The kitchen was closed, but the cook was still kind enough to provide some bread from that morning for Emaile and Haurchefant to sneak up to his study. That and, of course, two large mugs of Haurchefant’s famous hot chocolate. Emaile and Haurchefant scampered down the hall, giggling and hissing at each other to quiet like two children sneaking away to steal a midnight kiss.
The thought made Emaile blush anew, but she buried her face in her mug of hot chocolate as they passed Travois and entered Haurchefant’s study.
While she nibbled at her hunk of bread, Emaile meandered over to a stack of books on the floor. Now where did I last leave off?
“The chaos has subsided considerably, thanks to your heroic efforts,” Haurchefant observed brightly. “Without you, my lady, I fear I would have been consumed by my own sloth,” He bowed dramatically.
Emaile giggled. Though he was right; the stacks of books had lessened tremendously since her first visit, as dutiful as she’d been to sort through the mess.
Still, her work was not yet done, so she gathered an armful of books and made her way over to the shelves.
“And,” Haurchefant added, sidling over to take half the books from her arms, “I am attempting to maintain your organization.”
She resisted another giggle; the stacks of books remaining suggested his attempts were… of limited success. But bless him, if the study isn’t still swimming in books, he is most certainly trying. She could never discourage such admirable improvement. “Your librarian is most impressed, Lord Haurchefant.”
“Librarian? My lieutenant and confidante!” He cried. “Your efforts to help me stay on task are far too important to reserve to a mere keeper of books.”
“But I hold books of the highest value!” She protested teasingly, beginning to shelve the books, one at a time, by author’s surname.
And it wasn’t as though she minded the work. No, she loved this time—quietly sorting or reading, simply being here together in his study as he worked.
Needless to say, she knew her organization methods far better than he. Haurchefant held up a book for her to read the title. Judging from his arched brow, he seemed quite lost. Emaile studied the tome a moment. “Hm, let’s see… That’s history, correct?” She pursed her lips, turning to the shelves. “Those can go… here!” She shoved open a space beside the other nonfiction books.
They worked together in contented silence, setting books on the shelf one by one until another pile on the floor was gone. Then Haurchefant awaited instruction as Emaile studied the shelves, glancing to and from the remaining unsorted books, muttering to herself. “Now where should the next batch go…?” She wondered aloud.
She was startled out of her thoughts by his soft, wistful words: “I wonder, if this war ever came to an end, what it would be like to go on an adventure myself.”
She glanced to him, but his gaze was arrested by the books, lost in thought at the idea. A lovely idea, that.
Emaile’s finger dragged across the spine of a seasoned tome: The Lands Beyond Eorzea. “I always dreamed of it,” she whispered. “Every day. And most nights before bed.” She stared up at the bookshelves: her aetheryte to steal her away to distant worlds. “Far away from Ishgard’s towers and posturing and politicking.” Ishgard. How many years had books been her only escape from her so-called home?
But now… Now, her home was…
Out of the corner of her eye, Haurchefant caught her gaze. He was watching her carefully. “Yes, the politics…” He turned back to the books, a cloud of frown rolled over his face. He sighed. “One large reason why I visit Ishgard so seldom. I must confess, I care for politicking perhaps even less than you do, my lady.”
Oh, a breath of fresh air! She could clap him up in an embrace were she not fully aware of the open door for posterity and Travois stationed dutifully just outside. “Were politics truly nothing more than logical discourse, seeking the best for Ishgard’s people—I think I would like it a good deal more,” she said.
“Yes, exactly!” Haurchefant snapped his fingers, pointing at her. “My thoughts precisely!”
She giggled. Perhaps she should not be so delighted to find a kindred spirit in him, but… it gave her no small comfort.
“No pretense,” Haurchefant continued, clapping his hand in an open palm. “Just good, strong morals and the will and courage to protect those who need it—” He stopped, stroking his chin. “And there are certainly plenty who could use some assistance now and then, aren’t there? We all could at times…”
He gazed at the books on the shelf once more. “And that is what adventurers are—at least, the ones worth their salt.”
Little wonder he wished for a taste of that life.
“Lady Emaile,” he turned back to her, eyes aglow. “Someday, after the war is over, just for a little while, would you care to go on an adventure with me? See the world and help others. Do all the brave and good things adventurers do!”
It sounded like a dream come true. She giggled delightedly to see him so starry-eyed, to hear him make such a bold suggestion! Her heart sang to share an adventure with him. But… “Could you truly leave Dragonhead so long?” She tilted her head.
“In peacetime? Certainly. I could entrust the daily activities to a steward for a few weeks.” He turned to the books, drumming his fingers on the shelf. “Just think of the things we’d see, the people we’d meet, together!” He swept his arms open wide.
She followed his gaze, then stared at his swinging wide arms, his bright grin. Delight. Childlike wonder and a desperate desire for… for something more. Her question slipped from her lips, “Do you want to escape, Lord Haurchefant?”
She had always wanted to flee the suffocating towers of Ishgard. But she had never thought… she’d never considered there might be those outside of Ishgard who sought the same.
Haurchefant turned to her, his smile slowly fading. He considered her question a moment. “As you well know, I have nothing to flee here in Dragonhead,” he murmured.
She nodded; perhaps things were different for him then. But… the implication was there in those last few words: he sought escape from something, at least.
What would dare cage your heart, my lord?
At least Dragonhead was a warm harbor from the storm. “It is a good home with good, honest people.”
“Only the best.” Haurchefant nodded. His gaze wandered again to the bookshelf. He dusted his fingertips across a shelf. “Though I wouldn’t mind the taste of an adventurer’s life, even were it secondhand. Not the whole life: just a sample. Dragonhead is my home, and I am its proud protector. But… just a little adventure. Sometimes… all one truly needs is a taste of something else to truly appreciate returning home to a familiar hearth—” He turned, staring Emaile full in the eye— “and someone to share it with.”
Her heart nearly burst. Before she could think, she sidled a few steps closer to him. As if in unspoken agreement, they both began to arrange more books upon the shelf.
“Mostly,” Haurchefant added, “I just think it would be amusing—seeing an adventurer at work,” he confessed with a shrug and a smile.
Emaile worked in the following silence for as long as she could stand, but her thundering heart would not allow her to remain silent long. “I…” she began, breathless at what she was about to say. Her pulse pounded with delight. “I would very much like… to adventure with you that day, my lord.”
Haurchefant’s hand slid closer to where hers rested on the shelf.
And… she slid her fingers closer to his.
He closed the gap instantly, his hand rising to meet hers. Had he been anticipating this moment as eagerly as she? His fingers danced across the back of her hand before resting there.
The study was silent, but Emaile’s heart was full of song and light as she and Haurchefant stood hand in hand, in the quiet of their delighted souls. Smiling to no one but themselves and each other. Savoring this moment. Wishing it would last forever.
She knew she would treasure it for just as long.
The scouts were efficient and thorough, scouring the lands north of Dragonhead in record time. No further Dravanian movement of note, they reported. And in a week that flew faster than the swiftest airship—between caring for patients and spending time with Haurchefant—Emaile was forced to return home for her ensured protection.
Haurchefant held onto her hand through their entire farewell.
“We’ll schedule another trip soon,” he insisted, still refusing to release her hand despite the carriage and driver standing witness to the whole scene.
Emaile was in no hurry to leave, herself. “I look forward to hearing from you, my lord.” From any other two Ishgardians, these could simply be pleasantries without meaning. But to Emaile and Haurchefant, the words meant far more than either could ever say.
Haurchefant still held her fast, running his thumb along the back of her hand. He smiled despite his clear displeasure at her imminent departure.
That smile, like the sun peering through a sea of cloud.
If only she could linger… just a bit longer. “You will instruct me again next visit, I hope?”
Her words had caught him by surprise: he blinked… and then his smile grew even brighter. “Of course, Lady Emaile. Anticipate it eagerly until our next meeting.”
Their hands clasped each other tightly. Their gazes remained locked. Emaile could stare into his shimmering blue eyes forever.
I will miss you, she desperately wanted to say.
And then… she did. “I will miss you dearly until then, Lord Haurchefant.” And for once… she felt no shame at proclaiming her full feelings. Especially not when a look of delighted wonder made his eyes sparkle.
There was a moment’s pause as Haurchefant seemed to gather his thoughts. His eyes did not lower from hers for a moment as he lifted her hands and kissed them, deliberate and slow, as if to savor them. Perhaps to engrave the moment in his memory. “Yet it is half as much as I will miss you… my Lady Emaile.”
Her heart felt fit to burst.
And then the driver gently spoke. “Forgive me, my lady, but your father awaits.”
Oh, did he not understand? Surely her father would beg the driver to grant them two more moments!
But if they did not proceed… she may never leave.
“Farewell, Lord Haurchefant,” Emaile whispered as she pulled her hands out of his… shattering her heart.
Haurchefant stood tall and strong as the carriage made ready to pull away. But Emaile knew him well enough: she could detect the slightest slump in his shoulders, the smallest break in his brave facade as he watched her go. He nodded. “Farewell, Lady Emaile. Until our next meeting.”
As the carriage jerked into motion, carrying her past the gates all too quickly, Emaile knew her heart lay in a thousand pieces. For gravely did it ache inside her chest.
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