Cecil Ya Harvey.
Of course, that wasn't his real middle name or even his real last name. No one would know exactly what his mother named him upon birth, but it seemed strangely appropriate for the thought-of orphan to take his father's name as his own.
Beloved Hero, King, Husband, and Father.
It was hard to see someone's life simplified to a few words; a minor selection of roles they had merely played. They had forgotten Best Friend, Paladin, Lunarian, World's Savior, Airship Pilot, Redeemed Dark Knight. If the list had been miles long he doubted these words could completely sum up the man buried below them. But there was no changing what was written so clearly in stone.
Glancing away from the dreary slab of stone before tears could threaten, Cain Highwind looked to the newly widowed queen of Baron. Rosa cut an odd figure, wrapped in a depressing gown of black that muted every other feature -- the gold of her hair, blue of her eyes and pink of her mouth, now merely pale. She wore a tightly drawn expression, steely guarded against any reaction. He wondered if people would interpret that as a casual indifference to her husband's death or simply an attempt to get through the funeral without breaking down.
Lover, he mentally added to the list for Rosa's sake. They'd forgotten another.
He might've gone to her and shown his comfort in a simple touch to the elbow, but he figured the queen had more than enough people to publicly fuss over her. Rydia, a strange combination of green, black, and sad eyes, stood to her side, occasionally leaning in to murmur.
Cain heard nothing of the priest's words as he droned on -- something about the Crystals and redemption, words meant to comfort but meaning nothing. Cecil's death was nothing of the accidental tragedy everyone was making it up to be. They should have all known years back on the Moon that Cecil's death was inevitable. The common thread in all fairy tales and legends was that they ended after the hero saves the girl -- the kingdom -- the world.
Heroes aren't meant to grow old and die peacefully.
Instead, they were meant to be remembered at their best; young and strong, full of life. Heroes don't have receding hair lines, aching bones, a shoddy memory or any of the other tell tale signs of aging. They die young, forever immortalized.
Cecil should have died on the Moon. If the paladin had been alone in his venture to kill Zemus, would he have lived to return home? Probably not, Cain decided. It would have been a climatic battle between the two, ending with mutual death. That was the appropriate ending to a legend. Veiling the Moon in the Light of Eternity . . . and dying there himself.
But he hadn't been alone and the world had a vested interest in seeing the rest of the group return home alive and well. Rydia was the last of the Summoners -- couldn't very well kill off the entire race, hm? Edge was the only heir to a Kingdom, and as much as Cain didn't like the cocky bastard, he had that purpose to serve. Rosa, sadly enough, was incidental. While she was a powerful white mage, her role in the scheme of things mattered little past her involvement in the Crystal War.
Cain, however, was the Betrayer. The point of his continued life was to be seen and pointed out in hushed tones. "There goes Cain Highwind," they'd say, not thinking or not caring that he could hear, "He betrayed the hero, his best friend, for power, for lust, for favor of a dark lord." It wouldn't end there, oh no. Dead heroes deserved pedestals. Not only were their flaws forgotten, but their strengths and good deeds glorified -- "And for all that," they'd continue, "Cecil forgave him. Not once, but twice. How wise, benevolent, caring..."
As much as he wanted to blame Cecil (and had, in the past), this wasn't the dead man's fault. Fate created roles to be played (Hero, King, Father, Husband, Hero, Hero, Hero) and Cain had finally learned that there wasn't much to be done with the lot one drew in life.
The priest finished and the funeral moved from the gloomy scene at the graveyard to one more appropriate for visiting dignitaries to pay their respects to the dead king. Back inside the castle, in the cushioned warmth of wealth and luxury, noble strangers could offer hollow, well rehearsed words. "I'm so sorry for your loss," and, "Baron has lost a fine king -- I'm sure you'll be able to carry on his legacy," or "It'll get better with time, your highness, trust me." Which really all translated to shameless grabs to be remembered fondly as having been sympathetic.
So that one day, when they appealed to the Queen's favor, she might think, "Well, they were so kind."
They'd done this before, both Rosa and Cain. Oh, not the dirty politics of taking advantage of a woman's wounded feelings, no, but rather, the lost family member and being plied with false sympathy. They'd both been where the little prince was, faced with the reality of growing up with a dead father and a constantly mourning mother. Cain knew that was the real reason Rosa hadn't brought her young son to the funeral. She didn't want him growing up with this memory as both of them had.
Cain envied him, for that.
It didn't go unnoticed that Cain the Betrayer was in attendance. The expected whispers of speculation and gossip passed quickly from person to person and it wasn't long before Rosa was trying to catch his eye. He wasn't sure if he wanted this encounter with his best friend's widow, here and now, but his ambivalence was gone when the subtle sweep of her gaze finally caught his.
"I'm glad you came," she said with a discernible crack of her voice, which left Cain wondering how she had managed to maintain the distant formality that carried her tear-free through the day for so long. He wasn't sure whether that deserved admiration or pity.
"I'm ... sorry." There didn't seem to be an appropriate reply ('I'm glad I came too?') so all he could really offer was the overused sentiment that sounded false even to his own ears.
Words should have been easy between the two long time friends. There were no spectators here, no polite strangers to gossip and point at the queen and this dragoon traitor speaking. Safely tucked away in the royals' chambers, privacy afforded by four sturdy walls, Rosa should have been collapsing with tears and Cain should have been comforting. Instead there was only uncomfortable silence and the ghost of a dead man between them.
I know. She broke the tense quiet, her words and movement jerky as she unhooked an earring from her lobe, tossing it carelessly into the jewelry box set at the room's vanity. "Everyone's sorry. Cid's sorry, Rydia's sorry. Edge, Gilbert and Yang are too busy to bother coming but you can be sure they're probably sorry. The other earring followed the first and the delicate box slammed shut after it. I'm tired of people being sorry. Or worse, hopeful that I'll be just fine."
"I'm tired of people worrying about Baron's welfare. Of them looking at my son and seeing nothing but the title. Prince. Future king of Baron. Political ally. Impressionable little boy--"
Cain could see the prince's matching gravestone, now. Edmund Harvey. Prince, King, Son, Friend, Heir to a Legacy.
"--that can be manipulated so easily." Rosa continued, fumbling with the latch of a bracelet, distracted with the focus of her wrist, "For one day, why can't they just let him be a boy that's just lost his father? An ordinary child that doesn't understand why his father won't wake up?"
"And you, be a woman who's lost her husband?" he offered in the break of her speech.
"Just a woman," she echoed, abandoning the pretense of fussing with her jewelry. She looked genuinely surprised when she glanced back up to him as if she hadn't yet fully considered the effect her husband's death would have on her, and her alone. Had she truly been so caught up in Baron, in her son? It seemed so.
"Just a widow, now."
He wasn't at all surprised when the tears came. It was just as he had pictured it: a hand at her mouth, shoulders pulling forward in a sob, and her wet, red face. And he did just what he imagined himself doing -- stepping forward, putting an arm around her, pulling her in. He held her the way he thought Cecil might.
He'd comfort her, he told his guilty conscience, that and nothing more.
He had underestimated Cecil.
The paladin was more than just a lingering ghost, a memory the people might cling to. The whole of Baron lived and breathed him and Cain saw him everywhere. The stubborn angle of a young guard's jaw, the worried light that shaded Cid's eyes as he hurried from place to place. He heard Cecil's voice in the clash of steel from the inner bailey where young hopeful squires sparred.
If anything, Baron itself had become the ghost, its stone walls drenched in the memories of his shared childhood with Cecil. He watched Cecil and Rosa's shy courtship play out again in the barely muffled giggles of passing girls and recognized his own failed attempts at love and wooing in those same squires who stood red-faced and embarrassed in the face of the girls' rejections.
Cecil's son, however, was the most surprisingly of all. Cain assumed that seeing the young prince would difficult. Perhaps he expected a miniature Cecil to look, and act, and speak as the paladin had. But Prince Edmund was a contradiction to his role, sporting the dark gold of his mother's hair and her blue, blue eyes. His personality seemed nonexistent, merely a puppet that moved about on dangling strings, blank-faced and without a personal thought or opinion in his head.
Edmund was only five years old, though. Did Cain expect too much of the young prince? And he only saw the boy in passing; perhaps Edmund was more animated behind closed doors without an audience to watch and judge his actions.
Rosa though. Oh, Rosa. No one expected much from her, not even Cain, he'd be ashamed to admit. He thought she'd crumble to pieces in front of everyone, burst into tears as she had in that private moment after the funeral. But it was Rosa, more than even her own son and blood-heir to the dead king, who lived the paladin's legacy.
Baron will prosper, she promised the skeptical council, Baron will stand firm and proud. She will keep the kingdom stable, rebuild what was lost in the war and strengthen alliances forged on the tense battlefields. And when Cecil's son came of age he would continue in the dead king's place.
Cain wondered if it was Cecil himself whispering in Rosa's ear.
Ghost or not, Cecil was there in every word his queen spoke; in the proud lift of her chin, the hidden well of strength in her quiet voice, and in the sweep of her eyes over the gathered crowd that dared any to disagree with what she had said.
He should leave, Cain told himself. He'd come long enough to pay his respects and now it was time to disappear again. It was easier playing the part of the world's scapegoat, betrayer to a hero, in the privacy of the desolate mountains of Ordeals. A place where he didn't have to hear the passing whispers and finger pointing. At least there, the ghosts he met around every corner were at least ones he could destroy.
He didn't leave, however.
Rosa never asked him to stay, directly. But the plea was obvious enough in those sad little looks she seemed to hide from the public and save only for his sake. He wondered how any one else could miss the obvious mourning of their queen. Why was he the only one that saw the crumpled handkerchief stuffed away in her pocket, stiff with tears she'd wiped away moments before? How was it that he, alone, noticed her hands often shaking beneath the lip of the dinner table how could he not, when he heard them trembling even in her confident words?
She never asked, not with words, but he stayed anyway.
Cecil's room was like an abandoned shrine.
His desk was in a general state of chaos; an open ink well, the quill still perched inside it, a number of papers haphazardly scattered, a crumpled shirt left hanging off the back of the chair. His paladin's armor was displayed on a bust, though one gauntlet was missing, only to be found left casually on a nearby dresser.
It would have looked recently used, like it was about to be inhabited by Cecil himself again, had it not been for the very distinct layer of dust that coated everything.
At first, Cain felt unholy in this place. Then he swelled with pity when he realized exactly what Rosa had donedid she expect Cecil to come back, still, and thus had left all his things undisturbed? Did she not dare touch these artifacts, afraid that putting them away would mean admitting to herself that he was really gone?
If Rosa wanted to look past the dust and pretend that Cecil still lived in these rooms, what place was it of his, or anyone, to tell her otherwise?
He was doing this for her, Cain told himself, when he came back the next morning with a bucket of soapy water and a rag.
He didn't change much in the room. It wasn't so subtle that she wouldn't notice, as he had wiped the dust clean and swept the floor, but he moved a number of small things. He left Cecil's boots by the door, picturing with a vivid clarity how the paladin might step through and discard his footwear in that very spot. He used the quill and ink, scribbling out random nonsense onto sheets of parchment, then crumpling the papers and leaving them scattered around the desk.
Cecil's things moved. Papers changed piles, his desk grew increasingly more disorganized and then, as if in a bout of cleaning, everything was in its place and properly stacked. The ink well changed levels; dropping significantly each day, then properly filled the next.
Rosa, for her part, said nothing. There was no way she could have missed what was happening in her dead husband's study, so Cain took her silence as acceptance, appreciation even. Perhaps he imagined that her smile seemed brighter, less forced; that her voice sounded more animated; that the color in her cheeks was from a healthier glow rather than artificial makeup.
There were the moments when he felt sacrilegious in Cecil's room, but he reminded himself that he was doing it for Rosa, all for Rosa. So she could cling to her pretending for just a little while longer.
His guilt called him a liar, said that he was doing this for all the same reasons he had become Cain the Betrayer in the first place, why he had kidnapped Rosa and tried to force her love. He was jealous of Cecil, wanted to be him and have his things.
The truth was both Cain and his guilt were wrong. He wasn't doing this for Rosa's sake or even to fuel his obsessive infatuation with her. He wanted to pretend Cecil was alive just as much as Rosa did; to believe there was still time to be spent with the paladin, stories and laughs to be exchanged. If Cecil was still alive, Cain could apologize and be forgiven.
One night, she caught him at work.
He could have avoided her, of course. He knew her schedule well enough. He knew what time she left the dining hall, how long it took for her to tuck Edmund into bed and when exactly she retired to her chambers. If he hadn't wanted to be seen he would have left just moments before and the two wouldn't have run into each other.
He was seated at the desk, bent over it, his back to the door when she entered. He wanted to see the look on her face, but unsure of what her reaction might be, he didn't move; merely stiffened with awareness, his back straight, the quill still in his hands.
She didn't say anything, or move, for the longest moment. Without benefit of expression he wasn't sure if she was hesitating with the potential awkwardness of the situation or simply had nothing to say to him. His uncertainty of what to do was taken out of his hands when he heard her move again.
I swear it's a wonder that your hands aren't permanently stained. You're terribly careless when you write, she said with a casual touch to his shoulder. It didn't linger, more a brush of fingers than anything else.
He looked at his hand, barely more than a smudge, where the quill rested against his fingers. Hardly worth commenting on but he remembered Cecil, from their schooling days, who always managed to somehow get black smears over his hands, clothing, and sometimes his face, when so focused on scribbling out notes for a class. How had Cain managed to forget that small but oh-so-important detail?
This time he watched Rosa's movements from over his shoulder. She stepped away and disappeared through another door into the adjacent room.
He said nothing and neither did she, but he heard her moving about in her own nightly ritual before bed. He made a point of fussing with the papers for a few more minutes, just enough so that she'd heard, then left.
While he visited Cecil's room almost daily, his meetings with Rosa after that happened infrequently. He didn't want it to become a habit for either of them, wanted her to be surprised when she did find him in the study, engrossed in one task or another.
But it happened, all the same. He held his breath when he heard her soft footfalls outside the door and wondered how they could sound so much like Cecil's clomping boots. They rarely spoke to one another, and then it was just short bits of conversations, usually mundane details about the day.
At first, he worried over what exactly to say to her and how to say it. He wondered what Cecil would have said to his wife in this casual, almost intimate setting. It was too hard to think like that, though, to pretend he really was the paladin king. It was a strange but grand epiphany when he realized he didn't want to speak as Cecil, but rather, to him.
So in the weeks that followed, he told Rosa of things he thought Cecil might want to know about. He made a point of not looking at her, of keeping his back to the door and his hands distracted with some menial task, but they exchanged easy conversation. He talked about watching the squires practice and their progress, of a pretty red mage that blushed furiously whenever Cain looked her way. Rosa told him about little affairs, of Edmund's rapid growth and the minor but important victories she had gained in the courts.
They spoke of different things but in the end it was all was meant for Cecil's ears.
He wondered, when she went into the bedroom to get ready for bed, if she closed her eyes and pretended as hard as he did. If she heard his small movements in the other room and let herself believe it was still Cecil.
Because when he heard Rosa rummaging through drawers, opening and closing the closet, dropping her shoes with a thunk to the floor and the subtle rustle of her clothing, Cain did close his eyes. He heard Rosa, certainly, but his imagination saw Cecil instead.
He wasn't sure how long this went on. He lost track of the days, then weeks, focused only on the necessary discretion and subtlety needed for these odd meetings. There was a sense of stolen time whenever he heard Cecil's words coming from Rosa's mouth. All the guilt in the world couldn't rival that.
I should have been mad at you, Rosa said one night, unexpectedly withdrawn and quiet, In fact, I should be furious, even now.
Cain, busy with polishing the front of Cecil's breastplate, paused in his work. That wasn't the voice she used for Cecil, so were these words genuinely for him? He looked at her, something he hadn't done for a while. But? he offered as a prompt.
But, she continued, in agreement, But I'm more angry at him, for leaving.
After a long silence, Cain-as-Cain spoke again, Do you want me to stop coming here then?
No, she replied, too quickly and too forcefully, and even though she looked away he knew there were tears in her suddenly harsh voice, It's a terrible thing to want, but no, I don't want to lose him entirely. Not yet.
The next day, Rosa surprised the both of them by being there first. He wondered how long she waited for him to show up or what she would have done if he hadn't come at all. When she crossed the room to him, with no pretenses or apologies, he decided that it wasn't terribly important in the grand scheme of things, anyhow.
He should have felt guilty laying hands and mouth on his best friend's widow.
And Rosa, goddamn her, should have felt the same.
He thought of it more as mourning than sex, or even lovemaking. It was a flimsy justification for what he was doing but more than enough for him.
In the pale moonlight that filtered in through the curtain, he swore he saw the same path Cecil's own hands might've made over her white skin. When he closed his eyes all he saw were the patterns of Cecil's fingers, palms, and his lips. It was almost frantic how he tried to touch and trace all these places at once, as if doing so might give him some part of Cecil that was forever lost on the surface of Rosa.
Another woman, another time, his pride would have suffered knowing she closed her eyes and thought of someone else. But somehow it was perfectly fine because he was doing the same thing.
He saw his own furious desperation in fragile little Rosa. When she whispered that she loved him, he buried his face in her hair and murmured that, yes, he loved her too.
But they both knew whom they were talking to.
This was no great love affair, Cain told himself, over and over again. They weren't even the same people during the day. She was a queen, after all, and he was a forgiven traitor. They were never overly familiar with one another despite their known history. It would have been too easy to make excuses to see the other, to sneak afternoon interludes, but neither sought the other out.
It didn't seem right.
In the sunlit hours, she was Rosa and he was Cain, but when world turned to night they somehow managed to be a completely different person, both at the same time.
Cecil lived in the scandalous dark where two lovers refused to look each other in the eye.
He usually left before dawn. Cain hadn't known Cecil as a king, but he knew that duty typically had the paladin awake and functional before even the sun, and he imagined that being a monarch carried similar hours.
There was also the unspoken fact that he didn't want to see Rosa as she was, curled, naked and sleeping, in the daylight. He didn't let himself feel too guilty about that, as he guessed that she probably didn't want to be seen by him, either.
Some mornings, he stole time in Cecil's study, finding more comfort in Cecil's personal items than he deserved. It posed questions that Cain didn't want to answer, ones that weighted his stomach and made his head hurt. All these years of wanting and lusting after Rosa, supposedly fueled by his intense jealousy of Cecil -- had they been the product of a different wanting? Had he desired Rosa merely because she was Cecil's possession, something Cecil had laid his hands on and claimed?
Cain looked around, saw the paladin's sword, his armor; heard the soft breathing of Rosa from the other room. Had Cain been attracted only because they were all things that had been owned by him?
And if he admitted yes, what exactly did that mean?
That very same night, Cain boiled with self hate and revulsion. In Rosa's arms, he tried seeing only her face, her mouth, her eyes. He tried watching her but saw only that same ghost, with his unusual gray-white hair and otherworldly eyes of the same color.
He wanted to hate Cecil in that moment. Rosa, too, for letting this happen, for encouraging it, for having the one thing Cain had ever wanted but couldn't have. He wanted to but could only manage hating himself.
She must have known, with her woman's intuition or because he was fierce and unyielding.
This has to stop, she whispered when they were done, so quietly he almost didn't hear her. She pulled a blanket up around her, suddenly modest. She had made the distinct shift from Cecil-and-Rosa and Cecil-and-Cain, to simply Rosa and Cain.
A little late for that, he thought bitterly, but said instead, I know.
I can't pretend forever, and neither can you. She reached across the bed to clasp his hand in what was probably meant as comfort, but he jerked from her grip before she could. She flinched, and her voice hardened. I need to be a mother and queen, first. I can't be a mourning widow anymore, no matter how much it hurts.
He wondered if she was crying, there in the dark, but decided he didn't want to care.
I think it might be best if you left, Cain. For both of us. For everyone.
He said nothing as he rose from the bed and dressed himself.
I think you need to grieve more than anyone--
Being sad isn't going to change anything, Rosa, the snapped interruption was the first time he'd actually spoken her name in weeks, He's dead.
I know that, she replied calmly, but do you?
Those words, ageless in their wisdom, was the last thing Rosa ever said to him.
He was gone the next morning.
No one really missed Cain the Betrayer. The queen threw herself into her work with more zeal and energy than ever before in the absence of her longtime friend.
He returned to Mt. Ordeals. He found nothing but the usual array of undead creatures or occasionally the remains of one hapless traveler or another. There was no light at the peak of the mountain, no spirit calling him son, or marking him as a holy paladin. There was only stone, dust, and death.
He considered tossing himself off the edge of the mountain in his more melodramatic moments. But if there was one thing Cecil had taught him, it was that life assigned us roles whether we liked them or not. Cain had his part to play, that of the foil to righteous and good Cecil. If he were to die, now, who would they point out as a traitor? He couldn't do Cecil an injustice by quitting now. After all Cain had done, he owed Cecil at least that much.
He thought on Rosa, too, though more infrequently. She had been given a similar role in this game. A pawn used to boost Cecil's heroics, to be saved many times. Then, to birth his child and nurture the legacy.
Cecil was the brilliant light, with Cain and Rosa merely mirrors to reflect it.
He found himself grateful for his time with Rosa, despite his bitter leaving. He knew she had had countless moments with Cecil and that their great pretending paled in comparison to those memories. But Cain? He had no such intimate times with Cecil to recall fondly, but in Rosa he had a small glimpse of what it might've been like. During the rare moments when his guilt and self loathing subsided long enough, he let himself enjoy his imagination.
Cecil Ya Harvey.
Beloved Hero, King, Husband, and Father.
Cain mentally crossed out all the roles and simply thought: Memory.
All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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