We’ll be posting a few special bonus chapters over the next few weeks leading up to the holiday season, starting today!
Many blessings to you and yours, and hope you enjoy!
Now Emaile had two reasons to stiffen at every knock on the door: it was always a moment of sheer joy or a moment of sheer terror. Would it be news of Lord Haurchefant to greet her when she went to answer the door… or an inquisitor, ready to haul away her father for questioning?
Please let it not be Charibert, at least. Fury, please, you know no man deserves that, she would pray, forcing her trembling legs forward one step at a time. She couldn’t breathe every time she reached for the doorknob and opened the portal.
But each time, it was never either her deepest fear nor her greatest hope.
She grew to loathe the front door and any visitors who came by all the same. Enough that she found excuses to escape even when her father was off on business and wouldn’t be at risk of incurring the church’s wrath.
She’d take long walks around the city: wide, loping walks where she poked her nose into nooks and crannies of the sprawling city. It reminded her of exploring Dragonhead, and any excuse she could find to bring her one step closer to reliving her little adventure was a good excuse in her book.
This particular trip today had found her meandering the streets of the mercantile district once her shopping for tomorrow night’s supper ingredients were finished. She wandered from shop to shop, perusing wares under the golden light of waning evening. As she was examining a lovely light blue dye for cloth, however, she heard a familiar name uttered by two passersby crossing the street behind her. Though she’d missed the context of the conversation, she distinctly heard:
“—Haurchefant’s type, for certain!”
Arching a brow, Emaile quickly thanked the shopkeep, Frine, and brushed her hair behind her ear as she made a half-turn to catch a glimpse of the face to match the voice she’d overheard.
Immediately she stiffened. The long, dark hair was telltale sign enough, but the playful bright blue eyes, long ears, and ruddy face that bespoke too much ale—aye, nearly every lady in Ishgard could spot Emmanellain de Fortemps from a mile away—and a good half that number would turn away with a roll of her eye.
But for Emaile, the youngest son of Count Edmont de Fortemps portended something quite different than an unsolicited attempt at wooing.
Terrified of failing at subtlety, Emaile averted her gaze. But equally burning with curiosity at the young lord’s current quest, she followed at half his pace, glancing at stalls she had just been visiting moments prior.
Lord Emmanellain was accompanied, as always, by his dutiful manservant Honoroit: the young boy far from the cusp of manhood yet twice as responsible as his master. He shook his red-haired head with a heavy sigh. “My lord, please, not so loud! Someone will hear!”
The lord, however, was paying his manservant no mind. A woman down the street had arrested his attention, and he sized her up with a critical gaze. “Hm, no, far too short. Or does he like the small ones, perhaps?”
Honoroit struggled to keep up with his long-legged master. His freckled face wrinkled with dismay, his green eyes pleading as he hissed, “My lord, may I remind you that your father was quite insistent this news be kept in utmost confidence!”
In a fright, Emaile turned almost in unison, plucking up a quiche from Mestonnaux’s Carvery and examining it quite thoroughly.
“I can’t believe they refused to tell us who it is…” Lord Emmanellain grumbled. Though he hadn’t seemed to notice Emaile, “I have a right to know! A wedding could change everything, Honoroit!”
“I’m certain it is precisely that sensitivity that prompted the Count’s reticence…” Honoroit whispered. “And may I remind you, my lord, that there was no mention of ‘wedding,’ only a courting…”
“Tut tut. With that golden tongue of his, it’ll lead to a wedding in days. Oh! Honoroit, look at that beauty over there! That must be the one!”
Emaile froze faster than the Brume in winter. Did she dare glance up and acknowledge—
“I say, Miss, what a lovely day for a stroll!” Lord Emmanellain called, racing right past Emaile to chase a finely-dressed lady about to head down the steps to Foundation.
Equal parts relief, disappointment, and annoyance, Emaile furrowed her brow. She dropped the quiche tin on the cart with a grunt.
“Good judges of quality can be so hard to find…” murmured a voice just behind her.
Startled for the second time by someone from behind and already strung by her fluttering emotions, Emaile spun in a flurry, so alarmed that she failed to recognize the voice before she saw the face: one she had hardly expected to see. And one she certainly hadn’t expected to see side by side with her beaming father.
Chuckling, Haurchefant nodded off in the direction his half-brother had run. “…But I am quite fortunate to have found two today!” he finished his thought with a bow. “Good afternoon, Lady Emaile.”
All the annoyance flushed out immediately with shock and sweet delight. Seeing him here…! As warm a feeling as hot chocolate, from her head down to her toes. So much of it that, for a moment, all her manners escaped her.
She recovered them quickly, however, and offered him a curtsy. “Lord Haurchefant! Good afternoon to you. What a pleasant surprise,” her words came out in a breathless flood; she hardly noticed her father standing there with a grin so bright it would surely alert the whole city to their intentions and the true nature of this encounter and all their secrecy would be for naught in moments. “I was under the impression you did not often venture to Ishgard. What brings you here from Dragonhead?”
Haurchefant, by contrast, took each beat in stride. “Family business!”
Oh, heavens, why had he said that? Emaile could feel a blush creeping to her cheeks. The conversation she’d overheard with Lord Emmanellain certainly didn’t help…
Did he know she’d overheard the whole affair?
Was he truly… considering courting her?
But he showed no signs of noticing her elated alarm at his double-meaninged response. Haurchefant continued nonchalantly, despite him surely knowing exactly the reason for her current state. “Called me away. All silent on the fronts, so I left Camp Dragonhead in the capable hands of my knights. And who should I stumble across but Seche here as I was on my way to the Last Vigil! Your father and I have been holding the most scintillating conversation about his days in the service.”
Her father was simply glowing by this point, fit to burst with his little surprise. Had they planned this? “And Lord Haurchefant has been kind enough to indulge this senile old man. But gracious, Lord Haurchefant, the day is getting on!” he exclaimed, gesturing to the sinking sun. Afternoon was swiftly fading into evening twilight. “You simply must visit the Retois estate. Iloise is preparing her famous broiled chicken for supper. It is the talk of Ishgard; a family recipe.”
“How could I refuse?” Lord Haurchefant cried, turning to Emaile with an apologetic bow this time. “That is, as long as the lady will forgive me for intruding?”
“No intrusion at all!” Emaile replied out of instinct. But gracious, she’d never meant it more sincerely. “The Retois estate is always welcome to guests.”
And it was. But she hadn’t expected to host a son of a count so suddenly!
Her father led the way back to the manor, chatting with Lord Haurchefant while she followed two steps behind in a stupor. Though the gentlemen included her in their harmless conversation every chance they had, she was still in far too much of a daze to add much of interest to the discussion.
He’s here! In Ishgard! About to dine with Father and I tonight!
She wasn’t prepared for this. Whyever had she been at the market at the same time as the rumor-thirsty Lord Emmanellain? Why, in the Fury’s name, had she followed him? Why had she offered Haurchefant to join them at the Retois manor at all?! This dreadful hammering heart and crippling terror of committing a social faux pas was surely due punishment for eavesdropping!
Her pounding pulse only worsened once they arrived at the house. But she went about her expected ladylike duties promptly: her body having long ago memorized each step. First there was the offering of tea, and then stoking the fire to get it nice and hot for the guests as she pulled over the now shamefully-shabby high-backed chairs to the fire so the men could sit and talk.
She was half distracted to lunacy performing all these simple tasks, however; because she kept catching Lord Haurchefant shooting her little smiling glimpses out of the corner of his eye. It was a small miracle when she received reprieve when she retreated to the kitchen to help with supper.
Of course, how foolish she was to think she’d find much solace from her nervous excitement here.
“He’s so handsome!” Iloise whispered as soon as Emaile had slipped inside the doorway.
All ablush all over again, Emaile shushed her but could do nothing against Iloise’s giggles.
“An’ he carries himself like you, m’lady. What a find!”
Oh, this was ever too much for her nerves. What if someone heard? Fury forbid Lord Haurchefant did! “Illie!” Emaile whispered.
“I’m sorry, m’lady,” Iloise stifled her laughter and bravely attempted to erase the overjoyed smile from her face. “I’ll try to compose myself.” She fanned herself, leaning against the counter as she sighed. “Ah! Love in the Holy See!”
As Iloise likely began contemplating wedding plans and potential names for Emaile’s future children, Emaile peered through a crack in the door. Her turn to sigh; this time in relief. It seemed Haurchefant hadn’t heard a word; he was busy laughing at a jest her father had made.
She moved over to the oven, where Iloise was chopping some peeled popotoes.
“Oh, I’m just fine in here, m’lady!” Iloise assured her while dropping diced carrots and the popotoes into the pan with the chicken Emaile had purchased today. “Go out there and woo your lord!”
“Il-lie!” Emaile hissed, absolutely bursting with shyness and betrayal, but Iloise only laughed all the more and shooed her back to the door.
Banished from the kitchen, Emaile stood frozen to the door, contemplating hammering on it to plead entry as she surveyed the battlefield of love before her: Haurchefant sitting on the edge of her favorite chair, listening to her father’s tales with rapt attention and a warm smile.
But not as warm as when his eyes flicked up to notice her standing there, no longer burdened by hosting obligations. His blue eyes sparkled anew. “Ah! Would the lady care to join us?”
She hardly had to consider her answer. “I’ll fetch another chair!” Emaile offered, meandering to the dining room. Yes, despite her heart all aflame, she would indeed very much like to join.
Of course as soon as she brought the less-comfortable chair over, it began a small war of polite declining as she, her father, and Haurchefant all gently argued who should take the high-backed chairs. Haurchefant immediately stood to give up his seat, but Emaile insisted he please sit, as he was the guest and a lord of a high house besides. So naturally her father rose and said he would take the new chair, since he was head of the house and the host. But Emaile couldn’t simply watch her father sit in such a chair for an extended period of time while supper cooked, to which her father replied that Seche de Retois was no invalid to allow a lady to sit in a less-fine chair than himself—
And it was all interrupted as Haurchefant finally burst out laughing. “Gracious, I believe I’ve fought brigands less fearsome! Please, allow me to break this stalemate. I stand for hours drilling in the cold wind: sitting in a different chair will do me no harm.”
And, as Emaile and her father were duty-bound not to argue with an honored guest, the war truly was over. Emaile could only glance at her father and shrug in defeat as she moved the new chair closer to the fire, at least, so Haurchefant would find himself a warm seat.
They sat as a trio, each of them taking turns regaling the room with amusing tales. Her father was, of course, a master of storytelling and possessed plenty of tales to his name. Though Emaile hardly heard any of them; too busy she was sneaking peeks at Lord Haurchefant.
As he listened with rapt attention, adding questions now and then to prompt further elaboration, the shrewd wisdom reflected in his face. And when they all laughed—ah, the way his eyes lit was like starlight!
The storytelling came to an abrupt end when Iloise entered to proclaim supper was ready.
They gathered around the table, Seche offering a prayer of thanks to the Fury for her protection, and then they sat down to Iloise’s finest supper. Despite the exquisite taste, Emaile found herself with little appetite, so focused was she on conversing with Lord Haurchefant, who dug in with grace but gusto. “They said it was the talk of Ishgard,” Lord Haurchefant praised as he ate the last morsel of chicken, “but even that report does not do it justice, Miss Iloise! I thank you heartily. Were I not loathe to deprive the good Retois family of your services, I would be sorely tempted to offer you employ at Camp Dragonhead.”
“Aw, aren’t you sweet, Lord Haurchefant. Bless you.” Iloise giggled, waving off the compliment and shooting a grin at Emaile that shouted, “He’s a keeper, this one.”
Emaile shook her head with a grin of her own. She wouldn’t fall prey to blushing this time!
Lord Haurchefant’s voice again interrupted her thoughts. “Speaking on that topic, Lord Retois, I am well aware I broached the topic already in my letter some months ago,” he bowed his head, “but I simply must insist on apologizing in person for such a disgraceful display of hosting your daughter.”
Her father leaned on his hand, smiling at Emaile across from the table. “You did indeed mention it before, yes…”
“No apologies are necessary, Lord Haurchefant!” Emaile quickly jumped in. It was simply formality, his apology, surely. He couldn’t possibly still feel guilty over such trifles! Still… “Nor were they ever,” she reassured him. “How could they be when you were protecting the Holy See?”
Both men turned to her: her father with a knowing smile, encouraging her to go on and speak her mind, and Lord Haurchefant with a mild surprise but delight nonetheless.
Both the looks made her so self-conscious she wished she hadn’t spoken. But she had, so she may as well finish what she’d begun. “We knew when requesting a journey to Camp Dragonhead that it was a military post first and foremost, what with the war. I was well aware of the risks. Yet my father saw fit to indulge my insatiable curiosity and request it all the same. It is I who should apologize to you both—to my father for my selfish and purposeful choice of placing myself in harm’s way, and to you for potentially distracting you, becoming a liability to your mission.”
Lord Haurchefant listened to every word before outstretching his hand toward her across the table. “I can assure you, my lady: your apologies are as unnecessary in my eyes as my own seem to you. It was no distraction but a delight to have you there. And, as I mentioned then—” here he cast his gaze from her to Seche to his left, “—I have never been more productive producing my reports than when your daughter was there to keep me on task!”
Her father chuckled. “I’ve felt much the same way. I can hardly misstep with Emaile at my elbow to remind me to be courteous when my baser instincts would plead otherwise.”
Nodding, Lord Haurchefant continued, “Then it will come as no surprise to you when I say not simply I, but the whole of Dragonhead misses her quite dearly. The entire garrison, all my staff, and then some have been clamoring for her return nearly before she’d even left.” His blue-eyed gaze flicked back to Emaile. And that same mischievous glint she knew so well reflected in his eye. But this time, as he searched her, she could see it was not quite in the same way it had when they’d first met. Less probing it seemed; somewhat more relaxed, at rest around her. Perhaps more… seeking of an answer than of what kind her character was. “So, despite the lack of etiquette it presents, it would be remiss of me not to request her presence—for just one more visit.”
Emaile’s heart hammered in her chest. She could feel the spark glittering in her eyes with delight and excitement and anticipation at a trip she wished she were already taking.
Lord Haurchefant’s gaze lingered in hers—perhaps a moment too long, a moment too telling. A moment that betrayed him, told everyone in the room that he was struggling to look away.
A moment that made her glow all the more. And that glow made him smile.
Distractedly, he regained his composure and turned to her father. “I did promise your daughter, after all.” She caught his mouth quirk in a little knowing grin.
Their little shared secret. She barely withheld a giggle. His smile slightly grew at the sound of her laugh: a mixture of delight and relief.
All the while, her father had been watching them with his fingers steepled, his hands tucked under his chin: with a knowing little grin of his own. “Far be it from me to stand between an honorable man and his word!” he threw his arms wide. “Lord Haurchefant, you truly never need ask. Our home is your home! And though she is my treasure…” he paused. Emaile could hear the tears gathering in his voice. He continued, “I could not entrust my daughter to a more capable man’s hands, in peacetimes or in war.” Seche turned to her, inclining his head. “But of course, for your answer, you will have to consult her…”
“Yes!” Emaile breathed, clapping her hands in her lap to remind herself to measure her delight. “Yes, I would—” she cleared her throat, “—very much enjoy a return visit to Camp Dragonhead, my lord.”
And there it was—that glowing smile of delight of his that lit the very room. She… had not realized quite how much she had missed it. “Well then, it is settled!” Haurchefant announced, throwing his arms wide before clapping his hands and rubbing them together. “Now, for the particulars…”
Dedicated to our favorite count, Stephen Critchlow, and the best manservant this side of Hydaelyn, Archie Lyndhurst.
Thank you for giving us a safehaven, a home, and a family in Manor Fortemps. You will forever be cherished and missed.
Final Fantasy XIV and all related names, terms, and photos are by Square Enix.
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