Emaile drummed her fingers on the books resting in her lap: the one she’d initially brought and her precious gifts from Lord Haurchefant. And sitting atop them all, two letters: one addressed to her, which she’d opened as soon as the carriage had set off. The other, addressed to her father, remained sealed.
My lady, her letter had begun, Despite our conversation the day prior, I must apologize once again for my terrible hosting.
Her free hand slid down to smooth her skirts… and smooth… and smooth.
Our time together was some of the best I have enjoyed in as long as I can recall. Your presence brought a warmth long sought-after in Dragonhead. I am uncertain who will be more displeased at your abrupt departure—myself or the remainder of the castle’s residents.
She wrung a handful of her skirt’s fabric, twisting it round and round. All while she ran the fingertips of her free hand along the words of the note, as if tracing his letters would bring him closer despite them growing further apart with each footfall of the chocobo.
Haurchefant. None of the rumors did him any justice. Eccentric? Perhaps. But charming. Clever. Impish. Humorous and easily amused but full of intellect. So seemingly like every other Ishgardian dandy, yet so completely unlike them all.
I pray now, more than ever, that hostilities in this wretched war will calm so we might host you again someday soon.
After all, a Fortemps is a man of his word. I owe you quite a few breakfasts.
Emaile folded the letter, pressing it against her chest with a sigh.
As she rested the back of her head against the wall of the carriage, staring up at the rich green-dyed canopy over her head, she found her mind wandering. I wonder how much more I would have learned about him, had I been able to stay?
She wished she could have.
How shocking it was—how heavy her heart felt at having to leave; as if the spell of his absence that had so captivated his household had fallen upon her, too.
Only, promise me one thing? her father’s voice rang in her head.
Emaile found her face growing warm at the thought, and she lurched up, tucking her father’s letter between her stack of books, out of sight—as if that would silence his voice in her memory.
You’ll marry him not for the House, but for you.
She wrung her skirt tighter around her finger. It was only a small visit of introduction, Father. Just a visit among acquaintances. Perhaps… perhaps the beginning of something like friendship.
Well. It proved a rather enjoyable first adventure, this little meeting with Lord Haurchefant.
But now… the hardest part had surely come.
Deep breath… she reminded herself as she felt the carriage begin to slow. Heard voices of soldiers greeting the groomsman and the clatter of the portcullis lifting its proud head.
The almost imperceptible crunch of snow under the chocobo’s feet melted away into the click-click-clack of its talons hitting cobblestone streets and the wooden carriage wheels rolling along their uneven surface.
A few turns, the babble of voices and crowds and the smells of crisp winter air and city-life, and soon the carriage came to a gentle stop—shaking her out of her thoughts and into a new realm of anxiety.
The time had come at last. Deep breath… She inhaled through her nose. Exhaled the sharp, cold air. Set her stack of books to the floor as she drew her father’s letter out from amidst the pile.
She heard the creak of a heavy oaken door. Heard two excited cries. The clack of footsteps on stone stairways.
“She’s back early?” Her father’s voice: the fated call. “Is that my sweet youngest daughter? Emaile? Emaile!”
“Lady Emaile’s back so soon?” came Iloise’s voice not far behind her father’s.
With one last deep breath she settled her fluttering emotions, stood at her full height, and parted the carriage curtains.
Iloise had her apron only half-on, the strings floating behind her as she raced toward the carriage. She’d passed Father, but both of them rushed to the carriage, faces wrinkled with worry, and the inevitable question.
Emaile threw her arms open wide. “Hello, Father. Iloise. I’ve returned early!” she announced, silencing the question by leaning in close for a tight embrace with her father—and pressing Lord Haurchefant’s letter against his chest. “Unforeseen circumstances,” she whispered in his ear.
Ah, she hadn’t missed this. The need for secrecy. For discretion. For concealing everything beneath two or three layers of meaning, in the crowded streets or even, perhaps, in one’s own home.
It was good to see her father again; looking at his furrowed brow, his curious eyes, she felt relief wash over her despite her need for cryptic words she was certain were worrying him further. She had missed him dearly.
But Ishgard itself? She hadn’t missed that one bit.
Her father eyed her face a moment, seeking further answers, but she could give no better out here in the street. She shook her head and wove her arm under his. “Come, Father, you’ll catch cold outside.”
He snorted. “I remain hale and whole, despite what some of the other lords may wish.” He nodded to Iloise, who was hovering worriedly around them. “Iloise, pay the porter, please.”
“Right away, sir.”
He passed five gil to Iloise as he guided Emaile into the house.
As soon as the door clacked shut, Emaile squeezed her father’s arm, her brow furrowed with concern. “‘Despite what the lords may wish’? What’s happened while I was away?”
“Oh, nothing out of the ordinary,” her father sighed, patting her hand reassuringly. “More proposals shot down because some lords fear any threat to their power more than they seek what’s best for the people.” He shrugged as Emaile led him to his armchair in the drawing room. “So, more of the same. But what is not the same is the fact you’ve returned early!”
Emaile sunk down into her chair across the fire from him with a sigh heavier than she’d intended. Heavier than she’d expected.
She felt her father’s hand rest gently atop hers.
“Was he that bad?” he whispered, all apology.
“No! No, he… wasn’t even remotely bad…” she replied, but her mind was flitting away from the conversation to memories of Lord Haurchefant’s warm smile. It left traces of a smile playing across her own face.
And then the front door clapped opened, and Iloise floated past the drawing room toward the kitchen in the back, hollering: “Jean! She’s back early! Get the kettle on for me, would you?”
The interruption had saved her, and Emaile cleared her throat, pointing to the letter her father held in one hand. “It all seemed to happen much to his chagrin. I’m certain his letter explains more.”
“‘Seemed to happen’?” Her father cocked a suspicious brow. He’d raise a ruckus if any man had a qualm about his daughter.
Emaile laughed. “I could not claim to speak for him, Father.”
“Then speak of him!” Her father cried, leaning on the edge of his seat. “What was he like, Emaile? You must tell me everything!”
“He was…” she trailed off immediately. Not for lack of descriptions to give; she’d known all along her father would desire a detailed report. But she lacked the proper words to describe the warm days she’d spent at Dragonhead. Or the way her heart fluttered even now thinking of its lord.
The embarrassment pushed the words out without her bidding. “He was the perfect gentleman, but Father… oh, he was nothing like the men of Ishgard. He was such an honest soul, and I… every conversation was such a delight. He truly was a marvel.”
Her father’s earnest expression warmed into a wise and knowing smile. He nodded, waving his hand and urging her to continue.
And so she did, for hours and hours, long after Jean had brought them tea and Iloise had offered them supper. Neither of them ate, Emaile enraptured by reliving her delightful days at Camp Dragonhead, and her father enthralled by her tale.
It wasn’t until Emaile came to that dreadful day she’d learned she’d be sent away that she finally stopped.
Her father didn’t seem to notice her abrupt halt, however. He leaned back in his chair, settling in with a satisfied sigh as if he’d eaten all of his long-cold meal. “An excellent holiday it sounds indeed,” he said.
“It was marvelous,” Emaile whispered, hand cupping her chin. She stared at their wallpapered plaster walls, but her heart was far away… riding back toward Dragonhead.
“And now,” her father murmured, snapping out his reading glasses from his waistcoat and raising the letter to his nose, “we come to the reason for your early departure.”
Emaile pursed her lips, waiting with anxiety, gauging her father’s reaction as he read the letter silently to himself. She hadn’t wanted to worry him with news of Dravanians and the war, so she’d said nothing of it. But would Haurchefant? Would he risk upsetting her father with the thought he wouldn’t be able to protect her if something happened?
Emaile watched as her father’s eyebrows raised in surprise… and then angled in righteous indignation.
Surely that couldn’t be a good sign. She flinched.
And then a smile spread across his features. He chuckled to himself and then flicked the letter. “Well, he’s quite to the point in his letters. I can see why you enjoyed conversing with him so much. I won’t bore you with the hundred-thousand apologies he babbles on about being a poor host,” her father smirked, “but here: you’ll enjoy this, I think.”
He cleared his throat and held the letter at arm’s length as he read aloud: “You must forgive me too, Lord Retois, that I have already made a promise to your daughter without your consent: I enjoyed her company so greatly that I simply must request her presence again at Camp Dragonhead.
“Of course, I could never apply for such a selfish request given the current circumstances with the war efforts—”
So he did mention them, at least in brief, Emaile mused.
“—But once we have neutralized this most recent incursion, I would be delighted to redeem my honor by hosting Lady Emaile a second time at Camp Dragonhead, should she so desire and you so approve.”
Emaile dropped her head into the back of the chair, smiling up to the ceiling. “A Fortemps is a man of his word.”
He wants to host me again.
He really wants to have me back.
She covered her mouth, barely stifling a giggle of joy.
Her father wagged the letter in the air, beaming. “You’ve downright smitten him, Emaile! A man of exceeding character and honor, if he is half the things you and all others say! A knight of Ishgard of the highest caliber!”
She couldn’t contain the giggle of delight any longer. She laughed, long and hard alongside her father.
But then he slapped the note, cooling his laughter at least enough to add, “He’s not quite done yet.”
Pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, her father squinted at the remainder of the letter. “I look forward to discussing the details of this second visit with you in person at your leisure, as Lady Emaile was kind enough to extend an invitation to your home in Ishgard…” He looked over the letter, arching a wry brow.
Emaile felt the dreaded blush arrive then, and she clutched the arms of her chair. Perhaps this old friend would be kind enough to swallow her.
“You invited him here!” her father guffawed, beside himself with delight.
He’s really planning to come here? “Wh-when? Did he say?”
“He said ‘at my leisure,’” her father mumbled, turning the letter over to check the blank back for any further writing. “But he ends it and signs it there. No further details.”
No further details! “Then he could come at any time!” Emaile jumped from her seat, smoothing her skirt and pacing the room as she ran her fingers through her hair, tried to straighten out her stubborn curl. “I have to be ready—we must order more hot chocolate straightaway; it’s his favorite drink! And we should get something nice for supper. He’ll have to spend the night, of course… Oh, the bedrooms!” she lamented, clapping a hand to her forehead. “We have no spare… I’ll sleep with Jean and Iloise, then. But my room is hardly fit for a lord… I’ll need new sheets for certain…”
“Emaile,” her father laughed, rising from his seat and gathering her hands in his to hold her steady. “He’ll come when it’s safe to. And you’ll have plenty of time to prepare in the meantime. Besides, there’s no need for all this fretting!” He grinned. “It sounds as though he’d be happy to visit you if you lived in a hut in Tailfeather.”
As she felt her blush deepen, she whipped out her trusted fan, fanning herself with it furiously to the tune of his deep-chested, delighted laughter.
“A productive report, to be sure!” her father chuckled, hugging her tight against his chest. “I’m so happy for you, Emaile. You’ve finally found a man right for you.”
Her heart leaped at the thought. But could it really be true?
She buried her crimson face in her father’s waistcoat and allowed herself a squeal of joy.
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Final Fantasy XIV and all related names and terms are the property of Square Enix. And I am not affiliated with them.
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