In Which the Boy Born in Faerie Gains His Birthright
Carla became very sick.
She would cough sticky blood into her hand and collapse from weakness, becoming bedridden for days. Grisha would try every bronchial and lung treatment he could conjure up. The medicines helped little. The couple knew the fatality rate for such an illness. Eren and Mikasa were too young to understand their mother was dying.
On especially trying days, the siblings would climb through the attic to the roof, lying atop the slate shingles to watch the stars and moon cross the cold sky.
"Eren…" Mikasa would say, joining their hands. "I want a star. I want a star because they are beautiful forever."
Eren would cock his head, sunglow eyes winking with light. "But if you have a star for so long, won't you grow tired of it?"
Her eyes would crinkle with the edges of a smile. "You never grow tired of the things you love."
Eren could not understand. He loved the taste of Black Forest cake, but became sick of it after consuming numerous slices. He did not comprehend the love his sister meant until many years later.
Multiple children were born after the faerie fair. The Kirsteins had a son named Jean, the Wagners a son named Thomas, the Carolinas a daughter named Mina, the Linke-Jacksons a son named Samuel, and even the Reiss family had a daughter named Historia. A new family immigrated to Wall when Eren was five and Mikasa nearly six. The father and daughter with strange, unmatching names came from a land of perpetual cold and nights that lasted as long as days. Týr Sigmundson and Ymir Týrdotter began a chicken meat farm along the Cöln River.
The next May Day Market was a source of hubbub for the town, especially in the Jaeger household.
A sense of familiarity drew Eren to the threshold. As a toddler, he would point towards the stone wall and say, "Mama, I want to go into the meadow."
This caused Carla to giggle and ruffle his dark hair. "You know you cannot go into the meadow, silly goose." She chided mildly.
Eren puckered up his face unhappily at the order.
He never saw the empathetic gaze his mother cast him as he forced himself to turn away.
His father had little to say about the matter. Eren heard him say little on any subject.
Being forbidden from the faerie market was a source of high agitation for Eren. He did as most children his age did when confronted with an unwanted circumstance and threw a tantrum. He shouted and growled and stomped his feet. The decision unchanged, he ran out of the house in his fury. Mikasa, a protective big sister, took it upon herself to follow.
She found him sniveling by the riverbank and hugging his knees.
He did not answer.
Mikasa gathered up her skirts and fanned them out as she sat. She waited, watching the water.
"Mikasa, I… I-I have to go." Eren choked out after many minutes.
"No, you don't." She responded knowingly.
Mikasa, like countless others, knew where Eren came from. That Eren would not come back once he ventured beyond the wall.
The boy spat at his sister's feet. "You are just like the rest!" he accused angrily. "You-"
"Eren." she interrupted. "Do not say something you will regret."
Eren rumbled like an irritated tomcat.
Mikasa examined her brother. His chin was propped onto his knees and crossed arms, eyes stormy with hot tears. His black hair was glazed purple in the sunlight, like a raven's wing, ears pointed and wolfish. Mikasa leaned against him.
"Eren… It is for the best."
Eren brushed the wetness from his eyes. "I just… Being forced to stay here, encaged, it makes me feel like… like… like livestock."
"Not everything is as it seems, Eren."
"… I will go passed the wall. Someday."
Mikasa gave his arm a squeeze.
Sonja did not return from the fair.
Externally, Roderick Reiss appeared woeful, in mourning of his lost wife, but internally, he was relieved. Living a human lifestyle had begun to drive her insane. She shrieked at every touch her husband gave her, cried until she became hoarse, and starved herself. Roderick regretted binding her to him. He cut their ties and Sonja never looked back.
Not even for her own daughter.
Eren was irritable many weeks after the fair. Mikasa returned from the market with a sash that glided and sparkled like the clearest night sky, while Eren returned from a day with distant family friends short in temper.
A fight was a welcome release.
Eren decided he hated Jean Kirstein the moment he met him. Jean was cocky and brash and painfully honest about his opinions. He declared to Marco Bodt that he was going to marry Mikasa, idealistic and determined while still in his first year of schooling. He became flustered and rosy in the cheeks at her presence. Mikasa never seemed to notice.
Jean also became quickly frustrated, much like an equally hot-headed Eren. Eren's temper flared when Jean boasted about how Mikasa would eventually swoon over him and utterly beg for his affections once he grew to a man and she a woman. Eren knew Mikasa was not like that. He knew it and had to defend her.
Their encounters never ended with either party winning.
One would finish with a swollen cheek and another a nose blooming with blood.
Marco secured Jean with a lambsteak over the tender flesh while Mikasa cleaned away the crimson with a handkerchief.
Eren would jerk her hand off, rabid. "I don't need you to mother me, Mikasa!"
She would sigh through her nose and shake her head, continuing the nursing until she was satisfied.
She made sure to dry his tears.
Carla knew the day she was going to die.
The small coughs and splatters of blood escalated into violent upchuckings of acid and mush and ichor.
When the mother thought no others could hear her, she sobbed.
She sobbed for the burning of iron and copper at the back of her throat.
She sobbed for the curdling blood in the pan.
She sobbed for the sunshine and the spring grass she could not see or feel.
She sobbed for the ball gown she could not wear to the town dance.
She sobbed for her husband.
She sobbed for Mikasa.
She sobbed for Eren.
She only regretted sobbing for herself.
When the hour came, when Carla knew in the deepest part of her marrow that her heartbeat would soon cease, that only death waited upon her, she called her children to her bedside. She held each one's hand, skimming her thumb across their knuckles.
"Eren… Mikasa…" She began, her voice strained. "I want you to take care of each other…"
Eren pressed his forehead to his mother's thin hand. "I-I want you to take care of us!" Eren said with venom, poison born from sorrow and raised in despair.
"Eren." Mikasa warned him softly. Her eyes were glassed over, steeled from tears. She felt no more tears could fall after the years of crying over this unavoidable moment. With a choke, she almost believed this to be wrong.
Carla blew a rattling breath. "I know… I know. And I'm sorry, Eren. I am sorry I have to leave you."
They remained like that for a long while.
Eren and Mikasa could sense their mother ebbing away. Her breathing became shallow, her movements less. Her thumb ended its ministrations.
In a horrendous, ultimate display, Carla coughed and geysered dark blood from her lips, her chin staining black. "Please…" she whispered, begging, talking through the blood and tears in her throat. "Please, don't go… Please…"
Her chest relaxed stiffly.
And she went still forever.
Eren was an inconsolable, maddened, and inhuman wreck.
He wailed and smashed all the wooden furniture in his room, banging and clawing the walls until he ripped out his nails and his fists were skinless. His blood decorated the floor and walls like roseate paint smeared about by an artist with a diseased brain.
Yet none of this mattered for the boy was numb.
Nothing Eren did to himself hurt, nothing hurt him nearly as much as how his mother did.
The aching in his chest and head and body was sure to kill him, sure enough that he went out of his home to die.
Eren sat under a tree and waited for death.
When the hours passed by undisturbed, the torture of the pain became too much.
Eren began to scream in anguish. He screamed and screamed and screamed, crying until he made himself sick. The burn in his overworked and acidic throat reduced him to chokes and sobs. Eren curled in on himself and allowed the excruciating suffering to come.
Eren did not notice his sister.
Mikasa fell over her brother, tears spattering across his clothing.
"Oh Eren, oh Eren." She wept over his grief, his misery, and none of her own.
Mikasa cried herself to sleep beside Eren.
The siblings awoke the next morning, agony not their death bringer.
They awoke and they knew.
They knew death is selfish, selfish, selfish.
The years marched on.
Eren healed enough from his mother's death to trek on, to visit her gravesite and not cry. He and Mikasa presented flowers to the grave plot as often as they felt they needed to. Grisha had nothing to say about his own mourning.
Eren finished his period of schooling, learning how to divide numbers and that the sun never set on the British empire. He acquired employment at the shop of Darius Zackly. And, unfortunately, became coworkers with his rival Jean. Mikasa worked for the Reiss's as a washerwoman.
Many believed Historia Reiss to be the prettiest girl in all recorded history. She was petite, with hair the color of buttercups, and eyes as clear as ice. Her hair was long and silky like her mother's, eyes wide almonds like her father. All who met her thought she was sweet and charming and as regal as a queen. She befriended all and treated them with care.
"I have heard Virgil Zackly wishes for your hand in marriage." Mina Carolina told the Reiss, sitting in her family apple orchard while the trees were in bloom.
Historia turned towards the girl, blinking. "Jean's old uncle?" she inquired, a wind twisting petals through her hair and across her skirts.
Mina nodded with a giggle. "Yes, Jean's uncle. He is also a widower."
Historia stared at the petal resting in her palm. "Oh…"
In a very unladylike display, Ymir spat, hardly missing her skirts. An unattractive and sloppy cross-stitch ran up the side of her dress, the cause a wagon corner snagging the fabric.
"Virgil is as rude as his nephew," Ymir snapped. "And he is nearly fifty! He also of the lazy sort and a complete coward. He does not work. He sits on his backside and lets his father give him his money. He does not deserve you, Historia. He does not deserve you at all."
Historia released a tiny gasp, flushing in surprise. "Oh…" she squeaked. "T-Thank you, Ymir."
Mikasa lowered her knitting momentarily. "It sounds like you are almost jealous of Virgil, Ymir."
The freckled girl threw a stick at the accuser.
Nearly a man, Eren craved adventure. He wished to see Heidelberg Castle, the Parisian streets at night, the Latin bullfighting rings, and, most of all, more than anything, the land beyond the wall. Strange winds would travel from the forest behind the wall, the smell of bluebells and pine giving Eren bizarre, delusional fantasies. He saw unusual colors in fire and dreamed of dragons and pixies and firebirds and griffins. On especially curious nights, he would slip outside to the roof, stargazing even if his sister slept peacefully. The stars remained just as beautiful.
Eren was as good as a clerk could be running a shop. He recorded stock and collected goods lists from the local villagers, making a master list for Mister Darius Zackly to take when he went to the nearest trading town. He would return after many days with a brimmed carriage.
Eren and Jean smoothed over many of their differences. The pair could work in relative harmony, one only salty with the other on occasion. The single sore on their matured relationship was Mikasa.
On a day in fall when the wind blew cold and wet, Mikasa entered the Zackly shop. A maroon scarf enclosed most of her face, blocking the cold. Eren saw his sister and nodded to her.
"Father has a list for you." she said to him, slipping the scarf from her lips.
Eren only glanced at the loopy handwriting, quick to put the list with the others.
Jean then appeared from the back of the shop. The china in his arms jingled in warning as he nearly tripped, Mikasa catching his eye. He sat down his stack and advanced forward.
"Mikasa!" Jean announced, careful not to stutter. A blush and sideways smile graced his cheeks. Eren felt his protective hackles raise.
Mikasa nodded her head once in acknowledgement. "It is nice to see you, Jean." She said pleasantly. She did not acknowledge his red flush.
Jean ran a hand through his hair, seeming lost. He could not find anything to say.
An Eastern wind battered against the town, making the animals bellow and the fires tipped in silver. The air tainted by pine gave the boy confidence.
"You know… I get off in a few minutes. Would you… Like to walk home with me?"
Mikasa cocked her head. She gave Jean a quizzical look, one of someone who did not speak the language of the other. She was confused as to why he would ask that.
Eren did not approve of this at all. He moved to stand by his sister, puffed up in anger.
"Mikasa, I will walk home with you." He said bitterly.
Mikasa put the scarf back over her nose, Jean not in her thoughts. "Okay."
Jean frowned at Eren, highly upset that he crushed his chance. He rumbled in his chest unhappily, turning back to his work. The porcelain was scooped up again.
Eren hastily finished stocking the cans. He told Mister Zackly that he was going home. The man merely nodded and continued flicking discs on his abacus.
Mikasa checked that her brother buttoned up his coat. The night was dreadfully brisk. She did not wish for him to become sick, knowing he sometimes forgot to close his jacket while he rushed.
The twilight tasted of fallen leaves and dark mist. Eren walked with Mikasa through the streets as the townspeople lit their hearths and candles and lamps to stave away the icy night.
"You do not need to be so harsh to Jean, you know," Mikasa informed her brother, voice as glacial as the autumn night.
Eren made an unimpressed huff.
They reached an elevation in their path. The hill raised its viewer towards the sliver moon and vast sky, the stars afire with their cold and distant light. The pair paused to watch the display.
The town of Wall rested below with its familiar yellow warmth. The village, however, did not appeal to the siblings entranced by the gleaming and uncountable fires burning holes in the shadowed veil of the dusk sky.
"Eren!" Mikasa gasped suddenly, pointing upwards. A tiny star, one so small it was overlooked by the boy, flashed momentarily. It glittered weakly as if struggling before it began to fall. It graced down in a trail of embers, traveling far away towards the eastern horizon. They did not see it land.
"A falling star…" Mikasa breathed. "A falling star."
It might have been the enchanted wind influencing Eren, or maybe the universe decided to give him a shove, or perhaps the old man from the fair many years before was true in his promise, but he, abruptly, felt the need to ask his sister a question.
"Mikasa, what do you desire?"
Startled, the girl looked to her brother with wide eyes. She stared briefly, blinking once. She eventually shut her eyes and exhaled.
"I want many things, Eren."
That did not satisfy Eren. He seized Mikasa's hand, amber eyes glowing in determination.
"No, what do you desire? If you could have anything, anything in the world, what would it be?"
Mikasa was silent. Her dark eyes searched the sky, reflected it, mirrored it, and all she gazed upon. Her attention expanded across the cosmos. She rested her view passed the wall, passed the meadow, passed the blockade of trees.
She wanted the star.
She wanted the star because it was beautiful forever.
And Eren knew he had to get it for her.
Eren believed he had his course planned. He would slip out, soundlessly, not waking his family, and get through the opening of the wall by any means necessary. This is not what happened.
Eren had packed his bag with a bustle of apples, a loaf of wheat bread, sunflower seeds, a waxed cheese wheel, and other assortments he felt he might need. He was checking over his provisions again when his father appeared. The old doctor carried a candle, highlighting the grey in his coarse hair. He cleared his throat and caused Eren to jump.
They stared at each other for a long while.
"You cannot stop me," Eren spoke up, correcting his posture. "I must find the star."
"I know." Grisha said.
Eren, puzzled, watched his father place the candleholder down and clean his glasses. He waited many moments.
"And how do you think you are going to get through the wall?" Grisha asked.
"… Some way. I will, even if I have to fight the guards."
"You will do no such thing." Grisha said with finality. "What if the guards were you or I on duty? They do not deserve such treatment." As Eren's face furrowed in hatred, the doctor moved to the door, opening it. "Come, let us go."
The boy swallowed his rage and, bag in hand, walked into the village with his father.
Eren did not know what his father planned to do, nor could he expect the outcome. The village was nearly silent under the moon.
Thomas Wagner and Samuel Linke-Jackson were the nighttime guards. Both were fine gentlemen, boys Eren had attended school with. Thomas smelled of the wine in his father's inn and Samuel bore stubborn calluses from his father's farm. They watched as the Jaegers approached.
"Good evening Thomas, good evening Samuel." Grisha said with a tip of his hat.
"Evening, Mister Jaeger." Samuel said.
Thomas nodded the same. "I trust you are well."
Eren grew impatient as the trio talked of raising sheep and inn keeping and of the shortage of fall berries. He grew red in frustration, features pinched. His breaths hissed.
Belatedly, Grisha said, "Thomas, Samuel, I am sure you know my son, Eren."
Eren raised his face for viewing.
"Yes." Thomas confirmed.
"We went through school with him."
It is then Grisha began a topic Eren did not understand.
"I am sure you have heard about where he came from." said his father.
Thomas leaned onto his staff. "I have heard stories, but I never minded it."
"Well, it is true. And it is time for him to go back."
"I need the star." Eren felt proud he could contribute to the conversation. He was slain as his father motioned him quiet.
Thomas rubbed the back of his head. "… Very well."
He talked with Samuel in a hushed voice, the range too low for Eren to hear.
Grisha pressed something cold and smooth into his hand.
"Go, Eren, find your star. Find all the things that have been kept from you. If I could ask one thing of you, after all these years, please, try to come back. Try. For Mikasa's sake."
Eren did not know what his father meant.
The two guards parted from the entrance.
Eren walked on.
The initial excitement of crossing the threshold was clouded by anxiety. He turned in the meadow and looked at the three men with curiosity as to why they let him into the gate. Shifting his bag, he continued on.
As he approached the pines, a warmth settled over him that dispersed the cold. He looked up and saw a heavy golden moon, unlike the crescent he was sure had set earlier. A humming distracted him.
A singing snowdrop glittered in the moonlight, the glass deep and green.
The wind of the east caressed him.
He smelled all the scents of Faerie and realized he was fearful. He was chasing a fallen star to an unknown, magical land, a place he knew nothing about, a place none of his schooling could prepare him for. He pressed the snowdrop to his chest, slipping it into a buttonhole for safe keeping. Behind him, the lights of Wall wavered, homely and known. As usual, the lights did not invite him.
So he did the only logical thing he could do.
He ventured on.
And into Faerie.