the light that reaches it and spit it out into gloomy shadows that cling in indistinct shape, forcing him to be conscious of his steps as he sets to work on detangling his hair with his fingers as he walks. He scowls as his fingers catch. It’s already hurtling towards a lost cause. He may as well just shelve it away for the morning, much like he’s doing with everything else. Defanged indeed. 


A thin strip of light makes itself present under the doors of his chambers. He presses through with a minimal amount of caution to find Rennala still awake, passively engrossed in a novel of middling size. There’s a conspicuous amount of empty space on the right side of the bed. Something inside him twists. 


“Thou’rt returned so soon?” She sits up, dog-earing her page. Her hair is unbound, framing her face in loose curls. Radagon is well aware that he looks like something approaching a wet rat. 


He offers a smile, feeling stiff. “My affairs did not take as long as I anticipated.”


It’s not a lie. An evening with his family was an ever-generous allotment on Marika’s part, usually dependent on how much she feels like dealing with her own. Something to thank her short fuse for, at least on the occasions when it’s convenient for him. 


They embrace. She smells like lavender and dust. It’s a small comfort, easy enough to notice only after a long period of absence. “I do not wish to soak thee.”


“I shall endure it,” she says, her face buried in the crux of his neck and shoulder. “I have not seen thee in weeks. A little rain shall not get in my way.”


“It’s torrential out, dear.” His hair has already dripped a considerable amount of water on the bed. Rennala’s only response is a soft huff of laughter, ghosting against his skin. 


They part after a while, her arms a soft weight around his waist. He looks over her shoulder at the state of the candle at her bedside, the wick nearly drowning in wax. “Hast thou been reading this whole time, or did I wake thee?” 


She raises an eyebrow. Even the small motion is delicate. “I was unaware that thou had arrived until now. I simply could not sleep.” 


The unspoken implication that she was waiting for him hangs in the air, imperceptible and leaden. The empty half of the bed is evidence enough that he’s managed to worm his way into her life. Twenty-five years of marriage and his distinct lack of presence is enough to cause an upset, like marble worn in by footsteps. Twenty-five years, barely enough to chew. 


The arms around him suddenly become unbearable. She’s a glass perched on the edge of a table, liable to be shattered from sheer proximity. Radagon is all-too aware of his ability to break things. 


“There is no trouble in Leyndell?” 


He startles. Her expression is inquisitive, placid. Normal, overwhelmingly. He’s the one fraying at the edges. “They continue to express their displeasure with Caria’s practices, but there is little they can do so long as I am here.” 


Ambassador is more of a synonym for washed-up war hero in his case, or hostage for similar circumstances that didn’t end in a marriage. Ambassador is a very convenient excuse for his perpetual inconsistency, reliable and well-worn like a cloak on his shoulders. He is only that at the end of it, considering that he is more Marika’s vestigial limb than a real being. 


Political hostage with three children and a wife. Ambassador as a perfunctory practice. A sword arm, weakened from disuse. Fold the cloak away with the changing of the seasons to don something more convenient. What else is there to him?


Lovesick truant , Marika supplies. He’ll add it to the list. 


Rennala’s lips press in a thin line. “The breaching of a peace treaty is an offense too far. They should know better than to threaten us.” 


He presses his nose to her scalp, savouring the contact. “‘Twas was hardly anything so severe. Godfrey tends to be full of air these days, desperate for something to swing his axe at. I wouldst not worry.” 


“They shouldst remember well the consequences. I believe thee.” That’s the problem. Trusting something like him is like making a wish to a blank wall. “Is there any other news?”


The contents of the case is an unbreachable subject, and one that has already settled itself at his throat like a blade. He may as well deliver her a signed letter detailing the impending collapse of their life together, sealed in red wax by the house of the Erd tree. Twenty-five years of marriage, neatly discarded. He’s been back in Rennala’s arms for five minutes and the burden of the unspoken already feels like torture. 


“Nothing worth keeping thee up, unless thou find tales of being ogled at by the court pages thrilling.” He smiles. 


She chuckles. The sound relaxes him. Dependance is a two-way street. The thought is only mildly comforting. “I am lucky then, to be able to ogle thee all I wish.” 


“Indeed. Those pages must be seething with jealousy.” 


Eventually she lets him go long enough to dry off and change. A drenched set of robes is exchanged for something plain and comparatively warm. He makes a brief attempt at wringing his hair out with a towel and mostly succeeds at tangling it further. As thick as it is, it’ll take hours for his hair to fully dry. He knows when to surrender. It’s gotten him far in life. 


He ties it back as consolation and steps out to find Rennala already half-asleep under the covers. He tentatively settles beside her, unused to such a cushy bed. She puts an arm around him in automatic response, a warm weight for him to lean into. 


“Has there been anything of event on thine end?”


“Not particularly.” She yawns, shifting against him. “A new batch of juvenile scholars had been inducted the week thou left. They’re a sweet bunch, and eager to learn.”


“Thou always say that.”


“I say what is true,” she huffs. “Otherwise, the astrologers are unhappy. Stargazing has been difficult on account of the weather, and I fear the snow will come early and delay it further.”


The sheer domesticity is a weight on his chest. Under normal circumstances he would be able to afford the same faint worries for the future. Normal circumstances don’t constitute the imminent betrayal of a vow. 


“Radahn has also stated his intention to visit, weather pending,” she continues, face buried neatly at his shoulder. 


Of course. He may as well bear witness, for all the good it will do. “He’s never let the weather stop him.”


“Think of poor Rykard, dear. He’s already drafted multiple escape routes for himself.” 


“It is very like him.” 


Rennala buries herself further under the covers, signaling the end of their conversation. Her arm is still cast loosely over his waist as her breathing evens out. Sleep is a mechanical task on his end. He can’t bring himself to enjoy Rennala’s presence, now armed with the tangible knowledge that it’s a finite resource. 


He contents himself with tracing the stonework of the ceiling with his eyes, wearing in the grooves via imagination until the candle putters out. Darkness settles in properly soon after, and Caria welcomes its intruder home. 





True to Rennala’s word, the sky cracks open the very next day and smothers the majority of northern Liurnia in an uneven hand of snow. Squalls fall irregularly, discouraging all but the shortest of excursions from the safe body of the manor. Even Loretta, dutifully attempting to make her rounds, was forced to return to the stables halfway through, the snow quickly spilling in to fill the path her horse had carved. 


All the while the rays of the Erd tree continue to press through the cloud layer with taunting persistence, an hourglass for the fixed allotment of time left to live with his family. Such is its nature that its light is inescapable. 


Radagon rises before dawn the next day to organize patrols of soldiers to clear the snow. Areas are delegated based on priority, so the road to the Grand Lift is cleared first. Torches are passed out among the foot soldiers and with a decent amount of patience and swearing they manage to drive enough wagons through that a substantial path is cleared for the cavalry to tamp down the rest. The academy gates are less arduous, needing only a handful of soldiers each to clear out the snow packed around the mouth. 


On his brief off hours he heads back to the manor to check in on Ranni. She’s still too young to stay at the academy and thus relegated to the manor, but old enough that she’s discovered the delights of complaining about it. He finds her in the main parlour, bundled up by the fire and working on something vaguely resembling a drawing, a rapidly cooling cup of tea in ornate porcelain at her side. Licorice, if he’s guessed right from the smell. 


Radagon kneels beside her, tentative. Out of all his children, being near her feels as if he were in perpetual danger of shattering a row of glasses from careless motion. She pays him no mind in turn, happily kicking her feet as she forms another ink blot on the parchment. Such is the bliss of children. He won’t debase himself by wishing for ignorance, but it really does seem nice. 


“What is it that thou’rt doing?” 


She shuffles slightly, revealing the full expanse of her artwork, ink bleeding a dark abstraction against the pale backdrop. “This.” 


He nods, any answers dead on his tongue. Three children and he still has no idea how to handle them, having been wholly devoid of any childhood himself. Just tell them what they’d like to hear, he supposes. Something vaguely approximating his own existence, were he allowed to call it that. 


Marika had a childhood. It wasn’t his. 


“I like it” he nods again, cementing how truly pathetic he is to his six-year-old daughter. “Thou’rt quite the artist already.” 


Ranni shuffles back over her drawing, curling over it almost protectively. “Canst thou leave?”


He acquiesces. 


The gate town is next, suffering more from ice than the fluffy drifts that had plagued the rest of the area. It’s comparatively easier, the warmth from his incantations managing to melt large swathes of ice in one go as torch-bearing soldiers take care of what’s left. It isn’t lost on him that he could rid Liurnia of snow in one fell swoop if he were inclined, not that it would be particularly characteristic of the toothless lapdog that he embodies. 


He’s learned to content himself with a small scale. There are less excuses involved to wear into the ground if he properly settles into the shape of a man who is as he says. 


Later that afternoon he finds that Rykard had returned from the academy, so he takes him out to the wolf dens while the sky is clear, much to his immense chagrin. No one had bothered to clear the snow in the parts of the manor that saw little use, so he walks ahead to clear a path while Rykard trails behind him, holding a torch aloft and offering complaints at any given moment. 


“Could thou not have done this at another time?” Rykard huffs, voice muffled by the scarves he’s swaddled himself in. Radagon doesn’t turn but he manages to picture his glare with a decent amount of clarity, considering he tends to be on the receiving end of it more often than not.


He kicks at a bit of crystal protruding through the snow, a seaglass blue mark against endless white. “I could have taken thee the night I returned had I known thou would have been willing.” 


Rykard coughs behind him, muffling what is almost certainly a curse. Radagon’s lips quirk in a small private smile. The cold can’t affect him, but Rykard seems almost overly sensitive to it despite having lived his life in Liurnia. 


“Thine wolf is fine. She’s a wolf. She practically thrives in the snow.”


“I have not seen her in three weeks, and she’s due for her litter besides. Do have some patience, Rykard. This won’t take long.” 


His wolf’s den in particular is a well-shrouded one, an inconspicuous dip in the ground behind a swathe of bushes. There’s a decent amount of snow packed around the mouth, but little spilled inside. Rykard wisely stays back, unwilling to deal with the potential event of being growled at by a beast twice his size. 


Radagon crouches as he enters, hands braced against the frozen ground. His wolf is the sole occupant of the den at the moment, the rest of the pack having gone off to hunt in the woods behind the manor. She raises her head in acknowledgment as he approaches, tail stirring slightly and kicking up dust. He finds himself untensing minutely, the hidden nature of the den offering an unexpected respite.


He runs his hands through the fur at her scruff in the form of a greeting, her winter pelt thick enough that it nearly swallows them whole. In return he receives a cold nose pressed to his cheek before she licks at his frazzled braids. Radagon sits patiently as she does. She smells like spit and dust from the dirt floor. 


It’s an uncomplicated exchange. He can’t remember the last one he had that wasn’t loaded with unspoken loss.  


Judging by her size, she’s still got a ways to go before her litter arrives. Not much of a comforting thought, considering pregnancy can also serve as an impending date for death. He makes a mental note to bring some spare blankets to pad out the ground, rocky and cold beneath his knees. The rational part of him knows that this level of coddling is unnecessary to the point of idiotic, no doubt spurred on by Rykard’s words, but he can’t help but try and mitigate what damage he can. It’s easier on a smaller scale. Less variables and he can pretend that he’s not in danger of cutting anyone on his sharper edges, reformed strangely to fit a man’s skin. 


“Father!” Rykard calls, his annoyance very apparent in his voice. “It’s beginning to snow again!”


Chances are it isn’t and Rykard just wants to get back inside, but he relents anyhow. He parts with a final scratch behind his wolf’s ears and a hurried blessing for her vitality. A thousand some-odd years ago and there were crowds for this sort of luxury, now solely reserved for an oblivious animal he’s particularly fond of. Sharp edges, beveled down via sentimentality. She licks his hand. 


Small mercies. 


Marika laughs soundlessly, making him scowl. At least he knows how to treat his hounds, unlike someone


He stretches as he reemerges, soothing the crick in his back developed from crouching too long. Rykard’s annoyance is clear even through his makeshift veil, though to his credit, there are soft flakes beginning to make their appearance. 


He raises an eyebrow, perpetually derisive. “Thou look awful.”


“Do I?” He smooths out his expression in exchange for something more neutral. Rykard only leers at him further. 


“Yes, in fact. Ever since thou had returned.” 


Rykard’s ability to read him is bothersome. Given that Radagon’s own nature relies entirely on falsehoods, it’s a very dangerous trait for his own child to possess. 


It doesn’t help that he’s right. 


“I’ve only been back for two days, and thou had avoided me entirely for one and a half.”


He shrugs. “I asked Ranni for a second opinion-”


“She’s six years old.”


“-And mother” he finishes, glaring at Radagon for interrupting. “She agreed.”


Radagon turns and starts heading towards the manor, unwilling to continue an interrogation over his mood of all things. Whether Rykard follows or not is not his problem.


“The fact that thou’rt ignoring me proves that I’m right” he calls. 


“So what if I am? Everyone’s entitled to a bit of misery now and again.” He’s entitled to more than anyone, misery included. He was made for it, after all. 


Rykard thankfully shuts his mouth and resumes trailing behind, torch burning in something approximating surrender.





Unveiled, the egg sits quietly in its case, appropriately swathed in dull rags like a nest. There was little fanfare to it, being that it is wholly inanimate. It offers no response to touch. Unlike glintstone crystals, it produces no light as a passive effect. The texture of the surface calls to mind an unpolished gem. Fitting for a stone thrown from the cosmos, for the moment useless.


It isn’t meant to be useful in any case. The egg is a glass begging to be filled, only useful in the same way a vessel tends to be less important than what it holds. Utility is a tangential function contained in a stone the size of a small child. Its properties piqued Marika’s interest enough that she felt it was prudent to claim it anyhow, and thus it fell to Radagon’s hands. 


For once he agrees with her judgment. The case and its charge are much better suited to settle in quietly amongst the clutter of Caria rather than the bare halls of Leyndell. 


Radagon makes a habit of visiting it in his off time. On the first visit he brought a spare yard of cotton fabric in a muted blue and spent the hour marking out a garland on the perimeter in chalk. On subsequent visits he roughly retraced the lines in cheap thread for a more solid baseline. Even that takes a frustratingly long stretch of time. It’s a gift for Rennala, so he can’t bring it back to the manor, and he dislikes the prospect of having to come up with a clear motivation for making it. He’ll snip clean the loose ends for the sake of minimizing the chances of another impromptu interrogation, even if it takes longer on the whole. 


“A swaddling cloth? ” Marika asks on one such afternoon. “Sentimentality ill suits thee.”


The sky is uncharacteristically clear that day, the rays of the Erd tree laying across the snow in blinding stripes. A stray shaft of light presses in through the window of the tower. He squints. Marika’s questions are rhetorical, mostly serving as her favourite method to force him to speak his reasoning aloud. 


“Spare me thine derision. The blankets I used to cushion the egg are of ill quality, that is all.” Her mounting amusement is apparent. Gods forbid he pursue a hobby, quite literally in this case. 


“Thou’rt coddling it like a child, and thou dost not enjoy this enough for it to be a proper hobby.”


Radagon scowls, drawing thread through taught fabric. She reads him like water spilling. Any concerns are apparent, his weaknesses doubly so. They would’ve been her own once upon a time, had she not possessed the wisdom to cut herself off early. In turns he is either unknowable or as blatant as crucifixion. 


“Would another hobby please thee better?” 


“Not at all. I applaud thine determination, in fact. All this effort for a gift given to a child that shall never speak its thanks.”


He really does hate traditional Carian embroidery. It became something of a habit after functioning as Rennala’s personal tailor, but it’s still too excessive for his taste. “Children hardly say thanks. Thou wouldst know that as well as I.” 


“Like thine dear Ranni?”


Trace the curl of a leaf. Clip the thread. More undeserved allowances in the face of all his shortcomings, from a family he settled into like a splinter. Repeat ad infinitum for a finished product. “She likes her mother more. Children are simple things.” 


He pictures hands on his own; smaller, feminine, yet otherwise all-too-similar. Touch is unaffordable. In his mind's eye it feels the same as the light through the window, bleaching him bone-white. Concern is unholy. Public crucifixion is too generous for him. Give it long enough and it becomes a sacred thing. What is he, then?


“Thou seemest too unwilling to commit to what thou must do,” she says, gentle the same way the ocean is bottomless. The metal from the needle hasn’t grown warm from his touch. Rennala once told him that holding him was like holding marble. “I do fear for thee, that thou hast grown overly attached.’ 


He barks out a laugh. Overly attached. Twenty-five years is barely tangible. “Is this a warning?” 


“This was not meant to last.”


“My children are thine own. Thou know'st that.” 


“Not them.” Hands on his arms, tightening in a frustrated grip. His stitches are untidy. Some gift this is. “Her.”


Twenty-five years. Rennala can’t sleep without holding his hand.


Marika continues, ignoring his steadily mounting distress. “Godfrey hath long lost his use and now stumbles about, searching for worth that he shall not find. In the event of his exile, I shall need thee by my side.”


A swaddling cloth is functionally similar to a burial shroud. A yard of fabric can cover what’s about to be devoured. “As what, thine lapdog? To assist thee with thine violation of the Order? Thou wouldst do well to find another Lord instead of putting thineself upon the throne.” 


“Perhaps I would, as spineless as thou art.” She sighs, her feigned ambivalence the only indication of the fury simmering beneath. “Regardless of thine allegiance, I know well that thou’rt capable of cracking a shell.” 


Willingly or not lies unspoken, sharp edges be damned. This is as much Marika’s shameful wish fulfillment as it is his attempt at living. She was always better at breaking things. Radagon is the one who slices himself on what little is left behind. 


He feels a brief flash of sympathy for her, swamped as she is by toothless hounds. 


“Thou knowest I love her too,” Marika says, and leaves him with nothing but the cold light.





Rennala’s breakfast consists of a bowl of yogurt and honey topped with Rowa fruit, picked at with general disinterest as she flips through her reading. It’s a study on constellations, more whimsy and sentiment than anything of actual substance. Radagon has procured a single orange for himself, partially mangled. Eating is a perfunctory motion for him, but he usually manages to put in more effort than a small graveyard of shredded peel and pith. 


Rennala looks up from her book, slender eyebrows raised. “Art thou feeling alright?” 


He pauses in his attack, nearing about as close as he’ll ever get to feeling sheepish. “Of course, dear. Why ask?”


“Thine appetite is somewhat concerning.” 


“I dislike eating so early in the morning,” he shrugs, for added theatrics. “I’ll most likely find something else after the first patrol.” 


Rennala’s lips press into a thin line, wholly unconvinced. Radagon is suddenly very interested in reading the upside-down text of her book. An auspicious waxing moon. Horseshit or heresy, depending on how charitable he feels. “Thou had been picky ever since thou returned.” 


“I did not realize my return had been such an upset.”


“For thee, perhaps.” Her spoon clatters in her bowl as she turns the page. At least she has the excuse of wanting to read instead of eat. “Art thou certain that all is well with Leyndell? I cannot imagine what would upset thee so otherwise.” 


“Leyndell? I wouldst tell thee if there was undue trouble.” Horseshit, then, considering that circumstances seem to be getting actively worse. “I am fine, dear, truly. It’s simply the weather. Everyone’s in a fuss.” 


Pathetic child, Marika hisses. Another cloak to wear, generously given. She is a merciful goddess indeed. 


Rennala’s expression only grows more skeptical. “Thou’rt a poor liar, love.”


He finally manages to rid the orange of its peel, curling in shreds under his nails. Rennala is exceptional at seeing through his hasty deflections, less so at seeing through the body he had inhabited since centuries before she had been born. If something is a lie in its entirety, then eventually it is forced to write that into truth. There is no existence with no foundation. Radagon is just an example on a massive scale.


He really doesn’t deserve her. Or the kids. Ideally, he’d walk into the lake and never reemerge, with nothing left to shatter. 


Before he can dig a deeper hole for himself, a page walks in briskly through the doors, bowing quickly to both of them. “My Lady, my Lord, scouts inform me that Prince Radahn has made it to the bridge and will be present within the hour.” 


Radagon raises an eyebrow. “I was not aware that he was coming in the first place.” 


“Thou said it thineself, love. He won’t let the weather stop him,” Rennala sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. 


“Yes, but it would stop his horse.” 


The page is dismissed with a nod. Radagon rises from the table, orange forgotten. “I shall gather a patrol to clear the road to the manor. It wouldn’t do for him to get stuck on the last leg of his journey.” 


It’s a blatantly obvious escape, but if Rennala cares she gives no indication other than a nod, her fingers still at the bridge of her nose as if she had a migraine. Impending, most likely. 


The snow is lighter on the path due to the patrols from the other day, so Radagon and his soldiers manage to carve a sufficient trench from the manor to the bridge just as Radahn becomes visible, manifesting as a garish red smear amongst white like a drop of blood on a finger. Radagon takes his own horse back to the manor gates to tell Rennala and Ranni and they’re all properly assembled as a welcome party by the time Radahn makes it to the road, his poor horse nearly dwarfed by the height of the drifts on either side. 


Ranni squirms in Rennala’s arms, tugging at Radagon’s braid with a not-insignificant amount of force for a six-year-old and making him bend down considerably. “Where’s Rykard?”


“Hiding away again. I much doubt he wishes to deal with all the pomp of greeting his dear brother.” 


“Can I go too?”


“No, dear. Radahn will be very upset if he does not get to see thee.” To his left, Rennala sighs. 




Radagon attempts to straighten up, extraciating himself from the fingers tangled in his hair. A little monster, that one. “Of course. I’m certain Rykard will be delighted to show thee his latest machinations.” 


Ranni nods, appearing satisfied before attempting to unseat Rennala’s crown. Rennala bears the assault with grace. “Has he gotten taller?” 


“He gets that from thee, dear. I’m certain.” 


Radahn rides up before Rennala can retort, greeting them with a cheer before dwarfing the three of them in an overwhelmingly enthusiastic embrace. Radagon manages to pat him on the arm in an attempt at reciprocation, silently hoping that Ranni wasn’t lost somewhere in the tangle of limbs. Only after feeling as if his back had been rearranged does Radahn lessen up.


“I am glad to see all of thee well,” he says, his wide grin matching the wild strands of his hair, unkempt from riding. “I feared I would find thee frozen to death, what with these conditions.” 


“It is not as if thou had not spent twenty years of thine life here,” Rennala huffs, clearly endeared by his cheer. Ranni immediately sets out from her arms to clamber up Radahn, looking vaguely birdlike against his huge frame. 


“Did thou bring me anything?” 


Radahn laughs, his horse flicking its ears at the sudden noise. Ranni fits in his hand like a glass. “Of course! Only for thee, and none for Rykard, wherever he may be.” 


“Father says he was hiding from thee.” 


He laughs again, loud and bright. It’s a miracle his horse hasn’t keeled over from shock yet, given that it spends the majority of its life in Radahn’s vicinity. “I expect no less from him. I will find him in time, and force him to endure my presence.”


“And mine!” Ranni squeals. 


Rennala stifles her laugh behind a hand, clear and pretty even as it is muffled. “Perhaps lead thine horse to the stables before thou pester Rykard. I fear he is about to topple over.”


Radahn feigns offense, patting a hand affectionately against his horse’s neck. The gesture mostly proves Rennala’s point, with his outstretched hand nearly covering its head. “Leonard is far sturdier than thou would give him credit for.”


Ranni kicks her feet. Radahn obligingly puts her on Leonard’s saddle, steadying her with a hand. For once the horse doesn’t look pathetic in comparison. 


“I can imagine,” Rennala says mildly. 


They progress into the manor grounds, Ranni chattering away happily on Leonard’s back. Radagon finds himself falling back, suddenly overly aware of his own presence in the family portrait. Rows of glasses, begging to shatter into an unintelligible mess. 


“Art thou well?” 


Radagon startles, Radahn’s concerned expression suddenly at his left. Rennala walks ahead with Ranni, leading the horse with a steady hand. 


He tries for something nearing ambivalence. “Of course. Why would I not be?” 


“Am I not allowed to be concerned for my own father?” 


“I am not ungrateful.” Ambivalence bordering on apathy. Apathy is the vastly more preferable estranged cousin of concern. “Thou sound as if thou expect that I am not.” 


“Rykard mentioned it,” he shrugs. It’s an intimidating motion on someone of his stature. He’s a full head and half taller than Radagon at this point. Since when did he surpass him? 


“Rykard?” He says incredulously. “He speaks to thee?” 


“Writes, actually. Sellia and Caria aren’t exactly in speaking distance.” 


Cheeky. “He goes to all this trouble to avoid thee, but actively writes?”


Radahn laughs. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose. Did thou not have siblings to torment you?” 


He didn’t, as a matter of fact, not that Radagon will let anything about his past slip. His background is nothing more than a blandly inoffensive family tree tied to a small noble house in Leyndell, of which there are no living members. Discreet enough to not invite any questions, but sufficient enough to justify his marriage to a queen. 


Marika had siblings, but she cast them out of her mind millenia ago, left behind as they were in another world. Sentimentality only really serves as a catalyst for heartbreak. He’s already suffering the consequences, mired in a garden where he grows like a weed. 


“I was an only child.” 


“Well, not that it matters. Rykard mentioned that thou had been acting odd since thine return, and I wished to see for myself.” 


Radagon scowls. What is this, a family-wide interrogation? Will they string him up in the stockades next? “And thine verdict is…?”


“Well, thou do tend to be sullen, and I’ve only spoken with thee for five minutes.” 


“Insufficient evidence, then?” 


“Give me time. I’m not Rykard. I dislike jumping to conclusions.” 


Radahn would jump off a cliff for a fruit if he thought it was within reach, but he supposes they’re all entitled to self-aggrandizing every now and then. He should know, god in a man’s body that he is. 


God arguing with his twenty-year-old son over his feelings. Aggrandization and flagellation occasionally shake hands in truce. 


“The courts in Leyndell are driving me up a wall. Do forgive me for acting accordingly.” 


Radahn raises an eyebrow. It’s gotten his attention. Good. If he takes the bait Radagon might be able to emerge unscathed. “Is there trouble?” 


“The same territorial pressures, only now with Godfrey breathing down our neck. He’s old and overly desperate for a fight, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t get what he wants.”


Devoid of use , he doesn’t say, desperate as he is to knock the Elden Lord down a peg in his son’s eyes. At least he and Marika can agree on one thing. 


Radahn scowls, fierce and animalistic. “He would not be so brash as to violate the treaty, even if he were looking for a fight.” 


“Not that I would pose much of one, I’m afraid,” he shrugs, disposition pleasantly buffed at the edges. 


The intensity of Marika’s sudden derision nearly makes him stumble. Should he tell Radahn that he could take Godfrey’s head from his shoulders if he wanted? That he often fantasizes about it too? 


“Nonsense. Thou’rt a champion.” 


“A champion is nothing in the face of a Lord. I have not seen proper combat in over twenty years besides.” 


Radahn only responds with a grunt. Good. Better to knock the childish idealism out of him sooner rather than later. Sentimentality is a knife hidden in a sleeve. 


“Even were Godfrey not so keen on another battle, the Order isn’t particularly happy to have heretics flourishing on its doorstep.” He wasn’t. Isn’t. Sentimentality waits and seethes. 


“Do thou think of mother as a heretic?” Radahn frowns, as if he were in the position to decry Radagon in the face of all his childish hero-worship. 


“Heresy is a part of this world. It would be blind ignorance to ignore it, or simply crush it out of spite.” A part of him can’t help but mourn how passive he’s become, like a viper robbed of its venom. There were corpses left in his wake in the name of the loyalty Marika shed. “And it is incidentally how I met thine mother, so I will not say there is no good that could come of it.” 




“Do not forget where thou come from,” he continues, cutting Radahn off mid-sentence and leaving him with his mouth open. “Do thou think the golden courts of Leyndell thou admire so much will look on thine sorcery with sympathy? That Sellia does not spurn the Order in turn? It is far more complicated than what thou think. Thou cannot denounce me for stating the truth that thou will be forced to contend with, split loyalties that thou carry.” 


Radahn glowers at him, acutely reminding him of Serosh. Even if Radahn is twice his size, it does little to intimidate him. 


“I do love thine mother,” he sighs. In face of his unavoidable abandonment it sounds like a reminder, or a prayer. “Rest assured, I do very dearly, and I have come to embrace her sorcery in turn.” 


The heart is always the first to fall in the line of defense. Sentimentality, shattered and ground into a fine dust, thrown to the wind in hope of a happier life. 


“I do not doubt thee.” 


“Good.” He claps Radahn on the arm. “If it is any consolation, thine mother knows well what the popular opinion of her is in Leyndell. She is simply above bending to their whims.” 


He chuckles. “That much is true. I do aspire to be like her in that regard.” 


“It is a fine trait to admire.” 


They fall into silence, the lingering tension draining slowly like water from a half-open lid. Ahead of them, Rennala laughs at Ranni’s antics, the sound echoing brightly through the courtyard. He finds his shoulders relaxing. 


“So what is this news about thine wolf?” Radahn starts, his tone jovial. 


Radagon sighs and runs a hand through his hair. So much for emerging unscathed. “Her litter is due soon, and thus the more pertinent reason as for why am I apparently so miserable.” 


“Happy to be a grandfather?” 


“Yes, because three children was not enough.” He receives a thump on the back for that, nearly sending him flying into a nearby wall. “What can I say? I’ve grown soft in my old age.”


Radahn barks out a laugh, making his horse startle. It’s almost a joke. 





He reads to the egg on his off afternoons. Short stories at first, with little meaning to chew on other than to get a child used to sound. It stays cradled in his crossed legs, unresponsive and heavy. Sleeping and immune to appeals in the shape of the books he counts off by memory. 


He moves on to fiction, miniature worlds neatly dissected into paper. It shouldn’t care about the subject - it is inanimate after all, or his own fourth child with an unbreakable sheen. Non-fiction, then; academic texts, functional papers, digestible information- hours and days, auspicious and otherwise. 


The weather was clear the other night. Waning full moon, clipping the edges clean. Marika suggests stories from her own childhood. He tries not to think of it as charity. 


“They belong to thee as well,” she said on one such occasion. Radagon tries desperately to search for the derision in her voice, panning for the gold nugget that wouldn’t make the statement feel so much like hands at his throat. 


Predictably, he fails. 


I love her too-

The cosmos are a silent chamber devoid of purpose. The egg is a stone thrown with no meaning, useful in its uselessness, from a world where contact is minimal to the point of being an absurd improbability. Starving becomes secondary nature. No wonder that all things born from there are so drawn to tangible life. Time is meaningless, and life cycles flare and collapse in the span it would take to find a pinhole shaft of light. 


Tangibility is an embrace. Touch is a precursor to destruction. If left to starve for eternity the only option left is self-cannibalism; you break yourself into smaller pieces if only to have something to hold with your teeth. 


Radagon presses his hand against the egg, tangible and intangible. He can’t hold things without breaking them. He wants to- hold something unbroken, be held without breaking. Another absurdity, because by his nature he is his own shattered self, or an object of opposing polarity. Holy and unholy. He wants


He asks for its name. It, too, is silent. 





The snow continues to stick on the ground for the next week, to nearly everyone’s immense displeasure. Caria manor leeches warmth and bears none in reciprocation. Even with the bout of good cheer brought on by Radahn’s arrival the mood again takes a sharp downturn as the flurries show little willingness to stop. Even as he is unaffected by the cold, Radagon is beginning to share the same annoyance. His idea of spending one last month with his family did not consist of shoveling snow. 


At one point Rykard, having conveniently done nothing to help, suggests bowling the living jars around to flatten the paths. It’s still a good idea. Radagon nearly brings it into genuine consideration. 


Radahn is the single shining light in the endless blur of clearing snow and ice. His newfound knack for gravity magic does an exceptional job of sweeping away drifts and digging out carts, and together they’re able to get more work done in a few days than Radagon had in the last week. It helps that Radahn seems to have a natural tendency for drama and is extremely content to show off his new spells. Radagon keeps himself folded down and watches from the sidelines as he stops to brush the snow from his hair, still a garish abstraction even contrasted against the blue plumes of the cavalry. 


His duties now overtaken, Radagon suddenly finds himself with considerably more free time. With Rennala busy at the academy and Ranni childishly unwilling to tolerate him, he spends it with his wolf. Aside from growing increasingly bloated, her health doesn’t seem to have taken a downturn, for which he is glad. She’s well-tended to by her pack, who take little notice of Radagon aside from some curious sniffing. He endures it with dignity. 


He buries his face in her fur, breathing in the dense earthy scent of the den. Her pelt is nearly thick enough to crawl into. It is a tempting respite, like drowning on dry land. A pillow to smother himself under. Her breathing is soothingly rhythmic. He imagines she’s quite warm. Lately he’s caught himself wondering what it would be like to share in it. 


His willingness to hide is an obvious symptom of cowardice. There’s a slight glimpse of the outside between the slope of the den and the mouth, the sky a chalk white lid on the dirt-lined chest he’s stuck his head into. It’s far, perspective pending, like a mountain that looks close enough to touch, or an unforgiving wall to beat his head against. 


“Art thou hiding again?” Marika starts. Her tone is not necessarily conducive to polite conversation. 


“Radahn was quite content to take my place. Do not act as if thou’rt not also hiding from thine own family.” 


Her anger is apparent, pressing in like a cloth against his mouth. It’s quite kind of her to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’s struck a nerve, given that he could map out the entire system with his eyes closed. Her own annoyances are his own. Rather, she would say he has become an annoyance on his own.


“Thou’rt truly content to bury thine head in the sand? I thought thee a man of courage, once.” 


“As if I could hide from thee.” 


“Thine rationale, then?”


He sighs, attempting to relish a bit more in the comfort of his wolf. Not that he would ever hear the end of it. “Thou wouldst know.” 


He can picture her expression quite clearly; utterly placid, like a lake on the morning of a storm. His own, a distorted mirror image complete with sharper edges. “Shall I call this thine attempt at living?” 


“For the life that will not last, yes.” 


It’s another tale of self-dismemberment. Marika once dreamt of a life through the bars of her cell: at one point a wish-fulfillment scenario was procured for the happiness of an incomplete being. It all ends, eventually. The dreamer wakes. Split halves converge. He coined the law himself, after all. He should know.


Radahn tripped and lost a tooth once when he was a child. He complained that he couldn’t help but prod the gap left behind with his tongue. It’s second nature to be hyperaware of what’s been lost. Is he the tooth? Or is it his own deficient self that’s so painful? He is simultaneously the wound and the knife, slicing his fingertips open on his own jagged edges. 


“All the more reason to enjoy it.”


“Because thou’rt ever so careful with thine toys!” He snaps, feeling unspooled.


She leaves him with nothing but a lingering sense of amusement. Charming. He presses his eyes shut, feeling petulant, ignoring the soft hairs tickling his nose as he buries his face back into fur. 


Some time later his wolf gives him a brief swipe of her tongue, rousing him. Radagon finds himself curled against her, hands fisted in her pelt unconsciously. His mouth feels dry and tacky like it tends to after unfulfilling rest, lending to his irritability like weights at his ankles. 


He receives another lick for his troubles. He may as well bear with it. 


He rises as much as the low roof of the den allows, stretching out the kinks in his shoulder. The colour of the sky betrays no information about the time of day, given that Caria had been persistently swaddled in monochrome for the past few weeks. Late afternoon is wishful thinking. He buried himself for the whole day, much like a child hides in their room. At least he’s well aware that he’s pathetic. 


He follows back the path he made leading to the den, unwilling to risk tripping on a stray crystal growth. Late afternoon becomes an increasingly inaccurate guess as the sky begins to darken, the faint magic lights on the walls of the manor brightening like a uniform array of fireflies. He’s not particularly thrilled at the prospect of answering just why he had slept all day in a wolf’s den. Most likely he’s gone feral. The idea of running off into the woods to discard himself is an entertaining one. 


As he nears the base of his tower the distinct silhouette of a preceptor makes itself known, the wide-brimmed hat tilting as they turn their head to watch his path. He’s almost certain it’s Seluvis, considering his tendency to skulk. 


The most appealing option presents itself in the form of immediately walking in the opposite direction. Radagon gives it brief but very genuine consideration before discarding it. He spent the entire day with his head buried in the sand. He can manage a single confrontation with an astrologer. 


“Thou’rt out late,” he greets, his tone coming out far more charitably than he feels. 


“As are you, my Lord. In fact, I had been meaning to speak with you, though you proved incredibly difficult to find.” 


It is Seluvis, based mostly off of his sardonic tone. Radagon’s willingness to commit to the conversation is dwindling by the second. “Oh? Speak thine mind, then.”


“That is what I wished to speak about. Whereabout were you today?” 


“With my wolf.” 


“The entire afternoon?”


“Yes.” Leave no ground to conquer, otherwise Seluvis will run with it and Radagon will have to endure more of him than he wants to. Ideally not at all, but circumstances are rarely ideal these days. 


“May I ask why?”


“Why is it that thou’rt so invested in what I do with my personal time? I have no reason to believe that it would be cause for concern.” 


“That is unfortunate, considering that Lady Rennala was understandably perturbed by it.” 


He keeps his expression neutral. Give an inch, take a mile. Fleeing is still an option. Certainly less than a mile. “Did she put thee up to this?” 


“I cannot say.” Seluvis clasps his hands, black gloves folded neatly together. Most likely it was on Seluvis’s own whim after he caught wind of Rennala’s concerns. Were she truly desperate to know what was happening, she would ask outright. “Only that your behaviour upon your return has been uncharacteristically… bizarre.” 


It’s no secret that the preceptors aren’t fond of him, though Seluvis in particular seems to have his own agenda. For the most part he’s simply an annoyance, trussed up in sleek blue and black and completed with an unpleasant disposition. 


He scowls. “Am I no longer allowed to do as I please? Art thou keeping tabs on me like a child?” 


“Hardly to such an extent. I am merely stating an observation.”


“I would suggest keeping thine observations to thyself.” 


“You must understand, my Lord, that I am simply acting with Lady Rennala’s well-being in mind.” 


He nearly snarls at the accusation. It makes it worse that Seluvis is hardly off the mark. Radagon knows what happens when a glass is dropped. “Thou art in no place to accuse me of plotting to hurt her.” 


“I was in no way suggesting it, my Lord. Only between this, as well as the strange case you brought back on your ventures, it is hardly out-of-place to be intrigued.”


His attempt at neutrality can be buried in a shallow grave. At least any anger he displays will be able to mask how unnerved he is. “Hast thou been watching me?”


Seluvis spreads his hands in an attempt at placation. “Yet again, it is only an observation.”


“Thou step too far for one of thine position, Seluvis. Thou wouldst do well to remember thine place.” 


He turns away sharply, braid swinging with the motion. He won’t call it fleeing. A tactical retreat in name of an impending migraine, or the very real event that he might hold Seluvis down under the shallow water of the moon-viewing pool if he continues to bandy out very relevant accusations. 


“I will be seeing Lady Rennala about this, my Lord!” Seluvis calls from behind. Radagon continues his stride, uncaring. 


“Thou will learn to keep thine mouth shut, sooner or later!” He shoots back, and leaves it at that.




He asks for its name again as the moon changes cycles. It is frustrating in its obstinate refusal to listen to him. A name has little use without anyone to tell it to, meant to give existence to a formless concept. Marika had no name to call him by for the longest time. There is no existence with no foundation. Naming becomes a perfunctory practice in absence of anything else. 


He presses his fingers to the uneven surface, peering through the clear amber. Roots and buds, caught in stasis. Pleading, disregarded. Unlike him, it can be held. 


“Thou came here an invader,” he says one night, twisting the thread around his needle to form a knot. “There are many others like thee, having buried cities alive, though thou canst do little on thine own. I do confess that what will become of thee is uncertain for now.”


The lack of motion is a response on its own. It almost feels deliberate. He really is reminded of a surly toddler. 


“Rather frustrating, is it not?” He tells it, wholly unsympathetically. “Thou, child of none.”


It disregards that as well. 





Rennala’s choice of reading material for the night is a nearly oversized tome on the botanical findings of the Altus Plateau, the book making a considerable dent in the volume of the blankets. She complained about the author on multiple occasions, claiming she found his writings too heavily-padded with anecdotes and the drawings inaccurate and ugly besides, but in an honourable fashion she refuses to surrender. It’s really quite charming when she gets heated about something. 


Normally Radagon would sew quietly beside her, but instead he opted to hook his arms around her waist and rest his head against her. She very oblingly adjusted her position to accommodate him, absently smoothing the imprint his braid made in his hair with one hand. 


He’s still largely unwilling to bring the swaddling cloth back to the manor to work on, mostly because a swaddling cloth usually implies something to be swaddled. He has no answer to give in that scenario. A burial shroud, death pending. A promise for a cracked shell. A law in the name of convergence. 


A short square of cloth with a half-finished embroidered garland around the edges, already looking quite tacky in his personal opinion. 


“Didst thou know that Rykard wrote to Radahn?” He starts, half-mumbling into where he’s pressed his face. 


“Of course.”




“Art thou suggesting that I make him?” 


“Thou didst so when he was younger.” 


She chuckles, flipping her page. There’s a woefully inaccurate rendition of the variations of Erdleaf flowers between Limgrave and the Plateau. She wasn’t exaggerating about the poor art. “No, love. He’s eighteen. He writes of his own volition.”


“And hides of his own volition as well.” 


“Radahn is loud, and Rykard enjoys his privacy, though not to the point where he would actively disregard his own brother.”


He grunts his assent. “I only just found out. Rykard has apparently been stirring up quite the fuss about my habits.” 


“He is quite the inquisitor, though thou’rt not exactly subtle with thine emotions.”


Goodness, what a world it would be if that were true. “So I’ve heard.” 


“And I’ve scarcely seen thee since thine return two and a half weeks ago.”


He sighs, pressing further against her. “Such is the nature of our lives. The academy demands thine presence as much as the knights demand my own.” 


“Indeed,” she hums. The motion of her fingers is a soothing rhythm to anchor himself to. If he clings to it then he won’t have to confront the impermanence of it all; another life to be discarded by the wayside. “Though Seluvis had made quite the fuss about it, I shall say.” 


Radagon stiffens, suddenly hyperaware of his position, vulnerable as he’s made himself. “Did he now?”


“Apparently the amount of time thou had been spending outside the manor was bizarre. I was somewhat inclined to agree.” 


“He has too much a habit of sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. Someone might cut it off if he isn’t careful.” 


Her fingers snag, making him wince. “Apparently he spoke to thee about it?”


“Unfortunately. He thought that the amount of time I had been spending in the tower was suspicious, forgetting the fact that it is my own.”


Rennala sighs, her book laid against her thighs and forgotten. “I shall admit that this new routine thou hast taken up is concerning, and even more concerning is that thou constantly attempt to escape when presented the chance to explain.”


“What shall I tell thee, then? Wouldst thou prefer to hear that I had been plotting to overthrow thee, or to flee back to Leyndell?”


“I wish thou wouldst tell me the truth!” She snaps. “I do not expect something so dramatic, only that thou wouldst explain instead of running off and proving my point.” 


He does sincerely wish he was in a position where he did not have to lie, but falsehoods are an accessory to an eternal just as much as he is a pile of discarded traits and a wish packed into a man’s shape. He and Marika speak a language no one else can understand, every word a dishonest mistranslation. 


He sits up, looking Rennala in the eyes. Her expression is kept neutral, though her gaze is flinty. He’s an awful husband. “I dearly wish I could tell thee the whole of it, but I have made promises to people higher than myself that I cannot break.”


Marika’s frustration with him rivals his own. He sighs in a silent plea for forgiveness before continuing. “I have heard tell that Queen Marika has grown discontented with Godfrey in the years since he conquered Stormveil, and is increasingly less charitable to him and his warriors. I was not lying to thee when I said he had been turning his sights back to Liurnia, though I fear that Marika may sooner declaw him. What the fallout will be for us I do not know, though in most scenarios it will likely be something drastic.”


Rennala’s confusion is reasonable. He is omitting large swathes of the story after all; that Marika has already made her decision, that Radagon has made his as well. She calls, he follows, hound that he is, both of them creatures that only know how to break and consume. Marika simply had the misfortune to be the serpent that devours its own tail out of desperation. 


“Do thou suggest that she may divest him of his title?”


He didn’t anticipate anything less than that she would be startlingly close to the mark, dangerous as it is. Ideally, she would look past him. She’ll have to in any case. 


“I am uncertain. At this point I am simply preparing for any eventuality that may affect our family.” He takes her hands in his own, small and warm. Touch is painful. Unholy objects, blessed by fire. He endures it. “I know that this hardly explains the half of it, but I swear I speak the truth.”


What a performance thou’st given, Marika croons, unseen. I almost believe that thou love her! 


“I trust thee,” Rennala says. He pictures her hands at his throat. Holding him is like holding marble; breakable with enough effort. “I do not doubt that thou hold our house’s interest in mind.” 


She grips his hands, finely-manicured nails pressing at his skin. Silently, Marika laughs and laughs. 





“What use is there for something that does not exist?” He pleads, the egg uncaring beneath his fingers. He’ll grip it hard enough to break himself if it means an answer, or the barest of recognition. “I am nothing but incomplete. I have no more left to me.” 


Thou, child of none - he hears, formless and soundless even as it makes him clap his hands over his ears. Hands at his neck- made of glass, holding him under shallow waters. He cannot be held without breaking. He cannot break anymore than he already has- 


Child of none, my name is- 





Godfrey is divested of his grace like the muffled thud of an executioner’s axe. Marika’s total indifference is a wound without shape. How wise of her to have rid herself of her heart when she saw fit, instead of letting it fester like anything else would. Normally he would admire such an extreme degree of foresight, were he not the one that bled for it. 


Any anguish itself is of little significance, comparable to a moth beating itself against the glass pane of a lantern. Radagon might have been relieved had he not known what Godfrey’s exile meant for him.


That morning he tears out of bed before the sun is anything more than an overly saturated line on the horizon, tracing a straight path from the main body of the manor to the woods out back. The snow is an irrelevant variable flattened under his feet as he runs, his hair trailing behind him in a furious comet tail. 


He gets there late. Of the four newborn wolf pups at their mother’s side, three are still. She nuzzles at them with animalistic detachment, nose bloody from prodding at them. The only one still alive is curled up weakly against her and makes little move to nurse. A taunt in the form of three small corpses and one barely living. Another shell he failed to crack. 


Distantly, he realizes he’s digging his nails so hard into his palms that the skin is breaking. There’s no pain to register. His wolf gives him the vaguest of acknowledgement before returning to her motions in the form of an impersonal appeal. The corpses will have to be discarded, or devoured otherwise. More shells. More dangerous edges. He half-expects Marika to taunt him for the private funeral he’s witnessing. 


Perhaps she is. He’s forgotten how to listen.


His wolf growls lowly at him in a dispassionate threat as he takes one of them in his hands. It’s a small frozen weight barely the size of his palms, eyes closed in a way that could uncharitably be called peaceful. It must have been born dead. It's a slightly more merciful fate than to have such a miniscule lifespan that was spent blind and deaf on a cold dirt floor. 


Easy enough to let it rest. Easier still to get it to move again as a second thought. It stretches weakly, raw and sticky against his skin, renewed with a faint glimmer of warmth. He sets it down against its mother’s side and watches it wriggle into her fur before repeating the action with the other two, ending off with a simple blessing for the one that was alive. His wolf licks at them, fluffing up the fur that was pasted to their bodies and warming them further.


In the quiet isolation of the den they may as well have never died at all. Vaguely he registers his hair trailing along the dusty ground. It doesn’t occur to him to sweep it back. 


His wolf is oblivious, at the very least. With all her pups arranged neatly at her side, her attention is more turned to tending to them than the circumstances that allowed them to be there in the first place. There’s no explanation needed for a private miracle. One final gift for a creature that will probably die given a few more years. Mostly an indulgence on his part, then, to have something that he can fix. 


Footsteps sound behind him. He startles, turning. Radahn is halfway up to the mouth of the den, crouched considerably more than Radagon is. Behind him the sky is soft and morning-pale, framing the wild edges of his hair. 


He squints. Just how long had he been there, crouching in the dirt?


“Father?” Radahn’s confusion is blatant, not that he can be blamed for it. “Why art thou here?” 


By betrayal or design, he can’t trust himself to speak and break the silence that had crusted over like a lid. He motions towards his wolf with his head in lieu of words. Radahn takes the invitation to shuffle beside him, the degree to which he had to hunch down making the movements clumsy and uncoordinated. He braces himself against Radagon’s shoulder, palm broad and warm. 


“Wolf pups?” he asks, a grin slowly spreading on his face. Under normal circumstances it would be infectious, but as it is, Radagon cannot reciprocate his excitement. “When did this happen?” 


“Before dawn, by my estimate.” His voice sounds untuned to his ears, lost in shallow waters. “I found her just afterwards.” 


“Thou were here since then? How art thou not freezing?” 


He looks down, belatedly realizing he had left in nothing but his sleep pants. 


“I…” Goodness, he’s lost for words. Perhaps he can feign a cold later to make up for the fact that he spent several hours half-naked in the snow. “I had not realized. I left in a hurry.” 


He turns back to the pups, considerably more fluffy now that they’ve dried off some. Radahn is fixated by them as well. It’s rather charming. He’s always been good with animals. Perhaps he can take up care of his wolf after Radagon- what? Flees? Is that what he’s come to? Has his time as a man been composed of a series of surrenders? 


An inevitable surrender, or an execution date. His marriage was already of a finite duration whether Marika decided to discard Godfrey or not. Convergence is as much a curse that sits on his neck as he is the gap of a missing tooth that bleeds when touched. Tie the ends clean and discard a lifetime. 


“Why didst thou come to find me?” 


Radahn startles, turning away from the pups. His expression quickly turns somber, settling in like heavy clouds. “Messengers from Leyndell arrived first thing this morning, adamant that they see thee, but thou…” He shrugs. “Well, now I know that thou were here, but there was something of a fright when thou were nowhere to be found.”


He stiffens. News had already arrived, with the added misfortune of him not being present to play damage control. Had Marika already called him out by name, if only to antagonize him? He hadn’t even been prepared to tell Rennala. He doesn’t know how to let her down so easily. 


“And what of the news?” He steels himself, already knowing very well the answer.


“Godfrey and his warriors hath been exiled and stripped of their grace, and Leyndell is in an uproar. The title of Elden Lord, well- Queen Marika has yet to say anything on that front, yet...” He grimaces. “I did not believe she would go to such drastic measures. Surely Godfrey could not have displeased her so.”


Radagon actively tries not to show his relief. At least she had not made her threats public. It’s very considerate of her. Practically uncharacteristic. 


I love her too. My stories are thine own. All I am is thou. What is left of thee? Thou, child of-


He schools his features into something resembling shock, or the appropriate amount of fear. It doesn’t feel unnatural. “That is grave news indeed.” 


“Mother said that thou anticipated this.” 


“As much as anyone had. Much like thee, I did not expect Marika to discard of him.” 


The statement would be hilarious to her were she not skulking at the fringes of his consciousness, half-extant. Another olive branch extended to him. She loves Rennala. Loved, past tense. She must know how much this feels like torture. 


There’s a distinct lack of fear in Radahn’s voice. It’s very much like him to be so audacious in the face of uncertainty. “What shall happen next, dost thou think?” 


He sighs. At the back of the den his wolf nuzzles at her litter, blithely uncaring of the turmoil just a few feet away. “I cannot speak for such an unprecedented scenario. Perhaps Marika will quickly choose a new consort and this shall all be swept away.” 


“Thou think there will be challengers for the title?”


Radagon pinches the bridge of his nose, deliberately choosing to ignore the blatant note of hope in Radahn’s voice. “Potentially. There are many champions who wouldst gladly throw themselves upon the chance to become a Lord.” 


Silently, he begs for Radahn to not bring up the obvious; that Radagon is one of them, and perhaps the most renowned in recent years. Never has he so badly wished he could crawl into his role of defunct war hero and wear it like the skin of a man who was never anything more than himself. 


Perhaps his pleading worked. Radahn, for once in his life, is wise and stays silent. 





Marika makes herself scarce in Leyndell, very generously allowing Radagon time to prematurely mourn what he is about to slaughter. Anticipation has a dull and persistent bite; not enough to break the skin, but blatant in its presence. 


The news of Godfrey’s exile circulates fast. Despite the academy’s considerable degree of separation from Leyndell, by Rennala’s reports it’s apparently all that’s being discussed amongst the scholars. The manor is no escape either, with Radahn and Rykard suddenly developing many opinions about the matter that they voice loudly at any given opportunity. He weathers the majority of it with detachment, not that it serves as anything less than a reminder.


So he sews, mostly. The swaddling cloth is a gift, after all. It would be lax of him to leave nothing but unfinished work to mark his brief presence. Twelve spools of thread in varying shades of silver make up the array of swirling lines and stylized flowers, inaccurately rendered. Five are so delicate he has to stiffen them with beeswax to prevent premature fraying. 


Swaddling cloth, vaguely synonymous with a promise. Twelve colours to write his will. He’ll leave behind his sewing kit, like a monk going on a pilgrimage. That’s what he’ll claim it is when he goes. That or a divine premonition. 


It wouldn’t even be a lie. It must be the first. 


Rennala hates sewing anyways. He’s a shit husband. Feigned disregard might help her break it off easier. He would tear his heart out again if he could, in an exponential sequence of self-mutilation. Synonymous with promise. Synonymous with- 


A promise. An inevitable return. A surrender. Outside his window the snow blunders on, oblivious. There’s movement in the fields. From the highest vantage point of the tower Loretta is nothing more than a dutiful steel-blue shape carving lines in the snow, consistent despite everything. Caria is a well-maintained garden plot he’s settled in like an intruder, and he’ll leave much the same way. 


“Thine distress is unbecoming,” Marika says, sweeping in the gaps like a brush of falling leaves. “Art thou so willing to return so soon?” 


“Thou wouldst know.” 


“I do.” 


He lets out a breath, running his hands through his hair in substitution for physical touch. It’s better that she can’t touch him. If she did he thinks he would simply collapse. Reveal all falsehoods. He’s a contradiction of himself. 


“I can take thee now, if that is thine wish.” 


If he closes his eyes he can imagine the rustling of fabric as she kneels beside him. Enough wish fulfillment and they could be two separate people. He chuckles, half hysterical, his hair forming a thick curtain dividing him from the light. 


“I have done a poor job of living. For thee,” he adds. He is her own form of wish fulfillment, as much as she hates him. A dream of separation. A dream of completion. She hates him only because she hates herself. “I cannot exist as something incomplete.”


“I shall take thee back.” She almost sounds sympathetic. Her sympathy is a crushed flower. “Thou needest only call for me.” 


He nods, untrusting of his own voice. He’s terrified to open his eyes in the event that she might have a form. 


“Thou love her” he bites out. His voice sounds pathetic to his ears. No wonder Marika thinks of him as shit under her shoe. 


“I do.” 


This is torture. This is torture and she knows it. It was torture when she decided to love her and knew she could not be loved in return. This is torture when you loved her and knew what it meant in the end.


“We were not meant for love.” 


Child of —-, call for me, and I shall meet thee where thou break.


“I know,” she says. It almost sounds like defeat.

He sits with Rennala that night, conscious of the private funeral he’s holding. She’s going over her paperwork at a side table in a continuation of normalcy, squinting slightly in the uncanny blue cast of the magic lights. The bags under her eyes are more prominent than usual. The domesticity is a hand at his throat. 


He brought in his embroidery, if only to have something to occupy his hands with. He had tensed when she took notice, no longer trusting himself to be able to say what it was, but she simply said it was pretty. Undeserved, but convenient. He’ll gift it to her in the end, cruel as it is to leave her with a bundle of useless promises. It’s barely an attempt at reconciliation. 


Maybe she’ll burn it. It’s the best-case scenario.


“The academy is in complete disarray,” Rennala starts, mostly muttering to herself as she makes a cursory flip through her unread pages. “More than half of these are complaints of disruptive behaviour, and I’ve had the majority of the staff claim that they were unable to properly teach due to distractions.”


“The worries are not unfounded,” he manages to say. “With the title of Lord uncertain, there is bound to be some conflict.” 


“I have already stated my intention that the academy shall remain uninvolved in whatever shall come to pass. We may be allied to Leyndell, but not beholden.”


He feels like screaming. He just might. “Of course. With Godfrey gone, I imagine Liurnia shall escape their notice for the time being.” 


The needle catches on a stitch. He flips the fabric to the backside, feeling stiff. It’s not as neat as he’d like it. Reconciliation, complete with tangled threads.


Rennala sighs. “Thou’rt right, I hope, though I imagine thine role shall be rather tenuous for the time being.” 


Ambassador. Right. He was something for a short while. He forces himself to chuckle. “At least I will not have Godfrey breathing down my neck.”


“Thank goodness for that,” she says wryly. 


She falls silent as she begins writing, presumably a reply. The sound of her quill was a comfort once, before he was so overly aware that this is most likely the last time he’ll ever sit with her. Twenty-five years of eternity is a miniscule sliver, barely relevant. Twenty-five years is enough to make him drown. 


Dost thou wish for me to tell her? Marika hisses, unseen. He scowls. To his side, Rennala continues writing, rolling her eyes at some inane request she’s received. Even her small mannerisms feel like burning. 


“Radahn is quite distressed over the new developments,” she says. Radagon tenses. “His idolization of Godfrey is borderline worship, and he seems to take this all as a personal slight.” 


He can’t- make himself speak. There’s nothing to contribute to. Any more he says on the matter is a deeper grave. Debate over Marika’s intentions is too much of a taunt, all of this the spiderweb he caught himself in. 


Motion is an afterthought. He just wants to listen to her voice with the intent of crawling into it. 


She huffs. “I fear he shall see this as an opportunity for himself. I do hate to say it, but he has grown up on tales of thine conquests, which have planted quite a few too many ideas in his mind.”


He hears laughing, distant, like sound under water. His or Marika’s, not that the distinction matters in the slightest. It’ll have to end sooner or later. Perhaps Marika should be the one to tell her. Hand off the egg, swaddled neatly, a consolation prize in the form of a stillbirth. 


There’s pain, distantly, blooming in his finger with the punctuation of cold metal. He barely registers it, the laughter reaching a hysterical pitch-


“Dear?” He feels hands at his wrists, small and warm. Tangible. She’s concerned. What a pity. “What is wrong?” 


His tongue is a foreign object. He can’t trust himself to reply. What would he even say? What explanation could he possibly give? Her touch is too painful, like scalding water. Holy water for unholy objects. He can’t be held like this, on the precipice of falling apart. Her concern is too much the heavy hand of judgment.


Call my name, and I shall meet thee where thou break




There is nothing left for him. He grips her hands back and begs, soundlessly, to be taken away.





The snow is a thin wet layer underfoot, reduced well enough to walk without difficulty. The weather could almost be called pleasant to someone who had been desensitized to nicer conditions. Fitting that it would send him off like this. Radagon came to Caria an invader and he’ll leave much the same. 


He keeps pace with his wolf as they walk. She returned to her normal level of vigor considerably quick, and her pups are growing fast as well. He caught a glimpse of them earlier, in gentler conditions than what they were born into; two are mottled grey, the other two a fluffy red nearly the same shade as his hair, though dissimilar enough that he doesn’t hate it on principle. 


The cruelty of his impending abandonment registers vaguely. Gifts of untold promises are hardly a decent consolation prize for heartbreak. Ranni’s seventh birthday is in a month. She only just learned to read. 


“Thou will see her again,” Marika says, like the caress of the tepid breeze against his ear. “She is mine as much as thine own. All of them.”


Save for Rennala, whom she loved. If Radagon is cut, Marika bleeds. 


He presses his face into where the fur of his wolf grows the thickest, allowing himself to be temporarily buried in the scent of must and dirt and other indicators of life. The gentle rays of the Erd tree press through his closed eyelids, calling him home.