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Dead Men Tell No Tales

Chapter Text

Gulls called before the sun had yet fully risen, the waves crashing against the shore constant and echoing throughout the port town in Niflheim. It was a haven for all those seeking passage to or from Niflheim, a rather anomalous country in its terrain. While the port towns were veritable paradises, places where most people flocked to trade their wares to be transported via trade routes to other countries, the rest of the country was either arid desert or a frozen wasteland. As such, unless citizens of Niflheim worked in technology facilities in the frozen tundras of the country, most citizens lived within the port towns or within the capital city Gralea.

Due to the demand for order and military strength in such port towns, the governors of the towns were typically lords and ladies close to the ruler of Niflheim and its territories, King Adlercapt. This town was no different, and its current governor was Lord Besithia, a ruthless man and brilliant scientist close to both the King and his most loyal Lord and subject, Lord Ardyn. He ran the town well, cultivating peace for the citizens, creating a booming and industrious trade in magic and technology, and was a commanding presence for the military occupation in the town of Calcano.

The town itself was vast and sprawling, with streets of cobblestone and houses with thatched roofs. Calcano was divided into three districts. There was the trade district closest to the docks, where all the inns, taverns, and businesses resided. Several whore houses in the guise of inns and taverns ran lucrative business there, despite Lord Besithia’s personal mission to shut them down. Men and women came via ship and all had to pass through the trade district, but the traders and merchants kept to that area until they set sail for their trade routes to sell their wares.

Further back from the trade district was a residential district for those who were not the wealthy, the elite, or the rulers of the town. This was where all the working citizens lived, most of them prosperous but not wealthy, living in wooden houses with thatched roofs that were reinforced for any squalls coming from the sea.

Beyond that, further inland but still very close to the shore, was the area where the rich and wealthy lived. These structures were sturdier, made of marble and granite, and none was quite so impressive as the governor’s mansion. It was a two story structure with a balcony running the length of the entire second floor, practical for soldiers to defend but beautiful for the residents to admire the view. The front entrance had ornate columns, and a multitude of windows sat in neat rows on the top and bottom floor.

It sat on a small hilltop overlooking Calcano, a strategic move so the governor could easily see the town below. With a sprawling lawn, private stables, and a host of staff to keep the mansion well maintained, it was the crowning jewel of Calcano and a symbol that the governor was always watching, ready to protect the citizens from pirates and any other threat.

The military occupation of Calcano wasn’t just a display of power from King Aldercapt. It was also a necessity. Pirates plagued the seas of Eos, and port towns like Calcano were particularly vulnerable. Having a firm hand to rule the town was necessary to ward off any pirates who might be tempted to pillage or plunder, and the military occupation ensured that citizens felt safe. Military outposts lined the shores, the soldiers concentrated in the trade district to monitor and arrest any suspected pirate. It kept the townspeople safe, and it was a common occurrence throughout Niflheim.

Piracy was the largest threat to every country in Eos. The world was still being developed, and while Niflheim was a leader in technology, advancements were still being made. They kept the technological facilities within the frozen tundras of Niflheim to ward off pirates or other ne’er-do-wells who would seek to steal the technology from the Crown. Niflheim was the first to introduce the automatic revolver, a much more compact and comparable weapon compared to the swords and muskets and even the standard revolver. Only the wealthy could afford the newer revolvers, but there was a growing demand for such technology to fight the pirate threat.

With pirates raiding and pillaging port towns like Calcano regularly, overtaking trade ships at sea, and even putting military ships to shame, there was a growing need for countries to enter into peace treaties to fight the pirate threat. Niflheim and Lucis were the strongest countries with the most expansive militaries and they had entered into an uneasy peace despite the imperialistic nature of Niflheim. While King Aldercapt had acquired several territories, including Tenebrae, the magic of Lucis was necessary to ensure that the pirate threat could be stopped once and for all.

There was a growing need for more cooperation between militaries rather than just an uneasy peace as the pirate threat grew larger by the day. The King and Queen of Tenebrae, King Aldercapt, and King Regis were all in agreement that a treatise was necessary to aggressively stop the rising pirate invasion. Due to the location of Calcano, the strong military presence, and the peace that was substantially cultivated there, it was the ideal location for a peace summit between the countries. While there was considerable worry that it was an attempt to attack and subdue the King of Lucis, there was a need for a treatise more than there was a risk of attack. King Aldercapt agreed to having Lucian military accompanying the King and his son to the summit, giving them all some manner of relief.

While Niflheim was particularly adept at technology, Lucis used magic with far more expertise than any other country. Many attributed it to the strength of the line of Lucis, and it was no secret that the King and the prince had magic that was inaccessible to others. Many of the leading military commanders were trained in potion making, creating strong magics that were particularly good at warding off pirates. However, whenever a military ship fell to piracy, the potions were lost and the magic was passed to those who sought to use it for their own gain. It was much the same with the technology of Niflheim, and both countries had found pirates storing potions and weapons that were dangerous in even the best of hands.

While the treatise would assure the countries working together, it also meant that Calcano was about to be bombarded by many lords and ladies and royalty of renown. That was putting Lord Besithia on edge, insisting on perfection to ensure the Kings and Queens found the town to their liking, particularly because most of them would be staying within the vast governor’s mansion. There was much to be done, and the staff was working diligently to prepare the welcome feast, the negotiation rooms, and the bedrooms to Lord Besithia’s liking. Even before the sun had yet to come up, the staff was busy with preparations.

Within the mansion was a room overlooking the front lawn and the town where Lord Besithia’s son, Prompto, was waking up for the day. The room was large, befitting that of a lord’s son, the white walls with gold trim illuminated by the rising sun that drifted through the balcony doors that he kept open. There was a large canopy bed with red curtains gently billowing in the sea breeze coming through the balcony, a nightstand next to the bed, and a large wardrobe containing the finery Prompto was required to wear. There was a large bathtub and wash basin in the adjoining room, and an easel with paints by the balcony doors.

Prompto shifted in bed, stretching his arms and legs like a cat slowly waking up for the day. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to get up, and at one point he wrapped the down feather comforter tighter around him. But the day was beginning, and he had to get dressed and ready so that he could be the presence of a governor’s son that it was demanded he be. He didn’t feel adequate for the task, and his father was quick to remind him of all the ways that he was a disappointment, but he had to fulfill his role and duty nevertheless.

It didn’t take long before a butler and a maid came into the room, drawing back the curtains on his bed and on the balcony doors, letting the sunlight filter into the room fully as it rose for the day. Prompto blinked rapidly, trying to adjust his clear blue eyes to the sunlight, as he sat up and let out a reticent sigh. There was no point in fighting the events that were about to unfold, and Prompto knew that the more he played the part of the quiet governor’s son throughout the treatise negotiations, the better off he would be.

“Good morning, young sir,” the maid said with a smile as Prompto groggily got out of bed. She was dressed in the maid’s uniform, a long dark red dress, bonnet, and apron. “I hope you had a restful sleep.”

“Thank you,” Prompto replied noncommittally.

He was wearing a long white nightshirt with long sleeves, and his blond hair was in disarray from the tossing and turning he did at night. The maid and butler attending him were always up for the challenge of trying to get his hair into some order, and they usually failed. Thanks to the sunny weather in Calcano, his freckles were more apparent than when they had previously lived in the city, and many asserted that those were the result of his mother’s influence. He only knew her through the painting hanging in the mansion and through the occasional conversation his father had with him about her.

The butler, dressed in a dark red suit typical of the butler staff, assisted the maid with getting him ready for the day. Prompto spent the first part of his morning in a hot bath they prepared, their attempts to wash his hair and put it in some order futile. He always ended up with his hair sticking up on one side, like he had been licked by a chocobo. His father hated it, but hating it wasn’t going to correct the issue. Today they struggled even harder since it was a special occasion. Eventually, as always, they gave up.

They dressed Prompto in particularly fine attire for the day, an outfit that Prompto hated wearing since he always felt like he was suffocating. He wore white britches down to his shins with white stockings and red shoes with gold trim. His white undershirt had ruffled sleeves with gold lace and a ruffled collar that went over his white and gold vest. A heavy jacket of white and gold with red lapels was fitted on top of his shirt, and he looked every bit the young lord that his father wanted him to be. It was all too stuffy.

“You look so handsome, my lord,” the maid said with a pleased smile. “I am sure Lord Besithia will be impressed. Are you looking forward to meeting the princes and princesses of Eos?”

“Yes,” Prompto lied.

The truth was if his father had requested him to stay in his room the entire time then he would have happily done so. But that wasn’t befitting the governor, and he had to make his presence known, even if that just meant standing silently behind his father. His father wanted him to get close to the princes and princesses coming to Calcano if possible, but he didn’t really have much of a desire to do try and make political allies.

His father was constantly trying to make sure Prompto was advertised as a suitable bachelor, ready for marriage to someone befitting his stature or better, but Prompto had resisted all notions of a political marriage. It wasn’t as if he had a choice, but he just hoped that his father had the wherewithal to pair him with someone who was at least kind. Right now Lord Besithia was hoping to strengthen the ties between Niflheim and Lucis, likely at King Aldercapt’s request. Prompto knew his father was hoping that this would also serve as a means for a marriage contract between houses.

Prompto wasn’t the strong and masculine type or the sophisticated and elegant type that many women sought, though. When he was born he struggled to breathe and was sickly as a child, eventually getting stronger throughout his childhood. The effects of his illness as a child had made him thin, and many men and women alike commented on how he had soft and beautiful features, not the strong and masculine features that he should have as a man. Occasionally he was even whistled and hollered at by soldiers, some of them going so far as to say that he should have been born a woman.

It didn’t help that Prompto wasn’t particularly good at doing all the typical masculine things that young gentlemen of a marrying age were good at. He was artistic instead of strong, quiet and demure instead of loud and boisterous. He preferred solitude and often would ride his chocobo along the shore or to the meadows beyond the mansion to find peace outside of the demands of society. Prompto painted and frequently sold his paintings to Vyv Dorden, a merchant who would then barter those off to other merchants to be sold across Eos. He never knew how well his paintings sold, and he didn’t bother to check or ask, preferring to sell them under the moniker of Argentum.

The only thing that Prompto exceled at that pleased his father was his marksmanship. While he wasn’t particularly good at using a sword and always struggled with fencing, using a gun was entirely different. The first time he held a revolver it was an instant connection. He felt the cool metal in his hands, the feeling natural as he held it and aimed, and his father had been both shocked and impressed by his natural ability to hit the bullseye every time. As such, his father ultimately gifted him two revolvers, highly decorated with ornate gold filigree, capable of rapid fire. He didn’t know why he needed them since he lived a charmed life, but he preferred them on his hips rather than the sword that most gentlemen had instead. It was the only thing he had that made other gentlemen envious of his position.

“Lord Besithia is waiting for you to join him for breakfast,” the butler explained. “The envoys should be arriving later today. I suggest you prepare yourself for the multitude of people arriving.”

“Thank you,” Prompto replied. The butler was used to Prompto’s introverted demeanor, having been on their staff since they moved to Calcano when Prompto was still a child. He knew that being around so many people would be overwhelming, and there would be little opportunity for a reprieve. If he was lucky, he would be able to escape for a chocobo ride or two, but he wasn’t holding out much hope.

Prompto made his way out of his room and down the long hall of white marble decorated with red carpet and portraits and paintings deemed worthy to hang in the governor’s mansion. Prompto was always quietly gleeful when he saw that one of his paintings of Calcano was proudly displayed in the main hall, his father entirely unaware that he ended up buying his son’s painting from Vyv. It was the only time that his father had expressed any interest in his work as an artist, and he didn’t even know it was him.

“Good morning,” Prompto said stiffly as he stepped into the large dining room that more adequately fitted the envoys set to arrive rather than just the two of them.

His father was sitting at the end of the long mahogany table, drinking coffee and reviewing manifests and other work while he ate a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and bread. The walls were painted with gold and red, the colors of Niflheim always proudly displayed within the mansion. Lord Besithia had aged gracefully, his features handsome and nearly identical to Prompto’s. His hair was lighter, more of a platinum blond than gold, and his features sharper, more dignified and masculine compared to Prompto. He didn’t have any freckles, that was directly from Prompto’s mother, and he kept his tall frame fit and lithe, ready for any action or battle that may ensue. His service in the military was known throughout Eos, and he had earned his reputation through the blood of Niflheim's enemies.

“Good morning, my son,” Lord Besithia said as Prompto approached him. Prompto gave a stiff bow, his father never one to skip on ceremony, waiting for permission to sit. “You may join me.”

Prompto sat at the table and a servant immediately brought out a plate of breakfast for him with fresh hot coffee. While his father didn’t particularly acknowledge the staff unless he was asking for something, Prompto always expressed his gratitude for their assistance. His father said that was a trait he inherited from his mother, that he had her kind and soft heart more than his ruthless constitution. While his father was never outright mean or aggressive towards him, his disappointment was evident for all those who dared to pay attention.

“I see they failed with your hair again,” his father commented as he looked at him. “Just like your mother. Her hair was like golden wheat, but Six forbid if she could ever get it under control.”

“They gave it a considerable effort,” Prompto offered. “Perhaps we can ask about any pomades that the Lucians may have to help.”

“I doubt their magic could tame even your hair.” His father smiled a bit at that, clearly lost in the memory of Prompto’s mother.

Prompto lost his mother at an early age and didn’t know her beyond what his father said about her. From what Prompto understood, she was Lord Besithia’s exact opposite. She was overly kind, giving, and nurturing, a lady of Niflheim that was promised to a lord of higher stature than Prompto’s father. But they had met and fallen in love and when Lord Besithia beseeched her father for her hand in marriage, he had agreed when he saw how much they loved each other. It was unheard of, a lord changing his mind and agreeing to marry his daughter to someone of lower stature than the man she was promised to, but Prompto was informed by all who knew them that it was a love that was blessed by the Six.

Lord Besithia had promised his father-in-law that he wouldn’t regret their union, and he quickly proved them right. He became close to Lord Ardyn and the King, rising through the ranks in title and ability, proving that the marriage was beneficial for all involved. They had Prompto a year after they were married, and Lord Besithia had spoken fondly of how fantastic a mother she had been.

The blessings didn’t last long, though. Prompto didn’t have much memory of what had happened, save for the shouts and screams, the sounds of cannons and metal on metal. He was just a small boy when they had taken a ship from to Altissia to seek out a medical potions master who was adept in healing. His parents had been focused on ensuring that he made it past his fifth birthday, and the potions master had given them a life saving treatment that seemed to cure him entirely with minimal side effects. On the way back, the ship was attacked by pirates, and his mother had died in an effort to save him.

His father never overtly blamed him for his mother’s death, but Prompto knew that if he hadn’t been sickly in the first place then they wouldn’t have been ambushed by pirates. Prompto always wondered what his father was like before his mother passed. Her death changed him, and while he was always a ruthless lord heavily involved in politics, he became a harder man to mask his grief at the loss of his wife. Prompto couldn’t help but feel guilty, knowing that he was such a disappointment to his father. He couldn’t help but feel that his father would prefer his mother to be alive in his stead.

“Aw well,” his father commented in resignation. “Just try not to embarrass yourself. You are not exactly the most graceful of people.”

“Sorry,” Prompto offered. Prompto was rather clumsy and often tripped over his own feet, but if he kept his mind focused on just staying quiet and doing what his father wished then he would be able to get through it with minimal risk to his or his father’s reputation.

“It is a rather ruthless world out there, son,” his father reminded him. It was a daily reminder, a need for him to toughen up and be strong. “We cannot afford to be soft anymore. Keep your chin up, eyes forward, and follow my lead this week and you will be fine.”

Prompto was used to the reminder to be strong, but he wasn’t expecting the reassurance from his father. His father was usually so much harsher and demanding on him, and Prompto typically couldn’t handle all the barrage of passive aggressive insults. It was unlike him to provide words of comfort, and Prompto couldn’t help but wonder if his father was plotting something other than his typical schemes.

“If all goes well, then I anticipate you will be betrothed by the end of the week,” his father concluded. There it was, Prompto realized. “I expect you to make your presence known to the lords and ladies coming in. Prince Noctis, Prince Ravus, and Princess Lunafreya will all be staying here. Get close to them so we can determine which suitable ladies are befitting my son’s future.”

What future? Prompto wanted to ask the question but ultimately kept it to himself. His father was aware of what his prospects were since he was neither politically inclined or gifted in the art of war. At best he could hope for a political marriage where he would strengthen the ties between Niflheim and Lucis, much in the same way that ladies of Eos married for political gain. It wasn’t the first time that Prompto knew that his father was disappointed that his son had the constitution befitting a lady-in-waiting instead of a young lord rising through the political ranks.

“Is… Is there anyone you particularly have in mind?” Prompto asked instead. He offered a silent prayer to the Six that his father at least could pick someone who wouldn’t be harsh or unkind.

“Two, actually,” his father replied. “It’s good to see you finally taking an interest in this, son. One is Lady Aranea Highwind. She’s strong, politically active, and has close ties to both Niflheim and Lucis. She would lead you to success and would ensure an easier time rising through the ranks.”

Prompto was vaguely aware of Lady Aranea. She wasn’t the best choice, Prompto knew, because she wasn’t of the same status or higher status than Prompto, but from what Prompto knew about her and what his father said, it didn’t necessarily mean that they would be destined to remain in the same status. She was everything that Prompto was not and a wise choice for that reason.

“The other is Lady Iris Amicitia,” his father continued. “She is the daughter of King Regis Caelum’s sworn shield. Her brother is Prince Noctis’s sworn shield as well. She’s a sweet girl from all the reports and is quite close to the Caelums and her brother. You wouldn’t have to do much if you were to marry her to ensure your success, and she’s my preferred choice. You could end up in the prince’s royal retinue if we play our cards correctly.”

That surprised Prompto. He knew his father aimed high, but that was higher than even what Prompto expected. Prompto had heard about the sworn shields of Lucis, how they were close to the kings and princes they protected, how they were more like brothers than in a relationship based on duty. If his father did successfully arrange a marriage between him and Lady Iris, then it would only ensure that Prompto would live an easy life and get close to the future king of Lucis easily. Prompto knew he wasn’t going to prove himself to be a strong political ally for Lucis, but his father would no doubt use the marriage to rise through the ranks in both Niflheim and Lucis.

“I will do my best,” Prompto said uncertainly. He didn’t see how he even stood a chance with the way he was as a person.

“Good,” his father affirmed. “Your mother would be happy to see you flourish.”

Don’t disappoint me. Don’t let your mother’s death be in vain. Prompto knew what he was really saying, and as he sat there in his stuffy outfit, he knew that there was no way he wouldn’t disappoint his father. There was always going to be something that would upset him, something that would cause his father to look at him in disappointed resignation.

“When should I be ready to greet them?” Prompto asked awkwardly, knowing that they had dressed him well in advance for their elite guests arriving.

“King Adlercapt will be the first to arrive with Lord Ardyn,” his father replied. “We anticipate the Tenebraeans will arrive next and the Lucians will be last since they will be arriving by sea.”

Prompto was always intimidated, rightfully so, by King Aldercapt. He was an older man, greying and dignified in appearance, but his presence was commanding and intimidating, always dressed in the fine robes of white, gold, and red befitting the king. Lord Ardyn was something else entirely. He was flamboyant, dressed in clothes that didn’t befit his stature, and he made Prompto uncomfortable. Lord Ardyn had a way of looking at him like he was trying to devour him, just as he looked at everyone, and Prompto did not have the fortitude to not be intimidated and feel weak around him. He avoided Lord Ardyn at all costs, while his father was his best and closest friend.

“If you have the option to get close to the Tenebraeans or the Lucians, opt for the Lucians,” his father instructed. “I doubt they will be up for much beyond rest when they arrive, but tomorrow we will be having a feast. Ingratiate yourself at all costs. If you cannot get close to Lady Iris, get close to her brother. And really aim for the prince. If you can befriend him the rest will be easy.”

“Yes, father,” Prompto replied.

He felt anxious, inadequate by the instructions. It was going to be a very long week, and if he was lucky then he would be able to please his father and do as instructed without much difficulty. But when had he ever been that lucky?