It had taken four months of planning to birth this chance at catching the young lord’s eye. She still remembered the day her father had announced the arrangement.
She’d set out for the Forgotten Knight, her father’s favorite pub, to drag him away from his discourse. After all, if she didn’t, he’d never make time to eat.
I doubt anyone devotes more of their life to the Holy See… Emaile thought with more than a little rue as she twirled the lock of her hair that stubbornly remained curled despite her best efforts.
In truth, however, no one could be more proud of her father’s industry than Emaile. Her father, Seche de Retois, regularly performed the work of three men in one. Any noble was expected to manage his House’s finances, oversee the servants, and attend all required social obligations of the day. Yet between these tasks, her father also served as employer and financier of three separate mercantile companies: two in the fur trade and one company of chocobo trainers in Tailfeather, all of which he regularly visited to inspect the quality of their work and help set matters of policy including pricing, number of employees, and where to set up shop. He’d spend long hours into the night studying trade routes and supply and demand, his candle burning out long before his mind had.
Not to mention how he would gather donations of supplies in his spare time and have them delivered to the soldiers on the outposts, or how he personally donated funds every month to the local blacksmith to keep the Temple Knights’ equipment in proper order.
And the socializing…
As she approached the Forgotten Knight, outraged voices barked at one another like dogs from within.
Emaile paused outside the oaken door to the tavern, smoothing her skirts with her free hand, pretending she couldn’t hear.
She swallowed an exhale of relief when the voices finally, mercifully silenced and the door creaked open. Lords filed out one after the other: everyone knew this time of day was their time at the Knight. Emaile curtsied to each as they passed. Some of them inclined their heads respectfully to her. However, most ignored her, favoring instead the scowling discussions they continued despite their afternoon meeting having adjourned.
“—That upstart Retois!” Lord Farofant grumbled, loud enough for anyone milling about to hear. “That’s the trouble with these lesser houses. Think they know so much. All their new ideas! No respect for a thousand years of tradition!”
“Casting doubt on the Holy See itself,” his companion added. “Troubling, to say the least…”
Emaile resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Remarkable how—excepting her father—Ishgard’s nobility had enough hot air to lift every airship in Coerthas.
At last, the lord she’d been waiting for came limping up the Knight’s steps toward her, laughing despite the deep political discourse he held with his two companions on either side. When her father’s kind brown eyes caught Emaile’s gaze, his face broke into a smile that could melt snow. “Ah, my sweet daughter!” he greeted, resting his hand on her shoulder. “Forgive us for sullying your air.” He glanced backward as more nobles filtered out of the pub.
Emaile inclined her head to her father and his two companions: his two closest friends, the garrulous Lord Garcon and the cautious Lord Marseilles. “The present company could do no such ill, my lord Retois,” she said, pretending to miss the hidden meaning behind his words. To protect them both from harm—for what little good it would do. Her father would speak his mind regardless of who heard it.
At least a subtle glance of her own told her that no one was paying them any mind.
Her father smiled knowingly. “You’ll have to excuse me, gentlemen. I have an important engagement this afternoon.” He took Emaile’s arm in his, patting her hand.
Lord Garcon smiled; his ruddy cheeks matched his crimson doublet. “As always.” He clapped her father on the back—strong enough to send him staggering forward a pace. “Chin up, Retois! Sooner or later, the Holy See will take heed.”
Lord Marseilles—a shorter fellow with long, ebony-black hair—shook his head. “But really, can you blame the Cardinals for ignoring your petitions? Requiring inquisitors to provide burden of proof… Keep pushing, Retois, and they’ll brand you a heretic!” He gestured to Emaile. “Think of your family!”
“At least Sera and Vidaille are long since married,” Garcon pointed out with a chuckle. “Only poor Emaile left to go down with the ship.”
Emaile forced a polite smile at the thousandth reminder of her all-too-eligible maiden status.
Her father’s smile too remained cheerful, but Emaile noticed his jaw tighten. “My thoughts are certainly on my family when I plea my case to the Holy See, gentlemen. And they are also on your families. And the barkeep’s in the Brume. And the soldier’s in the Clouds. And—”
“Yes, yes, a man of the people.” Marseilles waved his hand. “But remember, it’s your name and reputation that get you status, Retois. The people can’t unearth you if you dig your own grave.”
Her father flexed his jaw again, and Emaile could already see the indignant reply, the too-much-attention-dragging cry for justice forming in his sparking eyes.
She hung on his shoulder, uttering a silvery giggle: “And another quick route to the grave is avoiding meals, Lord Retois! As much as you wish it, you can’t survive off discourse.”
“Is that why he argues so passionately!” Garcon guffawed, delighted by his own jest.
Her father and Lord Marseilles joined in the laughter, but her father’s laugh ended far sooner than the others’.
She squeezed her father’s arm. He squeezed her hand in reply.
“Well, gentlemen,” her father said, bowing at the waist to each of them, “here I take my leave of you. Until tomorrow.”
The two nodded, waved a farewell, and strutted off, two peacocks still grinning to themselves.
Thankfully, it was an uneventful and quiet walk back home, but she knew her father’s ears were still burning from the conversation. She was equally seething within.
|Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn / 2013-2020|
But not a word of that in the streets. No, only once she and her father were behind the safety of their own four walls did he confess with a click of his tongue: “They both lobbied against my proposal.” He doffed his feathered cap, slapping it on its peg by the six-paneled front door.
Sighing, Emaile crossed the foyer into the drawing room, where one of their two servants, Jean, was piling fresh wood onto the fire.
Emaile thanked him with a nod and pulled two of the well-worn overstuffed chairs closer to the fireplace. “And Garcon swore he stood with you…”
“Happy day it is when a bosom friend lies baldface to save his own,” her father muttered, plopping into a chair and massaging the nape of his neck under his cravat with a grimace. “When a man sworn to fight for Ishgard turns his back on the people—on justice—for the sake of protecting his power!” He slammed his fist on the arm of the chair.
It felt like the whole three-bedroom home shook from the blow.
Her father passed his hand across his face with a weary sigh.
Emaile knelt at the arm of her father’s chair, watching him carefully as she always had during quiet moments like this one. But unlike in her youth, there were wrinkles stretching from the corners of her father’s eyes. And his shoulders sagged, heavy with the weight of the world.
Emaile rubbed his arm, forcing an encouraging smile. “But surely even they recognize the prudence of your proposal. They can laugh and jest all they want—” Until an inquisitor comes knocking on their door because they failed to pay some made-up tithe. She sighed, opting to rise from her position and find her way to the other open seat by the fire instead of finishing that thought aloud.
No, that much wasn’t safe to say even in their own home.
Everywhere in Ishgard, the walls were far too thin. Lords Garson and Marseilles were right about one thing: to question the inquisitors was a death sentence. It was a miracle her father hadn’t yet been carted off for his proposals advocating more transparency in their dealings.
Ishgard. City of tradition. But at what cost did the people cling to the way things had always been?
A hint—just a hint—of the weariness morphed into a grin on her father’s face. “Well… there was one lord who said the idea, at least, was sound…”
Furrowing her brow, Emaile ran through the dwindling list of her father’s allies. Who would have had the power—and been bold enough—to acknowledge the radical proposal in public?
“Fortemps?” she guessed.
Her father’s grin widened. He nodded.
Fury bless you, Count Edmont. If it were only enough to make real change… She sighed. “Would that the rest of Ishgard shared the same long-sightedness.”
Her father stared into the fireplace, a pensive look now gracing his face. “Ishgard has always needed its heroes: those who are willing to look to the future.” He paused, and those thoughtful, tired eyes began to warm like a fire slowly building to life. “Our people may be cold and stubborn, but we will follow those whose vision is clear, whose purpose is set on what is righteous and true.”
“What a pity those are in such short supply,” Emaile retorted with disgust. A supply of exactly nil. Was every other man blind to the corruption all around them? The terrifying levels of power the Inquisitors wielded? What was stopping the Inquisition from confiscating the property—or from outright murdering—any man they came to dislike? A little planted evidence… No one would question it. The Holy See’s word was, after all, absolute.
“Though I pray otherwise…” her father began softly, “I fear more and more the task of reform shall fall to you and your children, Emaile.”
Children. The very word felt like a knife to her heart. Emaile shook her head with a mirthless smirk. “And those are in even shorter supply than these clear-eyed visionaries you speak of, Father.”
He didn’t reply initially; his attention had been arrested by the scene outside the picture-window to the left: a sprinkling of snowflakes had begun to fall, white and soft and gentle—stark against the flat gray sky that bore down on them.
Slowly, the barely-veiled frustration that so frequently darkened her father’s brow drew away. He straightened in his chair. “I wonder,” he mulled, tapping his chin with his fingertips. His eyes glittered as with a barely-contained secret. “The future may hold more than you think.”
Emaile followed her father’s gaze out the window, as if that would grant her insight into his sudden shift of mood. What could he possibly mean?
Unless—No… Could she dare hope?
“Why, Father!” Emaile covered her mouth, feigning concern. “We had best call a chirurgeon with you feeling this ill.” She released a hint of a playful smile. “For you must not be feeling yourself to hide a secret for this many syllables.”
He threw his head back and laughed—a genuine, full laugh like she hadn’t heard in years. Then he leaned across the chair arm to pat her hand and murmur in her ear: “I spoke with Ser Haurchefant last evening.”
Her heart skipped. He’s finally spoken to him? But that means…! But a life in Ishgard had taught her well; outwardly she refused to betray her excitement, merely arching a brow to encourage him to please hurry and tell her more.
“He said he would be delighted to play your host.” Her father’s grin could hardly grow brighter by now, yet it somehow had.
Skipping had turned to a hammering sprint. My host! Could it really be?
Her father’s chest puffed with pride. “We’re planning to send you off next year. It will be in the dead of winter, but he says there’s no safer time of year than that—for travel and for the war’s sake.”
But she’d hardly heard these details; she threw her arms around her father’s shoulders in embrace. “Father, you did it!” She was glad to be sitting down, feeling nearly dizzy with delight. Finally! Her chance to meet a new potential suitor. Her chance to advance House Retois.
Her chance to escape Ishgard.
Her father smiled humbly, enjoying their little moment of victory. “Four months, Emaile.” He took both her hands between his. “What happens next is up to you.”
She stared into her father’s eyes, which glowed with pride. Not of his achievement, but proud of her.
“Only, promise me one thing?” he asked.
Her chest felt as if it were burning: so full of fire and excitement and trepidation. “Of course, Father. Anything.”
He brushed her curl behind her ear with a sad smile. “You won’t marry him for the House,” he insisted, shaking her hands gently, “but for you.”
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