Emaile’s eyes flicked open.
The old familiar ceiling stared back at her in its dim, shadowy recesses: the old rafters, as dull as every other day she’d woken to see them from her childhood until now. The old plaster with cracks that criss-crossed like iron bars.
Dust motes fell to the floor in stifled silence.
Outside, beyond her view and reach, she could hear the babble of merchants setting up shop in the wan, white morning light of a cloudy, cold day in Ishgard.
No sounds of Elisabet knitting outside her door. No smell of Medguistl’s fresh-baked walnut bread. No Tinois to shyly ask if she required anything; no Olivier to apprentice to. No Travois to grin and bow as she skipped through the study’s open doorway.
Peeling back her covers, Emaile rolled out of bed, leaden and wooden and cold.
Every task felt like a challenge, and none of it pulled her attention from her hurting heart nor her distracted mind. She peeled potatoes with Iloise, but even when her knife slipped due to her carelessness, she hardly noticed the pain. Unthinking, Emaile jabbed her thumb into her mouth to stop the bleeding. It was no good; her mind was only on Dragonhead.
The way he’d looked at her upon their farewell… How he’d kissed her hands…
Emaile wriggled her fingers, as if willing them to feel the weight of his grasp around them once again.
“My lady!” Iloise cried, tugging Emaile’s injured hand away and examining her fingers. “Are you all right?” She pressed a palm to Emaile’s forehead. “No fever… but Fury, you seem so out of sorts!”
Iloise’s concern, at least, was enough to shake her from her stupor, though not her melancholy. She could never worry her father or the servants. Emaile forced a wan smile. “I’m fine, Illie. I’m sorry, I’ve spoiled the potatoes now, haven’t I? I’ll be more careful this time—”
“Well, I should say the cause of Lady Emaile’s malady is obvious,” came her father’s voice as he swept into the kitchen.
It was unusual for her father to visit the kitchen, but that was not the reason she looked up to him so quickly.
He knew. Surely he knew.
Father, I do not want this burden, she nearly cried, if this is what it means. I cannot bear the weight of my own heart!
And yet… Her mind wandered to Haurchefant’s smile. His longing stare after her, watching as she must have grown so small on his horizon… The softness of his lips as they touched the backs of her hands.
No… She would suffer this pain. She would have it no other way than this.
She was distracted from her thoughts as her father settled into a chair with a sigh. “And,” he wagged his index finger in the air, “I know a good medicine to alleviate some of the symptoms.”
When he met her gaze, she knew just from the look in his eye—sorrowful, commiserating.
He knew how hard it was… being separated.
He opened up his coat, drawing from it a neatly-folded scrap of parchment: a handwritten list, she discovered when he passed it to her.
Emaile glanced through the list: a simple assortment of errands around town. Nothing difficult, though more than her usual routine of daily activities.
“It helps to stay busy during the wait,” her father offered gently. Again, she could hear the understanding in his soft tone. “Would you like some company, my dear?”
Confused, she furrowed her brow. “But weren’t you to meet with that airship captain this morning to discuss his prices?”
Her father shook his head. “I’ve rescheduled. Shipping arrangements can wait; my daughter does not.”
Tears stung the corners of her eyes. “Father…” Gratitude for him overflowed.
He clapped his hands on his knees, rising with slight difficulty for how stiff his bad leg became in the morning. “Well! Shall we be off?”
Chuckling, Emaile brushed away her tears. Taking her father’s arm, she ushered him out of the kitchen.
As they left, she just barely heard Iloise murmur, “Bring a smile to her face again, Lord Seche…”
It could not fully erase the ache in her heart, but the distraction of errands did indeed take off its edge, especially with her father as company. They could walk in silence together and simply be, and it would calm her nerves. Quiet never felt uncomfortable when it was the two of them.
There was some quiet and some chatter between them today. As Emaile was dry on initiating conversation topics, her father started most of them, idly remarking on the temperatures or some business venture he was considering or catching Emaile up on the tidbits of Ishgard news she had missed while she’d been away.
It was pleasant to simply walk with him like this, chit-chatting about the little nothings of life rather than the weight of his station in Ishgard’s political clime—as had been at the forefront of her attention at home as of late.
After a few more errands, however, her father squeezed her arm gently. “Alas, this is where I must leave you,” he said. “Jean requires more wood for the fire, and I told him I would meet the porter from the Highlands to ensure it’s delivered this time.”
Ah, yes. The last time they’d purchased wood, Jean had arrived late, only to find someone else had picked up their order.
Emaile nodded to bid her father good luck and farewell, and they parted ways as she turned to the remaining items on her errand list.
The most efficient route wound up from Foundation to the Pillars. Emaile strolled up stairwells without thinking and soon found herself meandering down the pathway of the Architects.
A trip to this hallowed ground always warranted a pause to examine the statues, to appreciate the sacrifices of all those brave knights who had gone on before to protect her and her citystate. Today was no exception, but the view felt… different than it had before.
Emaile rested her hands on the stone of one of the massive statues of the original twelve founding Knights of the Heaven’s Ward. She’d always seen them as legendary figures, more monuments than men.
But they had been men once. Living, breathing soldiers. Struggling to stay alive. Fighting to protect what they held dear. With families, loved ones. They’d been injured in battle—and eventually met their end. They held much in common with all those she had tended in Dragonhead. They’d been afraid. They’d fought in battle, which held so little of the romantic notions that poems and books painted.
She stared at the statue a moment longer before offering a moment of silence to honor them and so many others who had fallen. Then she continued on her way.
Her footfalls slowed as she passed a sight she did not pass often—a mansion on the left, streaming the banner with the unicorn’s head.
House Fortemps manor.
She smiled and nodded politely to the two guards posted outside the manor. One nodded back stiffly.
So unlike how she and the soldiers interacted at Dragonhead. But then, why would she expect anything different? This was one of the four Founding Houses of Ishgard, after all. Decorum was of the essence, and she had no business there.
Her gaze did linger on the door a bit, however. How many times do his feet cross that threshold?
The topic of his parentage did not, of course, come up at all in their long talks. And she would never deign to ask. Surely it had to be a sore subject, given his status as the son of Count Edmont… though not of the Countess. Still, Count Edmont had claimed him; a gesture far more caring and noble than almost any lord in such position could boast.
Complicated. What a struggle that must have been, to grow in such an environment… But at least the Count seemed to love him.
And, as if her very thoughts conjured the man, she caught motion out of the corner of her eye—Count Edmont himself only a few yalms away, shifting on his cane as he stood near the rail that looked down upon the lower levels of Ishgard. He was half-facing her already, but he turned fully and nodded to her, calling out: “Ah, Lady Emaile de Retois.” He bowed, his long dark hair sweeping in the motion as he stroked his distinguished mustache and goatee. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
She froze in place. Count Edmont himself! And he’d recognized her? She’d known he must have been in talks with her father, but for him to know her face…
Terrified with anxiety, she still managed to force herself to approach and join him at the railing.
But what a knot her nerves were in! She hadn’t expected to speak privately with a count of a Founding House today, let alone Haurchefant’s father! What if she offended him somehow? What if he didn’t like her? What if she made some critical blunder in her fear?
Emaile nearly missed what Count Edmont was saying, her nerves were tying themselves in such knots, distracting her.
“—A bit of shopping before accompanying your father to the Forgotten Knight?” he asked, pointing to the bags on her arms.
She chuckled nervously. “Errands for the household.” He knew about her evening ritual too? And what did he think of her father’s speeches at the Knight, she wondered?
Fear again threatened her. Was this a test of his, to see how radical her beliefs were?
But the image of her father standing by the rail—not unlike Count Edmont was now—flickered in her mind.
Perhaps the reserved Count would not approve of her father’s loud cries for justice… but how could any honorable man object to their content and her father’s passion for the good of all? How could any person object?
“Yes,” Emaile nodded, replying carefully. “There is so much important talk that circulates in the Knight… I would hate to miss it.” She paused to gauge his reaction.
Count Edmont had no reaction as of yet; he simply listened patiently.
And so she pressed, “Important ideas, for the good of our city. And, though some may scoff, I would ever stand with those who champion the cause of the people, even—” She paused, realizing how excitable she’d become, how passionately she spoke her mind.
If he were testing to see how like her father she was—if he disapproved of their passionate cries, well… he would hardly allow a son of his to marry into that.
But she would not apologize for her father standing for what was right. The method sometimes, perhaps, but never the message.
And Count Edmont deserved to know as much.
“Even to my own detriment,” Emaile finished resolutely.
Count Edmont’s stern, concerned face slowly broke into a smile. “Your words remind me of my son,” he said quietly, turning away to stare across the city.
His words washed over her, rinsing all the fear away. He did approve! Oh, she knew he was a good man!
But to be granted such a high compliment too… Emaile brushed her curl behind her ear, all her resolution dissolving into shyness in a moment. “I… have heard only praise for him. He is a good man, and all who serve under him love him dearly.” And rightly so.
She glanced back up at Count Edmont, adding quickly before she lost her nerve from looking directly at him like so: “He brings much honor to House Fortemps.”
The smile that he offered her was not one of a pleased lord… but of a proud father. “You do us much honor in saying so, Lady Emaile. I thank you.”
No honor that is not due you and yours. She returned his smile and nodded.
But Count Edmont soon shifted the subject. “Do you often assist with the household errands then?” He gestured again to her load of bags laden with groceries and odd items for the house.
She felt suddenly quite embarrassed. How undignified it must look to a count! Yet she would hardly leave it all to Illie and Jean. “When the occasion requires. I see it as part of my duties to ensure the household runs as smoothly as possible. Should that require a few tasks and a brisk walk about the town, more’s the better for the fresh air,” she replied with a shrug and a light laugh, much more at ease than she likely should be.
It was difficult not to find herself easing under Count Edmont’s kind smile and his calm voice. There was no judgment in his tone, though his eyes were bright and sharp, examining, observing beneath that thoughtful smile. It reminded her a great deal of the way Haurchefant had looked when they’d first met, as they’d begun to feel one another out to get to know each other better. Pleasant and perceptive and shrewd and delightful all in one.
So like a certain young lord of Dragonhead. She smiled.
Though she wondered how Count Edmont felt about what he saw.
As if in answer, the count nodded. It seemed his assessment of her was complete. “Fresh air, long walks… I wager you and my son would get along quite well.”
Her heart leapt within her! It was a threefold statement: to throw any would-be eavesdroppers off the trail (for the courtship would never have happened at all without Count Edmont’s knowledge of it)…
And to reaffirm that Haurchefant did indeed like her… and that Count Edmont did not find her wanting!
But she should reply! Quickly, or what would he think of her?! “That is very kind of you to say, my lord.” She stopped herself there, not trusting her hammering heart and trembling hands. She’d give too much away to any passersby if she said more!
“Lady Emaile, those look passing heavy,” Count Edmont continued, “and here I have kept you tarrying. Forgive this inconsiderate old man.” He bowed. “Pray allow me to call a retainer to carry your parcels the remainder of the way.” He gestured to one of the knights stationed at the door to the Fortemps manor.
He was even willing to allow a knight to be seen walking with her in public? W-what could that possibly mean?!
“Oh, Count Edmont, that is too kind of you—far too kind indeed!” Emaile babbled, her mouth moving swifter than her mind in her over-excited state. “I could never trouble your men with something so trivial as my groceries! B-but thank you, my lord.” She bowed, tipping precariously due to her baggage.
Count Edmont reached forward to help steady her, and she offered another grateful bob of her head. Retreat! She had to escape before her nerves bungled everything!
“Good day to you, my lord,” Emaile chirped nervously, “and Fury’s blessing on your House!” She straightened, smoothed her skirts, and marched off, leaving a likely perplexed knight and confused count in her wake.
Though one last sheepish glance over her shoulder told Emaile that Count Edmont was still smiling as he watched her go.
It put a spring in her step she’d never felt before. Emaile traipsed down the street, her heart light, all thought of the weight of bags on her arms forgotten.
He likes me. He approves of me! Enough to be willing to let Fortemps knights be seen walking home with me!
Ordinarily, perhaps no large thing for as kind a count as Edmont de Fortemps. But for something so sensitive as this courtship, which they’d all worked so hard to keep quiet… and taken in conjunction with even Haurchefant’s single visit to their home, it could get all sorts of tongues in the town gossiping.
No, she dare not even breathe the thought to herself. Surely she was jumping to conclusions. Surely it could not mean that he was confident a union would ensue soon enough.
…She had not the strength of heart to dare wish it so.
She returned home, tossing coat and scarf to the pegs on the wall, mouth open wide to sing of her arrival home. Her heart was bright and—
And the house was remarkably quiet. Emaile could have heard a pin drop; how much moreso the whispers that were coming from the drawing room.
“My lord, this is dangerous work—” Jean said, though her father cut him off quickly.
“But innocent lives are at stake,” her father hissed. “Him and the son, and who knows who else will follow?”
Joy turned to curiosity which turned to strength-sapping fear. What could they be talking about in such hushed tones?
Emaile rounded the corner, heading toward the drawing room.
Her father continued, “Do you know how much the Inquisition investigated? I don’t; there’s no documentation whatsoever. No, someone stands to gain here, and I’ll find out what; the See will no longer turn a blind eye to—”
“What are you talking about?” Emaile interrupted as she entered.
Both men started. Jean glanced away guiltily, shaking his head.
Before she could ask any further questions, he smiled. “How was your talk with the count?” The count? “How did you…?”
Her father smiled mysteriously, knowingly. Mischievously. Delightedly. “Oh, you know, my dear. We lords all have connections to one another, of varying kinds…”
Connections? Had they planned an entire audience under the guise of having her run errands?
It caught her on the back foot. As she gawked, he kissed her forehead. “Ah, allow me to help you with these.” He bent down, gathering up her bags.
But no, he would not so easily dissuade her from the topic at hand! Emaile followed him into the kitchen, where Iloise was getting supper started. She took a knife out of Iloise’s hand and patted her on the shoulder. “I’ll take over for a moment, Illie. Can you check with Jean and make sure we have enough wood for the fire?”
Iloise shot one confused glance between Emaile and her lord… and then wisely exited the room without a word.
She’d seen the looks in their faces, then. Read the tension.
Emaile sighed. “Does this have anything to do with the Lesser House merchant?” She asked softly.
She couldn’t see his back, midway as he was unpacking the contents of the bags. But her question gave him pause. The frozen form of a man caught in some dealings they hadn’t wanted discovered.
And that did nothing to calm her fears, either. Worry welling in her chest, Emaile strode over to her father, casting a glance at the kitchen door. “Father, please… tell me,” she urged, reaching out to gently place her palm upon his back.
By the time her father finally turned, glancing over his shoulder to her, he was smiling again.
But oh, what a grave, sad smile it was.
He slipped both his hands around hers, pressing her hand gently between his palms. “Fear not for me, my dear.” He pressed another kiss to her forehead. “You’ve always known I had a keen nose, hm?”
Her heart sank. He wouldn’t tell her. Since when did her father keep secrets from her?
It hurt. It ached in her heart. Not only for the secrets kept… but too because of the fear of what they could entail.
Emaile sighed. “It’s how you met Mother… and what’s kept your businesses going so long.” He nodded. “And you have it too.” He tapped her nose with his fingertip. “I’m on the scent of something. But don’t you fret.”
Gently, he clapped his hands on her arms, holding her as he stared down deep into her eyes.
Her father had always said she’d inherited much of her personality from her mother. But her brown eyes she’d gotten from him. Those tender brown eyes gaze down at her now, wells full of emotion but none she could place except love and pride. “The best thing you can do for me is trust me,” he murmured. “Believe in your father.”
It’s not that I don’t trust you, Father… She nibbled on her lower lip. “Of course I do, Father.”
He enveloped her into a tight embrace. So tight it felt as though it were wringing tears from her eyes.
It’s that I believe in you too much…
He’d found something. Seen something that had troubled him to his core. Something that, if she had judged his cloudy expression right, had stirred the storm into action.
I believe in you far too much to know you won’t let whatever this is go until you’ve made tried to make it right…
But what would that courage cost?
Final Fantasy XIV and all related names and terms are the property of Square Enix. And I am not affiliated with them.