"My royal rump is sore," Edgar moaned. Even as he complained, he flashed a pearly white smile. The entourage broke into laughter, snapping at the reins of their mounts. Chocobos, feathers of gold shining brighter in the hot desert sun, bounded across the dunes towards Castle Figaro.
"So you are the pampered princeling after all," the Captain grunted. There were gaps separating his yellow teeth. "Fair-faced and pale skinned, just as the ladies of court prefer."
"Aye," a subordinate called out from behind. "They say the other is the real man o' the two."
"He certainly has the sandy chin to prove it," Edgar smirked. Yes, he was the handsome one, but he was no spoiled child. He understood this game of theirs. It was a test to see just what kind of man Edgar was. If he took offense to the jest, he was no fellow of theirs. If you smile, laugh, and own up to these accusations, you prove yourself worthy of such company.
Were Sabin here in his stead, posterior bouncing upon the back of this bird of burden, they would find some other way to test his virtue. Perhaps they'd send his naive sibling on a fool's errand, lost in the caverns or forest while the rest had slept and handled business back at the village. Or perhaps they'd send his mount back to its home, forcing him to walk the rest of the way. Knowing Sabin, he'd do it, too. He'd die on those sands, proud, never having given in to their japes.
"The other will make a good general," the captain suddenly stated rather solemnly. It wasn't optimistic speculation, though Edgar was certain it was intended to be taken thusly. The young prince knew the truth, however.
Edgar's hand reached into his pocket, his finger caressing the two-faced coin that his father had once given him. The King's demise was near, and a successor had yet to be named.
"Let me see him!" Sabin cried, desperately lunging forward. Three soldiers held him back, one on each arm and a third grasping his midsection. Still they struggled to hold the prince back. "Let me see my father!"
Beyond the wooden door, in the king's chambers came a frightful howl, as if a banshee were sucking the soul right out of the king. For weeks they'd kept Sabin from seeing his father, but he'd seen the bed sheets being withdrawn from the room during the night — stained in bile and blood, as if everything within the king's body was draining.
"Edgar!" he could hear his father cry. "Sabin!" Each day and every night, calling for his sons, calling for his deceased wife, yet no one would permit either brother in. He called even now, the shrill and desperate cry, plunging into Sabin's ears, chilled his very soul.
"Father!" Sabin called, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Dammit, let me go!" He flung his head backwards, cracking it against the helm of the soldier behind him. His own skull rang like a pot smacked against rock, but the soldier loosened his grip and stumbled backward. He then put all his energy into shoving the soldier on his right, barreling him into the wall. The air burst from the man's lungs and washed over Sabin's face, signaling the guard's temporary incapacitation. With his free hand, Sabin gripped the arm of the last remaining soldier, lifting it high above the man's head. With two simple steps he found himself behind the last man, arm pulled back into a painful submissive hold, kicking the back of the knee to drop the sentry to the ground.
The first soldier was beginning to find his feet once again, so Sabin swiftly leapt forward, pushing the chamber doors open and sprinting towards his father. The scream had become a gurgle. It looked as if some wight was reaching out from the bed of his father, a sickly pale creature with sunken eyes.
"Father!" he cried. "I'm here!" Yet the moment he spoke the words, he doubled over, his own breath escaping him. His eyes watered and his mouth gaped. His stomach convulsed. His body refusing to gulp in any air.
"Apologies, apothecary," a deep voice bellowed, echoing within a steel helm. "I shall make sure the prince does not enter again."
"Yes," the beak-masked doctor nodded. "I cannot tolerate any further disturbances."
Sabin struggled to cry out, to get to his feet, yet he still could not speak nor breathe. The thick, muscular and hairy arms of the swordmaster slipped beneath Sabin's, lifting the young man and dragging him from the room. "Father," he managed to rasp, the wooden doors to the king's chambers closing once more.
"Can you stand?" the swordmaster queried, lifting Sabin higher to his feet. "Good," he nodded, giving the prince a strong strike upon the back. It almost caused the young man to fall back to his knees. By time he regained his balance, the swordmaster had stood in front of the door, arms crossed.
"I must be there for him," Sabin insisted through clenched teeth.
"To do what?" the swordmaster asked, helm titled to the side. "To cry with him? To hear his anguish as his body fails?" The helm shook side to side, a sigh echoing from within. "Unless you wish to end this torment, then there is no kindness left to give him."
"Silence!" Sabin cried. His hands smacked against the swordmaster's chest-plate, pushing the man back just a hair's worth. The figure did not yield. "It is not illness that plagues him, but poison!"
"You do not know that," the swordmaster refuted.
"Poison!" Sabin cried once more. "We empty our coffers for a worthless apothecary that cannot prepare a proper antidote!" His fingers curled into fists, body trembling as the tears poured from his eyes. "I must see him!"
"You will see a dead man!" the swordmaster bellowed. Sabin took a step back, such was the power of the deep, thunderous voice. "Poison or plague, your father shall not make it to the night." The air grew still, silencing the banners rippling in the stone halls of the castle. The three guards shifted uncomfortably.
"Trust me, boy," the armored man spoke wearily. "You do not wish to watch your father die."
Splinters burst from the door as Sabin's fist crashed into it, mere inches from the Swordmaster's helm. The old warrior did not flinch.
"Damn you," Sabin cried. "Can't you hear him screaming?" The young Prince pulled his hand back, blood upon his knuckles, and opened his mouth to once again fill the silence with his booming voice. He hesitated, lips quivering, nostrils flaring, staring forward into nothingness. His ears perked, but they could detect only silence.
Silence. Not the muffled screaming of his father or the dying pleas of an ailing man. Just silence.
"It is over, your highness," the Swordmaster sighed, resting a hand upon Sabin's shoulder. The young man knocked the gauntleted limb away, cursing. His vision blurred from tears welling in his eyes, Sabin spun on his heel and ran. His feet hammered upon the stone floor, echoing through the halls.
"My legs have almost forgotten how to function," Edgar laughed, gripping the reins to his mount. He stumbled forward in the sands surrounding Figaro Castle, a silhouette against the dying light of the setting sun. His muscles tingled with each step, fresh blood finally flowing. Every footfall stung, yet it was still preferable to bouncing upon the back of his bird.
"Do you smell that?" one of the men asked, nose pointed in the air.
"Aye," the captain nodded, struggling to lead his Chocobo towards the stables. "Seems we've arrived in time for supper." The men erupted in a cheer, able to eat something aside from stale bread or salted jerky for a change. Edgar's own nose detected a roast, a favorite of his. A smile drew across his face. It would be good to sit with his brother again, to speak honestly with someone for a change. He had given nothing but assurances to the people of South Figaro, comforting them, showing them that if the king does indeed pass on, they'll still be in good hands.
Edgar handed the reins of his Chocobo to a stable boy, tossing a coin to the young lad for his troubles. He didn't seem all too delighted by the gesture, so different from the many workers and peasants of the village. A single flash of coin was enough to spread a grin across a barman's face or for the eyes of a chimney sweep to shine like freshly polished mail. Yet it was so common, so expected here: almost a ritual that has been repeated so often that it has lost all meaning.
He withdrew his father's coin from his pocket, spinning it between his fingers, examining the face upon each side. He always liked to think each side represented one of the brothers, and even pondered if the king had granted any such gift upon Sabin.
The prince slipped the coin back into his pocket as he pushed open the side door to the castle. He sighed as he examined the stairwell leading up. Even at home, he knew no rest. Gripping the railing tightly, he lifted one leg after another, climbing each step as if he were scaling his way up a mountain.
"A bath," he sighed. "All of Figaro for a bath."
He paused as he reached the top of the stairwell. Echoes bounced across the stone walls of the castle. There was a call of sorts, beckoning for someone, ringing through the hallways. He stepped forward, head cocked, ear listening to make out the words. Before he could discern any meaning, a door slammed open. Edgar nearly leapt from his skin in fright, until his eyes were able to fix on the visage of his brother lunging forth.
"Sabin?" Edgar's brow furrowed. "What's going on?" Yet his sibling said nothing, barreling straight past and up the stairs towards the next floor. Edgar watched after him, mouth agape.
"It's your father," a kind voice said. Edgar turned. An old matron was before him, tears welling in her eyes. Her fingers worked nervously over her hands, as if craving knitting needles. "Your father ..." she began once more, but she need not finish. Edgar nodded in understanding.
The matron opened her mouth to speak, momentarily silenced as Edgar laid his hand upon her shoulder. He gave her a weak smile, his eyes shining with the threat of tears.
"Thank you for notifying me," he said before sprinting up the stairway.
Sabin's fist pressed to his forehead as he sat upon the step of the castle. The air was cool, now, and the pale moon lit the stone and mortar of Figaro for him to see. It was silent, but news spreading within the walls of his father's death, spoken in hushed whispers.
His jaw clenched further, tired from keeping his teeth grit.
"No," he sobbed quietly, another tear streaming along his stubbled cheek. "Father."
He looked over his shoulder as the doors to the throne room creaked open behind him, but it was only his brother, Edgar, that emerged. The regal figure was now slumped, the weight of sadness heavy upon his shoulders. Even he could not bring himself to smile on this night.
Sabin could only turn away.
"Oh, Edgar," he whimpered. "Our father, he's ..." Sabin dropped his face into his hands, his shoulders quaking with each sob.
Behind him, Edgar flinched. Sabin did not cry often, but he was also a young man gripped easily by his emotions. If he rarely cried, it was because he was rarely sad. To see his often jovial, energetic brother reduced to such a form shattered Edgar's already broken heart further. His hand reached for his breast, as if seeking to clutch the beating muscle within his chest and hold it together.
"They told me," he finally spoke, voice quivering. He swallowed. "They told me that Dad didn't make it." He walked forward, his pace slow and steps heavy, stopping beside the hunched form of his brother. He rested his hand upon Sabin's head, as their mother once would do to provide comfort. He stood in silence, mind churning like a storm, yearning to provide words — any words — that would alleviate the pain.
"Edgar!" a woman's voice cried. He turned back to see the matron in the doorway to the throne room. She grasped a shawl about her shoulders, hugging it tightly to herself as she stepped into the night. "I've been looking everywhere for you." As she approached, Edgar could see the shine of tears still damp upon her wrinkled cheeks. In the light of the full moon, he could see her own eyes had gone red from sobbing.
"Before he passed," she said, breathing steadily, searching for the words to speak, "your father said that he ..." She paused, looking down at Sabin. His shoulders stopped trembling. He was still, silent. Edgar looked down at his form with unease. "Your father said that he entrusted the both of you with his kingdom."
Edgar was almost flung back as Sabin stood upright, a mighty bellow bursting from his lungs. Sabin spun on the matron, hatred within his gaze. He lunged, hand grasping the shawl. The elderly woman started in horror, trying to pull away. Edgar looked on in shock, a hand running through his hair.
"Sycophants!" Sabin cried, shaking at the shawl. "Are those tears even real? Your king just died!'
"Sabin!" Edgar cried, stepping between them. He shoved his brother back.
Sabin released the matron from his grasp. He stepped away, hands running through his spiked hair, eyes and jaw clenched tight.
"You all make me sick!" he exclaimed to the air. The matron held her shawl around her, as if to ward away whatever demon possessed Sabin. "Has the empire poisoned your thoughts as they poisoned our father?"
"Sabin!" Edgar cried, holding a hand up towards his brother. "Calm yourself, brother!" These were not the words to be speaking out loud in the open at night. He certainly had his brother's suspicions — they all did — but it was not wise to speak of such things where anyone could hear.
"Our father is dead," Sabin yelled, "and all anyone can do is decide who gets the crown before he's even gone cold!"
"That's enough!" Edgar lunged forward and grasped Sabin's arms. His brother's thick, burly limbs were tense, ready to throw a punch at someone, something, anything. Yet under Edgar's penetrating gaze, they softened. Sabin began to break down again. He pulled Edgar in for an embrace, gripping him tightly as he let out a pained howl, muffled by his brother's shoulder.
"Nobody cared when our mother died, either," Sabin whimpered softly. Edgar's fingers clutched onto Sabin, though more of pity than understanding. Not everyone was, or could afford to be, so free with their emotions.
"Now that's just not true!" the matron objected. Edgar could hear the offense in the old woman's voice, but nonetheless he sighed. He could already feel Sabin tense once more, the fires stoked once again. Edgar grunted as his brother pushed him back and stepped towards the old woman, cowering within the protection of her shawl once more.
"You're just as bad as any of them!" Sabin cried, finger pointed at her accusingly. His jaw clenched once more. A vein bulged in his neck as his body shook with rage. Sabin's hands gripped into fists as he looked to the night sky and bellowed.
"Damn you, Empire!" he cried. "Murderers! Schemers! I'll not let this rest!" Sabin turned to Edgar, a look of vengeful purpose in his eyes. He reached his hand out, as if to lead Edgar to a path of darkness. "We won't let this rest."
There was a fire in Sabin's eyes, most certainly, but it soon began to dwindle as his brother looked back. Edgar breathed deep and sighed. He could not make this vow with Sabin, not now at least. His confession was written upon his face, etched into his furrowed brow, eyes wet with tears, and the quiver of his lip.
Sabin's fist closed as he stepped away from his brother, glancing between the matron and Edgar. With a final huff, he lunged past, sprinting towards the castle interior. Edgar sighed, allowing his shoulders to slump once more as he watched his brother flee towards solitude.
He climbed the stone steps to follow, resting his hand upon the matron's shoulder.
"I am sorry for his behavior," he said quietly. He then looked into the matron's eyes, his gaze stern. "Please, leave us be for the time being." Edgar continued onward, following his brother's steps into the throne room. He would likely make for the rooftop of the tallest tower, a place their father used to take them to gaze upon the stars on nights such as this. It was not a climb that Edgar was feeling up to, but one he had to make, just the same.
The prince climbed the ladder towards the top of the tower, noting the moonlight streaming in through the trapdoor. Hoisting himself up the ladder and through the door, he saw his brother, arms resting on the merlon of the tower's stone wall. Sabin did not turn to see who had joined him. He sighed as he felt his brother prince's hand upon his shoulder.
After several moments of silence, Sabin finally spoke. "We should leave this place." Edgar's fingers dug lightly into Sabin's shoulder. He had been afraid of hearing such words. Sabin had no taste for politics. He would have made a better peasant, or soldier. He would rather give up his life for the greater good than give up his dreams or values.
Sabin straightened up, a renewed vigor pumping through his veins, the faintest trace of a smile upon his lips. "Yes, we can leave," he said as he looked up into the stars in the sky. "We can run free of politics and schemes, emperors and their dastardly plots and oppression." He stretched his arms out along the stonework of the wall, fingers gripping eagerly. Already his mind was racing with thoughts of the two brothers riding chocobos along the countryside as they sought their next adventure. They'd go from town to town, Sabin distracting the men with boasts of grand strength and arm wrestling contests whilst Edgar would woo the women. The visions danced within his mind, and though Edgar could not see what Sabin did, he could read the joy of such a prospect upon his skyward gaze.
"Freedom, is it?" Edgar smiled, breathing deep the cool night air of the desert. He reached a hand into one of his pockets, caressing the dual faces of a much older king of Figaro than their father. Edgar chuckled to himself.
"Dad entrusted his kingdom to us," Edgar said softly. He turned to look at Sabin, and saw the light in his eyes immediately diminish. "It needs one of us upon the throne to carry on his legacy, and his father's before him."
Sabin frowned as he turned towards his brother, his eyes expressing his concession to this cruel fact. Edgar had finally gotten through to him, to see things in a new light. It felt cruel and under-handed to appeal to him by using their father, but it was also the truth.
Edgar withdrew the coin from his pocket, careful to only show Sabin one side. "Dad gave me this," he said, a chuckle escaping his lips. "It was some time ago, now." He gazed at his side of the coin, at the face of his ancestor looking into the distance, gleaming brightly under the eye of the moon. Edgar nodded.
"Right, then, a coin toss." He stepped back, flourishing his arms to the side, a bright smile upon his face. "Whoever wins gets to choose their own destiny, even if it means leaving the other to Figaro." Sabin looked at Edgar, calm, complacent, but no sign of the happiness that Edgar was expressing. There was no choice in this matter, no luck or fortune. There was only one way this could end.
"Heads," Edgar said with a grin, posing dramatically, as if he were about to start fencing with the coin, "and you win. Tails, I win." Sabin's eyes looked down upon the coin, then back up towards Edgar. His mouth opened to speak, but Edgar shook his head. "No regrets," he said sternly, "and no hard feelings. Alright?" Sabin's gaze lowered to the ground.
"Right, then," Edgar said with forced excitement. "Here we go!"
With a single flick, the coin spun in the air, a shadow before the moon.
Farewell, brother, Edgar thought to himself.