We’ll be returning to our usual once-a-month post today. We hope you enjoyed the extra chapters, dear readers! May your new year be one filled with laughs, love, and learning lots of brand-new things!
Everything about this trip felt better than any others that had come before. Everyone’s moods were light. With the holiday, Haurchefant had more time to spend with her: taking walks and rides and talking or reading in his office. And even when his duties claimed his attention, he made every excuse to pull Emaile along to keep him company. Training with the knights, for instance, became their time to practice Emaile’s swordsmanship, and though her instruction stole much of Haurchefant’s own time training, he minded least of all—and the other knights seemed quite content to watch the two of them train, observing with knowing grins and nudging one another while pointing to the young lord and lady.
There were many of those knowing, happy little smiles going around Dragonhead—more than ever before. The castle was enjoying its best-kept secret unfolding before their eyes and coming to fruition:
Young love between their lord and his lady.
Every moment spent with Haurchefant felt warm and exciting and wonderful. Every topic discussed, every laugh they shared, every mug of hot chocolate savored…
Every smile they couldn’t resist when their eyes met. Every time they touched.
She never wanted to leave his side. Not ever again. She wasn’t certain her heart could bear it. Even when they bid one another good night each evening, they would stand hand in hand for long after saying the words, staring at each other’s fingers. Neither of them willing to let go.
So as the day for Emaile to return to Ishgard drew near, it felt like a death sentence.
She tried to pretend the day did not exist, that it would never come. But the nearer it drew, the more she and Haurchefant became distracted by its weight. There were more stretches of silence between them. More looks of melancholy clouding Haurchefant’s face. Times Emaile caught herself sighing despondently.
May it never come, she found herself praying one night as Haurchefant finally broke hold on her hands to leave her so they could sleep.
If only she could stay forever.
But the final day came at last, unbidden though it was by Emaile—and everyone else at the hold, if their downcast faces were any indication. Even the sky was heavy with gloomy, thick clouds.
Emaile stared at those clouds, hoping if she wished hard enough, the Fury would grant her a Starlight miracle.
“The Skywatcher says there’ll be snow this evening,” Haurchefant commented hopefully as he leaned against the parapet and followed Emaile’s gaze to the sky.
“But they said as much the night I arrived as well…” Emaile grumbled bitterly, shivering from the cold. How could they dash her hopes like this?
Snow! Please let there be snow!
Haurchefant sighed, shaking his head as he threw a cloak over her shoulders and tucked her under his arm. “We’ll simply have to wait and see.”
Both of them stared up at the sky, holding one another a little tighter.
Please, please, please… Just one day more. Her gaze wandered soon enough from the sky to Haurchefant… to find he was already gazing upon her too.
He cleared his throat and nodded toward the keep. “Shall we retire to my office to warm up, my Lady Emaile?”
There was nowhere else she’d rather be. She nodded, huddling close to his body as he guided her, off to the familiar steps to his office.
They spent the next few hours reading, but books eventually were set aside for conversation.
“I’m glad you accepted my invitation to join us for the holiday,” Haurchefant said softly as they sat knee-to-knee before his desk. “Everyone agrees: this was the greatest Starlight yet.”
Emaile smiled, leaning on the arm of her chair—just to be even those few ilms closer. “It is I who should be thanking you for having me.”
“No thanks are necessary.” He shook his head emphatically. “I’d… love to have you again next year, if you would,” he offered hopefully.
Was there truly any doubt? She giggled. “I would be honored.”
He brightened. Her quick reply seemed to embolden him further. “Perhaps even next holiday as well.”
And why not? She’d spend every holiday with him if he asked. “Truly, my lord, I would like nothing more.”
But Travois’s voice coming from the doorway interrupted further conversation: “Beg your pardon, my lord and lady.”
Emaile swiveled in her chair, but even before she saw the smile on his face, she could hear Travois’s gleeful tone.
No. It couldn’t be. She and Haurchefant exchanged a glance, neither one able to be cautiously skeptical of their hopes as they turned to Travois with equal expectation, leaning on the edge of their seats.
Travois was only too happy to continue. “It’s been snowing for two hours now,” he announced, grinning ear to ear. “It doesn’t show signs of stopping any time soon.”
Emaile’s heart jumped. Surely it couldn’t be…?!
“At this rate, it’ll surely choke out the roads for at least a couple of days…”
Haurchefant leapt from his chair as if it’d bitten him. “Whyever didn’t you speak up sooner, Travois?!”
Still grinning, Travois shrugged. “You were having such a lovely time with Lady Emaile. How could I interrupt?”
He’d been spying on them, he meant, listening in. Emaile laughed; then she felt Haurchefant clasp her hand. “Come, my lady Emaile!”
They had to investigate, of course! All too eagerly she allowed him to pull her to her feet. They ran hand-in-hand down the hall to the nearest window, breathlessly giggling. But their laughter stopped, ceased by wonder as they reached the window and the magical sight met their gazes.
Snow! Billowing snowflakes as thick and soft as karakul tumbled in a wintry blanket. The whole castle was covered in several ilms already, though it was difficult to see even just across the courtyard to the western gate due to the blizzard.
Emaile could see imprints in the snow, little silhouettes where the children had been making snow-angels. But it was snowing far too hard for anyone to be out now.
And surely too dangerous for a chocobo and driver to traverse.
At first she was delighted, but then her pleasure turned to concern. “Will the people be all right?” she asked, turning to Haurchefant. “Are there enough supplies in the larders to hold everyone out until the roads are cleared?”
“To get us through a little snowstorm?” Haurchefant threw his head back and laughed. “We’re set to hold out for a siege! A few days of snow won’t hurt us a bit.” He winked at her. “Though I fear it is far too dangerous for a trip to Ishgard in this blizzard, my lady Emaile…”
Excitement returned to her, pouring in and bubbling over into giggles of delight. She calmed herself long enough to feign distress, lightly resting the back of her hand on her forehead. “Oh, how terrible that I must impose on your hospitality, my lord Haurchefant!”
He suddenly became very grave. “My lady, I’ll string up the first man who calls you an imposition and leave him out in the cold all night’s watch as penance for his crimes.”
He couldn’t keep up the frown for long, and soon they were both laughing.
“But come,” Haurchefant said, offering his arm to her once more, “this is no place to enjoy an occasion like this! I know the perfect place to watch such a lovely snowfall.”
Giggling like schoolchildren, they pranced through the castle halls side by side as Haurchefant guided her up a familiar stairwell and down another hall, until they reached—
“But… This is…” Emaile took a tentative step through the open door. “My room…”
He wanted to… watch the snowfall? Just the two of them, in her quarters?
Though any blush of potential impropriety faded as she saw the snow flurrying through her window. Here in the tower’s top, all of Camp Dragonhead spread out before them, glowing in its heavenly white gown.
Elisabet’s voice issued from just outside in the hall: “Best view in the whole castle. I’ll be right here should you require anything, my lord and lady.”
Emaile relaxed. So they’d even ensured no question of impropriety; the door would remain wide open and Elisabet was here to watch over them. Had they summoned the snow itself too?
“Much appreciated, Elisabet,” Haurchefant replied, clapping and rubbing his hands together. “But first, there is one thing I’ve forgotten… A moment, if you please, my lady Emaile!”
Before she could say a word, he was gone, leaving her to chuckle at their flawless scheme to grant Haurchefant and herself such a lovely evening together.
Well, if they were to watch the snowfall here together all afternoon, she may as well make them comfortable. It would hardly do to play a poor host to a lord in his own castle. Emaile tugged the blankets and pillows off her bed, arranging them in a cozy cocoon near the fireplace’s warmth.
Haurchefant returned with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. He settled in beside Emaile among the pillows and blankets on the floor and handed her a mug.
Emaile sipped the delicious drink as she curled up against his side. Delightful. Was she certain this wasn’t simply the loveliest dream? She pinched the back of her hand. The wince of pain proclaimed it was all quite wonderfully real after all.
Between sips of hot chocolate, they watched the snow, warmed by the drink, the hearth, and each other. The drink was gone too quickly for Emaile’s liking, but at least her company was exceptional.
It was growing colder she could feel, and she shivered without the aid of the hot chocolate to warm her inside-out.
But Haurchefant had anticipated that too, and he draped a great blanket around them both as he pulled her in even closer to his warm body.
Emaile let herself be drawn into his chest, blushing and smiling, her heart all aflutter.
“Better?” Haurchefant asked, beaming down at her with his sparkling, mischievous eyes.
He had to have brought the snowfall. Emaile giggled, resting her head on his shoulder. “Much.”
It was a perfect moment locked in time: watching the white snow dance in the sky, seeing each cluster of flakes billow in the wind like pixies in a dream. The fire crackled and popped—the only sound as Emaile and Haurchefant drank in the warmth of each other’s company, the soothing presence of the one person they wanted most to spend this precious moment in eternity with.
“It’s beautiful,” Emaile sighed happily, bursting with satisfaction so great she could no longer maintain the silence.
Haurchefant turned from watching the snow out the window to gaze at her for a while. “Nothing compared to you.”
Whatever was she to say to that? Emaile glanced down demurely, but in truth, it filled her heart to hear him say it. Him. Only Haurchefant.
The silence stretched on a bit longer before it was Haurchefant’s turn to break it. “Your swordplay is advancing quite well.”
“Thanks to my dutiful instructor,” Emaile replied with a smile. She paused, then added as she snuggled closer against him, “I should enjoy more lessons, if it pleases you, my lord.”
“You shall have as many as you desire,” he said, nearly before she’d even completed her request.
The conversation meandered, gentle voices discussing gentle things. They laughed. They fell quiet. Haurchefant would say something and they would laugh again. Just Emaile and Haurchefant, his arms wrapped around her beneath their blanket as the soft snow fell.
He looked down at her; she gazed up at him. He was beautiful. It felt as though the whole world was here, in his arms.
He reached up, tracing his thumb along the edge of her cheek. His fingers danced down toward her chin—and then brushed against her wayward tress.
Emaile couldn’t resist a giggle. And he could not take his eyes off her.
“Do you believe in marrying for love?” he whispered, so low that she could hear Elisabet’s knitting needles clicking in the hallway through the open door.
But Emaile’s mind was not on Elisabet. It was locked onto the lovely brave knight reclining in her lap, whose light blue eyes glowed like fire.
Marrying for love. What had once seemed like such an unlikely, even perhaps foolish notion… Now, her heart quickened at the very mention. Especially… the thought of marrying…
“I would,” she whispered back. Utterly lost in his eyes. “If… he were the right man.” Her breath fluttered.
Haurchefant wrapped his finger in the curl of her hair. “And what kind of man does the Lady Emaile fancy?”
You! She wanted to sing it at the top of her lungs!
Elisabet’s knitting stopped.
In unison, Emaile and Haurchefant glanced at the open doorway, raising suspicious brows.
He shrugged, chuckling sheepishly, apologetically. She laughed, waving the matter aside. No, she wouldn’t let any eavesdroppers bother her. No matter who was here to listen, this moment… it was hers to share with him.
Emaile smiled as she returned her focus—and gaze—back to the knight with his arms wrapped around her. “A man who is good and true.” She leaned against him and whispered in his ear. She fought the temptation to run her fingers through his hair as well.
He sat there, staring at her with starry eyes: a boy with his first love, captivated. Was her presence truly so arresting to him?
She felt herself blushing, but she continued, “A man who is wise and clever. Who is selfless and cares more for the wellbeing of his people than he ever thinks about himself…”
She could resist no longer. Her fingertips danced through his hair. It was silken smooth to the touch.
She and Haurchefant’s gazes locked together, neither able to nor wishing to look away. Lovestruck silence, each one wholly taken by the other.
Haurchefant’s finger slipped out of her curl at last, trailing against her cheek once more. “And I fancy,” he whispered in return, “a woman who is somehow more beautiful within than she is without.”
His hand trailed down her jawline. She wanted to scoop up his fingers, press and hold them there so they would never release her again.
“A woman whose heart is strong as steel, whether she knows it or not.” He ran his thumb across her chin—its tip tantalizingly close to grazing her bottom lip.
She inhaled sharply, shivering. She wasn’t certain her hammering heart could take it.
He smiled. “A woman who loves adventures.”
I’d go on a thousand with you.
He chuckled. “…And who’s brave enough to dare risk helping me tame my office.”
She giggled. “Only the first of our adventures, Lord Haurchefant.”
“And a dangerous one indeed!”
That took her giggle and turned it into a bubbling fount of laughter, which he quickly enjoyed as well. They both laughed: delighted, in bliss within each other’s company. Just here. Just the two of them.
Long after the laughter finally cooled, they still smiled, savoring this moment together: this blessing of falling snow from Halone.
The snow ceased in the early hours just before dawn, and at first light, the whole castle mobilized to beat back the blizzard’s gift of snow. Emaile and Haurchefant both shoveled ramparts along with all the other castle’s inhabitants, making paths through the fulms of snow.
Of course, before long the men had turned it into a race amongst each other, dashing far too quickly across icy ramparts to determine who could shovel their length the fastest.
It was a tight race, but about halfway, Caprinoille and Haurchefant had pulled away from the pack. They sprinted neck-and-neck, but Caprinoille swerved, attempting to block Haurchefant’s path forward. It gave him the edge he needed, and he dashed ahead. It seemed certain he’d take the winner’s prize of satisfaction—until Arthurioux clobbered him with a shovel-full of snow to the back of the head last-minute.
Caprinoille stumbled, spluttering from the cold snow dumped down his collar, and in his gagging and roaring curses at “that filthy rotten cheater,” Haurchefant sped by to steal the win!
Of course, after everyone’s fill of laughter at their hijinx, and once Caprinoille was ushered inside to dry off and warm up, Haurchefant proclaimed Caprinoille the rightful winner and even got the entire castle to clap and cheer for him.
But with this, the first snow had been thrown. Soon enough, the children were following Arthurioux’s lead: snowballs hurtled through the air—including one stray that burst against Emaile’s shoulder as she chatted with the adults. Emaile gasped with surprise as the snow doused her with cold.
Instantly the children froze, horrified. Several drew back from Olivier, who looked most mortified of all.
Emaile turned to him, grinning as she knelt and began to gather up snow into a pile at her feet. “A knight should be gentle to ladies!” she shouted, hurling a snowball back at him!
It caught him in the chest, but he laughed, relieved she was unharmed and unshaken by the stray dart.
Ah, but Emaile was the one who had opened the floodgates of war now. For, seeing her join the fray, the children clearly assumed Olivier’s snowball had indeed been deliberate. And, of course, they would have none of this attack on their beloved Lady Emaile. Children by the dozens began to take up snowy arms against Olivier on Emaile’s behalf. Soon it was all Olivier could do to huddle behind a bunker of snow, formed from the trench-like path they had earlier shoveled clear.
Olivier’s predicament seemed wholly unfair to Emaile, so she quickly attempted to call for a cease-fire. But the children were all ablaze with fervor now and would not listen.
Besides, she was not the only one who felt the situation had become unfair to Olivier; soon some of the boys switched sides to avenge poor Olivier of the gross injustice that had besmirched his honor.
Snowballs flew as thick as the flakes had yesterday. It hardly took long for Emaile to be the one assailed by snow.
But then, when all hope seemed lost, for she would surely fall to the relentless assault, a jaunty war-cry echoed through the courtyard. Who should dive in to her rescue but Haurchefant himself, raising his House Fortemps shield to protect her from the furious flurry of snowballs!
“Never fear, my lady!” Grinning, Haurchefant shouted above the giggles and cries of disappointment at the appearance of the impenetrable shield. “I shall ever be your—”
A snowball smacked him square in the mouth.
Caprinoille charged in from the flank, his recovery surrendered for this chance to sneak-attack. He was already preparing a second snowball. “Foul-play again, I say! Bringing knights’ gear to the fight!”
Not to be outdone, Emaile scooped up a snowball and avenged her beloved Haurchefant. “I’ll protect you, my lord!” she barely managed to get out, breathless with laughter.
Soon she and Haurchefant were pelting Caprinoille, who went down with a tremendous tumble into the snow. In fact, now the children had a new target, for they could not stand this assault upon their lord. Caprinoille endured the onslaught of a thousand snowballs before he finally surrendered. “All right! All right; I yield, brave knights! You have vanquished me!”
Emaile stood amidst the cheers of her delighted victors, surveying her courageous army: every cheek ruddy and every eye gleaming with pride. Haurchefant slipped one arm around her, squeezing her close as he hefted his shield to the sky to celebrate their victory.
At the sight, the children—and even some of the surveying adults—cheered all the louder.
Haurchefant glowed, grinning as he took it all in.
He’s never looked more handsome, Emaile thought as she curled up against his side with a smile.
Thank you, Halone, for one day more.
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