Hopeful Beginnings

‣‣‣ 1988 words ( read)

(Fire Emblem Engage spoilers up to Chapter 12.) Alfred discovers some plans in his sister's desk.

Author's note: That last drabble ended on kind of a downer note, so let's warm things up a bit.

Spoilers for Fire Emblem Engage up to the end of Chapter 12. I'm having big feelings as I go through this playthrough and I'm writing them all out on this page babey.

(This includes the cast as it stands in my playthrough right now - including the notable death from the previous drabble.)

Okay, but really, if you continue reading and get spoiled it's your own fault.

Ready? Let's go.

It had been two weeks since Céline's funeral service, and after returning to the Somniel from the Oasis Village, Alfred found himself amid a mess of memories. Someone had to sort through Céline's belongings to ensure that they were properly handled. Most would be returned to Firene, to be displayed at her memorial or kept in the royal treasury. Some he would keep as mementos of her. And some... some he didn't know what to do with. He desperately wished she were here to ask.

He lifted a framed picture of Céline and himself, the two of them as gangly teenagers in beautiful ceremonial dress at some palace event or another, and brushed a finger over the image's cheek. Her smile was so beautiful, caught in the middle of some mischief with him... he couldn't remember what. And she would never be able to tell him. That lump in his throat was returning again, and his eyes felt hot.

No matter how fervently he wished for her to return, though, she would not come back. He gently placed the frame in the pile he would keep, but set it face down. He hated that his memories of her so swiftly turned to regrets now. She deserved to be remembered for the joy she brought him and the others, not for the sorrow they felt over her death.

Next was the desk drawer. Inside, at the top, a small stack of papers was in a folder marked "Future Plans" in graphite in a careful but childish hand. Not Céline's, not then and not when she was a child.

He lifted it out, opening it up and flipping through. Ah. Little Anna's much-talked-about Firenese branch... The contents were more childish writing with carefully drawn diagrams for display items, storage...

... and alongside them, additional comments and notes written in ink in Céline's flowing hand. "Discuss with Florra Town craftsmen?" he read aloud, a soft smile in his voice. "Space for books here? You were quite enamored with this idea, were you not?"

Page after page, all marked up like this. Some duplicated things that had been discussed on earlier pages, but with fresh changes. This wasn't something Anna had given Céline that Céline had kept. This was a living record of their discussions. Hours and hours of work were recorded here, dreaming of the perfect shopper's paradise.

"A pity that she never got the chance to see it brought to fruition," Alfred mused, gently closing the folder and setting it in the pile to be returned to Firene.

He was sorting through the rest of the papers in the desk when a thought struck him. He returned to the folder, picking it up again. "... But that need not mean it cannot be..."

Anna was right where Alfred would expect to find her - bent over her pile of boxes and bags of doodads and goodies, rummaging through it.

"Hello, Anna," Alfred said with a courteous bow.

"Haha, we're friends, silly! You don't have to be so formal!" Anna said, her head popping out of the box. "You can call me Lady Anna, it's okay."

Alfred was caught completely off guard by this. Both the absurdity of her correction and the fact that she already considered them friends. He chuckled despite himself. "Very well, then, Lady Anna. My apologies for the indiscretion."

"I forgive you," Anna said, hands on her hips and a bright smile on her face. "What can I get for you?"

He presented the folder to her, holding it out in both hands. "Err... actually, I have something for you. I found this while going through my sister's belongings."

"Oh." Anna's smile faded considerably, her shoulders slumping. "Right... You can just leave it over there, I guess. Thanks and all." She turned around to return to whatever it was she was doing to that box.

"Ah, but first... I was hoping to discuss these with you, if it pleases you, Lady Anna. After all, as the crown prince of Firene, I would have the authority to make these plans come to life." Alfred said. He opened the folder, flipping through the papers idly. "It seems you and my sister worked quite hard on these. I would hate for them to go to waste."

Anna turned around, cautiously interested. "You want to help me make my store?"

"Of course!" Alfred said, closing the folder again and presenting it to Anna once more. "Naturally, our resources are somewhat limited while we're at war... but I think it would be a good thing for Firene's economy to have your sales and marketing genius at work in its borders. Perhaps even selling Firenese goods at your other branches?"

Anna took the folder from him this time, looking down at the title she'd written for a long while. Finally, she asked, "You mean it?"

"As crown prince of Firene, you have my solemn vow," Alfred assured her, kneeling and pressing his fist to his breast.

"Okay," Anna said, quickly warming up again. "What do we do first?"

"First, I think we should get your base of operations on the Somniel looking good," Alfred said, looking around at the mess of intermingled personal possessions and items for sale laid out on a rug that constituted Anna's little store. "Let's make you a proper storehouse, and maybe a nice little shop with a counter and some shelves..."

"Yeah! Ummm, hold on, I drew a sketch!" This raised Anna's enthusiasm back to its previous peak, and she eagerly flipped through the papers. "Can you carry heavy stuff? And nail boards and all that stuff?"

"Can't you tell from my muscles?" Alfred found himself laughing genuinely, full-throatedly, for the first time since Céline's death. "I was born to carry heavy stuff."

Anna nodded to herself, putting a finger to her chin in thought. "Ummm... I don't have a lot of money right now, but I can pay you in food. I'm a really good cook! I've been practicing a lot since I had to feed myself all the time."

"Food sounds wonderful," Alfred agreed, still smiling. "I always said that a home-cooked meal tastes even better if you weren't the one to have cooked it."

Anna stuck out her hand. "Then you got a deal. Let's shake on it."

"Hey, Prince Alfred, new training regimen?" Etie asked, catching up with the prince as he carried stacks of rough-cut planks to the prospective shop location. "We're partners, you gotta keep me in the loop on these things!"

"Oh, just a little project I'm putting together for Anna - sorry, Lady Anna," Alfred replied, chuckling. "We're going to be making the first Anna's Emporium right here in the Somniel! Would you like to help out? I warn you, though - you'll have to carry some heavy stuff." He threw her a playful wink.

Etie was surprised but not disappointed to find that Alfred was in such high spirits - he'd been moping around the Somniel since Céline died. "Hey, maybe this will finally be the extra push I need to get that muscle I've been looking for."

"Let me check with the project lead," Alfred said, setting down the planks. "Lady Anna! What do you think of hiring a second carpenter to help speed up the construction? She'll expect her pay in mostly meat, you know."

"Hmm..." Anna set down her surveying tools and looked over Etie thoughtfully. "Well... If you trust her, I trust her!"

"What are we trusting?" Alear asked, come to see what all the noise was about.

"Alfred and Etie are gonna build the first Anna's Emporium here on the Somniel," Anna said. "But I dunno if Etie is a good worker. She's kinda small... What about that Boucheron guy?"

"Ah! Lovely," Alear said, glancing over the pile of construction materials. "So that's what you were asking me about, Alfred. I think that's wonderful!"

"I had to make sure to get the proper construction permits," Alfred assured Anna.

Etie huffed in annoyance, her face screwing up into a determined pout. "Don't underestimate me just because my muscles aren't as big as his yet! I work out ten times harder than he does. I'll carry plenty. But that meat had better be good!"

"Did... did someone call for me?" Boucheron asked, sniffling and dabbing at his eyes. "I'm sorry, I was just so caught up in this story..."

"A competition it is," Etie declared. "Come on, Boucheron, let's see who can carry more between you and me!"

"I really just want to get back to my-"

"And add me to the mix as well!" Alfred agreed. "With three, the work will go much faster! Come along, Boucheron!"

Alear laughed, patting Boucheron on the back. "Sounds like you've been conscripted. Here - a bookmark for you, since I know Alfred and Etie are always interrupting your reading."

"Thank you, Divine One." Boucheron gratefully accepted the bookmark and tucked it into his book, letting it close. "We're going to have to go for a long fishing trip by the end of the day today, I think..."

"I better go get cooking!" Anna flounced away, bouncing toward the cafe. "All these workers are gonna want their pay for dinner!"

By the end of the day, though it was rough and unfinished, Anna's Emporium had taken shape. Boucheron and Etie had returned to reading and exercising, so it was just Alfred and Anna left looking over their handiwork in the light of the rising moon, the leftovers of Anna's salmon potato gratin in a lunchbox between them.

"You're a pretty nice guy, too," Anna said, smiling. "Thanks."

Alfred sat beside Anna. "That's pretty high praise, you know."

"Consider that an extra bonus gift for our deal," Anna said, peeking into the lunchbox and taking another forkful. She glanced over at Alfred. "Your shirt's ripped," she said around her mouthful of food, pointing at a torn sleeve.

"Ah - that's what I get for doing manual labor in my full regalia," Alfred chuckled. "I'll have to ask-" He felt a pang of sorrow ripping through his heart. ...Céline. But I can't. Because she's gone.

"Me?" Anna suggested, unaware of his thoughts. She swallowed the salmon and potatoes, getting to her feet. "I'll fix it for you as a freebie." Before Alfred could answer, Anna was digging in one of her bags, coming out with a small sewing kit.

"You can sew, too?" Alfred asked, holding out the ripped sleeve.

Anna nodded. "A good merchant knows how to save money and still look good!" She caught her tongue between her lips, beginning to stitch the tear closed.

"This is very sweet of you, Lady Anna," Alfred said distractedly.

"... There." Anna looked up at him, beaming. "Looks good as new!"

And indeed it did. And seeing Anna smile felt good, too. Good enough to chase away the grief, for at least another moment.

"Thank you," Alfred said gently. "I'm glad we're in business together."

"Me too," Anna agreed, settling back into a sitting position next to him. "And when I'm real famous and there's Anna's Emporiums everywhere... maybe my family will walk into one and ask for me!"

Alfred placed an arm around the girl's shoulders reassuringly, smiling hopefully. "It might happen. And if it doesn't? I'll do everything I can as King to help you find them."

"Mm... that sounds nice." Anna leaned into the embrace drowsily, finding the full extent of her exhaustion suddenly weighing heavily on her now that she was resting. Now that she was being held, even briefly.

"I suspect we should be getting to bed," Alfred chuckled. "It was quite the full day of work... And I do love to watch the sun rise."

Anna sighed, not wanting to end this moment of comfort. "Mmm... In a bit..."

A bit... didn't seem too long. Alfred would stay with her until then. Something about Anna's presence felt like it kept Céline alive in his heart...