The chocobo ride marked a shift where, at long last, there were no more business meetings. Finally the castle returned to its old form. Each morning Emaile would arrive at Lord Haurchefant’s study to keep him company during his paperwork. And though he always seemed a little haggard when she first arrived, her arrivals cheered him immediately. They enjoyed one another’s company, chatting or simply enjoying silent moments as they drank in the other’s presence.
It was one such morning Emaile practically found herself floating down the halls, skipping to the lord’s study like a school-girl on the first heady day of summer. Though this day, as she approached the door, she noticed Travois’s face looked drawn and grim.
He seemed distracted, staring pointedly forward at the opposing wall though there was nothing there to garner his attention; his eyes seemed unseeing, and he certainly didn’t notice her until she had nearly stopped at the door to open it.
Then and only then did he snap out of his stupor, stumbling to place himself between her and the door.
The alarmingly restraining gesture—so wholly unlike Travois—gave her pause even before he hissed a warning, “W-wait my lady!”
What’s gotten into him? She wondered, bristling with frustration in the heat of the moment. Hadn’t Lord Haurchefant himself given her express permission to frequent his study? What was—
Two men’s voices ushered from behind the wooden study door: one Lord Haurchefant’s and the other a voice she did not recognize. The stranger’s strained tone and Lord Haurchefant’s soft and almost pleading voice suggested they were having a pointed dispute.
Oh, Travois, forgive me! Instantly the frustration melted into remorse. She should have known Travois better than that! To become offended over something so trivial…
Though she’d only wanted to spend more time with Lord Haurchefant while she could. She would return home in a week’s time—
“I always knew you for a fool, Haurchefant, but there’s no need to clear away all doubt. You know as well as I: you have to send her away!” barked the stranger’s voice from beyond the door.
Emaile could not resist a gasp. She clapped her hand to her mouth and stumbled back against the wall in shock.
“It’s not as though Dragonhead has no defenses.” She could just barely hear Haurchefant murmur the feeble rebuttal, one which she could hear his heart was not fully in.
“Ah, the hailed hospitality of Camp Dragonhead. Irresponsibility at its finest!”
What… what did they mean? Send me away?
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn / 2013-2021
Her gaze flicked up, her eyes searching Travois’s, begging for an answer. She could feel her heart splitting into pieces. But Travois had no answers. “You shouldn’t be here, my lady Emaile…” he murmured.
“We did read the same reports, didn’t we?” the stranger sighed, exasperated.
“Confound it, Drillemont, I’ve been so busy… What impeccable timing this all came to.” Haurchefant grumbled.
Drillemont… The knight in charge of Whitebrim Front? Emaile pursed her lips, listening carefully.
Haurchefant murmured, “They’ll never forgive me… I’ll never get another chance. I’ll lose her for certain…!”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” Ser Drillemont scoffed, utterly bewildered. “So fond of the fairer sex… and what makes this one different from the others anyhow? You know how many maidens would be willing to throw themselves at the feet of a young knight—and a landowning lord besides. Dozens, Haurchefant. She’s just one girl.”
Tears pricked her eyes as the words struck her heart. Anger and shame and sorrow welled up as Emaile staggered away from the door.
“My lady—” Travois offered, this time reaching for her, but she was already spinning, dashing away her tears though more swiftly took their place.
Away. She had to away, before anyone saw—
And then the doorknob clacked. Travois had only an instant to leap back to his post before the door nearly slammed on him. Out strutted a knight Emaile had never met—Ser Drillemont, she presumed. He walked with his nose in the air as he shook his head, grumbling to himself under his breath.
Out came Haurchefant, glowering like he was about to lop the head off a dozen fencing dummies.
And there stood Emaile, in full view of them, half-turned to dash down the hall but frozen at the sight of the door swinging open.
Ser Drillemont nearly crashed into her headlong, but Haurchefant saw her—and immediately his glare melted into regret. He knew she’d heard it all, didn’t he?
“Lady Emaile—” Haurchefant began, though he looked as lost and confused as she felt.
“Forgive me,” Emaile breathed, ducking her head as quick as she could to conceal her tears. “I’ve turned down the wrong hall.”
Woodenly, she finished her turn and briskly walked away, as quick as propriety would allow.
She heard Haurchefant calling her name, repeatedly, but it only made the tears gather faster, further threatening to slip down her cheeks where all could see them. No. She would never allow them to see her like this! She would compose herself! She would—
Though she would not outrun a man with far longer legs than she; she heard Haurchefant’s voice right behind her. “Lady Emaile, please wait. I’m certain I can explain.”
Keep moving! Don’t let him see you like this! Shouted her shattered pride and her heavy heart.
He’s going to send you away. The tears slipped before she could make up her mind to run or stay.
Well, I’m just one girl, after all. One of dozens who had likely attempted to court Haurchefant. Who had only seen him for his title and power, who had only sought him for political gain or for their families, but not… not for those mischievous smiles. Or his self-deprecating sense of humor. Or the way he smiled and laughed and made merry a world that felt so deadening. Or his care for anyone under his charge, servants and guests equally. Or his love for adventures. Or his impossibly messy study. Or… or…
She forced her feet to stop, straightening her shoulders and balling her hands into fists to keep fresh tears from escaping.
Or his honesty.
Emaile turned slowly to face him: lips pursed, chin tilted up. Trying to redeem what small amount of pride she had left. She would hear him out with fairness. Surely… he would only be considering sending her away for a good reason.
And not because he’d only pretended to like her. Surely their delightful times together were not out of mere politeness!
Haurchefant melted at the sight of her tears. “Oh, Lady Emaile, forgive me. What a fool I’ve been…” He reached for her cheek—
To brush away her tears? Emaile’s heart quickened despite herself.
But then he thought better of the forward gesture, pulling his hand back and offering her a handkerchief from his pocket. “Ser Drillemont and I—” he shot a murderous glare over his shoulder at Drillemont, who stood beside Travois with his arms crossed. Drillemont shrugged. “—were discussing Camp Dragonhead’s security…” Haurchefant glanced down at the handkerchief. “And… your safety,” he finished hesitantly.
What had made him so reluctant all of a sudden?
But… there was something about his tone, about the regret in his voice, that gave her a sliver of hope she had no right to take.
She wrapped her fingers around the handkerchief and took it, dabbing at her eyes though she was certain the tears would not stop any time soon. She thanked him softly, but her gaze locked on him, begging him to continue.
Please… help me understand what is going on!
Haurchefant sighed, clearly rueful at the situation. And, perhaps, at the information he was now divulging. “Shortly after you arrived, it came to my attention that heretics were on the move in the Northern Highlands. I’ve been very busy lately keeping apprised of their movements; this was the majority of my unexpected business.”
Dravanians? Her eyes widened. What a fool I am. Could that be all this was about?
“The most recent reports Ser Drillemont and I received suggest there could be impending attacks on Coerthan settlements,” Haurchefant confessed, each and every word carefully laid-out in a soft, quiet voice so only she could hear. “Including… Dragonhead. Ser Drillemont recommended I return you to Ishgard early, to best ensure your continued safety.”
The relief nearly collapsed her. She massaged her brow, and as she felt her legs tremble, she prayed for strength to remain standing. It would hardly do to run off crying and collapse in the span of mere moments.
He was attempting to protect me.
Suddenly, it all made sense. Every interruption with a note or whispered message. All his abrupt planning and shifting of the guard. The extra rounds on the walls. The unexpected business trips.
But an impending attack! Her heart quailed, though not for her own safety. “Will Dragonhead be all right? Will you all be secure?”
Her face must have given away far more of her emotions than she’d intended, for it seemed Haurchefant too looked far more relieved with the air cleared between them. He nodded and took her hands in his. “I am blessed with some of the greatest knights in all the Highlands,” he replied. “We’re quite prepared for whatever our enemies may bring, now or in the future!”
He offered her a bold smile. “After all, we must be. A knight lives to serve, to save others, to defend life. There is no greater calling.”
The pride in his words, in his duty… Breathtaking.
She blushed, glancing down at their hands to avoid his notice. But… “My lord… You can entrust these sorts of things to me. I… I had no idea… I thought perhaps…”
No, she was too embarrassed to confess what she’d thought now; and there was no need.
There was a small amount of irritation. Had he only said so from the beginning! But…
Haurchefant gathered her hands and pressed them to his chest, causing her cheeks to warm further. “Forgive me, my lady. I had only your security and peace of mind at heart. I never intended such information to wound you. I am sorry. Could you ever find it in your heart to forgive me?”
She looked up, smiling wryly through her tears. “Then, no more secrets between us?” Oh, what a fool you are, Emaile. He could never promise that.
Haurchefant grew quite grave. But he nodded. “To the full extent I am able, with exception only for the safety of you and those whom I protect,” he replied solemnly, never once moving his gaze from her eyes, “I swear to you, Lady Emaile: there will be no secrets between us. I promise.”
“And… and I promise the same, of course,” Emaile nodded, forcing a laugh.
Haurchefant relaxed slightly, seeing a smile return to her face. “Then I am forgiven?” he asked worriedly.
She squeezed his hands. “My lord, anyone in Ishgard could tell you that I am notoriously terrible at holding grudges.” Her heart felt a bit lighter again to have the misunderstanding behind them.
How silly she’d been. She would never assume again!
She giggled a little. At herself. At the situation. At his hopeful grin. “All is forgiven, indeed.”
Haurchefant at last exhaled a heavy breath. But… he quickly grew solemn once more. “However, as much as I detest the thought… I cannot argue that you would indeed be safer home.” He paused, breaking eye contact to stare down at their hands, still clasped together. “I’m afraid, my lady… we really must bid farewell to your first visit early this time.”
Her heart sank again. But… honestly, he looked even more crestfallen than she.
Would he truly miss her so much?
“I understand,” she said, forcing a brave smile. Seeing him sad… it hurt worse than the news he really was sending her home so soon. “I only regret I could not break more fasts with you, my lord!”
His frown deepened; her remark had the opposite effect she’d intended, and now he looked even further defeated and disappointed in his inability to remedy the situation.
“I’m certain you haven’t been eating when you’ve been away for business—” she quickly tossed out the teasing remark in a desperate attempt to distract. “Elisabet must be beside herself, and I am utterly failing in my duties to keep you healthy!”
A light flickered in his eyes: for a moment, just a moment, that warm, knowing glow returned to his eyes as realization dawned across his face. “And a Fortemps always keeps his word. I promised you breakfasts.”
And her own face grew warm. She tossed her hair, clapping her newly-freed hand to her cheek and tilting her head away to hide it as best she could. “W-well, I could never tamper with such a noble reputation… I suppose we’ll simply have to host you at Retois manor to facilitate such breakfasting…”
Oh heavenly Fury, why had she said that? She’d gone too far; had played her full hand. Now she was surely bright-red with blush.
And the flicker of light in Haurchefant’s eyes immediately spread into a beaming, mischievous grin. He lifted her hand still in his, delicately placing upon it a kiss. A kiss that seemed to last just a bit longer than usual.
Though perhaps that was simply her imagination running away from her.
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