A Nation at Arms

By Jazzman

Where the Heart Is: Fortinbras’s Tale

It was storming outside Toadstool Palace. Wind howled in rage as it blew between the castle turrets and rain beat furiously on the red-tiled roof. But the storm outside was a spring rain compared with the one soon to explode inside the halls of the palace.

“Big Brother,” called a six-year-old girl with long blonde hair, her voice audible even over the noise of the storm as she ran through the main hall to catch up with someone, “where are you going?”

“I don’t know, Peach,” replied a tall man of 19 years with hair bleached white, not slowing his pace a bit as he acknowledged her, “but I’m not staying here any longer.”

“But why, Fortinbras?” pleaded the girl. “Why must you leave?”

Fortinbras stopped walking and turned to look down at his younger sister, just as she finally caught up to him. He could see tears beginning to swell in the corners of her wide blue eyes as she spoke. “I guess I owe you an explanation,“ he sighed as he knelt down beside her, “And you have a right to know. Peach, I’m sure you’ve heard Mother and Father talking about the threat of war with the Koopas.”

Peach nodded.

“Then you know that we’ve made one retreat after another before the armies of King Morton.”

“But Father says it’s not King Morton,” Peach interrupted. “He says it’s his son, Prince Bowser.”

Fortinbras rolled his eyes. “Morton, Bowser, what’s the difference? Bowser wouldn’t be attacking like this without his father’s knowledge and permission. He’s 13 for Heaven’s sake!”

Peach didn’t reply.

“In either case,“ Fortinbras continued, calming slightly, “we’ve made too many retreats when we should be standing and fighting. It’s been an endless cycle. They advance, we fall back. They advance, we fall back. And now, we’re running out of places to fall back to, because the Koopas have taken Vista Hill, and Bowser has started building his headquarters there.”

“But we can’t fight them, Fortinbras,” Peach interrupted again. “They’re too powerful. Father says our only hope is to wait until the Mario Brothers return and-”

“Oh, enough!” Fortinbras cut her off as he rose and turned back toward the door, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he spoke. “I’ve heard enough about the great Mario Brothers, and the way everyone waits in anticipation for their victorious return when they’ll triumph over the evil Koopa Empire.” He turned back toward Peach before continuing, “Peach, the Mario Brothers were a pair of infant twins who were dumped into the warp zone nine years ago to protect them from Kamek. IF they’re still alive after all this time, and IF they have any memory of this place, and IF there was even the slightest hint of truth to that ruined old Magikoopa’s prophecy, then there’s still no guarantee that they'll ever find their way back through the warp zone. And besides that, this kingdom would be to far gone for them to save it if they ever did.”

At the end of his rant, Fortinbras looked at Peach and saw the tears she had been fighting back finally escape, rolling down the sides of her face and staining her pink dress. 'Great job, Fortinbras. Now look what you’ve accomplished,' he thought to himself.

“Sister,” Fortinbras spoke softly as he knelt again by Peach, “I know none of what I’m saying makes any sense to a six-year-old, but the Koopa Empire should be stopped.”

Peach wiped the tears from her eyes before asking, “So you’re going to fight them?”

Fortinbras bit his lip. “Well, no,” he replied, “not on my own. But I can’t stay in a kingdom that cringes under Morton’s heel either. I have to escape the backward politics and warped ideas of this ‘Mushroom Kingdom’.” He waited for Peach to stop crying completely before continuing, “So now do you see why I have to leave?”

“No,” Peach replied childishly, “I don’t.” She must have realized she sounded very much her age, because she took a deep breath before trying her next approach. “What about your birthright? Who’s going to rule after Mother and Father?”

Fortinbras lifted Peach’s chin up until her eyes were level with his. “You’re a brilliant girl, Peach. You’re brilliant, brave, and wise, far beyond your years. You’ll make a fine queen one day, my dear sister.”

Peach began to sob again as she threw her arms around Fortinbras’s neck. “I love you, Big Brother,” she said through her tears.

“And I love you, Sister,” Fortinbras replied softly, “and I always will.” He too had to wipe a tear from his eye as he embraced his sister for what may have been the last time. But in the end, Fortinbras stood up, turned
toward the door, and said over his shoulder, “Farewell,” as the guards opened the door for him to step out into the rain.

“Don’t forget where your home is,” Peach called out as the doors closed behind Fortinbras.

Fortinbras pulled his Thalid-blue cloak around him to keep warm and pulled his hood over his head to keep the rain off of him as he surveyed the world outside the palace. “Alright,” he muttered to himself as he walked down the palace steps and past gardens of Fire Flowers, “my first stop will be Toad Town to pick up provisions. After that...”

At that moment, on the steps of the only home he had ever known, Fortinbras began to comprehend the reality of his situation. He had no plan, no destination, and no idea what to do next. As he stood there in the rain, the one-time prince of Thalidia closed his eyes and mouthed a silent prayer for some sign, some clue, some sense of where to go.

Fortinbras wasn’t sure how long he stood there before the sound of a nearby train whistle jarred him from his trance. “Last call,” he heard the voice of an engineer at the Toadtown Train Depot. “Last call. All aboard for Sarasaland.”

Sarasaland! Of course! Without another thought, Fortinbras sprinted to the train station and onto the embarking platform just as the conductor was closing the doors of the passenger car.

“And where d’you think you’re going?” asked the conductor suspiciously.

“To Sarasaland,” Fortinbras replied. “That is where you said this train was bound for, is it not?”

“And where exactly is your ticket?”

Fortinbras stopped short. He hadn’t thought of that. “Well, I... I don’t have one.”

“Uh-huh, I thought so,” replied the conductor. “Then you’re going nowhere, except back out into the rain.”

“Please, if you’ll just listen,” Fortinbras pleaded as he reached into the folds of his cloak and produced a handful of gleaming blue-gold coins bearing the Toadstool crest, “I’m sure there must be some way I can persuade you to reconsider.”

The conductor’s eyes glazed over with avarice as he gazed at the small fortune being offered to him. “Well,” he said at length, “since you asked nicely, I’ll let you ride this time.”

“You’re very kind, sir,” Fortinbras thanked the conductor as he handed him the coins and boarded the train. Moments later the doors closed, the whistle blew, and the train was away. “Sarasaland,” Fortinbras thought
excitedly, “the only country on the planet still unspoiled by Koopa encroachment.” Fortinbras’s found himself thinking of all the stories he had heard about Sarasaland, about how elegant and refined her people were, about the way anyone with ambition and skill could achieve greatness-not the greatness that people are born to, but greatness that comes from a person’s own work, and from their own sweat and blood: the kind of greatness that can’t be questioned. “Yes,” Fortinbras thought with a grin, “Sarasaland is where I’ll build my life, and where I’ll make my name. Sarasaland is where my home will be.”

The End

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