Emaile’s talk with her father that day in the alley haunted her every hour. Hardly she slept. Barely she could find respite from the ever-creeping dread.
Though her days passed in silence. No word: neither from inquisitors hammering down their door nor any direction from her father. No plan. No further instruction. No matter how many inquiring looks she shot his way, her father made no effort to enlighten her as to his plans. In fact, if it’d seemed he’d been avoiding her after she’d overheard his discussion with Jean, now there was little room for doubt about it. He whisked out of the house for business at ever-earlier hours, long before she would rise to greet him. And often he would only return long after night had fallen.
Every evening he returned, he looked older, more drawn, more worn. But no amount of prodding nor time spent at his side would eke a word from his lips.
It was slowly killing them both.
So when at last one night her father pulled Emaile into the drawing room, she felt equal parts relief and dread.
Her father looked exhausted and haggard, though that was no change from any other day as of late. The newest additions were the dark bags beneath his eyes: telltale signs of how little sleep he too could catch these days.
All the same, her father offered her a weary smile, as if to spite the fear and restless nights, daring them to steal his last glimmer of joy. “You’ll be going back to Camp Dragonhead,” he whispered to her, clapping his hand over hers.
Return to Dragonhead? Any delight she would have had was choked out by concern. No, now was hardly the time for a visit to Dragonhead… as much as her heart ached to see Haurchefant again. How could she possibly leave her father in such a state? He needed her! And what if their plans—
“Today,” her father continued, silencing her thoughts. “He’s very eager to see you,” he added hurriedly.
“And I am him,” Emaile said in measured tone. “But…”
This was all too strange. Today? Never before had they sprung a trip on her on such short notice!
No. So much of this felt wrong. It frightened her.
She searched her father’s eyes; they were tired, frightened too… and so full of sorrow. But this alone was not enough to divulge his secrets.
Still, it was this sorrow there that frightened her the most. “What are you planning to do?” she whispered.
He moved his hands to hold her head. Smiled the kind of proud smile only a father beholding their child can. “Trust me, Emaile.” Tears gathered in his eyes. “Trust me just a little longer.” His voice cracked, threatening to fail him. He gazed directly into her eyes, locking their gazes. But oh, how it hurt her heart to see so much fear and courage and pride in her father’s gentle brown eyes. “You remember what I told you?”
Yes, but what did that mean? Why was he saying any of this? What foolish, brave thing was he about to do? Don’t shut me out! Her heart screamed. Don’t leave me in the dark!
“He’s waiting for you, Emaile,” her father whispered, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
Panic rose in her chest. Surely it couldn’t be true? But… if Haurchefant had truly summoned her on such short notice, did he plan to propose?
Not now; please not now. Please don’t make me choose. She clung to her father’s hands. I need them both! I said I would take a stand too! Use my strength like they do! “I can help!” she cried quietly.
Her father released her face, smoothing her hair. “You are. You will.”
A carriage clattered outside their front door. The driver called it to a halt.
A tear slipped down her father’s face as he took a step backward away from her. “Go, Emaile.”
She shook her head. She didn’t understand any of this! If he were doing something dangerous… a stand for justice… her place was here, with him! She closed the gap between them again. “Father, please—”
He wrapped her up in his arms, embracing her tightly, pulling her head into his shoulder.
Tears of fear, confusion, and sorrow filled her eyes now and dripped onto his coat. She clung to him as her heart sank.
Whatever he was about to do…
“It’s all in motion now,” he whispered.
She started. His tone had completely shifted: suddenly at peace. Sure of what he had to do. Certain of his path…
“You’ll be all right, my sweet Emaile.” He pushed her back to arm’s length, studying her face a moment. She could hardly see for the tears, but she could see streams of them trickling down her father’s face as well. “Now, you said you’d trust me, did you not?”
“Ho there!” called the carriage-driver outside, but Emaile hardly heard him. Hardly heard anything but her father’s voice.
“We all have our paths,” he whispered. “This is mine.” He nodded. “Now go. Walk yours.”
He released her arms, nudging her toward the entryway.
She stared blankly at the front door. Soon she couldn’t see it at all as more tears took her. It felt as though her heart was being torn out. Father… what are you doing? She spun on her heel, pursing her lips to hold back fresh tears. “I cannot persuade you, can I?”
He smiled sadly, dropping her hat on her head and pulling it over her eyes. “Be safe.”
He didn’t accompany her out the door nor to the stoop to bid her safe travels, to stand and wave until she was wholly out of sight.
Woodenly, Emaile mounted the steps into the back of the carriage, buried in her hat and coat and scarf. She settled in her seat, numb to the cold or the jerk of the carriage as the driver urged the chocobo forward.
Father… what are you doing? She could think of nothing else as she buried her face in her scarf to hide her tears.
Emaile stepped off the carriage into a handful of curious onlooking servants, Anuel chief among them. Then the carriage driver pulled away without a word—likely as instructed by her father—leaving before she could turn to beg him to take her back to Ishgard.
“Welcome, Miss,” said Anuel, tipping his hat. “My name is Emanuel, though everyone here calls me—”
He didn’t recognize her with the scarf and hat covering her features. Emaile took them off immediately. “Hello, Anuel.”
With a start, he stepped backward. “Lady Emaile!” He broke into a confused but happy smile. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise! A thousand pardons.” His eyes were filled with concerned questions as they held her lost gaze. “Is… something troubling you, my lady?”
And what was she to say to that? But before she could even think to formulate a reply—
“Lady Emaile?” came Haurchefant’s delighted call as he romped across the courtyard, Tinois—the one responsible for proclaiming her arrival, Emaile guessed—in his wake.
Haurchefant. Her heart hammered as always in her chest to see him. But oh, what circumstances to be reunited! Please, make all of this better. Help it all to make some sense.
But truly, hearing his shocked tone of voice had only deepened her anxiety.
How quickly did Haurchefant close the gap between them as he came close enough to see the look on her face! His expression turned grim, surely reflecting her own concern. “My lady, you look pale as the fresh snow.” He gathered her up by the arms, his blue eyes searching hers for answers. What has you so frightened? Was his wordless question.
So. He could see straight through her.
She felt so light of head. Emaile collapsed against his chest almost as soon as he touched her, as if even this slight touch had been enough to knock her over.
Anuel and everyone else nearby gasped in alarm. Several pairs of hands reached over to help her up or ensure she was safe and well. Haurchefant’s arms wrapped tightly around her, cradling her against his chest to keep her from falling.
Already she knew the answer… but she found herself asking, hollow, airly: “You didn’t… send for me?”
He looked equal parts amazed and worried. “Not unless your father has developed a skill to hear my very thoughts,” he replied.
Exhaling, Emaile closed her eyes. But she could not release the panic so easily. They weren’t expecting me.
Father lied to me.
A shudder rippled down her spine.
Haurchefant regarded her a moment longer, rubbing her arms, though she could see from the look in his eyes that his mind was already racing malms ahead to discern what could be happening to alarm her so. Did he already know her shivering was not from the cold? “Come, Lady Emaile,” he murmured soothingly. “Let’s get you inside. Anuel?”
“Yes, my lord?” Anuel hovered only a pace away, looking poised and ready to scoop Emaile up in his own arms if the moment required it.
“Have Medguistl prepare an early supper for our lady.” He gazed down into Emaile’s eyes, trying to catch her gaze and attention. “And have it brought to my office?”
Emaile nodded. The office sounds lovely.
“Right away, my lord.” They split, Anuel making a beeline for the kitchen and servants’ quarters while Haurchefant escorted Emaile to his office.
He settled her in a chair, just the same as usual. If only they could simply read and chat as they always did. But her heart was too frail, quavering, for reading, and her terror kept her lips pursed.
Haurchefant seemed to understand all too well that something truly grave had happened—or was about to—for he made no effort to press her for answers or conversation. He seemed content to remain at her side, working quietly until she should decide to grant him answers.
Emaile was uncertain how long she sat listlessly in his office. So many times she saw Haurchefant glance up from his paperwork, watching her with concern. When he’d see her looking in his direction, he’d sit up straighter and set his quill aside, ready to listen with full attention.
But try as she might, some fell curse had sewn her lips shut; so many times she was unable to open her mouth to speak a word, not even to him.
Perhaps… especially to him.
For what purpose would her father ever lie, least of all to her? Only to keep her safe. And what business had caught him in so much crippling fear as of late but the case of Margue?
She’d feared for all their lives so often in the past… Now she felt her fears were coming true, though she prayed—she begged the Fury it wasn’t true. You know what a faithful and good man he is, her heart supplicated. You know he is the last one to consort with heretics!
He only wants the people’s best… He only wants freedom…
But… if anyone suspected him of heresy…
Emaile glanced up at Haurchefant. Terror began to sink its iced talons into her shoulders, freezing down her back.
No terror that Haurchefant would bring harm to her or her family; far from it. He too knew the hearts of her and her father.
But… were anyone to investigate her little visits to Dragonhead… Were anyone to find out about their courtship…
A knock on the doorpost somehow rang louder than her hammering heart. It made Emaile jump in her chair with fright.
Haurchefant’s hand slid over hers. “You have nothing to fear here, Lady Emaile,” he reassured softly before turning to the open door. “Yes, Travois?”
Of course. Only Travois. Emaile tried to release a breath, to relax. Tried to laugh at her foolish reaction.
She could do neither.
“Begging your pardon, my lord and lady,” replied Travois as he stood in the doorway, “but there’s a Miss Iloise here to see Lady Emaile… it’s urgent.”
“My lady!” came Iloise’s breathless cry, a shout filled with terror. Shock. Alarm. Tears. Panic.
That tone. It made Emaile’s whole being freeze.
She knew; she knew right away from the sound in Illie’s cry, long before she saw the wild tear-reddened eyes as Iloise appeared just behind Travois. Even now, however, Iloise tried to recall her manners, trying to offer Haurchefant a curtsy on feeble legs.
“By the Fury, Miss Iloise—” Haurchefant began, his worry over Emaile doubly darkening his grim frown to see both women in such distress.
But before he could say any more, Emaile had risen. She crossed the room, gathering Illie in her arms before the poor woman could faint. “Illie…” she asked, her own voice tense like a string pulled taut. “You have news?”
Iloise closed her mouth. Swallowed. Tears poured down her face as she nodded.
So. Emaile shut her eyes for a moment. It’s happened at last. A numbing calm took the place of the panic, smothering Emaile in its suffocating embrace.
At least at last she could think clearly, despite the screaming in her head.
Emaile turned to Haurchefant, though upon seeing his face, she wondered if the calm had been a momentary illusion, for she felt tears well in her eyes. “May she and I speak privately somewhere, my lord?”
He refused to take his eyes off her as he circumvented his desk. “Of course. Your room upstairs. I’ll post Travois outside the door; no eavesdroppers would dare cross him.”
Emaile nodded appreciatively as Haurchefant gently took her arm while Travois offered his to Iloise. The men carefully escorted them to the comfort of Emaile’s room here in Dragonhead.
Though as Emaile closed its door behind she and Illie, she realized the room had utterly lost all its warmth.
“My lady…!” Iloise sobbed, throwing herself into Emaile’s arms, weeping bitterly.
She should have allowed Iloise to cry, to mourn. But she had to know.
Even if she never wanted to hear it. “What happened, Illie?” A new crack formed in the chilling numbness Emaile thought had taken root in her soul: her voice cracked as she pulled Iloise back to arm’s length to look her in the eye.
Pursing her lips, Emaile whispered the fateful words she’d hoped and prayed she’d never have to say: “…What has happened to my father?”