Entire Fiction (2006)
Like most projects Locke started, nobody took it seriously at first. It was a single scrap of parchment paper, begun one night when the former treasure hunter realized his biggest concern was remembering to pick up a pound of beef at the market tomorrow. Times had changed. Circumstances had changed. He had changed, and he doubted he was the only one. So that year's chain letter (Locke always devised ingenious ways for staying in touch; his wife wished he was half as ingenious at helping out around the house) was just for the men. It went from one country to another, circling the whole world until they'd all weighed in.
It's a lot like when you're on your way out of a house, with the sapphire necklace of Contessa Josephina just glistening in your pocket, and the owner comes home, and you have to do everything absolutely perfectly right to make sure you don't get caught, but you can't do it unless you're watching them and being careful, so basically it's like you have to dance and act together to get anything done. Right? I'm pretty bad at metaphors, but you know what I mean.
Then again, it wasn't as though he minded the dance. He was always up for a challenge, and he took a certain satisfaction in knowing the woman he had married could slice a man into pieces with a few quick strokes. It also petrified him, especially when he came home late. Oh, yeah, that was another good thing. Home. Spending the night in a new place every week was nice for a while, but it just didn't compare to a familiar hearth and a comfortable chair to sit in. Not that he wanted to imply that Celes was a submissive, weak-willed housewife---old habits died hard, and she commanded the local law enforcement while running her household with an iron fist. It didn't bother Locke, though. He knew well enough by now that he needed somebody to keep him in line.
The letter found its way to Shadow, Lord knows how, but he decided he didn't have anything to write. Anything he had wanted to say had already been said (poorly) by everyone else. Besides, he was busy.
Still, he couldn't help contemplating the subject as he knelt over the dismantled carcass, polishing the long bones with his blade. Marriage. It felt like it had been a lifetime ago, and in a way, it had. He'd chosen to become something else, and in doing so had started his life anew.
Or so he thought. In order to let go of the past, you had to make peace with it, and that was hard. Locke had done it, as had Cyan, but only after gut-wrenching trials that had called their whole souls into question. It required a lot of inner strength and moral support. Shadow didn't think he had sufficient quantities of either.
He glanced over at his work. His hands were bloodied and the whole cave stank of dead chimera, but no matter. This was a start, wasn't it? If he was so insistent that he couldn't change, why was he doing this?
Marriage, he wrote, means not running away.
Allow me to add to Locke's well-intentioned but nigh incomprehensible analogy. Marriage is something of a dance. One gives, the other takes. Steps must be taken together. It is the ultimate example of the art of compromise.
Edgar knew that. He'd married a noble young woman from Jidoor, a total stranger whose wealth and allies were a great asset to Figaro. It had been long overdue, anyway. The kingdom needed that particular sort of peace of mind that only came with a bouncing baby boy.
He hadn't ever expected anything different, no matter what he occasionally wished. How wondrous it would be, he'd imagined, to love, to truly and deeply love someone, to throw away the cares of crown and country and run to the farthest corners of the earth.
That had never been an option. He made his choice long ago on a sweltering summer night, signing over the rest of his life so that his brother would be free. He had taken the crown and the burdensome responsibility it carried, writing off his own desires for the sake of Figaro. All kings did it, and he was no exception.
Yet a part of him had held out, yearning passionately for some kind of affection he would never have. In time he assumed he and his bride would establish the relaxed, friendly love his parents had developed.
Edgar shook his head at the thought of the way he'd been. He knew he could never love one woman, so instead he loved them all.
Marriage is for suckers!
Setzer stood by his words.
Marriage is the holiest of unions, inviolable, impenetrable, a bond both between mortals and their god! It is a calling that requires great sacrifice, humility, and patience. It is a sacred vow. It is everlasting.
It was more than those empty platitudes, of course, but Cyan wasn't sure how to articulate it. He still believed those words, but what did they mean, exactly? And what would it mean to say them again? Was the first vow any less real? Was piety to the god any less pressing?
Until parted by death, the words had read. The author of the devotion had not been so kind to include what happened after that. Only now was he beginning to see. The world, thoughtless beast that it was, did not stop turning in the face of suffering. Even when it very nearly ended, it did not cease. It remained indifferent and ignorant of pain. Life had continued. Death had continued.
Most of all, love endured.
It's mostly the same except there's always another person involved in everything you do. You have to basically look at your whole life and say "well, is that good for them?"
Nighttime was the hardest. He was used to sprawling all over whatever mattress or bed pallet or rock he could find, but now he had to be conscious of another person there with him. As it turned out, she didn't appreciate the occasional elbow in the face, intentional or not.
But it was more than worth it, worth it for all the amazing things that you never even knew existed when you were alone, like climbing down Barren Falls or a meaningful look exchanged over afternoon tea. There were other benefits as well---in this case, limitless opportunities to test his strength against a horde of adopted sons.
"You have a real gift with the boys," Terra said appreciatively after watching one of these impromptu wrestling sessions. "This'll make bedtime easier now that they're all worn out."
Sabin grinned. "Does that mean I get out of fixing the roof?"
Strago read over the letter with a wry smile. Kids, every one of 'em. It reminded him of the old fable of the blind men and the elephant: they'd all recognized a certain aspect of it, but they were miles away from the big picture. Then again, they were still young. When they were his age, they'd understand a little better.
If any of them reached it, that is. Strago was still kicking four years after the defeat of Kefka, to the astonishment (and annoyance) of his friends and neighbors. Well, it was said that Mage Warriors lived longer. Was that it? Some people gossiped that he'd used an unholy combination of blue magic to keep himself alive. Others thought he was cursed and couldn't depart the world until he carried out a terrible deed.
They were all wrong. He just didn't feel like dying yet. He'd get around to it one of these days.
"How does Relm like her paintbrushes, hmm?" he asked. His granddaughter sat surrounded by a heap of birthday presents, but she only had eyes for one gift. Like every year for the past four years, it had come in an unlabeled burlap bag with no clue to its giver.
"They're incredible," she said. "Look at this...they're hand-carved. They have my name in them, see? Right there, along the sides, 'Arrowny'."
"Why, they do! A good craftsman made those, he did."
"And they're so much lighter and flexible than anything I've ever used. The bristles...they're real chimera hair! They're just perfect, and there are all the lengths I need for a whole set."
She went on, gushing about the quality and the handiwork and how she was going to paint the greatest mural ever made. Strago smiled contentedly. He'd done a pretty good job raising the little brat, he supposed. He was relieved to know that there would be somebody to take care of her once he was gone. Yes, he'd been something of a troubled young man, but he'd grown past that. In time, he'd come to take his place as her true father.
Good for him.
Marriage is for suckers, Strago agreed, stroking his wispy goatee. But all those non-suckers don't know what they're missing.