Chapter 1: Pt. I
Dorothea lived for nights such as these. During her time with the Mittelfrank Opera Company, she’d indulged in her fair share of elegant balls and glittering frills. She’d sampled all varietals of wine and mead, had waltzed with all manner of dancers, some refreshingly talented and others laughably clumsy.
The Garreg Mach Ball was no different. She’d come bedecked in a brand new gown the color of dark ivy—a shade deeper than her eyes but still complementary. She’d collected a host of new rings and shiny bangles, including one thick brass wristlet imported from Brigid. She toyed with it idly as she scanned the room, cradling her third goblet of wine.
The girl who’d gifted her that elegant bangle currently stood across the room amidst a sea of people. She wore a soft smile to match the lavender-colored dress that flowed off her like water. It was a frockless floor-length dress that fell off one shoulder, all in the style of her homeland. On anyone else, Dorothea would have thought it a modest number, but on Petra…
The girl turned to address a young officer who bowed and grinned at her, offering his hand. Petra held her wine a bit tighter before relinquishing it with an acquiescing nod.
Dorothea watched them take the floor. Petra appeared amiable as always, but the songstress knew her well enough to detect the undercurrent of nerves just beneath the surface. The princess had expressed some anxiety in the days leading up to the ball. Dancing was very different in her homeland, and she wasn’t confident in her steps. Dorothea had shown her of course—yet another late night lesson they’d shared in their dorms—but the somewhat stiff set to Petra’s shoulders betrayed her surety tonight.
Dorothea took a long pull of her wine. She’d had many dance partners so far this evening, some more enjoyable than others. Some rather engaging, if she was honest, but out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t help but watch Petra all the while, eager to see her enjoying herself.
She felt her own sort of anxiety watching them dance now. The man towered over Petra, a bit overbearing in the way he led. He was pulling more than he was guiding or dancing with her. His hand, too, rested lower on Petra’s waist than Dorothea thought was entirely appropriate—she was a princess, after all.
“I’m rather surprised to see you off the dance floor.”
Dorothea startled, her wine sloshing up to the rim of the cup. She turned with a hand over her heart, “Professor, I didn’t see you approach.”
The corner of the professor’s lip hitched into a small smile. “My apologies.”
“I hardly think you’re sorry,” Dorothea laughed, taking another sip of her drink to cover her blush.
“You’ve been quite the hit tonight.”
“As have you,” the songstress remarked. In spite of her sometimes aloof nature, there was no denying the magnetism in the young professor’s personality. Those outside of her own house had been vying for her attention all evening. “Claude seems like a rather talented dance partner.”
The professor just barely rolled her eyes. “He’s amusing. I’ll give him that.”
Dorothea glanced sidelong. If Byleth came to converse, her attention already seemed divided. The professor’s gaze scanned the room, somehow drawn to yet unable to stay fixed on their house leader and her current dance partner.
Leaning in with a grin, Dorothea whispered mock conspiratorially, “I don’t think she’d mind if you cut in.”
“Hmm,” Byleth’s eyebrows rose. “Who?”
Dorothea chuckled. “Who else? You know, she seemed equally distracted when you were dancing with Claude.”
Byleth shook her head, though her cheeks had started to color. “Edelgard is the heir to the Imperial throne. I’m sure her concern rests solely on her own suitors tonight.”
Was that a trace of bitterness Dorothea detected? “You sound quite thrilled about that, Professor.”
When Byleth turned to her again, her small smile disappeared, that usual stony mien taking its place. “You’re all free to dance with whomever you please.”
“I don’t care much for dancing.” Dorothea assumed the goblet in the professor’s hand was mostly for show. She’d never seen her drink before. But Byleth suddenly emptied her cup in one pull, immediately setting it down on a nearby table. “If you’ll excuse me, Dorothea.” The professor turned, but stopped herself, that wry little smile appearing again. “Try not to get so distracted yourself, will you?”
Dorothea’s smile never faltered, but something about the professor’s parting comment left her irked. She was not the distractible type, and out of all her classmates, surely she was the most adept in highfalutin party politics. Many of the others could outpace her in noble courts or on the battlefield, but she knew this kind of frippery. Life in the opera had conditioned her for nights just like these.
Dorothea downed the rest of her wine and set the empty goblet on the table next to Byleth’s. The previous song had ended, and across the room, another young man had stepped up to take Petra’s hand. Polite as she was, she would never say no, though she didn’t particularly seem happy about it.
Watching her, the songstress frowned. Petra was a princess. Brigid’s customs were different, but like Edelgard, she’d likely have to accept many less than appealing dances and propositions in her life. That was simply the way of highborn people. Dorothea didn’t suppose there was much she could do about that.
Instead, the songstress straightened her back, brightened her smile, and set out on the dance floor once again. They all had their parts to play tonight. She could at least enjoy hers.
Dorothea knew exactly when a party had reached its end. These things happened long before the last stumbling few were shooed out the doors, the attendants left to sweep floors and collect discarded goblets from tables. There was a more palpable end that came when the dance floor thinned and patrons began slipping out exits undetected.
The professor left shortly after her conversation with Dorothea. The songstress may have felt guilty about that if she hadn’t noticed Edelgard sneaking out soon after. She’d enjoyed several dances since then, but was seeing more and more of her classmates disappear.
Dorothea had another dance or three left in her, but she was never one to wait until the bitter end of things. Better to leave on a high. And besides, Petra had snuck out two songs ago. Dorothea was dying to know how she’d enjoyed her first proper Fódlan ball.
The nights of the late Ethereal Moon were chill. Not ferociously cold as they’d turn in the coming months, but still cold enough to elicit a shiver from Dorothea as she crept out into the moonlit night. She’d come prepared with a lovely woolen stole colored to match her dress. She pulled it tightly around her shoulders and crept briskly through the grounds of the monastery.
The students’ usual curfew had been suspended as part of the festivities, and many had seen to take advantage of this rare privilege despite the cold. In brazier lit corners, students huddled close in laughter, rubbing their hands and sipping on pilfered wine goblets for warmth.
Dorothea wandered for a time until she spied a group of her Black Eagle classmates sitting on the steps outside of the commoner dorms: Ferdinand, Caspar, and a rather bored looking Linhardt who held an equally bored looking cat in his lap. They were shouting back at Bernadetta’s door, attempting to coax her from her room.
“Dorothea,” Ferdinand called, boisterous as ever at her approach. He was far from her favorite classmate, but the wine was working well within her, and she smiled as she met him. “Maybe you can help us?”
“Help with what?”
In answer, she heard a muffled shout through Bernie’s door. “Harassing me!”
“Harassing!” Caspar called out, affronted. “We just want you to enjoy the party, Bernadetta.”
“Don’t believe them, Dorothea,” Bernadetta called back. “They’re up to no good… I just know it!”
“I’m inclined to believe her,” Linhardt drawled with a yawn.
“Then why are you here?” Caspar asked.
Linhardt shrugged, scritching behind the cat’s ears. “Let’s call it my latest social experiment.”
Dorothea rolled her eyes, though not unkindly. “Bernie doesn’t have to leave her room if she doesn’t want to.”
“Thank you!” Bernadetta called back, relieved.
“And I was hoping you could help me, actually.”
“Of course!” Ferdinand exclaimed, eager as always. “How can we be of assistance?”
“I’m looking for Petra. Have you seen her?”
“Oh,” Ferdinand deflated visibly at the simplicity of her request. “Yes, she stopped by about fifteen minutes ago. I think she was heading to the pond for a bit.”
“The pond,” Dorothea nodded. “That’s where I’ll be heading then. Try not to bother Bernie too badly, will you?”
“I’ll make no promises,” Caspar grinned cheekily. Dorothea shook her head and chuckled. She never could have imagined she’d end up with such a mismatched group of people by her side, yet here she was. On nights like these, she was more than a little grateful for it.
The walk to the pond was a short one, and far quieter the further she got from the dorms. Here, she was free to take in the gentle whistle of the breeze and the glimmering stars overhead. They shone across the water of the monastery’s small fishing pond in a perfect mirror image. Dorothea found Petra sitting upon the dock, bundled in her cloak and gazing out at those same stars with an uncharacteristically contemplative look on her face.
In spite of her pensive demeanor, Petra was impossible to sneak up on. She glanced back almost as soon as the dock’s boards creaked under Dorothea’s feet. Petra smiled as if she’d plucked all the stars out of the sky and the water combined. For a moment, Dorothea was taken by how impossibly bright she was.
“Dorothea,” Petra breathed, a white cloud billowing in the cold, “you found me.”
“I have.” The songstress smiled, shaking off her sudden daze, and walked to the end of the dock. “Though I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to be looking for you.”
“No. I was just hoping,” Petra replied, turning back to face the water.
Dorothea sat down, the dock cold beneath her. She shivered and tried to find the princess’ arm beneath her cloak. “Let’s share,” she suggested. “Those furs look a bit warmer than my shawl.”
“I am hoping so. How can you be walking around without your own cloak?” Petra invited her beneath her fur mantle, Dorothea immediately linking their arms and huddling close. “I am worried you will be getting sick, Dorothea.”
“I’ll be fine,” Dorothea waved her off. “I’m far more used to the cold than you are, trust me.” And not just because Fódlan was of a cooler clime. Years of street living had hardened her against bitter winters.
“I have many furs if you need them.”
Dorothea smiled. Petra was always so concerned. “I’ll let you know if I need warming up. Now,” she began, sitting up a bit straighter. “Tell me about your night. We barely had a chance to speak!”
“I know,” Petra replied, the frown apparent in her voice. “You were very busy.”
“It’s very rare that I have an opportunity to dance like that. I couldn’t let it pass me by. Though I did see you dancing a bit yourself, and I have to say, my lessons paid off.”
“Are you certain? I could not stop looking at my feet.”
“You looked like a natural.” The next observation seemed the obvious one, but there was something about it that made Dorothea’s stomach clench. “You had some rather dashing dance partners, too.”
“Dashing?” Petra looked down at her, brow furrowed.
“Handsome,” Dorothea clarified.
“Oh, yes,” Petra agreed, though she sounded less than enthused.
“What?” Dorothea chuckled, “You disagree?”
Petra seemed to stiffen for a moment, but attempted to shrug it off. “I was not thinking much about it.”
Dorothea wondered about the distant tone of her voice. “You don’t have a betrothed waiting for you in Brigid, do you?” She meant it as a joke, of course. She was sure that if Petra was promised to someone back home, she would have heard about it by now. They told each other almost everything.
“Do you mean… is a partner waiting for me? No,” Petra shook her head emphatically. “We do not… marriage is not working like that in Brigid.”
“What, no betrothals?”
“No. You are not making a promise to spend a life with someone unless you are desiring to.” She sounded almost appalled by the alternative. “This is true whether you are from a royal house or a remote clan.”
Dorothea sat up straighter, meeting Petra’s gaze. She always knew Brigidian customs were different, but she did not think their ruling class operated quite so differently. “So, you can choose to be with whoever you want?”
Petra nodded and gave her a look so suddenly resolute that Dorothea had to avert her eyes. It was a very Byleth sort of look, as if she were seeing into or through the songstress.
“All the more reason to start looking then, right? You never know when you might find someone.”
Petra hummed and looked away. Out of the corner of her eye, Dorothea could see that pensive look had returned. It was not often that the princess appeared so serious. The knot in Dorothea’s stomach tightened.
“Are you all right?” she asked, reaching for Petra’s hand. It was cold, even hidden under her cloak as it was. Dorothea wrapped it in both of her own, warming it between her palms. “Did you not have a good time tonight?”
Petra turned to her suddenly. “What if I have already been finding… have already found someone?”
“A… a suitor?” Petra didn’t say anything, but she swallowed visibly, gaze bright and open. The stars were back, as if they’d leapt out of the sky, out of the water, and into Petra’s eyes. Dorothea’s mouth went dry, the tightness in her stomach spreading into her chest. She forced herself to ask, barely above a whisper, “Who?”
Their faces were so close together that Dorothea could see every trembling constellation in Petra’s gaze. She was so blinded, it took her a moment to realize that Petra’s eyes had closed, that she was moving closer. That Petra’s lips were on hers. She registered only the warmth—no, the flame-like heat—as their mouths moved, tentative at first, and then with growing conviction.
For a brief moment, the chill of the Ethereal Moon melted around them. To say she’d never imagined such a thing before would be a lie, but Dorothea was still unprepared for the sudden swelter of it, for the undeniable familiarity.
It was like instinct, or like magic. It was Petra.
It was Petra.
Dorothea pulled away with a quiet gasp, eyes wide in surprise. It was Petra—Petra had kissed her, had suffused her entire body with heat—and now the princess’ hand was falling away from her cheek, that same surprise mirrored in her gaze. Had she meant to kiss her like that?
A nervous chuckle bubbled out of Dorothea as she stood, her stole falling to the dock. She and Petra bent to pick it up at the same time, and when their hands brushed, Dorothea jumped back like she’d been burned. A little confused and a little frantic, Petra handed the stole to her. She appeared as flushed as Dorothea felt.
“I am having apologies. Should I have—”
“Apologies? No,” Dorothea shook her head, stepping backwards. “No, don’t apologize. I’m… I’m sorry. It’s quite late. I should really… I should go.”
Even with some distance between them now, Dorothea couldn’t seem to school the erratic tattoo of her heartbeat. Petra stared at her with her mouth open, as if willing the words to come. One by one, the stars were winking out of her gaze.
Dorothea’s throat constricted. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she sputtered, turning. She didn’t stop to hear Petra calling after her. Instead, she sped back to her dorm, head bent down and turned away from the starry sky.
Chapter 2: Pt. II
Dorothea has a couple much-needed heart-to-hearts, as well as one important realization.
Dorothea Arnault was not the type to run away from her problems. But, then again, Petra Macneary was not her problem. Petra Macneary was one of her dearest friends, not just in her time at the Officers Academy, but in all her life. And if it just so happened that Dorothea was running off to a prior engagement every time Petra wanted to talk…
Well, that was the fault of poor timing, was it not? The product of coincidence and not avoidance? Dorothea could hardly call that running away.
Reason was a fickle thing, however, and it wasn’t until Dorothea was seeking out all these “prior engagements” that she realized how much of her social calendar had been consumed by time with Brigid’s princess. Between hair styling, language lessons, story time, and stargazing, the vast majority of her hours not spent training or in class was spent with Petra.
Neglect was almost as fickle as reason. In the days following the ball, she convinced herself to seek out the company she’d been less attentive to in recent months. She coaxed Bernie out of her room long enough to tend to flowers in the greenhouse. She spent time in the training ring with Caspar. She teased Edelgard with her operatic musings.
All made for perfectly legitimate—and almost guiltless—excuses whenever Petra asked her if they could go for a walk or speak after class. It made Dorothea’s stomach ache to see the princess deflate every time she said, “Maybe tomorrow?” But what could be done?
It was after one such stinging rejection that Dorothea sat for an extended teatime with Manuela. Nearly five days had passed with the Garreg Mach Ball, and the two songstress’ were due for catching up. Despite having much to reminisce about, their time spent together had been far and few between since Dorothea’s arrival at the Officers Academy. Manuela, in her sometimes pointed way, was of course quick to remind her of this fact.
“I suppose you have plenty to keep you busy.” Manuela sighed knowingly and sipped her tea. They sat on opposite ends of her desk, a modest spread of small cakes lying between them. The light from the stained glass windows along the far wall cast the soft planes of Manuela’s striking face in a complementary glow. She swept her short bob over her shoulder with an air of coy suggestion, as ready for a performance as ever. “Why, in your first days here, dear, I rarely saw you without some dashing knight nipping at your heels like a pup.” Her smirk gave way to a somewhat bitterer mien. “Must be nice.”
Dorothea pulled a cake onto her plate. Manuela’s downfall had always been her obvious envy in these sorts of affairs. “To a point,” she assuaged, taking a bite of her dessert. “I’ve dated quite a few knights since arriving, and very few left me wanting to see them again.”
Manuela guffawed, waving her hand dismissively. She stared out the window and toyed with her choker. “Of course. They fall all over you when you’re young. You barely understand how good you have it right now.”
Manuela had always been a bit lamenting, even in her opera days. The crown jewel of Mittelfrank, and she couldn’t help but dwell tirelessly on her romantic failings. Dorothea had learned early when it was best to steer the conversation elsewhere.
“You had plenty of dance partners at the ball yourself,” she noted affably, “And oh, your dress! We didn’t get a chance to speak that night, but I’ve been dying to ask you where you got it—”
“That old thing?” Manuela shook her head, taking a bite of her own cake. As she opened her mouth, a bevy of crumbs rained down. She flicked one crumb from the top of her breast and the rest from her lap, adding more fodder to the already dusty floorboards. “That’s been around since Mittelfrank. I’m surprised you don’t remember it. Oh,” she said, coughing as a crumb stuck in her throat. She took a quick sip of tea to dislodge it and continued on, unbothered. “My so-called dance partners that night were barely serviceable. They could hardly keep up.”
Dorothea smirked. “I had some… fairly questionable dance partners myself.”
“At least yours were handsome.”
Handsome. Dashing. Dorothea had voiced similar sentiments to Petra about her dance partner the night of the ball. It made far more sense now why the princess had been so… uninterested.
“Don’t look so excited, darling,” Manuela commented dryly.
“Oh, no, they were… of course they were,” Dorothea agreed, though less than convincingly. She’d already forgotten what all her own dance partners looked like. It was hard to think of that evening without seeing Petra’s face backlit by the starry sky.
Her stomach twisted, and she pushed away her half eaten cake.
Manuela leaned forward in her seat and narrowed her gaze. “I sense a story here.”
Dorothea smiled wanly. “A talent of yours.”
“Do you need me to hurt someone, dear? I certainly will.” Manuela reached across the desk, placing her hand atop Dorothea’s. As wrapped up in her own romantic failings as she could sometimes be, she was still quick to defend her protegee against the same treatment.
“Heavens, no,” Dorothea laughed, though somewhat disingenuously.
“Then what in the world is that woeful look for?”
Dorothea shifted in her seat. She hadn’t told anybody what had happened. She wasn’t planning to, truly, for fear of somehow betraying Petra. However, there was a part of her dying to let it out.
She settled on a vague middle ground. “I received an advance I wasn’t… expecting.”
“I know you can take care of yourself, but so help me—” Manuela started, mind undoubtedly flashing back to their opera days and the sometimes aggressively handsy men they had to fend off.
“It wasn’t like that. It was… a friend. A very dear friend… kissed me. And it took me by surprise.”
“A dear friend?”
“Yes.” At Manuela’s raised brow, Dorothea shifted again. “It doesn’t matter who,” she insisted.
“It does. Actually, it’s the most important detail.” Manuela fixed her with a particularly scrupulous look. She was frighteningly perceptive when she wanted to be. When one’s true calling was the stage, one tended to notice the sentimental details. It was as vital to Manuela’s performances as Hanneman’s books were to his Crest research. “Darling,” the woman began again, gentler but no less curious, “as your mentor—and yes, I still am—I require every excruciating detail or else I will be of painfully little assistance.”
Dorothea bit her tongue to hold back the name resting precariously on the tip of it. Her reticence only made Manuela’s eyes glitter more. “Or I could guess. I suppose that would be fun, too.”
“Really, I’d prefer not—”
“The von Aegir boy, Ferdinand.”
“Ferdinand!” Dorothea scoffed. She’d begun to warm to the prime minister’s son, little by little; but still, the thought of any romantic chemistry between them was almost laughable.
“A no then. How about young Caspar?”
“Your eyes say it all. No, not Caspar. Then… who?” Manuela drummed her brightly painted and nails over her lips in thought. Dorothea could only look away. “Oh,” Manuela gasped suddenly, excited and almost scandalized. She then whispered, “Your Professor?”
“Goddess, Manuela!” Dorothea’s cheeks were flaming now. She’d—maybe—dreamt of that very scenario one time, but Byleth and Edelgard were so intensely (and quite aloofly) fixated on each other that she’d refused to even entertain it. It now felt infinitely more enjoyable to watch the two of them flounder in their not-quite courtship instead.
“Well, for the love of…” Manuela grumbled, clearly tiring of this game. She’d never been much of a patient sort. “Don’t you think it will be less painful if you just tell me already?”
Dorothea squared her jaw. She toyed with the hem of her skirt for a moment before relenting quietly—so quietly that Manuela strained to hear.
“Now I know I’m not that old. Speak up, darling.”
“Petra,” Dorothea forced out, pointedly meeting Manuela’s gaze. “I said Petra. All right?”
“Petra…” Manuela appeared almost baffled for a moment before it dawned on her. She smacked her hand down on the table, rattling their half empty cups of tea. “How did I not think of that? Of course!”
“What do you mean of course?”
“I mean, I need only think about it for a moment to remember all those times I’ve seen the two of you traipsing about arm in arm. Yes, now that I think of it… you’re quite inseparable, aren’t you?”
Dorothea bit her lip against the queasiness in her stomach. They were inseparable. She couldn’t stand the thought of having ruined that. But the alternative was… frightening. To say the least.
“So she kissed you—the Princess of Brigid kissed you?”
Dorothea nodded slowly, not meeting her gaze. “Yes.”
“And… what did you do, exactly?”
This was the part she could barely stand to admit. Not because she didn’t believe it was the right thing, but because she could still so clearly envision the look on Petra’s face. She tucked her hair behind her ear once, then a second time. “I got up and I left for my dorm.”
Manuela paused, head tilting. “Alone?”
“Yes, Manuela. Alone.”
Manuela placed the back of her hand over her mouth for a long moment before she laughed. It was a graceless sound, one that made Dorothea want to disappear. “The Princess of Brigid, your dear friend, kissed you. And you ran away.”
“I can’t believe you’re laughing at me,” Dorothea bemoaned.
“I’m… I’m sorry, Dorothea, truly. But I am baffled. Baffled!”
“Wasn’t the whole reason you came to the Officers Academy to secure a future? To marry some well-to-do knight that would care for and pamper you for all your days?” Dorothea didn’t quite reply. She only leaned forward on the desk and placed her chin disconsolately in her palm. Manuela knew the answer to that question. “Well, screw the knights, honey! That can’t possibly hold a candle to actual royalty. I mean… Sweet Seiros, a Princess. You’d have ladies-in-waiting, endless riches… Or I assume. I don’t know what they consider great wealth in Brigid—”
“Manuela. Stop. Please.”
“What?” The older songstress looked befuddled. She popped another crumb of cake into her mouth.
“That is a fantasy.”
Manuela scoffed. “Says the girl with a princess fawning over her.”
“She’s not fawning over me!” Dorothea insisted. She attempted to school the emotions roiling her stomach, but her hands felt hot and shaky. “Honestly. Do you think I’m fit to wed a princess? A queen? She’ll be queen someday, you know.”
“All the better,” Manuela answered, mouth still full of cake. She considered this quandary more thoughtfully as she swallowed. “Well, unless they have rules against that sort of thing in Brigid. Women marrying women, royalty marrying foreigners. Do they?”
Dorothea thought back to their conversation on the night of the ball. “She claims she’s free to marry whomever she wants.”
Manuela laughed again. “So what’s the problem?”
“The problem,” Dorothea insisted, gritting her teeth, “is that I would complicate things for her. Terribly.”
There it was: the truth she’d been truly avoiding for days now. She’d struggled to put it into words since that night, and especially in such simple terms, but Manuela had coaxed it from her. Just like always.
The other woman’s brow furrowed in sympathy. Or pity. Either way, Dorothea couldn’t stand to see it.
“I don’t really know how it works in Brigid, only what she’s told me. Maybe she could marry a woman, but she’d produce no natural born heir. Does that matter for her people? I don’t know. They might accept that, but… you’re right. I’d be a foreigner. And things will be… hard enough for her already. Things have been hard for her for many years. I do not want to add to that burden.”
Manuela was quiet for several seconds, watching her protegee studiously. Eventually she supposed, “But you do want her.”
Dorothea felt flush, the shaking in her hands abated slightly but not completely. Did she want Petra? She thought back to the kiss they’d shared. Though brief, it was warm. Not red-hot in that lustful sort of way, though surely there was a dash of that, too. They were young, after all. And Petra was undeniably beautiful.
No, it was a different kind of warmth. The warmth of safety, or belonging.
Dorothea shook her head, looking at Manuela out of the corner of her eye. “I’m likely blowing this out of proportion. It was just a kiss, after all. And we’d both been drinking.” She bit her lip again. She’d watched Petra most of the night. She hadn’t had that much to drink. “I’m not sure it was that kind of kiss.”
Manuela hummed, low and a little disbelieving. She sat back, finishing off the rest of her cake. “So, what kind of kiss do you think it was?”
Dorothea met her sly gaze. That was a very good question indeed.
While Dorothea hadn’t much more to say on the subject past that point, Manuela’s question stuck with her for the remainder of teatime and for the following two days. What kind of kiss was it?
Was it the wine, the heat of the moment? Starlight that dazzling could inspire passionate feelings in anyone, she told herself, especially two people already so close. Then again, it hadn’t felt as flippant as all that.
It was this question Dorothea was pondering when a knock came at her door two evenings later. She’d retired to her dorm early that night, having been thoroughly exhausted by a particularly exuberant training session with Caspar. She’d planned on turning in for bed immediately, but had been… distracted.
She was so distracted, in fact, that she didn’t think twice before opening her door.
Petra’s face was as soft and open as always, but it was now lined with uncharacteristic exhaustion. Dorothea felt a pang of guilt upon seeing that weariness, knowing it may have been in part because of her odd behavior over the past week.
“Dorothea,” Petra began, reticent but relieved, “I am glad to be seeing you.”
The nerves crept into the songstress’ voice almost immediately. “You just saw me in class earlier.”
“Yes, but… I was not able to speak with you then. I was hoping now… you would not be having any engagements?”
Dorothea’s hand tightened on the door knob. She could have made an excuse. She’d been doing that for days now. But something about the tiredness in Petra’s face stopped her. “No, I’m not busy,” she relented, stepping back. “Why don’t you come in?”
“I have thanks,” Petra muttered, stepping over the threshold lightly. Dorothea closed the door and stepped back, standing by her desk. Petra stayed close to the door, for a moment merely taking in the room. “I will not be taking up much of your time.”
Don’t be silly, Dorothea wanted to tell her. They’d spent so many nights in her dorm or Petra’s, whiling away the hours doing nothing at all. It was their ritual, their relaxation. “It’s no bother, Petra, really.”
“Okay.” Petra took a deep breath, perhaps preparing herself. “I have been wanting to apologize all week.”
“Please wait, Dorothea,” Petra beseeched, holding out her hand. “I am needing to say this. On the night of the ball, it was… I should not have kissed you. I was not even asking you, just doing it, without thoughts of how it might… how it might be. And I do not think you were wanting to be kissed,” she quietly finished. Her throat bobbed just slightly. “For that, I have many apologies.”
Dorothea was quiet for a moment. She tucked her hair behind her ear, re-crossed her arms over her chest. Why did Petra’s apology feel so terrible? “I appreciate you apologizing, Petra. Really. But it’s not necessary. I wasn’t expecting… that to happen. But it wasn’t bad, I was just… surprised.”
“Oh,” Petra said questioningly, “Yes, it was a surprise.”
The silence bloomed between them for a moment, making the room stuffy. Dorothea pulled at the neckline of her dress. “But you and I—we’re very good friends, Petra. I consider you one of my best friends, to be honest. You couldn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Surprised, yes,” she chuckled, “but not uncomfortable.”
Petra nodded, brow furrowing as she considered this. “Best friends,” she repeated, then nodded again. Some of the brightness in her eyes seemed to wick away, replaced with an unreadable glint. “Yes. Ours is the best friendship. I am feeling that, too.” When Petra met her gaze, she appeared more resolute. “I would never want to be harming our friendship.”
“You haven’t,” Dorothea stepped forward. Tentatively, she reached out her hand. After a moment, Petra took it and she squeezed. Both their hands were so cold, she realized. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been so busy this week.”
Petra nodded again. Her hand fell away. “You should not be apologizing, Dorothea. I have understanding.” There was an odd note in Petra’s voice, one the songstress could not quite decipher. “I just wanted you to know. I will not be doing something like that again.”
Was Dorothea’s mind playing tricks on her? She thought, for a moment, she heard a challenge in Petra’s tone. But it was there and then gone when the princess smiled, sudden and soft. Maybe if you asked next time, Dorothea wanted to suggest, maybe I wouldn’t pull away. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to help myself. But she knew that she couldn’t say such a thing.
Ours is the best friendship, Petra had told her. The best. Dorothea would not lose that.
What kind of kiss was it? The answer came to Dorothea easily the less she thought about it: It was the kind of kiss that she could sweep under the rug.
For now, at least.
So, before you call me mean: it's canon that Dorothea is not a big fan of herself. She's the kind of person (especially in part one) that I imagine would struggle with not feeling worthy of a relationship such as this.
Good things come to those who wait, and these two will be no different.
Chapter 3: Pt. III
You'll notice that time starts to skip ahead a little bit in this chapter. It will continue to do so a bit more as the bulk of the story takes place during the time-skip. The pressures of the war and everything around these two will start to play a bigger role from here on out.
Whatever awkwardness remained between Dorothea and Petra after the ball ceased abruptly with the death of Captain Jeralt.
It was the first in a string of increasingly heart-rending events that would bring their time as students of the Officers Academy to a close. Though Dorothea had spent days trying to distance herself from the events of the Garreg Mach Ball, she’d look back only three months later—one month later—and wish desperately to return to that night. For when all else fell apart, the Garreg Mach Ball became her line of demarcation:
This, in many ways, was the night when the carefree days of youth ended and the hard press of adulthood began.
It happened dizzyingly fast as it so often does. First with the felling of Jeralt and the cloud of mourning that touched down in his wake. Next, with Solon’s assault and their professor’s temporary exile. Dorothea would never forget the moment she tore a rift in the sky, leaping from it a woman reborn. It was like the opera come to life.
After, there was the Flame Emperor, revealed. Dorothea wanted to call it a betrayal then, to know that Edelgard had deceived them all along. But in the end, the heir to the Imperial throne had never really pretended to be anything but herself. It wasn’t so much a lie as it was a necessary obfuscation. Perhaps that’s why Dorothea—and all the others, for that matter—followed the professor to her side. The means didn’t always justify the ends, but in this case, with Byleth and Edelgard leading them...
Dorothea wasn’t so foolish to think their rash of terrible luck would end with Edelgard’s reveal. This was the start of war, after all, and things could only get harder, more ruthless, from here. But they were fighting this war together. Nothing would change that.
Until finally, swiftly, Byleth, the one person who had brought them together to begin with, was gone.
“Edie,” Dorothea called into the dusk. A sudden gale swept over the field before them, ratcheting the dust and swallowing Dorothea’s voice all at once. She pulled her dark red cloak more tightly about her shoulders to defend against the coming storm. The Great Tree Moon was a fickle month and even more so in the rain.
Still, the emperor, warmed only by her own red mantle, continued on undeterred. Her white-blonde hair whipped about her head in a cloud, taken by the wind. She looked especially small hunched over in the rubble then as she was.
Dorothea sighed. Around them, most of the soldiers had retired for the day, or otherwise slowed in their work. Edelgard, however, paid them little mind.
“Edie,” she tried again, a bit more assertively. Then, when she was only standing just a few paces behind her former house leader, “Edelgard.”
The emperor hesitated, but she did not stop. Her head turned only enough to acknowledge the other woman’s presence. “What do you need, Dorothea?” She sounded tired and frustrated, her voice as brittle as an icicle, but the songstress had grown used to that in the past couple weeks.
Dorothea crouched down beside her, arms crossed over her chest. “The rain won’t be long now. Neither will the dark. Let’s call it a day?”
Edelgard continued on, huffing as she attempted to turn a particularly heavy stone. “There’s still time.”
“Barely.” Dorothea was trying to be gentle, just as she’d been doing for days. However, she was as exhausted as all the others. Since the professor vanished they’d done nothing but search. Thoughts of war were effectively pushed to the background, much to Hubert’s and the other generals’ very vocal dismay. To Edelgard, only one thing mattered.
Dorothea could sympathize. She’d watched their professor perform one unbelievable feat after the next for the better part of the past year. They’d watched her rend a gash in the sky and leap from eternal exile, all while brandishing the Relic of a divine being. Someone like that simply couldn’t be gone.
That thought was beyond heartbreaking. It was defeating.
Still, they needed to be practical in their efforts. Nobody could keep working at the pace Edelgard had been without crashing eventually. The bags beneath her eyes and the tremble in her hands as she struggled to dislodge the piece of rubble told Dorothea that would be coming sooner rather than later.
“Felix and the search parties have already returned for the day. I imagine Petra should be close behind.”
Edelgard stilled. “What do they have to show?”
Dorothea looked down, sweeping away an errant lock of hair that blew across her cheek and nose. “Nothing today.”
Edelgard’s jaw shook for only a second before it squared. She cleared her throat, grunting as she pushed more forcefully against the stone. “Another day wasted.”
“Petra is still out there,” Dorothea reminded her. It was a stretch, she knew, but better than nothing. “She’s the best tracker we have.” After several seconds without a response, Dorothea sighed again and leaned forward. With her strength alongside the emperor’s, they turned the stone over with only a couple heaves between them. What it revealed, however, was nothing but a lifeless patch of earth. Edelgard stared down at the deadened grass blankly before falling back on her haunches. She pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.
The wind whistled, picking up in intensity. Both their cloaks billowed behind them. Finally, Edelgard rubbed her temple and muttered, “My head is killing me.”
“We’ll get you a cup of tea, maybe pay Manuela a visit.” Reaching out, Dorothea squeezed her shoulder. In that moment, Edelgard felt as small as she looked, surrounded by these ruins of her own making. “How does that sound?” The emperor only nodded.
Dorothea stood, offering Edelgard her hand. “Tomorrow will be better,” the songstress told her. “I promise.”
One could only hope.
The storm was worse than any of them had been expecting—another testament to the Great Tree Moon’s tempestuous nature. It lashed angrily at the windows, lighting the room intermittently with bright flashes and rumbling thunderclaps. Dorothea watched the drops race down the glass in Edelgard’s study as she toyed ceaselessly with the choker around her neck.
Since the professor’s disappearance, Dorothea had asked Edelgard to share a cup of tea with her nearly every day, thinking it would be a useful distraction for them both. However, Edelgard had been far too inconsolable to entertain anyone during the first week, and too single-mindedly focused on her search to make time during the second.
They’d all taken Byleth’s disappearance hard, but no one more so than Edelgard. Dorothea was expecting that to a degree, but the depths of the younger woman’s anguish shook her almost physically. Perhaps the crush Dorothea had teased her for all this time was something more than that, after all. Or maybe it would have been, if not for the war.
She should’ve been relieved, perhaps even happy to be sitting in the emperor’s study now. However, as another flash of lightning brightened the windows, her distraction took her away.
“My apologies,” Edelgard announced, returning to the room after another interruption from Hubert. He’d been shooed away for the time being, but Dorothea knew he would never stray far from his lady’s side, especially not now. “It seems the wind has had its way with an already fragile outbuilding.”
Dorothea picked up her cup. Edelgard’s delay had at least given their tea time to cool. “Terrific. Am I to assume we’ve even more cleanup tomorrow?”
“But of course.” Edelgard took a sip of her own tea, eyes closing as she savored the aromatic blend. “I checked in with the guards again as well. Still nothing.”
The songstress shifted anxiously at the update. Night had fallen hours ago now, and the rain unrelentingly with it. All soldiers and search parties had returned long ago. All except for Petra.
Dorothea shook her head. “She’s really taking her time tonight.”
“A storm like this would delay anyone.”
“Still… she knows when a bad storm is coming. She should have started back the moment she saw the clouds start to gather.” Out of the corner of her eye, Dorothea saw Edelgard staring blankly into the depths of her teacup. Shaking off the anxiety, she turned to her friend. “How is your head?”
“A little better. Manuela’s salve seems to be helping.”
“I’m glad. I think you just need a bit of rest, Edie,” she told her gently.
Edelgard scoffed, resting her forehead in her palm. “As if there’s time for rest.”
“There is. If you make it.”
Edelgard was quiet for several moments, turned away with her head in her hand. Dorothea expected an argument, but when the emperor spoke next it sounded more like forfeit. “It’s been two weeks.”
“I know.” Dorothea wasn’t sure what to do or to say, except to pour more tea into both their cups. She watched the steam rise, biting back the platitudes Edelgard would resent her for dispensing.
“We haven’t found anything, Dorothea.” When Edelgard next met her gaze, her eyes were frenzied, frightened. The songstress couldn’t remember ever seeing Edelgard frightened before. She was stalwart and brave, a true leader. Her current desperation squeezed at Dorothea’s heart so tightly she felt short of breath for an instant. “How have we not found anything?”
“I… I don’t—”
“People don’t just vanish like that!”
Dorothea found it hard to swallow. Outside, the rain picked up in force again, smacking the windows with renewed vigor. Inside, the storm raged in Edelgard’s despairing eyes, there for but a moment more before she shakily steeled her features, just as she always did.
“You’ll tell me, won’t you,” Edelgard turned away, massaging her forehead once more, “when this becomes a fool’s errand? Part of me already feels like it has.”
Slowly, Dorothea reached across the table, prying Edelgard’s hand from the iron grip around her teacup. She leaned forward, trying to catch her gaze. “Edie, look at me. Please?” After a moment, the emperor gave in. Her eyes were glistening. “This is no fool’s errand. You’re right—people don’t just vanish. Not like that. And the professor’s not just anybody, really, but… she’s vanished out of thin air before. And she returned to us just as suddenly. Unless we find—” A body, she meant to say, though stopped herself at the last moment. “Unless we find evidence, I refuse to believe she’s really gone.”
Edelgard nodded, squeezing Dorothea’s hand in turn before pulling away. With a deep breath, she began to collect herself, the emperor breaking through to overshadow the heartbroken girl once again. “I have to believe that,” she replied, after several quiet moments broken only by the clinking of porcelain and a clap of thunder. “What I’ve set out to do here…” She stopped, took a sip of her drink, and started again. “I need her here.”
That night, Dorothea laid awake for several hours, tossing and turning. A candle flickered beside her bed, mixing with the argent haze cast by the waning storm outside. Her mind wouldn’t stop racing. She felt haunted by Edelgard’s broken gaze and her grief, so close and so palpable that it could be felt in her marrow.
It was a good reminder of all that the songstress had gained since arriving at the Officers Academy—and all that she stood to lose herself in the midst of this unpredictable war.
It was a good reminder that Petra hadn’t yet returned from her mission.
She told herself to be reasonable: a storm like this could delay anyone, just as Edelgard had said. However, the rains had slowed considerably in the past couple hours. As a good of a hunter as Petra was, not even she would linger long in the forests at night.
It was just past daybreak when she finally heard a door creak open and shut in the next room over. That was one of the perks of having adjoining dorms. If she just listened closely enough she could hear her neighbor’s comings and goings—a useful perk when she was waiting up all night to see her.
Dorothea was able to restrain herself for less than ten minutes, listening to the intermittent shuffling next door, before she slipped out of her room to knock on Petra’s door. Surely she looked a sight. She’d barely slept a wink all night and was wearing the same rumpled dress that she’d been wearing when she last saw Petra the morning before. However, she barely paid that any mind as she insistently called out to the princess through the door.
The relief that swept over Dorothea when Petra opened the door was so strong she couldn’t stop herself from leaping into a crushing embrace.
“D-Dorothea,” Petra choked out in surprise, voice muffled in the songstress’ shoulder. “What are you—”
“Where were you?” Dorothea asked first, a little breathless. The relief was warring with frustration and no small measure of annoyance. Before Petra could even formulate a response Dorothea pulled back, examining the princess at arm’s length. “You’re not hurt are you?”
“No, I am—” With the exception of a shallow cut on her cheek, she appeared unharmed. Exhausted, yes, and even shivering a bit, but uninjured at least.
“I was so worried about you.” Dorothea pulled her back into her arms before Petra could answer for herself. The smaller woman seemed startled at first, but eventually returned the embrace just as fiercely. She seemed to be sinking into Dorothea, sinking into her warmth. “You’re shivering. Are you cold?”
“I could not make a substantial fire last night. And it was cold.”
“Did you at least have a cloak?” Dorothea asked, leading her back into the room. She didn’t wait for an invitation. Unthinkingly, she steered Petra towards the bed, picking up one of the furs she kept folded at the foot of it and draping it over the princess’ shoulders. Petra stiffened for a moment in surprise, but did not argue.
“Yes… I did,” she answered slowly. “But it was very wet by the time I was finding shelter.”
“You’ll be lucky if you don’t catch a cold.” Dorothea sat down beside her, rubbing her back. The torrent of emotions rushing through her was utterly confusing. On one hand, she felt terrible for the other woman. She’d been out all night in the rain and cold, huddled around some tiny fire with a wet cloak. The thought made Dorothea’s heart clench in both sympathy and in fear. On the other hand, all these things could have been avoided if the huntress had just come back when she was supposed to.
“What happened, Petra? You should have returned when Felix and the others did.” She tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but to no avail.
Petra pulled her knees onto the bed and hugged them to her chest. “When did the others return?”
“Before nightfall, when they saw the storm coming in.” There was an accusation buried in that answer. When you saw the storm coming in.
Petra frowned, playing with the edge of the blanket. “Felix and I took separate paths. When the afternoon grew late, I had knowing that the storm would come. But I…” She hesitated for a moment before rising from the bed. Taking the fur with her, she pulled a small ball of cloth from her desk. She cradled it to her belly like a precious thing, rag though it was. “I found this,” she quietly stated, unfurling the cloth.
Dorothea took it from her very gently. At first it appeared little more than a black rag, but then Dorothea saw the dark blue accent stitching and recognized it for what it was. “This is… the professor’s? It looks like a piece of her jacket.”
“That is what I was thinking,” Petra nodded. She sat down beside Dorothea and felt the other end of the cloth between her fingers. “I found it near the water. I had knowing, as soon as I saw it. This was the professor’s. Or I was thinking so.” Her brow furrowed, a pained expression crossing her normally bright features. “I thought I had a trail, Dorothea. I was following, for miles. I could not…” she shook her head, dropping her end of the cloth. “I was not wanting to return without more.”
Dorothea understood now. Too well. “So you stayed out there, even when the rain came.”
“I am understanding what could have happened. But one night alone in the dark is not terrible. Our professor, wherever she is right now, has been alone for many nights.” Dorothea clenched the fabric in her fist, chest constricting. When next Petra spoke, her voice was strained, almost rasping. “I tried. I used all of my knowing, all of my skills. I tried, but… I lost her.”
“Petra,” Dorothea hugged her shoulders with sudden tightness, burying her face in the princess’ blanket. They were both shaking now, and not just from the chill. “You did not lose her.”
“But I am here now, and she is still out there.”
“So, we will keep searching.” Dorothea sat up, cupping Petra’s wet cheek in her hand. The warrior’s eyes shone with the same tears Edelgard had refused to let fall the night before.
All around her, it seemed, the people she cared most about—the strongest people she knew—were splintering. The only thing that could truly fix this pain was for Byleth to return to them, something that was out of Dorothea’s power entirely.
The only thing that Dorothea could do was to prevent the others—to prevent Petra—from getting lost out in the wild with her.
“Next time,” she said, clearing her throat. “Don’t go alone. Will you promise me that?” Dorothea wiped away Petra’s tears with the pad of her thumb. The princess reached out to do the same for her, though she hadn’t even known she’d been crying to begin with.
“I will stay with Felix, or with a search party,” Petra said quietly.
“Is that a promise?” When Petra nodded, Dorothea drew her back into her arms.
The songstress wasn’t any sort of tracker. She hardly considered herself a leader, or even much of a fighter. Since the start of this war, she’d wondered what part she could possibly play, what kind of person she might become.
Maybe this would be enough: the person who held fighters such as Petra when the long night was over and done.
Dorothea stayed with Petra until the huntress could no longer keep her eyes open. She stayed until the sun had risen completely and morning light suffused the room, spilling golden beams across the floorboards.
She did not return to her own room, her own bed after. Instead, she returned to the rubble and ruin, where Edelgard had toiled the day before.
She was not as strong as the emperor, but she pushed against those heavy stones all the same, digging and turning over rocks until her hands were scraped and blackened with dirt. When Edelgard joined her later that morning, fresh-faced from a fitful night’s sleep, she chose not to comment on their apparent role reversal.
They just kept pushing, this time together, silent in the resolve of a new day.
Chapter 4: Pt. IV
In which Dorothea jumps to conclusions.
We've got one last leap ahead in time for this one, about a year!
For as long as she lived, Dorothea would never forget the first winter she spent orphaned on the streets of Enbarr. Her grief then was a fresh four-month-old gulch, a feeling already so confusing for a girl of only six years. However, to weather it alone, scrambling to survive on the streets of an unforgiving city during a particularly unforgiving season, made it all the more unbearable.
If not for the help of older and wiser children, some of whom had lived on the streets nearly since the time of their birth, Dorothea surely would not have survived. Whether it was by the cold winds or the dirk of some heartless bastard made no difference. Death loomed over motherless children all the same.
The faces of the children displaced by this war were all different. Some came from well-to-do houses, others from impoverished hamlets that had barely scraped by to begin with. But in each of those faces, the songstress saw the same thing—a ghost she’d long since thought she’d escaped from: her own.
She was growing ever-still, distancing herself farther from that girl and even the girl she became during her time at the Officers Academy. In searching for her role in the war, she found a place amongst the children. By their side, singing songs and guiding them through their mourning, was where she most felt like she belonged.
“Miss Dot,” a young boy no older than five years tugged on the sleeve of her dress. He was dusky-skinned and small for his age, likely due to his prolonged malnourishment. The unruly mop of dark curls atop his head dwarfed him, making him look somehow smaller. In a way, he’d always reminded her of Claude von Riegan, most often when he grinned, all full of unabashed mischief. He was lucky he was so sweet.
“Yes, Oren?” Dorothea crouched beside him, absentmindedly wiping a smudge of dirt from his cheek. He seemed to be a magnet for it. “Do you need something?”
“Rollo is telling bad stories again.” Rollo was an older boy, just on the verge of puberty. He, too, was soft-hearted, but embroiled in an age where grief too often funneled into anger. The smaller children, unfortunately, were an easy target.
Dorothea frowned. Oren pulled back and huffed when she attempted to brush the hair out of his eyes. “They’re just stories, Oren. You know Rollo likes to tease.”
“But he said—he told us about the… the church lady. The important lady.”
“The important church lady?”
“Yeah, the mean one that Lady Edie fought.” Dorothea smiled wryly at the moniker. It would rankle the emperor endlessly to hear it, but there was nothing she could say about it when she wasn’t around. And these were just children, after all.
“What did he say?”
“He said…” Oren looked down at the ground, fidgeting with the bottom of his tunic. For once, the usually boisterous boy was quiet. “He said she could turn into a dragon. A big dragon, with sharp claws and teeth. And that her breath was made of fire.”
Dorothea stiffened momentarily. The memory of Rhea’s wrath and the beast that it had evoked, much like a wound unclosed, was still fresh in her mind. It evoked, just as strongly, a reminder of Byleth’s disappearance.
The songstress forced a smile, hoping the boy couldn’t see her unease. “My, that’s quite the story.”
“But… you fought with Lady Edie, right?” He met her keen green eyes with an owlishly curious stare of his own. “Is it true, Miss Dot?”
Dorothea opened her mouth and then closed it again. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see some of the other children in the play-yard had slowed in their games and their pretending, gazing at her expectantly. Oren wasn’t the only one who had heard Rollo’s story, it seemed.
She didn’t want to lie to them, but she didn’t want to give them nightmares either. Their innocence was fragile enough as it was. There was no need to imperil that further with the horrors of this war their protectors were waging.
“It is true that the important church lady, Rhea, was very mean.” She swept her gaze over the other small faces watching. “It is true that we fought, and that we will keep fighting. But you shouldn’t worry about dragons or other fairytale monsters.” She favored Oren with a smile, placing her hands on his shoulders. “Me and Lady Edie and all the others will make sure you never have to meet the mean people yourselves.”
Oren frowned for only a moment more, his brow furrowed and button nose scrunched up in rounded cheeks. Dorothea actively hoped he would not press her more. The truth was, what Rhea became in her true form was probably worse than his youthful imaginings. And even that form somehow paled next to the blight that surrounded one in the midst of an average battle: the tang of blood heavy on the air, the howl and gurgle of life escaping one’s body…
Children were resilient creatures, however, far more than their fully grown counterparts (and far more than they were given credit for). Oren’s face split in a toothy grin, his contemplations wiped clean away. “I know you will,” he nodded, mirroring Dorothea’s actions and placing tiny hands on her shoulders. “Your magic is the strongest thing in the world!”
Such conviction… Dorothea chuckled heartily, sweeping the boy into her arms for a quick hug—very quick though, as he seemed to be approaching that age where affection was sometimes deemed icky (especially when other children were around to see it). She let go just before he started to squirm and beamed at the other children.
“You’re all too quiet for my liking. Come now, let’s play a game.” The other kids gathered around, tittering like tiny birds. For as often as she felt adrift in these harrowing and uncertain times, it was never in these moments, never when these young hearts looked to her for guidance.
Dorothea smiled, but before she could decide on what game they would play today, a clatter of movement at the gates pulled her away.
The clop of hooves pounded ever closer, followed by the steady march of boots. Dorothea craned her neck, shielding her eyes against the glare of the late afternoon sun with the flat of her hand. It was a small group, carrying no banner, but as they came closer, Dorothea picked out the twin-headed eagle emblazoned on the soldiers’ breasts. And there, near the rear of the pack, the vivid colors of Brigidian armor, the shine of magenta hair.
Dorothea grinned. “Children,” she began, placing a hand on two of their scruffy heads, “why don’t you discuss amongst yourselves and pick out a game? We’ll begin after I’ve greeted our returning warriors.”
“Ahh, can’t we play now, Miss Dot?”
“Be patient,” she told them, already breaking away to intercept the soldiers. “I’ll be back soon.”
She met the others halfway. On impulse, she wanted to leap out and crush Petra in a hug. However, as the huntress walked beside Felix and the other warriors, quietly discussing, she restrained herself. There was an unexpectedly somber air around them, and while Petra appeared uninjured, even her usually vibrant features had dampened somewhat.
The princess looked up and smiled tiredly as Dorothea fell easily into step beside her. She quickly grabbed the shorter girl’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “You’re finally back,” Dorothea announced, smiling.
“Finally,” Petra agreed, chuckling.
Dorothea craned her head and waved to the stoic Fraldarius heir who, while limping, seemed to be keeping pace quite admirably. “Hello, Felix!”
“Hi.” He didn’t meet her eyes, but he did look sidelong. All things considered, it was something of a win.
“You’ve been gone nearly two weeks,” Dorothea continued. “How was the trip?”
Petra’s brow furrowed as she looked to the songstress. “It was not much a trip. It was a mission.”
“Well, how was your mission?” Dorothea corrected airily, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
Petra looked down at the ground for a moment, not quite meeting Dorothea’s eyes. “There was much success. We gathered all the information that Edelgard and Hubert required. And with… less conflict.”
“Really?” Dorothea asked hopefully. Much of the past year—the first year in what Dorothea feared would be a very long war—had seen Petra away on small missions such as these; at first in search of the professor, and then later, as hopes waned, to covertly gather information and… eliminate necessary rivals.
That last detail was what so often gave Dorothea pause. At first, Petra and Felix had been tentatively dispensed for these missions in an auxiliary capacity. The two were tremendously skilled, and Edelgard always felt more confident in operations when members of her personal Strike Force were involved. As time passed, however, Petra and Felix—the emperor’s assassins, rumor would have it—were dispensed with greater frequency.
Once or twice, Dorothea could understand. Petra and Felix were two of Edelgard’s most trusted warriors, after all. However, to hear others speak of them with such harsh titles—assassin—left Dorothea uneasy. With Felix, it was not altogether unbelievable, but Petra…
Petra would always be different, she supposed.
“Yes, the bulk of our forces were not needed. Felix and I were completing this mission on our own.”
“So, there was no fighting this time?”
Felix scoffed, having overheard their conversation. “No, it was a civil discourse that gave me this limp.”
“Okay, so some fighting,” Dorothea conceded. Quieter, she then asked, “But you were just collecting information, right?”
“Well,” Petra’s brow furrowed, “Yes, we were collecting the information—”
“And yes,” Felix interjected once more, still staring straight ahead, “blood was spilled to attain it.”
It was the slight cocky hitch at the corner of the man’s mouth that set Dorothea to scowling. “Do you think perhaps you could mind your own business, Felix?”
“If you don’t want my opinions then perhaps you should save your fool questions for behind closed doors.”
“Now, wait a—”
Petra stepped forward, gently grasping Dorothea’s arm before their barbs could escalate. “Felix. Please.” A look passed between the two fighters, one that Dorothea could not read. Felix’s gaze was searching, and then, much to her surprise, relenting. He nodded almost imperceptibly and limped ahead of them.
“We have our debriefing with Edelgard,” he reminded the princess.
“I will be seeing you,” Petra assured him before pulling Dorothea to the side of the caravan. They slowed their gait, easing into a more leisurely pace. The sun was still high, but lowering noticeably, leaving the late day air pleasingly warm. The two women strolled side by side while Felix and the other soldiers retreated up the road.
Eventually, Dorothea cleared her throat and remarked, “He just can’t resist an argument, can he?”
Petra chuckled. “Felix is… always fighting, even when he is not carrying a weapon. Conversations are also like duels for him.”
“That must be exhausting,” Dorothea drawled. “He’s like that the whole time you’re on the road together?”
“No,” Petra shook her head. “Felix is not so harsh all the time.” She paused then, tilting her head slowly. “He is actually… very nice to me. Usually.”
“Well, it is sort of impossible to be mean to you.” Dorothea grinned, leaning in to link her arm with the princess’. She always missed this while the other woman was away: their open affection, their warmth. It was a needed balm in the sternness of the day-to-day. “I’d hate to think you’re away all that time with no one to properly talk to.”
Petra considered this for a moment. “The talking is not always needed. The quiet can be nice, too.” After a moment, she turned, smiling gently at Dorothea. “But I am missing talking with you while I am gone. That is true.”
Dorothea felt her cheeks warm over her grin. “You are… too sweet.”
Petra shrugged. “I am being truthful. It is…” Brigid’s princess slowed to a stop. They were now fully in the eastern bailey, just on the other side of Garreg Mach’s marketplace—the area they’d repurposed for the housing of refugees and orphans displaced by the war. The children, minutes before so eager to monopolize Dorothea’s attention, seemed to have already launched into a game of their own making.
Petra stepped back slightly, her arm untangling from Dorothea’s. She watched her friend carefully, face a mixture of her usual gentleness and something far more guarded. The sun was behind her, golden and unobscured by clouds. It made Petra seem to glow, a fact that Dorothea found utterly distracting.
“I am knowing that you disagree with many of the missions Edelgard is sending Felix and I on,” she began carefully. “Sometimes I am… feeling confused. About my own role. At those times, I would like very much to be speaking with you.” Petra looked away, wearing an expression that was seemingly half bashfulness and half guilt.
Dorothea’s brow furrowed, and she placed her hand on Petra’s bicep. She was warm, and solid, and the songstress was struck quite suddenly by how much she missed the huntress, even now, as she stood right in front of her.
“You can always talk to me, Petra.”
“I know,” Petra agreed. “When I am here.” Whatever melancholy had arrested her seemed to flee quite suddenly. Petra looked up, ill thoughts momentarily forgotten. “I am talking to Felix, too, when I am not here. I am talking to him more often, actually. He is having a…” She took on a very particular frown, one Dorothea recognized. She was searching for the right word. “A unique perspective, yes?” Dorothea nodded, smiling gently. “Sometimes it is a perspective I am needing, to do what must be done.”
“Right…” Dorothea bit her tongue. To do what must be done. As vague as the statement was, the implication was clear. “Well, I am glad. But we are due for some catching up, don’t you think?” Dorothea shifted, adopting one of her more dazzling smirks. “You’ll never believe all the gossip you miss while you’re away. I have a particularly interesting story about Caspar and Bernadetta I’m dying to tell you about.”
Petra matched her smile with a more earnest one of her own. “I would be liking that greatly.”
“Tea time? Maybe tomorrow, mid-morning?”
“Yes,” Petra nodded, “in the mid-morning.”
“Terrific! Then it’s a date.” It was only out of habit that Dorothea winked. She had to admit, the light blush it elicited from the other woman did fill her with a sense of… pride. Or perhaps just something like it.
There were so many mornings that Dorothea woke with a pit of anxiety in her stomach. She was always wondering if today was the day that Rhea’s forces or the Kingdom might attack. She wondered which of her friends would be bloodied in battle, or who might fall altogether. She wondered if those children she’d sworn to protect could really be safe in times like these.
But today was not one of those days, because today Petra was here, and for once, Dorothea need only think about what dress she might wear and which blend of tea best complemented their tastes. Sometimes, it was good—very good, even—just to be frivolous.
The dress she settled on was a deep burgundy, a backless number that she knew to impress. As for the tea, she decided to forgo her favorite sweet apple blend for the four-spice tea that Petra favored. She even managed to pilfer a plate full of freshly-baked scones from the dining hall that morning, a rather impressive feat considering Lysithea had been up early and on the prowl.
The table was set, teacups unstacked and water boiled. Just as mid-morning arrived, Dorothea began to steep the leaves, the fragrant, almost peppery steam rising up to fill the room with soothing aromas. With a deep breath, Dorothea realized it was a scent she’d come to associate with Petra.
Mid-morning arrived and mid-morning passed, however, and there was no knock on Dorothea’s door. It was not like Petra to be late, especially in the early morning, which was her favorite time of day (“I believe in Fódlan you would be saying that the earlier birds are killing more worms”). However, she’d been away for some time, and Dorothea imagined she might be more exhausted than usual.
When she first checked, not long after their agreed-upon tea time, Dorothea found that Petra’s room was empty. She waited nearly another hour before she went looking, concern rising up in her.
She walked the grounds aimlessly for a time, asking around when she passed a familiar face. Eventually, she spotted Caspar bounding towards the dining hall, whistling a jaunty tune as he went along.
“Caspar!” she called out, rushing to catch up with him. He turned and grinned, as reliably joyful as ever.
“Hey, Dorothea! Are you heading to the mess, too?”
“No, not right now,” she replied, falling into step beside him. “I was actually looking for Petra. Have you seen her around?”
“Jeez, when aren’t you looking for Petra? Every time I talk to you you’re trying to get to someone else.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. That’s hardly true!”
“Yeah, if you say so… I have seen her, in any case. I saw a little too much of her, actually.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Dorothea asked with a raised brow.
“She just walloped me at the training grounds.”
“She’s at the training grounds?” Well, Dorothea supposed she could cross off any injury or illness from her list of concerns. A twinge of annoyance began to creep in, over hershadowing worry.
“Yeah, she and Felix are crazy. They started training at the crack of dawn or something. I’m not as attached to my bed as Linhardt, but a guy’s gotta draw the line somewhere. My line just happens to be sunup.”
“Oh,” she said simply.
“I’m guessing by the look on your face you’re not much of a morning person either, huh?” Caspar chuckled. “Be prepared to fight when you walk in there. They’re really in the zone—kinda scary intense for Petra, but you know how she can get.” He shrugged and began strolling away, patting his belly. “You know where to find me if you’d prefer an early lunch instead.”
Dorothea watched his retreating back with a frown. So, it seemed Petra had missed their tea time for no other reason than a training session. With Felix. Hadn’t she spent enough time with him lately?
The songstress mulled over this fact the entire way to the training grounds, playing out the coming conversation in her mind. She absolutely hated to be stood up for anything, and it was much worse when the other party was her best friend.
As she neared the doors to the training grounds, a bitingly sarcastic opening line perched on the tip of her tongue. However, she came up short at the entrance when an unexpected sound met her ears.
It was laughter. A man’s laughter. She was hard-pressed to believe that could be Felix, as she couldn’t ever remember hearing the man laugh before. However, when she peeked her head into the room, there he was: the ever stoic and unabashedly surly swordmaster, chuckling as he circled around Petra.
Worse yet, she was smiling, too.
“What? Are you tiring out?”
“Hardly,” Petra replied, proudly lifting her chin.
Dorothea slipped quietly into the room, out of sight near the doors.
Felix pointed his sword, taking a teasing swipe at Petra’s long ponytail. “You know I’m technically still injured, right? And I haven’t given up.”
“Technically,” Petra mimicked, “Professor Manuela gave you healing yesterday.”
Felix slowed for a moment, eyeing Petra with a narrowed gaze. He had a catlike air, silently charged and prowling, enough so to give away his abrupt lunge. The huntress, equally quick, parried his attack easily, rolling into a swift riposte at his left flank. Thus began their flurried clash.
They traded blows with river-like fluidity. It was calculated and ruthless and somehow so full of grace at the same time. They seemed, each of them, able to preempt the other’s attacks so quickly that the dance almost appeared choreographed.
They were in sync, very much so. Dorothea had to wonder just how much time they’d spent training together on those missions Edelgard sent them on. How much did they fight? How much did they talk? How much did they not talk?
Their dance was broken when Petra twisted out of another parry and feinted low to the right. Wordlessly, she swept her leg out beneath Felix. Whether he was not expecting it or simply wasn’t quick enough to react, the move laid him out flat on his back, training weapon clattering to the ground beside him. A second later, the tip of Petra’s blade was under his chin, tapping mockingly.
“I am winning. Again.”
Felix’s scowl was venomless. “I have a handicap.”
After a moment, Petra’s cool and unflinching mien broke, a grin spreading over her face. She reached out her hand. To Dorothea’s surprise, Felix accepted it.
“Nice move, Princess.”
It hit Dorothea, in that moment. Something about the way he said that word—princess—in such a familiar tease, carved an immediate hollow in her stomach. She watched him spring to his feet grasping Petra’s wrist, an uncharacteristic smile on his face. He bared only the hint of teeth, but it was too much.
As easily as she’d slipped into the training grounds, she slipped out and strode quickly back the way she’d come. It wasn’t until she made it to her room, leaning heavily against the closed door, that she realized how hard her heart was beating. The now cool tea and plate of scones sat across the room, meticulously placed, mocking her.
Felix and Petra. She lost her appetite completely.
Chapter 5: Pt. V
Dorothea and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Times of war were times of doubt. The only lingering certainty was that every day that one carried on safely, somewhere else in their country a great many others had seen their last sunrise.
Their days were all palpably numbered, and plagued with the same questions: Who would be next? When would the other shoe drop?
In this way, there was never truly any peace in wartime. Nevertheless, it was the great resiliency (or otherwise the great denial) of the human spirit to carry on and seek joy in all the old ways regardless. People still gossiped, still hosted parties and danced and drank until they had their fill. People still sought love, made love.
It had been almost a year and a half since Dorothea attempted a date of any sort, but she woke one morning in the midst of this war resolved: It was time to get back on the horse, to secure the future she’d been searching for when she first came to the Officers Academy.
This reclaimed determination, of course, arrived apropos of nothing else that may have been going on in Dorothea’s personal life. Absolutely nothing at all.
The soldier she settled on for her first date was a fresh-faced recruit a few years younger than herself. He had a face somewhere between the soft edges of boyhood and the cut-jawline of manhood. His was an unassuming appearance, the appearance of any smithy or baker or footsoldier; but he looked at Dorothea with the sort of gaping awe she’d become all-too familiar with during her opera days. Awe, she told herself, was serviceable. For now.
She had only just finished applying her makeup when a knock came at her door. She knew immediately it wasn’t her soldier, as they’d agreed to meet in the marketplace. Still, her stomach did a little somersault thinking about who it might be instead.
“Who is it? I’m a little busy.” she called from her seat by the mirror.
“It is Petra!”
Again. Dorothea sighed. In the two days since Petra stood her up, she’d come knocking at her door to apologize three times—once with flowers, even. It had been rightly deserved the first time, and Dorothea could admit to appreciating the second apology. The third left her biting her tongue. At this point, she was ready to turn her away outright. She mulled over this prospect for a moment, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
Then, antsy, Petra called out, “Could we be talking?”
Relenting, Dorothea strode over to the door. She took a second to collect herself, smoothing out her dress and taking a deep breath before she opened it, her bright smile plastered on like part of her makeup.
“Petra, dear,” she greeted, attempting to keep the frustration from her voice. “I sincerely hope you’re not coming to apologize again.”
“No.” She shook her head hastily, hands behind her back. The rising blush on her cheeks gave away her true intentions, however. “You were telling me no more apologies. And I have honor for your request.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Dorothea replied, a bit less than amused. She forced her smile to remain in place. “What can I help you with?”
“You do not need to be helping me with anything. I was only wanting to bring you something.” Petra smiled hopefully. Her hands came out from behind her back to present a small box. Tentatively, Dorothea took it. She found it concealed a piece of cake—her favorite, she’d begrudgingly admit—a golden sponge cake lightly dusted with sugar and brandy-soaked apples. It was a rare treat from the dining hall, especially these days, but one she could never resist indulging in.
Part of her hated that Petra remembered this, and worse yet, that the iciness in her chest actually began to thaw at the gesture. “Dessert?” Her brow raised in question.
Petra nodded eagerly. “Yes, I was so happy to see it. There were only two cakes being made. I was fearing Lysithea would eat them all,” the princess chuckled nervously. “I wanted to be stealing a piece for you before it was all gone.”
Dorothea began chewing her bottom lip again. This was yet another apology, of course. It still stung that Petra had stood her up, but Dorothea could believe her when she said that time got away from her, that she hadn’t done it knowingly. And there was no doubt how earnestly sorry she was.
Still. She thought back to the way Felix had smiled at the princess, the ease with which they had danced around each other, teased each other. It made her stomach ache.
“This is… thank you, Petra. I appreciate this.”
Perhaps Dorothea’s voice had gone too soft. Like kindling, Petra’s earnest hope caught fire in her smile. “I have gladness. If you are hungry now, maybe we could sit and… be talking? For a short while?”
Dorothea looked up. That face… it wasn’t like the face of her date. Not a forgettable face, not a face that concealed its aspirations. Petra wore her emotions plainly, too much so. The songstress sighed again. “I can’t.” She latched onto her earlier conviction, that which had emboldened her to make tonight’s plans in the first place. “I’m actually getting ready for a date,” Dorothea informed her, lifting her chin.
The hope in Petra’s eyes fell. “Oh. I was not knowing… you have not been going on dates for a long time.”
“No, I haven’t,” Dorothea agreed, putting on her joviality with renewed force. “But I think it’s time to start again, don’t you? There’s no telling what tomorrow may hold! It doesn’t make sense to put things off any longer.”
Petra nodded, brow knit. “I… suppose that has truth.”
“If you’d like to talk… maybe we can try tomorrow. If Felix hasn’t already laid claim to your time.”
A look of confusion crossed Petra’s face, mild frustration hot on its heels. “Dorothea, I hope you are knowing that… I am sorry.”
“Petra, I’ve told you—it’s fine.” The songstress paused, staring down at the tiny box of cake in her hands. “We both have our roles to play here, and I understand that completely.” When the princess glanced down at her boots, Dorothea finished, “How could I fault you for doing the things you need to do?”
How could either of them, really?
The soldier was nice, chivalrous even, in that he held open doors and pulled out Dorothea’s seat at dinner. He even asked to refill her wine before pouring, and kept his hands to himself well after the conversation went stale and the songstress was left stifling yawns.
She focused on his eyes. They were warm, and honest, and brown, and they reminded her of something she couldn’t quite put her finger on (or otherwise simply refused to). Later, when he walked her back to her room, and gave her a slight bow goodnight, she saw the question, the well-mannered eagerness in his eyes, and she repeated to herself the words she’d uttered earlier that same day:
We both have our roles to play here.
And since tomorrow was uncertain—wildly less than guaranteed, as a matter of fact—she latched onto her role gamely, with a forced enthusiasm that she hoped might grow more sincere with enough pretending. She took the soldier’s hand in hers and asked him if he’d like to come inside and talk a bit more.
Though he was young and clearly inexperienced, he was not a fool. He knew what “talk” really meant, and it wasn’t long before he engaged his mouth in other, decidedly less chivalrous activities. He was fumbling, verging on inept, but more awed than ever before. And he made no move that Dorothea did not consent to.
There was that, at least.
All the while, she stayed focused on his eyes, up until the moment she couldn’t keep hers open any longer. His hands were gruff, his kiss more salivating than soft, but with her own eyes closed, she could pretend.
She imagined a kiss more pillowy—warm, but not overbearing. A kiss that wasn’t a play for dominance, but an equal push and pull between two. A kiss that was starry-eyed, that was homey and full of comfort. A kiss just like she’d shared with Petra…
If the soldier thought it odd when she pulled back, gasping in surprise, he was smart enough only to ask if she was okay. Just as he was smart enough to follow orders when she told him not to talk anymore, to slow down, to let her lead.
She knew that it was wrong. But she didn’t stop her mind from conjuring what images it wished. That was all part of the role she played.
The guilt, the frustration, the hollowness would wait until the next morning. For now, she could at least pretend.
Petra’s gift sat uneaten on her desk for three whole days. A needling sense of shame waylaid Dorothea’s appetite every time she looked at it. Vulnerable, she funneled that ill feeling into something she could actually protect herself with: sheer annoyance.
Sick of apologies, she dropped the now stale piece of cake into the waste-bin and bounded out of her room in a huff.
Maybe she’d go see if Edelgard was busy, or at least pester Hubert long enough to find an opening in the emperor’s schedule. They hadn’t shared a cup of tea together in nearly a week. That fact was more to do with the busyness of recent days more than anything else, something Dorothea could wholly understand, but she did like to check in on the young emperor regularly. In Byleth’s absence, she could be prone to flights of melancholy.
The songstress was strolling through the northern courtyard, silently scheming on how she’d pry Edelgard from her desk when a raging stormcloud of a man came tearing across the grounds. Delayed by her previous thoughts, it took Dorothea a moment to realize three important facts, each dawning with greater concern:
First, the incensed man was none other than the soldier she’d spent the evening with three days prior—the very same she was set to meet again the following night.
Second, he was stalking over to her, which became clear as soon as his gaze landed on her with a rather brusque greeting.
Lastly, his nose was bleeding profusely and had made a wretched mess of his chin and the front of his jerkin.
When he was but a few paces away, she reached out in shock, “Oh my goodness, what happened to you? Are you okay—”
The soldier gruffly shook off the hand on his arm, all traces of his gentleness and uncertainty from the previous night vanished. “What happened to me? Your bloody island bitch is what happened!”
“Excuse me?” Dorothea blinked in utter surprise.
“That Brigidian whore you call a friend,” he spat, wincing as he attempted to pinch off the bleeding from his nose. “She’s lucky I didn’t knock her teeth out for this!”
“Petra?” Dorothea stepped back, too baffled to fully process what the man was saying.
“I don’t care what her name is, just so long as you remind her of her place. No wonder everyone thinks her people are such savages—”
“Hey!” Dorothea hissed, her utter confusion giving way to instinctive rage. “How dare you talk about her like that!”
“Her? The bitch that sucker-punched me in the nose?”
Dorothea pointed a finger sternly into his chest. “I know her a hell of a lot better than you, and I’m certain she wouldn’t have done it unless you gave her a good reason to.”
The soldier stared at her, wide-eyed and bewildered. The sight of his gaping mouth, all stained with blood as it was, could almost be considered comical. Or at least, it could have been if he weren’t staring daggers at her. “You’re just as crazy as her, aren’t you? Unbelievable!”
With that, the soldier stomped away, shaking his head in total disbelief. Dorothea watched his retreating form with a maelstrom of fury, disappointment, and sheer embarrassment swirling within her.
Petra had broken the man’s nose. Petra. Dorothea almost couldn’t believe it herself.
She wasn’t entirely sure what to think. She only knew that she needed to talk to Petra. Immediately.
Doubling her pace, she strode off in the direction the man had come from—the way to the training grounds. She couldn’t be certain that was where she’d find the Brigidian princess, but sure enough, when she stormed through the doors, she saw Petra sitting at the edge of the ring talking quietly with Caspar while Felix and Ferdinand sparred.
Petra’s brow was furrowed in consternation, a mien that blossomed into full-on shame when she spotted Dorothea bounding towards her. She had the good sense to stand in contrition, barely getting out a, “Dorothea, I am—” before the songstress cut her off.
“We need to talk. Now.”
All three of the men had turned to watch the display, Caspar and Ferdinand looking sufficiently fearful on the huntress’ behalf while Felix seemed to be openly concealing laughter—a sight that vexed Dorothea almost beyond belief.
Head hanging low, Petra obeyed without hesitation, following Dorothea out the doors and into a quiet alcove around the corner where they might have some privacy. Before she could even open her mouth—undoubtedly to apologize—Dorothea began, “Did you break my date’s nose?”
Petra winced. “It is broken?”
“Is that a yes?” This time, Dorothea waited for a response, arms crossed tightly over her chest.
“Dorothea, I can be explaining this—”
“You better,” the songstress scoffed. “He was actually nice you know!” Or, at least, he had been. She’d never dare confess to Petra what he’d said about her. Any man who could speak so cruelly was certainly not the man she’d thought him to be.
Petra’s face scrunched with indignity. “I am not thinking that he is. Dorothea, he and his friends came into the training grounds to spar and he was…” Lips pursed, Petra seemed unable to finish.
“He was what?”
“He was bragging,” Petra blurted. “About the… the successes of your date. And speaking about you in a way that no man is having any right to speak.”
“That’s not for you to decide!” Dorothea retorted, her embarrassment growing. Had she been so duped by his manners and boyish face? How could she be so foolish… She shook her head, focusing on the matter at hand. She didn’t have control over how these men might talk about her, but in this moment, she at least had some power.
“I don’t care what someone might be saying about me. You don’t just start swinging fists! That fixes nothing.”
“But he was saying—”
“Petra, I don’t care! I’m a grown woman. You think I haven’t dealt with this kind of thing before? I’ll have you know that I’ve fended off far worse, and I did it all on my own without one of my hotheaded friends sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.” Petra stared down at her feet, jaw working in such a way that Dorothea knew she was biting back words. “Goddess, what’s gotten into you? Has Felix really been rubbing off on you so? Of all the people you could have chosen, you pick him.”
“Dorothea, I… what?” Petra was looking at her with genuine confusion now, though Dorothea continued on heedless, the anger and disappointment all raging through her in a hot torrent.
“Violence is not the answer to every problem, you know! I don’t care what Felix thinks. Punching someone in the face or—worse, stabbing them—doesn’t actually fix things.”
“Dorothea, is this… wait. Is this about the missions Edelgard is sending us on? Again?”
“It’s…” Dorothea huffed. She hadn’t meant it to be about that, not initially. But it seemed all her recent reservations and disappointments were hellbent on rearing their ugly heads, and they’d been dancing around this topic for long enough. “Kind of! I mean, you learned our language for a reason, didn’t you? So you could talk things out? But you don’t seem to be doing much talking lately.”
Petra’s eyes narrowed. She was breathing a bit heavier now, gaze flinty. “I think this is… this is not fair to me.”
“Not fair? To you?”
“What you are saying, yes! It is not fair. If you are wanting to yell at me for punching your date in the nose, even though he was talking like a… like a jack’s ass, that is fine! I should not have done that. But you cannot be mad at me for performing my duties to Edelgard!”
“I never said I was mad about that—”
“But you are judging me, Dorothea! And that is the truly not fair part. Remember in the Academy? You told me once that I could not be judging you for dating all these men. And I did not. I was having respect for you. But now you are judging me for my fighting. There is… a word for that, in your language. And I am not remembering it right now, but I know it is what you are being.”
Dorothea almost could have laughed. “A hypocrite. You’re calling me a hypocrite?”
“That is the word!”
“You can’t be serious.” Unable to help herself, she did laugh, all biting in its mirthlessness.
“Petra, there is a difference between dating lots of men and killing lots of people,” she slowly explained, as if to a child.
The indignation was clear on the princess’ face. “I am not saying they are not different!”
“It sounds like you are.”
“I am saying it is not different for one friend to be judging another friend for who they are! I have a duty to Edelgard. I kill these people because it is protecting her. I am completing my duties and you are judging me for it.” There was more than a trace of sadness in her voice.
“I am not judging you for that.”
“I am thinking you are,” Petra insisted.
“No, I’m judging you for not questioning it! For not thinking twice before you get violent!”
Petra was silent for a long moment, breathing deeply in an attempt to calm herself. She didn’t look Dorothea in the eyes before replying, with failed detachment, “It is a terrible thing, but it is also a thing I am good at doing. And a thing I am good at bearing.” She shook her head then, plainly aggravated. “Why should that even be mattering to you?”
“Aside from the fact that it’s starting to screw with my love life?” she bit out, more pettily than intended. She took a deep breath herself, trying to put into words what she’d been feeling for months. “I just… I think you’re better than this, Petra. I think your heart is better than this.”
Petra’s eyes snapped up suddenly, glinting with an unexpected sense of… hopelessness? Sorrow? “You are not caring about my heart as much as you think, Dorothea.”
Dorothea balked. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Petra took one step back, then another. She exhaled and replied, “If you think that I cannot be completing my duty to Edelgard and have a worthy heart at the same time…” The princess shook her head, as if she couldn’t finish the thought. That earlier sadness overtook the fire in her eyes, extinguishing it completely. She turned suddenly, muttering, “I have apologies that I ruined your date.”
The princess didn’t return to the training grounds. Instead, she sped off towards the courtyard, away from Dorothea, away from their bitter words. Dorothea stood there for several minutes after, replaying the conversation in her mind. No matter how many times she turned it over, stomach roiling with nausea, one sentence stood out to her time and again:
“You are not caring about my heart as much as you think, Dorothea.”
She knew her feelings were vindicated, that she had every right to be angry. So why did that one remark leave her feeling so wrong?
Well, we're about halfway through now (I say "about" because I might still add a chapter. Who knows.)! Thanks to all who have read and commented so far. I truly appreciate it!
Special shoutout to my friend Jay who inspired the last scene of this chapter. Her desire to see Petra knock Dorothea's date on his ass really turned into something special ; )
Chapter 6: Pt. VI
In which Edelgard is not amused.
“I’m right… right? She was wrong?” Dorothea sat across from Edelgard, teacup set aside and barely touched. They were lounging on the terrace outside of the emperor’s personal quarters, overlooking the courtyards and ornate stone buildings below. Though winter still clung to the Great Tree Moon by the skin of its teeth, Spring slowly encroached, granting them unseasonably warm and pleasant days such as this.
A gentle breeze blew a loose strand of hair across Edelgard’s face. She tucked it behind her ear and sipped on her second cup of tea, carefully considering Dorothea’s screed. Though tea had been the emperor’s idea—a necessity after Dorothea began openly arguing with just about… well, everyone who spoke a dissident word during their Strike Force meeting—Edelgard had barely barely gotten a word in edgewise.
The emperor set her tea down, straightening out the tablecloth beneath it. With her chin resting in folded hands, she met Dorothea’s agitated gaze and asked, “Does it matter that you’re right and she’s wrong?”
Dorothea blinked incredulously. “Yes. It does.”
“Why?” Edelgard had that earnestly calculating look in her eyes, the very same she adopted when puzzling through a tactical quandary at her war table.
Dorothea ran a hand through her already tousled hair. “Edie, your inquisitiveness is appreciated, but I think I just need you to agree with me right now.”
“I see.” Edelgard’s lips pursed in thought. “Well, you’re right in that she shouldn’t have punched one of my soldiers. Though if I’m being completely honest, I may have been inclined to do the same if I heard him disparaging you.” She held up a hand to cut off Dorothea’s retort. “I wouldn’t have acted on that inclination, mind you, but Petra isn’t beholden to the same decorum as an Imperial emperor.”
Dorothea sat back, drumming her fingertips over the table. “Why do I get the feeling you aren’t one-hundred percent on my side here?”
“Dorothea,” Edelgard sighed. “I’m not taking anybody’s side. You’re both friends of mine.”
“Yes, but, you have tea with me more often.” At Edelgard’s withering stare, Dorothea huffed and idly stirred her neglected cup of tea. “I’m only asking you to agree because… well, because I feel bad. And I don’t think I should. She stood me up. She punched my date. But then somehow she turned it around like I was the one being unfair to her.”
“I don’t think you were being unfair. Not intentionally.”
“Not intentionally isn’t the same as not at all, Edie.”
Edelgard shrugged—an uncharacteristic gesture for the stern emperor. She sipped her tea a little too demurely for the songstress’ liking.
Dorothea narrowed her gaze. “What aren’t you saying?”
“That’s a lie.”
Edelgard’s eyebrows climbed, amusement faintly hitching the corner of her mouth. “You really want my opinion?”
“Yes.” Dorothea implored with the longsuffering tone of a woman who’d barely slept the past three nights. “That’s why I’m here.”
“I thought you were here for the sterling conversation?” Edelgard smiled knowingly.
“Well, that too. Just… don’t toy with me, Edie. I’m too tired for that.”
“Fine,” the emperor conceded, setting down her cup. She folded her hands on the tabletop, demeanor caught somewhere between the gravity of her Imperial station and the coyness of a friend who knew too much. It dawned on Dorothea that she looked precisely her age in this moment—a rare sight indeed.
“You know it’s my job to watch, to collect information—especially when it comes to my Black Eagles. It’s hard for me not to notice the fine details. And I can say quite certainly that the relationship you and Petra share is... unique. It’s not just that you’re close. It’s almost like…”
Edelgard stared out over the courtyard below, searching for the correct words. “This is just an opinion.”
“I know.” Now Dorothea was sighing, a bit more dramatically than she’d intended. She hated to think herself petulant, but her nerves were frayed beyond belief.
Edelgard chuckled, “All right then.” She turned to face Dorothea fully, clearing her throat. “I’ve always wondered if, perhaps, there was something more than friendship there.” Then, after a measured glance. “From the look on your face, I think it’s safe to assume you’ve wondered the same.”
In spite of the gentle breeze that surrounded them, Dorothea grew almost uncomfortably warm. She shifted in her seat, pulling at a loose thread in the sleeve of her dress.
She’d be a fool not to wonder if there was something more than friendship between her and Petra. After the kiss they’d mistakenly shared, she’d thought of it quite often, as a matter of fact—for a time. However, they were irrational thoughts—saccharine thoughts with the cadence of a teenage crush: intensely sweet but unrealistic. As they’d eased back into the natural rhythm of their friendship post-kiss, she’d written off these musings as little more than pleasant fantasies.
When someone was as kind to her, as considerate as Petra was, it was hard not to fantasize from time to time. When that someone was also beautiful, and strong, and honest… well, it didn’t help matters.
She still had flashes of wondering, every now and then. For instance, when she woke on a cold morning wrapped in one of the heavy fur blankets that Petra had gifted her, had to wonder what it would be like to open her eyes to a fall of magenta hair swept across the pillow beside her.
Likewise, when she was wrapped up with some clumsy, gruff soldier, she had to wonder what it would be like if the body entwined with hers was lithe and tanned and marked with traditional Brigidian ink.
Dorothea pulled at the neckline of her dress, feeling more than a little warm. “What makes you say that?” she weakly asked, clearing her throat.
“Your behavior, mostly. And the way you speak to each other. And also—”
“Okay,” Dorothea gulped down a mouthful of chilled tea, throwing up a hand. “I get it.”
“I don’t mean to accuse you of anything,” Edelgard explained, looking a little apologetic. “Normally, I wouldn’t have said anything. You know I’m not particularly… experienced in these matters.”
“Right, so if you noticed—goddess, does everyone think it?” Dorothea asked, covering her face with her hands.
“I can’t speak for anyone but myself.” Edelgard’s voice had gentled. “But it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks anyway. Only what you think. And you’ve thought about this, yes?”
“Of course I have,” Dorothea blurted, feeling utterly embarrassed. “I mean… with all the time we’ve spent together, and then there was—” She stopped short of the admission, lips pursing.
“Then there was what?”
Too exhausted to hide anything from Edelgard’s scrutinous gaze, Dorothea relented. “Well, she did kiss me.”
“What?” It was a particularly un-Edelgard-like exclamation, complete with wide eyes and a raised brow. “When?”
“This was… a while ago,” Dorothea explained, as self-satisfied as she was sheepish. It wasn’t often she could draw such a reaction out of their stoic leader. “The night of the Garreg Mach Ball, actually.”
“You never told me this.”
“You were a little busy at the time, if you’ll recall,” Dorothea dryly retorted.
Another withering look. “Only slightly busy. Still, that’s… quite the development.”
“Hardly a development, Edie. It happened, I panicked. We talked about it once and then never again.” The songstress shrugged with feigned nonchalance. “It was more of a mistake than anything else.”
Edelgard hummed, drumming her fingertips along her chin. “A mistake,” she repeated, disbelieving.
“Because,” Dorothea began, tiredly recounting the list of cultural and hierarchical hurdles she’d spouted off to Manuela more than a year ago. She was heartened only by the confidence that Edelgard would surely view matters more practically than her so-called mentor had.
As she explained the laundry list of reasons she’d been repeating to herself for months and months now—the reasons why any sort of romance between her and Petra would never fully progress—Edelgard sat patiently and nodded, taking it all in. When Dorothea was finished, the emperor sat back, steepled her hands and said, “I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed in you, Dorothea.”
Dorothea gaped at her. “Excuse me?”
“All your talk of operas and epic romance, and still you take most predictably tragic stance possible.” The songstress was at a loss for words, unsure of how to respond to Edelgard’s chiding. “I know that operatic romance can be tragic, as well, but… this isn’t the opera, Dorothea.”
Red in the face, Dorothea sputtered. “I know that. It’s precisely the reason why I’m thinking pragmatically—”
“Yes, you think that you are. But in many ways you’re just presuming to know about a culture that you’ve only heard about in stories.”
Squaring her jaw, Dorothea pressed on. “Are you calling me ignorant, Edie?”
“I would never suggest such a thing,” Edelgard asserted. “I’m only trying to say… it’s silly to condemn the thought without ever truly talking with Petra about it. Pragmatically speaking, a relationship between you two would have its challenges, but I hardly think it’s as impossible as you make it seem.”
Edelgard leaned forward, her lavender eyes softening—not in pity, but in true concern. “I just think you should talk with her. Really talk with her. For all you know…” The emperor frowned, glancing back out at the courtyard and the forests beyond once more. “You may someday look back on these misunderstandings and realize that you wasted a chance at something quite spectacular. As your friend, I’d prefer if you lived free of such regrets.”
Dorothea chewed her bottom lip. Edelgard wouldn’t meet her eyes now, a sure sign that she had revealed too much. For in her gaze, Dorothea could plainly see, if only for a brief instance, the very same regret she cautioned against.
Dear friends had been lost to them already, either in the heat of battle or in the more underhanded subterfuge that was the noble courts. In some ways, Edelgard may have felt that loss more acutely than anyone else. And while she didn’t often reveal the strain of those burdens, it was all too clear in rare, private moments such as these.
Edelgard was still watching the grounds below, her gloved hand sitting on the table. Dorothea reached out and placed her own atop it.
“For all the poor decisions I’ve made, I have few regrets in this life, Edie. It’s not something I intend to make a habit of.”
Edelgard nodded, composure returning as she faced Dorothea once again. “You’ll speak to her then?”
Dorothea cleared her throat, pulling back to finish her cold tea. Setting the cup down with a scraping clink, she promised, “Yes, eventually. Perhaps after we both cool down a bit. I think we’re still a little… oh, don’t give me that look, Edie,” she chastised, noting the emperor’s disbelieving stare. “Try as we might, it seems we can’t stay apart for long.”
Edelgard hummed, content with her answer. For now, at least.
Distractions weren’t hard to come by, even when the fighting had temporarily quieted and there was little news to speak of. From the opera alone, one might have assumed that war was embroiled in constant strife and bloodshed, but realistically, it was riddled with long and tedious pockets of preparation. During these times, Dorothea could assist in the rebuilding efforts at the monastery or in helping the children. It wasn’t hard to stay busy.
For four days after her conversation with Edelgard, she occupied herself with these necessary tasks, working, sleeping, reading old scripts from her collection, and doing little else. Her pledge to Edelgard was as good as a promise, but talking could wait until the work was through.
She was rather surprised when one sunny day amidst all this toil, an attendant of Edelgard’s came to fetch her. The emperor had requested her presence, this time on official Imperial business. The summons implied an unspoken “at once” that had her shooing away the attendant and finishing up with the children immediately.
Dorothea wrung her hands as she crossed the monastery grounds, quickly making her way to the audience chamber where Edelgard would be waiting for her. Hastening her steps, she cut through the second floor dormitory, attempting to circumvent the long route.
Her imagination quickly got the better of her as she began speculating what harrowing news the summons might portend. She was so distracted, in fact, that she strode around a corner and nearly into another body.
“Hey,” her near-miss groused, nimbly sidestepping just before she could crash into his shoulder. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of his deep frown and internally groaned.
Felix. Of course it was Felix.
“Sorry,” Dorothea muttered, hoping to sprint away as soon as possible, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Wait a second.” His face was as cool and austere as always, though there was a clear question in his gaze. “Have you seen Macneary around?”
“No, not lately,” she hurriedly replied. Then, with a bit more surprise, “Haven’t you?”
“Not since she decked that guy,” he answered matter-of-factly. “Did you yell at her or something?”
Dorothea frowned, a spike of irritation lancing through her stomach. “I don’t think that’s any of your business—”
“Just relax,” he admonished, throwing up his hands. “I don’t really care. It’s just that she’s been skipping out on training and I’m having trouble finding someone else to keep up with me. I’m starting to get bored.”
Dorothea frowned. Was training all he ever thought about? How could Petra stand to spend so much time around him? “Sorry, haven’t seen her, haven’t talked to her,” she curtly explained. “But I’m sure whatever the problem is she’ll talk to you all about it.”
Felix grimaced—a bit dramatically in her opinion. “Yeah, we don’t really do a lot of talking. And the less… the better.”
“Really?” From the way Petra spoke, she would’ve assumed it was a nightly occurrence on the road. “Even when you’re away together on missions?”
He shrugged indifferently. “We talk fighting and tactics, which is all well and good. Until she inevitably starts talking about you. That’s usually where I tune out.”
Completely ignoring his veiled barb, she asked, “She talks about me?”
“Yeah, all the time. It’s annoying.”
Now, Dorothea wasn’t expecting that. The sinking feeling that had taken up residence in her stomach every time she thought about Felix and Petra together was replaced with a kernel of hope. What kind of relationship could the princess have with Felix if the majority of their talking happened to be about Dorothea?
“How do you mean? Is it good talk?”
Felix rolled his eyes. “As if you were Seiros incarnate.”
She might have been more incensed by his tone of voice if it weren’t for that kernel of hope, growing quickly inside her. “Oh… well, what exactly does she—”
“Look, I don’t have time for this nonsense,” he interjected with a shake of his head. “Next time you see Macneary, maybe you can do your whole… feelings thing and get her back to training, yeah?”
Dorothea bit the inside of her cheek. He was just so curmudgeonly—like a sour grandpa in a young man’s body. “Sure, Felix,” she dryly replied. “I’ll do the ‘feelings thing’.”
“Great. See you around.” With one final, terse nod, he was off.
Dorothea watched him go, waiting until he was well out of earshot to mutter to herself, “What an ass.”
She was still fastidiously turning over her conversation with Felix when she walked into the audience chamber. Hubert directed her to the adjoining office where he assured her (with some small measure of impatience) that they were waiting.
They, of course, being Edelgard and Petra.
Dorothea, adopting some of her old stage tactics, covered her surprise with a genial smile. Edelgard’s demeanor, once again fully consumed by the obdurate mien of emperor, gave no indication of her intentions. However, Dorothea couldn’t help but think back to their last tea time and wonder if this wasn’t any sort of coincidence.
“Dorothea,” the emperor greeted, sedate but not at all unkind, “thank you for joining us.”
She looked between Edelgard and Petra, the latter of whom was covertly eyeing her, hands clasped tightly behind her back.
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” Dorothea nodded, suspicion mounting when Edelgard favored her with a minute but undoubtedly coy smile.
The emperor took a seat at her desk, gesturing to the chairs in front of it. “Please, sit. I have a mission I’d like to discuss with you.” Gaze narrowing slightly, Dorothea obliged, folding her hands in her lap. Petra, stiff as she was, only followed suit after the songstress. “I promise this will be brief. The task I have for you is fairly straightforward. As you well know, I’ve struggled to arrange any sort of parley with the Alliance…”
This struggle was mainly due to Claude’s insistence on neutrality. He believed, quite steadfastly, that the Leicester Alliance could continue on as its own entity without ever pledging express fealty to either faction at war. In his eyes, parley was unnecessary because the position of his house and of his people had already been settled.
“We’re still unable to arrange a meeting with Claude himself, but I believe we’ve secured the next best thing: a meeting with one of his retainers.”
Dorothea’s brow raised. “Is that so?”
“Unofficially, of course,” Hubert intoned from his position at Edelgard’s side.
“Hilda is willing to meet with us,” Edelgard explained, her gaze drifting to Dorothea. “Or rather, you.”
“Me?” That took the songstress by surprise. “Why? It’s not like we were great friends.”
“But you could be considered friends, yes?”
“Well,” Dorothea shifted in her seat. “I suppose, back in the Academy.”
“As Hubert mentioned, this isn’t an official meeting. You know Hilda—she has no interest in talking politics. But she is as insufferable a gossip as always.”
“I believe she views you as an equal in that respect, Dorothea,” Hubert drawled.
“Well, pardon me, Hubie—” she shot back before Edelgard could silence her.
“Hubert,” Edelgard cautioned with a sharp glance, addressing Dorothea and Petra once more. “I believe you have more in common with her than other members of the Strike Force. And I believe it is for this reason that she’ll be more willing to… let things slip. It is sometimes the words left unsaid that speak the greatest volume, after all, and I’ve always thought you rather adept in reading subtext, Dorothea.”
There was a fair amount of subtext in that statement, the songstress thought, but she painted her smile back on, ignoring it. “Well, I won’t disagree with you, Edie.”
“This is all intended to be rather casual, you understand. You’ll spend the afternoon in her company, a dinner perhaps. Hubert will provide an outline with talking points, but I don’t expect you’ll need to squeeze her. She’ll put a bug in Claude’s ear regardless. All we really need is to establish an inroad.”
“Okay,” Dorothea agreed, still expecting more to the plan. “That seems… fairly simple.”
“It is,” Edelgard insisted. “And I think it’ll make a show of good faith if you travel light. We’ll send a small detachment of soldiers along with you, just as a contingency, but otherwise, it’ll only be you and Petra arriving at House Goneril.”
“Me and Petra?” Out of the corner of her eye, Dorothea saw the princess sit a bit straighter.
“You were saying it was only Dorothea meeting with Hilda.”
“Well, yes, technically, but not even Hilda would be fool enough to expect Dorothea to travel alone. You make a terrific companion though, Petra. A capable fighter and hunter, you’re well-suited for setting camp and navigating the roads. And since you and Dorothea are such great friends, it makes sense you’d be traveling together. Of course, in the off chance that things do get difficult, you’ll also be there to offer aid. I’ll feel far more comfortable if our dear Dorothea has a skilled fighter by her side.”
Edelgard didn’t smile, but Dorothea understood all too well what she was playing at. While the songstress had no doubt that this was a legitimate mission, one that Edelgard could wield to her benefit, she also knew that it was to suit a dual purpose.
Dorothea bit her tongue to keep her expression schooled.
“Do you not agree?”
After a moment’s silence, Petra nodded. “You are making… fair points, Edelgard.”
“Yes,” Dorothea begrudgingly agreed. “Very fair.”
“Excellent. I expect that with travel time the entire mission should only take about a week. Maybe a little less.”
A whole week. Traveling with only Petra and a small contingent of soldiers.
Dorothea’s stomach flipped.
Edelgard smiled suddenly—a genuine, friendly smile. “As I said, it’s a straightforward mission. I wager you might even enjoy it. That’s a whole week you can spend catching up.”
When Edelgard’s smile turned on her, Dorothea couldn’t help but wonder how the emperor had come to hate her so.
She turned, only to be met with Petra’s gaze. In her eyes, she could see the exact same thoughts reflected back at her.
Meddling is caring. Just ask Edelgard.
Chapter 7: Pt. VII
Dorothea and Petra's mission starts on uncertain footing.
Hey, friends! You might have noticed that the chapter count went up. After doing a lot of reflecting on this section of my outline, I decided the story would benefit from a couple more parts. I didn't think anyone would object, but correct me if I'm wrong.
Also just wanted to say thanks again to all who have read, commented, or left kudos so far. I'm really having a blast writing this one, so it's nice to know some of you are enjoying :)
They were set to depart just two days after their meeting with Edelgard. In the 24 hours following their assignment, Dorothea tried to convince the emperor to assign a third Strike Force member to the mission for added “protection.” When that tactic proved fruitless, the songstress was left pettily attempting to coerce Edelgard into admitting her true motivations—if for no other reason than her personal vindication.
“I see that coy smile, Edie. You’re not nearly as smooth as you think.”
Ever the stoic diplomat, however, Edelgard had given nothing away. If she cared at all about the state of Dorothea and Petra’s friendship, she let nothing slip. And at this point, Dorothea couldn’t be angry with her. Only resigned to her fate.
By dawn, the songstress was already awake and pacing the floor of her room, her light satchel and personal provisions packed and sitting by the door. After her brooding grew tiresome, she visited the dining hall for a small breakfast, eventually slipping away to the bailey to see the children one last time. She and the rest of the detachment were set to meet there for departure anyhow.
Oblivious and optimistic as they were, her young friends kept all pensive thoughts at bay. She fussed over them and told stories, grandly exaggerating the “adventure” she was about to embark on. She knew the real thing wouldn’t be nearly as fun, but for the childrens’ sake, it helped to pretend.
Dorothea was sitting crossed-legged on the ground of the play-yard, surrounded by a ring of attentive little ones when the rest of the detachment arrived. She looked over her shoulder and frowned, wishing for nothing more than to stay here in the kids’ company the rest of the day.
It was Petra who came to collect her. Dorothea could feel her presence behind her before she saw it. The princess’ lingering scent of pine and soft Brigidian soaps wafted up to Dorothea’s nose in confirmation.
“Dorothea, are you ready?”
One of the children, a little girl of only five years, pointed up at Petra before the songstress could answer. “Miss Dot, is that your friend?”
Petra squatted down beside Dorothea and waved at the children. “Yes,” the songstress answered. “Children, this is Petra.”
Eager as always, they chimed in with comments about Petra’s colorful attire, the knives on her belt, and the long braids in her hair. Petra smiled softly, nodding all the while, and thanked them when they left an opening for her to speak (which was rare among inquisitive young minds such as these).
Oren, never veering far from Dorothea’s side when she came to visit, stared at Petra with an oddly wistful furrow in his brow. Not one to remain quiet for long, he tapped questioningly on the huntress’ arm.
“Hello,” she greeted him, “what is your name?”
“Oren,” he replied, unexpectedly subdued.
“Hello, Oren,” Petra held out her hand, “It is nice to be meeting you.” When he tentatively shook her hand, the princess smiled. “Your grip has much strength.”
Proud, the little boy puffed out his chest. “I am strong,” he agreed. “Are you?”
“I would be hoping so,” she chuckled.
“Will you protect Miss Dot while she’s gone?”
Petra glanced at the songstress, her smile turning a little sad—enough so that Dorothea felt a pang in her chest. “Your Miss Dot is having much strength of her own,” Petra answered, turning back to the boy. “I do not think she will be needing my protection.”
“Neither of us will need protecting,” Dorothea cut in gently, ruffling Oren’s hair. “We’re only going to see an old friend.”
“Then why are there soldiers, too?” another of the children asked.
“To carry all our things, of course,” Dorothea teased, side-stepping the question. Then, standing, she informed them. “I really must be going. I hope that you’ll all behave yourselves while I’m gone?”
The children made their promises, some with chuckles and cheeky smiles. When Dorothea insisted it was time for her to depart, they crashed into her legs and midsection in a mass of tiny, wriggling limbs. They hugged and giggled, and for the briefest moment, Dorothea truly was struck with a spike of fear: What would become of these children if for some reason she couldn’t return to them?
She only needed to look to Petra, who was gazing at her with an oddly intense delicacy, to know how silly that thought was. The only complicated thing about this mission would be spending an entire week in close quarters with her friend—someone she’d recently wounded and been wounded by.
The children would be here waiting for her a week from now, just as they always were. She only hoped to return to them unscathed.
Dorothea hadn’t been on the road in many months. After the battle with Rhea more than a year ago, she’d stayed close to Garreg Mach, assisting in Byleth’s search and the eventual restoration efforts. With the exception of a couple skirmishes, she’d managed to remove herself from most of the fighting since then.
Needless to say, she’d gotten quite used to the comforts of the monastery. The moderately pruned courtyards, the steady meals, the warmth of her carefully decorated room and perfumed sheets. A week away from it all felt like so much more than that.
Dorothea had thought herself prepared for this excursion (or at least as prepared as an unwilling participant could be). However, a single day on the road revealed a few crucial mistakes: she hadn’t brought the most appropriate footwear, to start, and her feet were already stinging with blisters; and while she’d thought her knapsack rather modestly packed, the persistent ache in her upper back proved otherwise.
She shifted the bag from shoulder to shoulder, seizing any small moment of relief, but knew by the time they broke for camp she’d be impossibly sore.
“Dorothea,” Petra tentatively began, sidling up beside her. Toned and fit as always, Petra stepped lightly, unbothered by her own knapsack and weapons. She looked more in her element out here, Dorothea noted, just as she had back in their Academy days. Energized as she was, she probably could have run all the way to House Goneril without issue.
“Is your pack heavy?” the huntress asked, perceptive as always.
“No, it’s fine,” Dorothea quickly replied, unconvincing even to her own ears.
“Okay,” Petra nodded. “I was thinking, there is room in my pack if you would like to be storing some items in it.”
Dorothea huffed. It was a sweet offer, she had to admit. But she was prideful. And from what she understood, they were still fighting. Or at the least, they hadn’t formally apologized. She couldn’t say she was terribly angry anymore—hurt, more like it—but they would need to talk at some point.
“I’m fine, Petra, really.” After a moment, she glanced at the huntress and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Thank you though,” she muttered.
While they lapsed into silence, Petra kept stride so that they were almost walking in lockstep. The soldiers were ahead of them, talking quietly amongst themselves. It was a small contingent, comprised only of two cavalrymen, their horses plodding along slowly; an archer; and a healer. Dorothea herself was only modestly versed in healing magic, and though she did not intend on using it for this mission, having a more advanced healer along was a relief.
All around were trees, some still barren from the winter, though their boughs were alive with birdsong. The days had warmed considerably, and the sun was shining high over top the thin forest canopy. Petra’s gaze darted about uncertainly, drawing comfort from their newly verdant surroundings as she plucked up the courage to speak. “Sometimes when I am traveling with Felix, he challenges me to put stones in my pack.”
“He is saying it is meant to increase strength and endurance. Each time you are feeling used to the weight, you just add another.”
“Hmm,” Dorothea raised her brows, thinking back to the conversation she had with Felix just a few days prior. “He truly only thinks of training, doesn’t he?”
Petra considered this for a moment. “Until we are in battles. And then he is thinking about strategies.”
“But didn’t you say that you… talked, while you were on the road together?”
She nodded. “Mostly about the training.”
“Is that it?” Dorothea knew that it wasn’t. If what Felix told her was true—and she very much suspected it was, seeing as he had nothing to gain from lying—then Petra also talked a fair amount about her.
“And about… the missions we are completing for Edelgard.” They lapsed into silence once again, both women in obvious contemplation.
Why was Dorothea truly bothered by the thought of Petra playing the role of assassin? She’d thought of that often since their argument days before. What she’d told the huntress was true: she believed the woman had a good heart and she didn’t want to see that tarnished. But what exactly did that have to do with her?
“Sometimes, these missions are weighing very heavily on me,” Petra quietly confessed. There was a tinge of anxiety to her tone, a hesitance that spoke of the uneven footing she and Dorothea had found themselves on. Did she think the songstress would rebuff her for this admission? “They are weighing more heavily than the stones we carry. I am talking to Felix about it, when there is no one else to be speaking to. He does not often have much to say in return. But he is always speaking plainly and letting me know when I am being foolish.”
“It is not foolish if those things weigh on you,” Dorothea insisted. She’d truly have to kick Felix if he suggested otherwise.
Petra shrugged. After a moment, she cleared her throat and said, “You have been hating my apologies lately, I know. But I am needing to give you another.”
“Do not be telling me to stop,” the huntress asserted, a firmer edge to her voice than usual. “The things you were saying to me, about behaving with violence and without thought—these are things I have also worried about. We are having different views on fighting and killing in Brigid, but that is not an excuse. Someday I will be a leader of my people, and I do not ever want to be the kind of leader who acts with cruelty.”
“I didn’t…” Dorothea stopped herself from continuing. They could re-litigate the semantics of their argument all day, but it would be a useless exercise. Their past few conversations had been embroiled in such a confusing morass of feelings, and none of them gentle. Lately, for Dorothea it felt as though she couldn’t talk to Petra without her heart lurching in either wild hope or disappointment. It was hard to find the right words with such intense feelings looming over.
Maybe Edie was right about some things. Maybe there was more to that than mere friendship.
Dorothea sighed. “You’re not cruel, Petra. I don’t think you ever could be.”
“I should not have punched your friend. And I am having many apologies for that.”
“Well… no, you shouldn’t have.” Dorothea re-shouldered her pack, glancing up to watch the birds flutter from tree to tree. “Maybe he deserved it though. I don’t know.”
“You said it was not my place to be making that decision, and I am feeling that is true. I will not be acting again on your behalf without first having your permission.” Petra managed to catch her gaze, those brown eyes whorling with regret. “I am sorry, Dorothea.”
There was a part of the songstress—perhaps that part so used having no one but herself to rely on, the part wary of trusting—that wished to cling to her anger. However, it had always been so hard for her not to melt at the earnest apology in Petra’s eyes.
This was a weakness, she knew, and she couldn’t stand herself for giving into it. But against her better judgment, against her righteous indignation and her pride, she trusted Petra. She trusted her almost more than anybody, even in the moments when she didn’t agree with her, or didn’t even want to talk to her. She knew that the Brigidian woman would never take advantage of that trust.
“You just… walked right up to the guy and punched him in the face?” Dorothea asked, her reproach belied by curiosity and maybe just a shred of amusement.
“Well, no,” Petra answered, sheepish. “Not right away. I was telling him that he should have respect. And he should also have apologies for speaking about you like that.”
“Did you?” Goddess, and now Dorothea was even smiling. It was slight, but there in spite of herself. She was weak. So weak.
Petra nodded, none the wiser. “And then he laughed. And he said words that I will not be repeating. So, I punched him. I did not mean to break his nose though,” Petra rushed in, hands waving nervously. “I am just… sometimes I am having poor control in matters relating to… you.”
Dorothea blushed. She thought of Felix’s words, of Edelgard’s words. She wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about them over the course of this trip.
“Control isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be,” she muttered. The songstress felt the sudden urge to busy her hands. She re-tucked the hair behind her ear, fiddled with the hem of her dress.
“Cracked up? Like broken?” Petra asked, clearly unfamiliar with the term.
“Control isn’t always the best, I mean.”
Neither of theirs was, it seemed.
Throughout the afternoon, Dorothea and Petra eased slowly back into casual talk, making time for the catch-up they were supposed to have had during their missed tea time. There was an unshakable tension in the air that neither seemed able to overcome. They did not touch and their smiles were a bit wondering, but it was a start.
In spite of the unexpectedly springlike day, the sun began to set early, which meant an early break for camp. When it came time to set up their tents, one of the soldiers—the archer—stepped in to assist Dorothea. He was a bit more openly confident than the last soldier she’d spent time with and had, to her surprise, a genuinely good sense of humor.
It was while laughing at some joke about the emperor’s ever-solemn right hand man that Dorothea noticed Petra silently creeping away from camp, bow held tightly in her grip. She could only assume this was a hunting excursion, a hunch confirmed an hour later when Petra returned with two skinned rabbits hanging from her belt. Admittedly, Dorothea liked the taste of rabbit much less when she knew where it came from, but after it had been stewed with some fresh herbs and leek, she could hardly resist. It was a welcome change from the salted fish they’d brought along for the journey.
“I forgot how good you are at cooking on the road,” Dorothea complimented, sitting on the log next to Petra as the huntress ate her stew. The soldiers, finished with their own bowls, had broken out their wine and a pack of playing cards. This was almost a vacation for them, Dorothea realized—a low risk week spent camping, out from under the watchful eye of their commanding officers.
Petra shrugged, stirring the contents of her bowl unenthusiastically. “I am making do. It is not easy to find the right herbs and vegetables for cooking in this region of Fódlan. At least not while traveling.”
“Well, it was very tasty. So, thank you for dinner.”
Another noncommittal gesture and Petra finally ate a spoonful of her meal. After swallowing, she nodded to the rest of the detachment and asked, “Are you going to be joining them?”
“Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just read for a bit and go to sleep.”
Petra raised a brow. “That is not sounding like Dorothea.”
“It’s been a long day. And I’m tired.” As if only just remembering her earlier aches, Dorothea stretched, rolling her shoulders. She couldn’t help but notice how Petra watched her from the corner of her eye. “Will you join in on the fun?”
“I don’t think so,” Petra shook her head rather decisively. “Some of my arrows are in need of repair. I should be tending to them before the end of the night.”
“I guess we’re both tired then. No tent tonight?” Dorothea asked, eyeing up the bedroll and heap of furs Petra had placed near the fire. It was also rather close to her own tent, she noted, but chose not to overthink it. “It’ll be quite cold tonight, I imagine.”
“Warmer closer to the fire,” Petra reasoned. “And the night will be clear. I am resting better when I can fall asleep staring at the stars.”
Dorothea smiled at that. She couldn’t help, but for a brief moment, to picture an evening beneath the stars many months ago, in which they’d sat side by side above the Garreg Mach pond. Even in memory, Petra still shone brightest of all.
The songstress’ chest ached, but only for an instant—with longing or with regret, she couldn’t be certain.
“If it gets too cold,” Dorothea impulsively began, quite unable to stop herself, “I’m sure there’s room in my tent.”
Petra’s cheeks colored almost instantly, and Dorothea felt a self-satisfied heat crawling up her own neck. “I will be remembering that. Thank you, Dorothea.”
True to their word, the women retired early that night—a somewhat challenging feat, considering the rest of the detachment were still laughing and carrying on over their card game. Dorothea didn’t begin to drift off until she saw Petra’s shadow outside her tent, putting away her arrows for the night and settling down into her own bedroll.
Sleep came fitfully after that. Dorothea tossed and turned, unused to the bumpy terrain and missing her own bed terribly. The night was chilly, just as she’d expected, and she pulled the blanket up to her chin to stay warm. She was only just drifting off for the third time that night when a low murmuring caught her attention.
She stiffened, thinking it at first some sort of animal. But as the muttering grew, she recognized it only as Petra, talking in her sleep. Try as she might, Dorothea couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she could hear the distress in her voice.
“Petra,” she whispered into the quiet. The night was still, and her voice would carry through the canvas of her tent. However, the huntress couldn’t seem to hear her. Behind them both, the dying embers of the fire popped and flickered, and the shadow of Petra’s form bolted upright with a strangled gasp.
Dorothea sat up, too. With her own breath held, she could hear Petra’s ragged inhales. Suddenly, the huntress stood, her shadow retreating.
Without a second thought, Dorothea quickly pulled on her cloak and shoes and made to follow. The crisp night air assailed her as soon as she exited the tent. She wrapped the cloak tightly about her midsection and wandered in the direction she’d seen Petra’s form disappear.
The night was clear, just as Petra had predicted. With a sky full of stars and a bone-white moon shining overhead, there was enough light to keep Dorothea from falling over her feet, but not much to search by. She called out quietly to the huntress, but didn’t need to go far before she found her.
Petra was sitting on the ground, her back to a stout oak tree and knees pulled to her chest. Even in the dim light, Dorothea could see her shaking slightly, head buried in her arms.
Dorothea stopped just a few paces from the other woman. “Petra?”
The princess’ head peeked up at the sound of her name. Dorothea was startled to see that her cheeks were wet with tears. Thinking back on the years that they’d known each other, she realized that she’d never actually seen Petra cry before. She’d seen her distraught or angry, mostly in relation to her or to some misstep on the battlefield, but she’d never seen her shed tears.
Dorothea dropped to her knees almost immediately, placing a hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “Hey, what’s the matter?”
Petra hurriedly wiped at her cheeks, clearing her throat to speak. Her voice was still rough when she asked, “Dorothea, what are you doing here?”
“I was having trouble sleeping. I heard you wake and wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“Oh, I am fine,” Petra insisted, her voice quavering.
Dorothea chuckled once, dryly, and squeezed Petra’s shoulder. “Really? You don’t seem it.”
“I… I am having apologies if I woke you,” Petra continued on, sounding embarrassed. She rubbed the wetness from her cheeks once more, holding her knees a bit tighter. “It is foolish. I only had… a dream.”
“I don’t suppose it was a good one,” Dorothea ventured, sweeping a mussed lock of magenta hair off Petra’s cheek. She tucked it behind her ear and asked, “What happened?”
“It was not important—”
“Petra,” Dorothea stopped her. “I rarely see you so upset. Do you want to talk about it?”
Petra was quiet for a few moments, staring out at the trees beyond. Crickets chirruped all around them, a light breeze rustling the leaves. Dressed in only a simple, loose night shirt and breeches, Petra shivered. Dorothea wordlessly snaked an arm around her shoulder and pulled her in closer.
Just when the songstress thought Petra would refuse to share, the shaking woman softly began, “I have been thinking very much about what you said to me.”
“About killing without thinking, or questioning.”
“Petra,” Dorothea sighed, frustration returning—this time towards herself. “I was quite angry when I said that.”
“Does that mean it is not also true?” Glancing up to meet her eyes, there was a challenge in Petra’s gaze. Tell me I am wrong, it said.
“I only meant… I think you are more than just an assassin. And I would not want anyone to reduce you to that.”
Petra frowned. She leaned into Dorothea and asked, “Are you remembering, back in the Academy when I began teaching you the language of Brigid? We read from a book my mother was once reading to me.”
“Yes,” Dorothea nodded, “of course. The story of the wolf spirit.”
Petra nodded, too. “The man and the wolf he became—as one they were killing many people, both in life and in death. But his killing was all for protecting.” Petra took a deep, shaky breath. “In Brigid many children are taught this story. They are taught early: if you are killing for the purpose of protecting a member of your tribe, or your pack, you are killing with a noble heart.
“I was killing to protect Edelgard, but also to protect all of our friends. To be protecting you. But I know you are… you are not seeing it that way.”
“Petra, I didn’t—”
“Please, Dorothea. You were asking and I am telling you. Lately, I am not feeling like the wolf I always wanted to be. I am feeling like maybe I am the thing the wolf must be defending against.”
“No,” Dorothea shook her head instantly, adamantly. “Is that what you were dreaming about?” Petra averted her gaze, tilting her head noncommittally. “Listen,” Dorothea cupped Petra’s cheek in her hand, turning her head so that their eyes locked. The huntress’ skin was chilly from the damp of her half-dried tears. Dorothea brushed away the remnants with her thumb. “It was wrong of me to suggest you did any of these things thoughtlessly. I know that you’ve thought very carefully about all of this—about following Edelgard, about how it might impact the future of your people. But you’ve thought about how it would impact us, too—all the Black Eagles.
“You are always doing for others, Petra. I know that,” Dorothea admitted, biting the inside of her cheek. Petra’s eyes glimmered in the dull, silver light of the moon. They were so close, she realized. She could feel the warmth of the huntress’ breath. “You have a noble heart. I don’t want you to worry about that. I can see it—right now I can see it.” She smiled then, a shaky, lopsided thing, but with a spark of her usual impishness. “And you know I’m always right. Usually.”
There was more Dorothea wanted to say then. She wanted to remind the other woman that she was caring about that noble heart of hers—more than she seemed to think; but the moment didn’t feel right.
All that mattered then was Petra hugging her around the middle, burying her face in the songstress’ shoulder and chuckling. It was a warbling sound, but a genuine one, nonetheless. After a moment, Petra muttered into her cloak, “I am sorry for all our fighting, Dorothea. I am hating it more than anything.”
“Me, too,” Dorothea softly told her.
“Nothing is making sense to me when we are fighting.”
Dorothea chuckled sadly. “Well,” she began, pulling back far enough to favor Petra with a smaller, more earnest smile, “I suppose it’s a good thing we’re not fighting anymore then, right?”
The princess grinned, widely enough to set off a curious fluttering in Dorothea’s chest. She noticed again how close they were, her body swiftly suffusing with heat at the thought. She glanced down at Petra’s lips—only for a moment, but long enough to make her flush.
She stood suddenly, offering a hand to Petra. “I’m quite cold, aren’t you? And it’s quite late, too. I think perhaps we should return to our bedrolls.”
Petra took her hand, not letting go even after she stood, even as they made their way back to camp. The warmth didn’t leave Dorothea either.
It dawned on her then, fighting or no, this week would still be a long one. Perhaps for entirely different reasons than she’d originally anticipated.
Chapter 8: Pt. VIII
Dorothea starts to open her eyes. Finally.
Dorothea had never held much stock in dreams. Try as she might, she rarely remembered hers, and the ones that did stick weren’t particularly exciting. She knew, however, that in Brigid the act of dreaming was revered as a sort of unconscious augury. Petra had told her as much through the years. Dreams were prescient seeds planted by the spirits.
Beyond a couple vague allusions, Petra had avoided the topic of her dream the previous night. And while she woke the next day appearing bright and unaffected, Dorothea spied her in idle moments, peering into the distance or even at the songstress with a somber intensity. As soon as she was caught, she’d smile as if nothing at all had been wrong.
Dorothea didn’t like to pester. She asked twice if the huntress was okay, and had been assured of her comfort both times. Perhaps she would have pressed it more if she wasn’t so… relieved that they were talking again to begin with. And not just exchanging pleasantries as they had been recently, but joking, telling stories. Pretending that they weren’t at war and that things were as easy as they’d been in the Academy.
Dorothea walked with more spring in her step during the day’s travels, feeling as if one weight had been lifted from her chest. It had been replaced, of course, with a new anxiety—a quick warmth prickling her hands and neck anytime Petra’s skin brushed against hers, an embarrassing fixation on the princess’ lips when she spoke.
Was this a new feeling, Dorothea wondered, or just something that had been dormant for many months? All she’d done was entertain thoughts of romantic attraction, and only because of a single blunt comment from Edelgard. But now that she’d started thinking of it again, this time with unfettered attention, it was almost as if she couldn’t stop.
Before, she’d had the dam of her reservations—about cultural differences and royal stratum—holding her back. Now though, she allowed herself to ruminate on her feelings, heedless of what obstacles may lay before her.
To start, she considered the little things: Petra’s profile and the shape of her jaw backlit by the afternoon sun. The flex of muscle in her shoulders as she indulgently stretched her arms. A concentrated furrow in her brow as she searched for a word in Fódlan’s language.
As a friend, Dorothea had long admired Petra’s strength and beauty. As something more, she was newly exhilarated and curious, filled with imagining.
It was during one such moment of admiration that Petra’s brow raised in amusement. “Dorothea?”
“Huh?” the songstress started, shaken from her daydreaming.
“Were you hearing the others?”
“I… no. Did someone say something?”
Petra’s mouth quirked into a grin. “All day you have been concerned with my distractions… Are you feeling okay?”
“Sure,” Dorothea spouted. “Or… I could probably use a drink.”
“Oh,” Petra nodded, “Yes, please be drinking more water.” As Dorothea fumbled for her waterskin, gulping down the last few mouthfuls, Petra explained, “The others were saying we can make our camp early tonight. We are not supposed to be arriving at House Goneril until tomorrow, and we are becoming close already. There is no need for rushing.”
“Great,” Dorothea delicately wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I could definitely use a bit of extra rest before our meeting tomorrow.”
“Good idea. I will be needing more sleep, too.” Petra went quiet for a moment, that distant, dull look flashing through her eyes. Was she thinking of the dream again? Before Dorothea could ask, Petra started. “Will you be needing help setting up your tent again?”
“Probably. You know that’s not exactly my area of expertise,” Dorothea chuckled.
“I will help you,” Petra offered eagerly. “If you would be liking my help? Or if no one else is helping you already.”
Dorothea paused. What was that note in the princess’ voice? Could it be… jealousy? The songstress couldn’t resist an impish smirk. “Well, someone else may have considered it. But since you’re asking first—and so nicely, I may add—I’ll of course welcome your help.”
Petra grinned, almost triumphantly. The same smile later appeared on her face when Dorothea turned down the other archer’s help, politely informing him that Petra had already offered. It was uncharacteristically self-satisfied, enough so to further stoke Dorothea’s wondering. Maybe Petra was having some of the same thoughts as she, after all.
After camp was made, Dorothea’s tent erected and Petra’s bedroll laid out close once again, the songstress decided to lay down for a bit of rest before their evening meal. She hadn’t intended on sleeping, not really; but before she knew it, the Imperial archer, Lukas, came to wake her for supper, the sun hanging much lower in the sky.
She emerged from her tent bleary-eyed and slightly more refreshed, though her body had stiffened considerably with the aches of the day’s travel. Lukas and the others were already filling their plates with fish and herbed potatoes. The archer smiled, waving her over.
“May I fix you a plate, Dorothea?” The man’s freckles stood out starkly on his fair cheeks.
“There’s no need.” She waved him off genially, glancing around camp. “Where is Petra?”
Lukas ran a hand through his strawberry-blond hair and shrugged. “She said something about taking a walk by the creek. Now come, join us!”
Dorothea stared out into the treeline, behind which she knew the creek to run. “I think maybe I should go fetch her for dinner.”
“C’mon, there’s no need. I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
“Well, maybe…” She spied her empty waterskin lying discarded in her open tent and argued, “But I need to go refill my water anyway.”
“If you insist,” he shrugged, appearing almost crestfallen. “You know that one likes to wander though.”
If the man had ulterior motives of any sort, Dorothea paid him no mind. For the first day in some time, she was completely unconcerned with thoughts of lukewarm dates and potential suitors.
Instead, she grabbed her waterskin and strolled off into the forest beyond their camp. The day was a bit chillier than the previous few, but the sun still shone brilliantly overhead. The birds were chirping in a lively cacophony, loudly enough that Dorothea had to strain to hear the gentle babble of the creek nestled within the trees.
While she didn’t see Petra immediately, she knew the other archer’s words to be true—the Brigidian native did like to wander—and so Dorothea followed the water upstream regardless. Just when she was starting to wonder if Petra had broken off on another of her hunting excursions, a series of nearby splashes caught her attention.
Just up ahead, the creek bent suddenly to the right. With a raised brow, she crept into the trees, wondering if she could sneak up on Petra for once. According to the more light-footed members of the Black Eagle Strike Force (Petra among them), Dorothea’s stealth skills were somewhat lacking. Now could be just the perfect time to disprove this egregious claim, however.
She stepped carefully, avoiding any fallen twigs or roots. Another splash echoed, followed by a far more pleasant sound. Petra was humming, high and light in her throat. It wasn’t any song familiar to Dorothea, perhaps a tune from her homeland, but it was soothing nonetheless. The songstress’ smile softened as she pressed her back into a nearby tree.
Dorothea allowed her eyes to close for just a moment. She’d never heard Petra sing before—the huntress had once confessed that her voice was too unpracticed for a professional like Dorothea. Self-conscious, she wouldn’t dare to sing around her. Given the clarity of her humming, however, it seemed rather unlikely her voice was as unpleasant as she made it out to be.
After a few moments of furtive listening, Dorothea decided it was time for her ambush. She smirked mischievously and peeked around the edge of the tree.
The creek, having risen from the rains of the Great Tree Moon, reached just beyond Petra’s waist as she sat scrubbing the day’s grime from her arms and face. Though Dorothea could only see her back, it was apparent that the huntress wasn’t wearing a top. And as she stood, wringing the dampness from her dripping hair, Dorothea realized she wasn’t wearing any bottoms either.
Like a fawn trapped in a hunter’s sights, Dorothea stood frozen. Around her, Petra’s sweet humming and the harmony of birdsong seemed to drift away, their melody replaced by the mad drumbeat of her own heart.
Look away, she told herself, just as quickly as she could string together a coherent thought. Goddess, just look away!
Petra stretched her arms high above her head, the intricate whorls of tattoo covering her spine and right shoulder stretching, too. And then she canted to the left, just slightly, revealing the curve of a tanned breast—
Wide-eyed and purse-lipped, Dorothea tore herself away, attempting to perform the tremendous magical feat of vanishing completely. She pressed her back against the tree, one hand covering her mouth while the other held her waterskin in a death grip.
Petra’s humming tapered off and Dorothea held her breath. For a moment she was certain that she would be found out, that the princess would be mortified. That she would lambaste Dorothea for intruding on her bathing; label her a voyeur, a terrible friend—
Another light splash sounded, and Petra’s humming renewed. Dorothea counted 60 heartbeats before peeking around one last time, just to make sure Petra’s back was turned. Fortunately for her poor constitution, no more skin was revealed to her. What she’d already seen was enough to set her mind spinning.
She backed away from the tree, careful as ever, waiting until she was out of earshot before taking off in a sprint.
Like her failed vanishing act, nonchalance became another seemingly impossible magical feat. Dorothea was rather disappointed in herself, honestly. During her time in the opera she’d performed outstandingly under far more distracting circumstances—near-debilitating flu, the death of a fellow company member. She’d not broken character once during these trying times. She’d performed, as a matter of fact, to rave reviews, even eliciting standing ovations.
To say that she was chagrined (on top of everything else) when a profuse blush rose unbidden in her cheeks the moment Petra returned to camp would be a dramatic understatement. And when the huntress, skin soft and smelling pleasantly of Brigidian oils, sat down beside her for dinner, her calm facade very nearly crumbled from the proximity alone.
Dorothea had been picking at a bit of fish and potatoes at Lukas’ behest, barely feigning to listen while he goaded her with jokes and polite conversation. Her response had been so lukewarm that he’d left her to finish her meal alone.
Alone until Petra returned, that is.
She’d made a hearty plate of food for herself, and eagerly dove into it as Dorothea squirmed on the log they now shared. Petra, apparently starving from the day’s travel, nearly moaned at the first bite, a sound that twisted Dorothea’s stomach into knots.
“I must be saying,” Petra began, swallowing her first mouthful, “the fish in Fódlan is not comparing to Brigid, but I am loving this species the best. It is tasting the most like home.”
“Is it?” Dorothea squeaked. Just act, you fool! You’re better than this.
“You have surprise,” Petra chuckled, taking another bite.
Dorothea cleared her throat. “It’s not often you compliment our food.”
“Food is one of the best parts of home,” Petra insisted, covering her mouth with her hand. “There is not much that is comparing well.”
“Hopefully I’ll get to try it someday.”
Petra’s eyes brightened. “Now that would be filling me with much happiness.” Silence lapsed between them for a moment, something Dorothea was thankful for. However, Petra was not content to let the conversation wither. “Are you feeling refreshed after your nap?”
“Mhm,” the songstress nodded, pushing the food around her plate. She’d barely eaten half of her portion and didn’t suspect she’d be able to stomach much more. “I definitely needed that.” Anxious, Dorothea tucked the hair behind her ear, drawing Petra’s eye.
“Oh,” the huntress gestured to her own cheek, “you are having an eyelash, Dorothea.”
“Hmm?” Instinctively, Dorothea wiped at her face. “Did I get it?”
Petra’s smile turned lopsided. “No. Here,” she reached out, cupping Dorothea’s cheek gently—so gently. If the songstress’ face was warm before it was utterly flaming now. She held her breath as Petra stroked her thumb across the flushed skin, a look of concentration in her brown eyes.
Dorothea tried, quite admirably, not to think of what she had seen earlier. But with Petra’s soft skin so warm upon her own, that attentive look in her eyes, it was impossible not to. She thought of an alluring blend of lean muscle and supple curves. She thought of wet skin gleaming in the late afternoon sun. She thought of the dark tattoo on her back, running down her spine, running even lower—
“Dorothea, are you feeling well?” Petra’s brow furrowed, hand pressing a bit more firmly into her cheek. “Your skin has much heat.”
“Does it?” Dorothea squeaked again, chuckling. “I didn’t even notice.” Pulling away suddenly, she reached for her waterskin. “Maybe I just need some water,” she mumbled. It wasn’t until she’d tipped the empty waterskin against her lips that she remembered: she’d never filled it earlier.
“Are you having thirst?” Petra asked, a concerned furrow in her brow. Dorothea really wished she’d stop looking at her like that. “If you are needing more water you can have some of mine.”
As if to punctuate Dorothea’s embarrassment, Lukas chose exactly this moment to drop into their conversation. “Didn’t you just refill that thing when you went looking for Petra earlier?” he asked, joining them by the fire to pick at the evening’s leftovers.
“You were looking for me?”
Dorothea glanced between the two, tentatively taking the still outstretched waterskin from Petra’s hand. She took a quick pull, handing it back quickly. “Just to fetch you for dinner. I couldn’t find you,” she lied.
“Drained your water though,” Lukas commented, popping the last extra crispy chunks of potato into his mouth. “You must be pretty thirsty today.”
“I’m fine,” she huffed, standing suddenly. Her embarrassment was quickly turning into frustration. “Actually,” Dorothea corrected, fastidiously avoiding Petra’s concerned gaze, “I think… I do have a bit of a headache. Ever since I woke from my nap.”
“Oh,” Petra began, preparing to stand herself. “I believe Manuela packed medicines that may be helping with that.”
“No,” Dorothea shook her head, waving away Petra’s concern. “No, just finish eating your dinner, Petra.” She adopted a sudden, soft smile, afraid it may have come off a bit stilted. “This happens sometimes. An early bedtime will fix me up. No problem.”
“Are you sure?” Lukas chimed in again. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day. Don’t want to start it with a headache.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Dorothea told him, a noticeable edge to her voice. If only he could have minded his own business. “It’ll be dark soon. I think I’m just going to go lay down.”
“Okay,” Petra frowned. “But if you are changing your mind, please tell me. I would be liking to help you.”
“That’s sweet of you.” Dorothea flashed her teeth at Petra in a grateful smile. All the while, the songstress was rapidly considering the ways in which Petra couldn’t help her. Dorothea couldn’t tell precisely what she needed right now, but it wasn’t medicine and it certainly wasn’t a cold drink. “I’ll wake you if I need anything. Sleep tight.”
“Do not be letting the bugs bite,” Petra quipped, entirely unaware of how devastating her little grin was in that moment.
No matter how physically tired she was, Dorothea could barely catch a wink of sleep that night.
This chapter is sponsored by Water. Please remember to drink your doctor-recommended 64 ounces per day.
Chapter 9: Pt. IX
In which dinner parties are the worst.
After only just a few days on the road, the lavish amenities of House Goneril were a welcome change. The plush armchairs of the dining hall made a soothing alternative to hard ground and grass. Dorothea’s aching muscles—taxed half from walking and half from mere lack of sleep—thanked her for the reprieve. It didn’t hurt that the estate’s trimmings were rather… interesting to look upon, too.
Every room was a mishmash of sparkling chandeliers, soft brocade fabrics, and dramatic artworks. All through dinner, Dorothea was made to stare at a massive painting of what seemed to vaingloriously depict an orgy. Seeing as said painting was taller than she by at least two heads, it was rather hard to ignore the detailed scene.
It reminded her, quite unfortunately, of some of the less than innocent thoughts she’d had the night before. She warmed just thinking about them.
Altogether, the estate was palatial but distinctly gauche, smacking of excessive wealth and a fair amount of boredom. The lady of the house—a taller, louder version of Hilda (with a couple extra crow’s feet, for good measure)—only further compounded the aesthetic. It wasn’t hard to guess where her fixation on design had come from seeing as her husband was so utterly… dull.
Hilda’s mother had two great redeeming qualities, however: she was wholly averse to political talk at the dinner table, and entirely interested in tales of the opera. As the wine flowed (and Hilda’s mother certainly liked wine), Dorothea and the older woman found plenty to talk about.
Eventually, she turned her attention to Petra, professing a deep love for Brigidian culture. She adored their “raw” and “primitive” art styles.
The princess was less than amused with the woman’s fascination. Her unflappable manners were put to the test when, after dinner, Lady Goneril deigned to show her the collection of Brigidian pieces she’d amassed, touting their authenticity and spiritual significance like the scholar she clearly was.
Both Petra and Dorothea breathed a sigh of relief when Hilda announced it was time for a sunset tea time and dessert in the gardens. “Off to bed with you, Mother,” she singsonged, shooing the woman away. With an exaggerated stage whisper she told them, “She requires upwards of twelve hours of rest a night to maintain her youthful beauty.”
Either the tease was entirely expected or Lady Goneril was simply too tipsy to care. In any case, she bid the girls goodnight without much of a fuss, wearing only a small pout as she did so.
“Finally,” Hilda drawled once the other woman had left the room. “I don’t know if you picked up on it, but that one’s a little chatty.”
“Oh,” Dorothea waved her off with a pleasant smile, “I hardly noticed. She’s a very engaging conversationalist.”
Hilda snorted. “Only until the third glass of wine. Then it gets a little overbearing. Come along, ladies. I believe we have some gossip to attend to.” With a smirk, the pink-haired girl led them through a series of equally ostentatious rooms and out to a brazier-lit patio. Finely-pruned hedges and floral arrangements abounded, some rather curiously shaped like animals of varying sizes. Dorothea squinted at what she assumed was a dubiously sheared elk as she took her seat at the table the servants set for them.
The dessert spread was a mouthwatering array of tarts, breads, and cakes, some still steaming as if having been plated fresh from the oven. Underscored by the subtle aroma of lavender wafting from the teapot, it was soothing enough to make the songstress a little drowsy. Still, Dorothea couldn’t help but smile in earnest as she took it all in.
Hilda, on the other hand, appeared far less pleased. “Which blend of tea is this?” she asked, scrutinously eyeing the nearby server.
The man, wringing his hands, stepped forward and bowed. “Lavender, my lady.”
“Phillipe,” she whined, “didn’t I ask for the southern fruit blend?” She turned to her guests before the man could offer a satisfying answer. “I’m so sorry. He’s new.”
“It’s no trouble,” Dorothea politely told her, “Lavender is fine.”
“I don’t like lavender.”
“I don’t think there was a southern fruit blend in the pantry, my lady.”
“Goddess, I told you I keep mine separate.”
“I can go check again—”
“No,” Hilda stood, scowling. Then, to Dorothea and Petra she said, “If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. Just sit tight. C’mon, Phillipe.”
The women watched the pair leave with raised brows. Eventually, Petra quietly commented, “If you are wanting someone to serve you well, you should not be treating them like that.”
“No kidding,” Dorothea agreed, turning back to face her friend. Silence settled comfortably over them as the songstress took in the pink- and purple-ribboned sky above. The softness of sunset was a fair contrast to the tense set of Petra’s shoulders. “That Lady Goneril is a piece of work, huh?”
Petra’s frown deepened as she hummed in agreement. “She seems to be thinking she can teach me something about my own homeland.”
“Well, Petra, she is a historian. Didn’t you hear?”
Petra rolled her eyes, mouth hitching with amusement. “I am hoping my thoughts were not showing on my face.”
“Maybe to me. But I’m more well studied than the Gonerils.”
Petra did smile then—it was small, but sweeter than the neutral expression she’d worn through the end of dinner. The huntress cleared her throat, staring back in the direction Hilda and Phillipe had exited. “We are not staying in this place tonight, are we?”
“It was never really decided. I imagine Hilda might offer,” Dorothea commented, examining the intricate patterns painted onto her teacup.
“I am not thinking that is a good idea.”
Petra’s unexpectedly sober tone drew Dorothea’s attention. “What, you don’t want to enjoy breakfast with Lady Goneril?” The jape went unacknowledged as Petra’s brow knit with newfound concern. Unthinkingly, Dorothea reached out to touch her arm. “What’s the matter?”
“It is nothing, I am just—”
Their quiet conversation was interrupted by Hilda’s voice, echoing from the room just beyond the patio. “... We’re fine. I can take it from here, Phillipe.” The sprightly woman bounded back onto the patio a moment later, carrying an entirely new teapot. “Sorry for the interruption, girls. Good help is just so hard to find these days.”
“Don’t worry. We’d be happy to drink whatever you have for us.”
“Well,” Hilda settled back into her seat, already beginning to fill their teacups with the steaming, sweet-smelling fruit blend, “I bought this tea just for the occasion. You’ve come all the way from the south, so I got something that might taste more like home.”
“Ah, but I would’ve loved to try Leicester’s best.”
Hilda smirked. “I’m sure. Our tastes are a bit more… colorful than what you have in the Empire.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Dorothea remarked, forcing a light chuckle. She knew it would come up eventually, but she was admittedly uncomfortable venturing into the territory of Alliance versus Empire just yet. She expected Hilda would blithely avoid these topics, honestly, but she couldn’t be sure. The young heir of House Goneril was surprisingly difficult to read.
A tactful change of subject was due. Pretending as if she’d only just noticed it, Dorothea fawned over a particularly ornate bracelet on Hilda’s wrist—one of her personal creations, the songstress assumed. Jewelry, fashion, and dating were roughly the extent of their shared interests, but for Hilda, they were really the only ones that mattered.
For a time, their host was content with idle chatter such as this, but inevitably, the talk turned to gossip. Hilda had always been hungry to know everyone else’s business in the Academy, even the classmates she was fairly indifferent to. It was more a weapon to her than the axe she was so rarely convinced to haul into battle.
Dorothea noticed almost immediately how conspicuously mum Hilda was on the subject of her fellow Golden Deer housemates. Intermittently, she’d prod for a bit of information about Dorothea and Petra’s Black Eagle friends. For the most part, however, she chattered about the former Blue Lions. How she possessed so much knowledge of them Dorothea could not tell, but it was a tidbit she’d file away for Edelgard later.
“I hear Ingrid is doing quite well for herself. You were close in the Academy, weren’t you, Dorothea?” Hilda asked, popping a piece of fruit into her mouth. She sat with her elbows on the table, eyeing the songstress keenly.
“Yes, Ingrid was… a good friend to me,” Dorothea commented, re-crossing her legs. She and Ingrid hadn’t spoken, of course, since the day the Black Eagles emerged from the Holy Tomb. She’d thought of Ingrid often since then, just as she had many of her old classmates, hoping that when next they met it wouldn’t be on a field of battle.
“I remember seeing the two of you together fairly often. Well, before you and Petra joined at the hip,” she chuckled, eyes darting between the two of them. “I was surprised to hear you were traveling into my territory, but not surprised to hear who you would be traveling with.”
“I wasn’t going to let anyone send me off without a bit of company.” Dorothea took a sip of her tea.
“You know,” Hilda began, drumming her well-manicured fingernails along her chin in thought, “there was a time—a long while ago—I actually thought you and Ingrid might have a thing.”
“A thing?” It was Petra who chimed in at that, her brow furrowed again.
“You know—a romantic thing. Didn’t you notice? I can’t be the only one.”
“We were always just friends, Hilda.” Dorothea smiled, glancing at Petra out of the corner of her eye. The huntress was sitting with her back almost unnaturally straight.
“Well, I’m not usually wrong about these things,” Hilda shrugged, smirking coyly. “Rumor has it she’s rather close with Dimitri these days.”
“Does that surprise you? Two birds of a blonde and stubbornly virtuous feather will always flock together.”
“I never thought they were that close in the Academy.”
“Yeah, well… tragedy has a way of pushing people together, wouldn’t you say?”
Hilda’s smile was knowing, erring on calculating. Dorothea straightened in her seat, pressing on in feigned jocularity. “Or so the opera always purported.”
“Loyalty is a powerful aphrodisiac,” Hilda chuckled, airy as always. “She’s very committed to his cause, and he’s taken notice. I hear she’s been promoted to some sort of general, which she probably just loves.”
“That sounds like Ingrid. She was always very… honorable.”
“And he dotes on her for it. Or so they say,” Hilda shrugged, spinning her teaspoon thoughtfully in her fingers. “If she’s happy—good for her. But I just don’t know about Dimitri. He’s a bit… cracked. You know?” Hilda’s expression was caught somewhere between overt sympathy and mischievous amusement.
“I’ve heard,” Dorothea carefully replied.
“Edelgard really did a number on him.” Suddenly, Hilda set down her spoon, leaning forward. As if Petra was forgotten—and really, it wasn’t hard to see how, given how quiet the huntress had been for most of the conversation—she peered keenly at Dorothea. “I can’t help myself—I just have to know. What exactly happened between those two? What did she do to make him so bonkers?”
Under more casual circumstances, this line of questioning could have easily been construed as a bit of harmless gossip. However, the scrutinous look in Hilda’s eyes belied her cool mien. She was fishing for intel, blatantly.
Schooling her own features, Dorothea smiled and chided, “I thought you didn’t like talking politics, Hilda.”
“Who said anything about politics? We’re just talking people. Friends, right?”
“Is that all this is?” Out of the corner of her eye, Dorothea could see that frown firmly fixed on Petra’s face again.
“Don’t give me that look,” Hilda waved her off. “I’m just curious! Whatever their problem is, it’s purely personal. And all else the rest of this silly spat? That’s business as usual.”
“Spat?” Dorothea had thought the woman a bit shallow in the past, but to refer to the war as a spat? That was dense, even for her.
“The Kingdom and the Empire have always been at each other’s throats. I think you know that. Maybe it wasn’t always so out in the open, but at least behind closed doors. And for the record, the Alliance has always benefited from that. It’s just the way things work.”
“I think this is a little different—” Dorothea asserted, incredulous.
“I really don’t think it is. Look—I’ve heard the story Edelgard is peddling. It’s delightfully melodramatic. I can honestly see why you’ve bought into it, Dorothea. Even I can respect that, in a way. But that doesn’t make it any more true.” Refilling her teacup, Hilda shrugged, cavalier as ever. “All of this will blow over, I’m sure. It may take a year or two, but it will. Just as it always does.”
Experienced actress she was, even Dorothea couldn’t stop her mouth from gaping. Before she could formulate a response, Petra, shoulders rigid and hands clenched, coldly reminded Hilda, “Much blood has been spilled, and will continue spilling.”
As if only just remembering Petra was there, Hilda turned and slyly intoned, “You would know, wouldn’t you?” Her smug smirk set off a quick flare of anger in Dorothea’s stomach. “It’s terrible, I know. People die and then people rebuild. It happens once every lifetime—sometimes more! Why, less than ten years ago it was the Empire fighting Dagda and Brigid. I never paid much attention to my history studies, but I know many people died then, too.” Hilda caught Petra’s eyes, her own shrewd. “Your father was among that number, wasn’t he, Petra?”
The princess said nothing. However, the tension radiated off of her in waves. In her lap, her knuckles had turned white. Dorothea had to admire her restraint, for her own very nearly cracked on the woman’s behalf.
“But that blew over. I mean, it must’ve,” Hilda continued on, shrugging, “seeing as Brigid’s future queen now fights alongside the Empire.”
“Why did you agree to this meeting?” Dorothea snapped, unable to help herself. Petra was practically trembling with anger by now. She did not often speak of her father, but Dorothea knew that was not for lack of caring. Quite the opposite, actually. The songstress longed to take her hand.
Hilda turned back to Dorothea, an unduly innocent look on her face. “Because I want you to understand—this isn’t going to end the way you think it is. Claude doesn’t want to get involved, but Dimitri and Edelgard just keep pushing. The more they do, the less sympathetic we feel, okay?”
“I didn’t realize you had any sympathy to begin with.”
“More than you think,” Hilda retorted, all traces of playfulness gone. “Claude is an incredibly forgiving person, but you’re testing him.”
Dorothea stood suddenly, tossing her napkin on the table. “You could’ve written that in a letter, you know.”
“Claude has written plenty.”
“I’m sure. Well, you can tell Claude that it’s not his sympathy we need. Even if his full support is too taxing, his arrows will suffice.”
Hilda raised a brow, mouth caught halfway between a feigned smile and a scowl. Blowing on her tea she said, “Trust me. You could use the support.”
Ignoring this last comment, Dorothea placed a hand on Petra’s shoulder. The younger woman was still sitting alarmingly still. The songstress could feel the tenseness under her palm. “I’m afraid we must be going.”
“So soon?” Hilda didn’t even feign disappointment.
“Yes, so soon. You’ll thank your dear parents for us, won’t you? Dinner was lovely.”
“Of course,” Hilda stood, folding her own napkin. “I’ll have Phillipe show you out.”
Even as the servant stood waiting for Dorothea and Petra, the Brigidian woman hadn’t moved. It was only with a bit of impatient prodding on Dorothea’s part that she slowly stood, keeping her eyes on Hilda all the while.
Their goodbyes were stilted, Dorothea very nearly running out of the gardens and the manor without a backwards glance. However, in true Hilda fashion, their host wouldn’t let them leave without getting in the last word.
“I wouldn’t linger on the road,” she told them, a hint of amusement in her voice, “It’s almost dark.”
It was a brisk two mile walk back to the rendezvous camp where they were set to meet the rest of the Imperial detachment, and most of it was undertaken in complete silence. As Hilda had warned, night descended shortly, darkness enveloping the women save for the magic-lit torch that Petra carried. The night grew darker still as a thick blanket of clouds covered the stars and moon overhead.
“It looks like rain,” Dorothea frowned, pulling her cloak more tightly about herself as a particularly chilly gust of wind rustled through the trees.
The torchlight wavered in Petra’s hand. “It is smelling like rain,” she murmured, distracted.
Dorothea glanced at her sidelong, quickening her stride when, as if on cue, a clap of thunder sounded. “That really didn’t go how I’d planned.”
“How were you planning?”
“I was expecting more coy repartee and less blatant insult. I thought Hilda had a bit more tact than that.”
Petra was silent for a few paces before replying. “The Officers Academy was like a game for Hilda. So is this. She has not been changing.” A bolt of lightning zigzagged across the sky, briefly illuminating the forest canopy. A louder, closer rumble of thunder nipped at its heels. “We should hurry,” Petra told her, meeting her eye for but a second. “Our cloaks are not made for rain.”
The first drops fell half a mile out from the rendezvous, and by the time they arrived at camp, both women were soaked and shivering. Three of the four soldiers had retired to their tent, but Lukas sat watch by the poorly covered fire, wrapped in canvas to keep his own cloak and clothing dry.
“You’re back,” he said, standing. Then, perhaps seeing the grimaces on their faces, “Did everything go okay?”
“It could’ve gone better,” Dorothea dryly replied, voice raised to be heard over the rain. She’d left her tent behind that morning, the others erecting it for her in her absence. Petra, on the other hand, still only carried her bedroll. She knelt on the ground and began rifling through her pack. “What are you doing?” Dorothea asked.
“I must be building my tent,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“You’ll be lucky if you can get the thing up with this rain,” Lukas commented, sitting back down by the fire. He moved closer to the flames to fend off the chill.
“No,” Dorothea shook her head, “It’s not worth it, Petra. C’mon, there’s room in my tent.”
Petra glanced over her shoulder and frowned. “Dorothea, I do not want to be taking your space—”
“Don’t be stubborn,” Dorothea waved for her to follow, bending to enter the canvas flap. “Please?”
Shoulders sagging, Petra relented, entering the tent after her. Their sopping cloaks were immediately discarded, bundled into a tight heap and shoved in the corner. As for the damp clothes beneath…
“We can take turns closing our eyes or… turning around. So we can change.” Though it was silly of her, Dorothea blushed just suggesting it. Being in the same space while the other undressed, even if their eyes were closed—it made her a little nervous. At the same time however, she was entirely too exhausted, both physically and emotionally, to truly care. It had been an unbelievably trying day.
Not to mention, Petra was still entirely too quiet for her liking. Her concern for the princess outweighed her anxiety and her… other feelings. And so one at a time they turned around and changed into dry clothes. When they were finished, Petra laid out her bedroll, just a few inches from Dorothea’s own in the confined space.
Together, they commenced their nightly rituals. Dorothea blotted the makeup from her face, removed her jewelry, and brushed her hair. Petra merely undid her braids, sitting afterwards with her knees hugged to her chest. It reminded Dorothea of the night she’d found her in the forest after her nightmare, cheeks wet with tears. The songstress’ hand slowed in its methodical brushing.
“You know Hilda was just trying to get a rise out of you, right?”
After a moment’s consideration, Petra shrugged.
“Really,” Dorothea set down the brush and scooted forward on her knees. She placed a hand on Petra’s shoulder. Her skin was chilly, goosebumps rising at the touch. “I don’t think you should dwell on it.”
Petra glanced up at Dorothea over her shoulder. Her lashes looked longer in the low light, brown eyes tired. “She was saying those things to hurt me. That is not meaning she was incorrect.” Before Dorothea could contest, Petra sighed and turned to face her. “My grandfather was saying similar things to me.”
“When the war was first beginning. He was not even speaking to me for many months, he was filled with so much anger.”
Dorothea’s brow furrowed. “Petra, you never told me…” Unconsciously, she reached out to take the princess’ hand, just as she’d longed to do during their teatime earlier. She rubbed her thumb over the woman’s knuckles, soothing away the tension.
“I was… not proud. He is talking to me now, but it took much convincing.” When her eyes met Dorothea’s own, they burned with conviction. “I am not feeling that the Empire killed my father. Ionius killed my father. And now… I am not feeling that I am fighting for the Empire, or fighting for the daughter of Ionius. I am only fighting for Edelgard, and for the world she is hoping to create. That is what I have been telling Grandfather.”
“So, he sees it your way now?”
Petra frowned. “I cannot be sure. But he is trusting me.” Glancing down at their joined hands, Petra rubbed Dorothea’s palm gently. “I am not always agreeing with Edelgard’s ideas, or understanding her motivations. She is having a mind for politics, and I am not. But she is desiring a world that is free of hierarchy, a world in which success is not having restrictions from wealth or crests. I am wanting that for Brigid, too. In many ways, we are already having these things, but we are also having restrictions from our vassalage.
“I am just believing… if the Princess of Brigid is standing beside the Emperor of Adrestia now, then later, Brigid can be standing on its own. We will not be fighting for our freedom any longer.”
Dorothea couldn’t help but smile. She’d heard many an inspiring speech from Edelgard lately, but her words, impassioned though they may be, were always so calculated, so regal. Petra spoke plainly, from the heart as she always did—a queen for and of the people of Brigid.
She clutched both Petra’s hands, drawing closer. “If you think you need to justify yourself to me, you don’t. I understand, Petra.”
Petra’s mouth curved into a small, almost bashful smile. “I know. I am just… needing justifications for me. In honesty, if I am thinking too hard about what happened to my father, I am not caring about these beliefs, or about the future. I am only feeling anger, like my grandfather. Hilda was reminding me of that earlier.” She shook her head. “But if I am to be ruling Brigid, I must be doing it with my mind, like Edelgard. I must keep thinking of the people. My feelings… they are not mattering.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Dorothea questioned. “Your feelings should matter. They matter to me. You shouldn’t ignore them.”
The air seemed to shift then. Petra looked at her, almost scrupulously, and Dorothea was struck by how close they’d gotten. Was it the small space inside the tent that had pushed them together, the conversation, or something more?
Petra’s lips parted, and for a moment, she hesitated. Eventually, she quietly told Dorothea, “Sometimes, it seems like all I am doing is ignoring my feelings.”
“Don’t,” Dorothea urged her, heart pounding in her chest. Her voice couldn’t have been any more than a whisper, but it seemed somehow so loud at the same time. The songstress shifted, moving even closer still.
Whatever she’d planned on saying was interrupted by a shout from outside.
“Was that Lukas?” Dorothea asked, but Petra only held a finger to her lips. The huntress peered at the tent’s flap, listening carefully. The rain must have slowed, the patter against the canvas calmed to only a low susurration.
Then there was the quick rustling of leaves, a metallic sound of some sort. The knights’ horses, which were hitched to a tree at the edge of camp, whinnied nervously.
“Wait here,” Petra whispered. She grabbed her sheathed sword as she stood and poked her head from the tent’s flap.
Through the gap in the canvas, Dorothea watched Lukas come running back towards camp. “Up!” he frantically shouted. “Everyone up!”
The horses whinnied once more, louder. The rest of their small camp began to stir.
“It’s the—” Lukas’ final warning concluded with an arrow in his throat. Dorothea gasped, her hand covering her mouth. She heard Petra breathe a Brigidian curse as she darted from the tent, almost immediately drawing her sword.
Lukas fell to his knees, eyes wide and mouth still hanging open. Then, he collapsed forward into the dirt before the fire. The horses nickered in mounting aggravation, the rest of the detachment emerging from their tents at Petra’s behest.
“Intruders!” the princess shouted. Weapons unsheathed in a hiss of steel. One of their cavaliers, a stout woman with a manic passion for combat, bellowed for their cowardly attackers to show themselves. Petra, saying nothing more, only ran off in the direction that Lukas’ felling arrow had been shot from.
As if on delay, Dorothea only stirred as the huntress disappeared into the trees. She leapt out of the tent, calling after the woman.
“Get down!” their healer, Agathe, shouted. On hectic instinct, Dorothea ducked, though the next two arrows that whizzed by flew across camp, in the direction of the cavaliers. Not knowing what to do, where to turn, Dorothea sent two consecutive Thoron blasts in the direction of the attack. Though they never found purchase, they lit the storm-dark trees long enough that Dorothea could see the outline of an archer moving through the woods.
“There!” she shouted to the others. The cavaliers dispersed, one running for their horse, the other pursuing the dark figure on foot.
“I need light!” the mounted cavalier requested. Agathe was not well-versed in reason magic, but she knew enough to assist Dorothea in setting off intermittent blasts of Thoron and Thunder.
The constant shots of magic, the horses nickering and clopping, the shouts from all around—it turned into a smoky, heart-pounding morass Dorothea struggled to navigate. She and Petra were given the detachment for a reason. Why weren’t they prepared for this? All the songstress could do was keep moving, darting past arrows and bodies in the rain and growing smoke as she fired off spells at a frenetic clip.
On the fringes of battle there was the clashing of blades, a grunt and a snarl, and then someone—one of her own men—yelled, “Alliance! Assassins—” Their declaration ended in a cry of pain. Without a second thought, Dorothea ran towards the sound. Emerging through a thicket of smoke, she saw the second cavalier, the one who’d left his mount, pinned to a tree. The Alliance assassin standing over him twisted his dagger in the man’s shoulder. A cry of pain transformed into a gurgle.
“No!” Dorothea yelled, casting Sagittae at the attacker. The wave of magical arrows hit the assassin square in their left flank and chest, sending them flying back towards the ground. A beat later, the songstress bounded forward, casting Thoron once again.
The assassin lay completely unmoving when she closed the gap between them, much to her relief. She knelt and cast what little healing magic she knew, but the cavalier would not move again either. The twist of his attacker’s dagger had cut too close to the heart.
“Damnit!” Dorothea’s hands hovered, trembling from exertion and adrenaline, over the cavalier’s prone form. His eyes remained open, a thin line of blood trickling from his mouth.
For several moments, Dorothea kneeled by the body of her felled ally, his dead attacker lying mockingly close. She counted her own thudding heartbeats, and wiped the sting of smoke from her eyes. Her hands trembled and tingled from the repeated use of magic. All around her, the rain fell slow and steady.
She wasn’t sure how many moments had actually passed before she realized the clangor of blades had ceased, the shouts dying down. Dorothea sat still, her hand on the shoulder of the dead cavalier, until a new cry spurred her into action.
“Dorothea!” It was Petra, calling out to her—once, twice. Still breathing heavily, Dorothea stood, feeling a little shaky. How had this happened? Why had they not seen this coming?
She walked back through the trees, following the glow of their low-burning campfire in a daze. Why? she kept asking herself. Why?
Coming out of the forest cover, her eyes met Petra’s, a look of blatant relief on the other woman’s face. “Dorothea,” she said again, stepping forward so that they might meet in the middle. However, her relieved expression was interrupted—first by confusion, and then by a wide-eyed alarm.
“Move!” Petra shouted, breaking into a sprint. Dorothea was standing still when Petra crashed into her, arms thrown around the songstress. Together they spun, completing almost a 180-degree turn before stopping abruptly.
Petra gasped, her eyes going wider still, and slumped forward. Dorothea couldn’t understand what had happened, what was happening. She had only just registered the arrow protruding from Petra’s back when a second one sailed into the huntress’ left arm.
“Petra.” Dorothea was choked by shock. Together, they crumpled to the ground, the songstress clinging tightly to her. “Petra!”
Their last remaining cavalier snarled, pointing in the direction of the arrow. Dorothea’s eyes instinctively followed. She almost couldn’t believe what she saw.
Lowering his bow with an equally startled, almost panicked expression was none other than Ignatz Victor.
Through the haze of smoke, their eyes met. He seemed almost as surprised as Dorothea at what he’d just done. But then, with the cavalier in hot pursuit, he came to his senses. Ignatz turned on his heel and ran.
Petra coughed, and if only temporarily, all thoughts of who had caused what pain ceased. All Dorothea could focus on was the woman in her arms. “D-Doro—” she coughed again, her face contorting with pain.
“Shh,” Dorothea cupped her cheek, hands shaking. “Agathe!” she called out for the healer.
“I w-wanted… to tell you—”
“You’ll tell me later,” Dorothea hushed her, tears brimming. “Agathe!” Petra stared up at her, eyes half-lidded. In spite of the pain she was in, they still shone with relief.
“Glad… you’re safe…”
The tears fell then. Safe. It was so unfair, so utterly wrong. Petra could barely speak, was wheezing in pain.
What good was her safety if the one she most cared for couldn’t share in it, as well?
Okay, a couple things:
1.) Battle scenes (even fairly short ones) take seventeen years to write. The pacing is so challenging.
2.) Why am I like this? I don't know. Sorry.
“Dorothea… Dorothea!” She could barely register the hand on her arm, shaking her sternly, urgently. “You need to let her go.”
Agathe ducked her head to meet and hold Dorothea’s gaze. Her eyes were focused and grave. And while Dorothea knew her words were true, they only made her clutch Petra to her chest more tightly.
“Just for now,” Agathe amended. “We have to go.”
Dorothea dully gawked at the healer and their last remaining cavalier, Keira, in turn. The rain, now slowing to a drizzle, mingled with the tears on her cheeks. Keira, she realized, was working hastily to calm the horses, both of which were unscathed but whinnying frantically at their hitching tree.
“Go where?” Dorothea asked.
“Away from here,” Agathe told her. “Their archer got away. We don’t know if there will be more. We need to saddle up and put some distance between us and this place.”
Dorothea considered this plan one piece at a time. When Agathe spoke of their archer, she spoke of Ignatz. Once, he’d been a boy reluctant to become a knight, a boy that had loved painting. Now, he was a man that had shot two arrows into the Princess of Brigid.
How could he have done such a thing? Why had he done such a thing? And how could they run from him, his people, when Lukas and their other comrade lay dead in camp, with Petra wheezing in her arms?
“Petra is wounded,” Dorothea reminded Agathe hotly, as if the healer could have possibly forgotten. “We need to tend to her. Why aren’t you healing her?”
“There will be pain, but as long as the arrows remain, the bleeding will not worsen.” Given the obvious labor of Petra’s breathing, bleeding seemed, at present, only a secondary worry.
“But what about—”
Agathe cut her off, placing a hand on Petra’s shoulder. “Petra, can you handle the pain for a little while longer? We need to get away from here.” After a moment’s hesitation, the huntress nodded weakly. “It is decided then,” Agathe concluded, looking from Petra to Dorothea in turn. “I will take her on my own mount. I can’t do much until the arrows are removed, but a bit of magic will soothe the pain.”
It was a reasonable consideration on Agathe’s part. Yet reason was cold, and Dorothea was reluctant to cede to it. “And what of the others?” she asked, seeking any reason to contest Agathe’s logic.
“They are gone,” the healer said, not without remorse, but jarring all the same. “And we are not. Petra is not. We have to leave here.”
Dorothea held onto Petra until the horses were ready and Keira came to retrieve the princess. Even then, she did not want to let go. Only when Petra’s wavering voice assured her, “I will be… all right,” did Dorothea give her up.
Still, the songstress ached as Petra winced and whimpered as Keira collected her in her arms. She had never heard her friend make such a sound before—didn’t think her capable, stalwart as she was. Agathe pulled herself onto her mount first, and then Keira guided Petra in front of her. The huntress slumped face forward into the healer’s shoulder, the arrows still protruding, the rain still falling slowly upon them. It was a lurid sight, one Dorothea would think of often in the coming months.
Before she would climb atop Keira’s horse, Dorothea drifted close and took Petra’s cold hand in her own. With a squeeze, she promised, “We won’t be long. Just hold on and everything will be okay. I’ll make sure of it.”
Of course, that was not Dorothea’s promise to make. She could not heal Petra. She could not ensure they wouldn’t be waylaid on the road. She couldn’t make the miles between Leicester and Garreg Mach drift away. But she was quite certain of one thing:
She would not allow such injury to befall Petra again, not if she could help it.
The huntress squeezed her hand in return. Though the gesture was feeble, the wan smile that accompanied it heartened Dorothea.
Just a few hours more, that was all they would need.
They rode hard, not stopping until past sunup. At a slow trot, it had taken them two and a half days to arrive in Leicester. Now at an urgent gallop, Dorothea anticipated they could cut that time in half.
Before they could return to Garreg Mach, however, Petra needed their attention. By the time she slid off Agathe’s reclaimed horse and into Keira’s grasp, her usually tanned face was alarmingly pale. She let out a low, rasping grunt when she fell into the cavalier’s arms, eyes sliding dazedly open and closed.
They unfurled a piece of canvas on the ground, laying Petra on her stomach. Immediately, Agathe set about cutting the leathery hide of her top to better inspect the arrow. She prodded gently, hands alight with the soft glow of magic so that she could soothe just as quickly as she agitated the wounds.
Keira stepped back, pacing anxiously. She latched onto her frustration, the hum of unspent battle energy rippling under her skin. “One of the bastards told me it was an accident. He said our man struck first,” she muttered. “Why the hell would Lukas strike first?”
Agathe paid her no mind. Dorothea sat across from her, gaze darting nervously between Keira and the huntress. “We can figure that out later,” she muttered, chewing her bottom lip.
Agathe pressed upon the entry wound in Petra’s back and the princess wheezed again. “Shit,” she murmured.
“What is it?”
Agathe frowned at the songstress. “The arrow in the arm isn’t too deep. It hit at an odd angle, more towards the side of the arm. Will hurt like hell to remove, but should heal up without issue. She’ll just be sore.”
Neither had really been worried about the arrow in her arm, however. “And the other?”
“You hear how she’s breathing? That’s the arrow. It hit something.”
Dorothea’s heart leaped into her throat. “It’s in her lung?” she choked out.
Agathe shook her head. Lowering her voice, she replied, “Not fully. If it was I think she’d already be…” Perhaps it was the look on Dorothea’s face that stopped her from finishing that sentence. The healer cleared her throat and continued, “There’s no delicate way to remove an arrow like this. Even if there was, to do so on the road without the proper tools could do far more harm than good.”
“So what are we supposed to do? Ride all the way back to Garreg Mach?” Dorothea’s eyes fell upon Petra again. She was so utterly blanched, the rise and fall of her back laboriously stilted. Could she make it all the way back to the monastery? Dorothea would never doubt the huntress’ strength, but even the most capable warriors had their limits. To push Petra to hers would be unfairly painful.
“I don’t think that’s wise,” Agathe began, examining the wound carefully.
“What about the outpost in Airmid,” Keira eagerly proposed, “to the east of the monastery? It’s closer than riding directly to Garreg Mach. At a hard gallop we could make it there before nightfall.”
Agathe considered Keira’s suggestion, her hand upon Petra’s upper back. “That would be many hours yet.”
“Do they have the necessary tools at this outpost?” Dorothea wondered, hope already starting to bloom in her chest.
“They should. It’s one of our bigger garrisons—fully outfitted for battle. That includes medical supplies.”
“Then let’s go,” Dorothea insisted, dizzied by her sudden, exhausted optimism. “If it’s safer and closer it’s our best bet, isn’t it?”
Agathe considered these sentiments, her expression still marred with uncertainty. After a moment, she said, “Help me get her up, will you, Dorothea?”
As much as Dorothea had longed to squeeze Petra’s hand or to touch the small of her back—to provide any minor bit of warmth and comfort—she was nervous to offer anything beyond that. Each pained exhale or groan she and Agathe elicited from her cinched Dorothea’s chest painfully. Petra couldn’t quite sit, but she did lean into the crook of the songstress’ arm. Her eyes fluttered open and closed, but she at least remained conscious.
Agathe grasped the princess’ uninjured arm, speaking as clearly and calmly as possible. “Petra, I need you to be honest: can you hold out through the afternoon, just long enough for us to make it to the Airmid garrison?”
Petra swallowed, chest stuttering. “Yes,” she rasped.
“You’re sure? You can breathe okay?”
The princess nodded. “Enough.”
Enough did not instill much confidence in Dorothea, but she knew from experience that Petra could be stubborn when it came to injury. That she was so openly pained now was a clear sign of the situation’s gravity.
The way Dorothea cupped her jaw then was gentle, but her command firm. “If it gets too hard, you need to say something, okay? We’ll stop.” Petra nodded. “I’m serious. I won’t be happy if you push it. And you know how scary I am when I’m angry.”
The princess smiled at that. Very faintly, but entirely in earnest.
Taken to task, the horses rode harder than any of them had dared hope. That was a testament to the fortitude of Adrestian stock, Dorothea supposed. Even so, the hours it took to make it to the Airmid garrison felt far more like days. The songstress could only imagine how it must have felt to Petra, whose consciousness was so feeble by the time of arrival that she very nearly slid right off Agathe’s horse.
The sentinels at the gate were rightfully suspicious of their unexpected arrival. It was only due to Dorothea’s notoriety from her days in Mittelfrank—and now as one of Edelgard’s most famous allies—that they were ushered in so quickly. Playing this notoriety to her benefit, Dorothea made sure to remind the soldiers that Petra was a trusted ally of the emperor’s as well, and if anything were to happen to her, they’d be met with Edelgard’s full wrath.
A flurry of activity ensued almost immediately. Agathe and the outpost’s healers carried Petra off to the infirmary with Dorothea trailing close behind. Keira, meanwhile, absconded with the garrison’s generals to review details of the attack and the hours that had preceded it.
“Send word to Garreg Mach,” Dorothea instructed Keira before she parted. “Edelgard needs to know what’s happened.” She wasn’t just talking about the attack, but about Petra’s condition. Dorothea didn’t yet have a moment to dwell on anything but her fear for the princess, but she knew Edelgard would harness every ounce of rage in her stead.
Right now, healing Petra was the top priority. The only safe way to remove the arrow from her back would be to do so with surgical assistance. Once the removal was complete, they could administer healing magic to repair the damage. A simple plan, but one that would require a delicate execution.
Dorothea was made to wait outside the infirmary. She wanted to argue, to stay by Petra’s side, but she knew realistically she would only get in the way. Besides, she had to admit she didn’t have the stomach for what was to come. She could barely stand the cries of pain she heard coming from the room as the first arrow was removed. The songstress took to pacing the floor down the corridor after that.
As soon as she allowed herself to stand still, her back against the wall, the exhaustion of the past days sank in. Dorothea slid down to the ground, body arrested by fatigue, and covered her face with her hands. In less than a week’s time, she’d gone from fighting with Petra to not fighting with Petra; to imagining being more with Petra; to imagining, in her fear and in her panic, what this life, and this utterly chaotic world, would feel like without Petra in it.
It was too much, every bit of it.
The tears came, even as Dorothea bit them back. She hugged her knees to her chest and buried her face in her arms, heedless of every concerned soldier that walked past. She needed this now.
At some point, she must’ve given into her body’s demands and drifted off to sleep. The next thing she knew, Agathe’s hand was on her shoulder, shaking her gently into consciousness. Dorothea startled, body stiff and aching in protest. She wiped the crust of dried tears from her eyes and cheeks as she peered up at the healer expectantly.
Agathe’s smile was small and tired, but it was there—a comfort to Dorothea. The songstress stood, her legs shaky and a bit rubbery. “Agathe, is she okay? Is it done?”
The healer nodded. “She’s resting up now. We’ll need to keep an eye on her breathing for at least a week, but I believe she’s out of any immediate danger.” Dorothea nearly sagged against the wall in relief. She placed trembling fingers upon her forehead and nodded. Agathe squeezed her shoulder a bit more firmly. “We’ve done all we can magically for now. Her body still has a fair amount of natural healing to do, and I imagine she’ll be out for a while.”
“Can I see her?”
Agathe’s smile softened. “I was going to suggest that. We’ve moved her to a cot in the main sickroom. It’s empty in there save for her. I don’t think anyone would mind if you took a cot for yourself. In fact, I’d recommend it.” Agathe’s voice lowered. “No offense, but you don’t look well, Dorothea.”
Dorothea chuckled dryly. “No offense taken. I’ve had a bit too much excitement these past couple days. A bit of sleep should fix me up.”
“We can give you something for that, if you need it. Just ask the healer on duty. He’ll help.”
The only help Dorothea needed was to see Petra, sound asleep, her chest rising and falling in a safe, natural rhythm. Worrying her lip between her teeth, she thanked Agathe for her help and ventured dazedly into the infirmary.
The main sickroom was blessedly quiet. Save for the lone healer puttering about the room, Petra was its only inhabitant. The man acknowledged Dorothea’s arrival politely, but went about his business otherwise, allowing the women some privacy.
Dorothea didn’t hesitate in striding over to Petra’s cot at the end of the room. The huntress lay beneath a small box window, the moon clearly visible beyond it. When had night fallen, Dorothea wondered? How long had Petra been in surgery?
The candle on the table beside Petra’s cot flickered, casting her face in a pale ocher glow. As she lay resting there, face pale but otherwise calm, she looked at once all of her years. That was to say, she looked startlingly young and small. Dorothea reached out to brush an errant lock of hair from her forehead, knuckles smoothing down her cheek. It was easy to forget that Petra was barely nineteen years of age. She was so ceaselessly understanding, so self-possessed—the kind of settled maturity that told Dorothea exactly what kind of queen she would someday be.
Here in the infirmary, however, her face soft and breath whispering between parted lips, she looked young and breakable. Dorothea had never thought her so fragile before—not even with the arrows protruding from her back. The image struck her, fiercely, with a need to protect.
She would not allow Petra to break, not during this war, and not beyond it. If that meant staying by her side through it all, she would. She wanted to.
Careful not to wake her, or to hurt her, Dorothea leaned down to gently press her lips to the huntress’ forehead. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she whispered, knowing Petra couldn’t hear. Pulling back, she promised. “I’ll be here when you wake.”
Dorothea didn’t know how long she slept there on that cot in the infirmary. She only knew that the sun was already shining through the tiny window when she woke. She blinked away the light, wiping the bleariness from her eyes to find Petra watching her. Awake.
Dorothea leaped up at once, reclaiming her position at the huntress’ side. “You’re up. Are you in any pain? I can go get someone.” The healer was currently nowhere to be found, but Dorothea knew Agathe wouldn’t be far. She stepped back, as if to leave, but Petra grabbed her wrist.
“Wait.” Petra’s voice came out raspy. She cleared her throat and smiled shyly at Dorothea. “I am needing a little water, maybe.” She nodded towards a pitcher of water the healer had left on the table by the window.
“Of course.” Dorothea walked around the cot to pour her a cup. The huntress, meanwhile, attempted to push herself into a sitting position, wincing as she did so. “Wait, just let me help.” Dorothea set aside the cup and settled on the edge of the cot, easing Petra into a reclining position. “You’re going to be stubborn about this whole healing thing, aren’t you?”
Though her cheeks pinkened, Petra smiled crookedly. “I do not know why you would be saying that.” The huntress took the proffered cup and drank greedily, coughing when the water went down too quickly.
Dorothea sighed. “Because you can’t even drink a cup of water without straining yourself.” As Petra’s coughing started to escalate, the worry seized Dorothea’s chest. “Seriously, I should go get—”
“No.” Petra’s tone was unexpectedly stern. She looked away in embarrassment. “I have been prodded... more than enough. Just wait. Please?”
The slight quaver in Petra’s voice reminded Dorothea of the screams of pain she’d heard during the surgery. The huntress rubbed idly at her chest as the coughing fit subsided.
Dorothea felt cold, all of sudden. She stared down at her hands, toying with the hem of her rumpled shirt. A few spots of dried blood—Petra’s blood—caught her attention, and she stilled.
“Just a day ago you were dying and I was certain I’d be able to do nothing but watch.” Dorothea bit out suddenly, more curt than intended. “So you’ll have to forgive my concern.”
When the songstress glanced at Petra sidelong, the younger woman’s expression had turned undoubtedly guilty. “I am having apologies, Dorothea.”
“How many times do you suppose you’ve apologized to me in the past month?”
“Very many,” Petra quietly replied, voice filled with shame.
Dorothea took her hand and held it between both of her own. “I just don’t care about apologies anymore,” she sighed. “I don’t care about stupid fights and misunderstandings. I don’t even care that you’re stubborn. I just… I care about you, Petra. Very deeply. I care that I…” Dorothea cleared her throat, but couldn’t stop her voice from breaking. “I care that I almost lost you, but I didn’t. And now you are here—and you are going to stay here—with me. That’s all I care about. Okay?”
Petra squeezed her hand right back. “I will be staying, for as long as you are wanting me to.”
“Well, I want you to for a long, long time.” Forever rose unbidden to her mind. Her cheeks were already wet with tears, however; she didn’t need to make anymore a fool of herself by blurting out every dramatic proclamation that sprang to mind. She chuckled weakly to chase away the sudden warmth in her cheeks. “That means you need to keep yourself free of arrows.”
“I have been shot with arrows before,” Petra told her, quite seriously, “and it may be happening again in the future. It is giving me much pain, but not as much as it would give me to be seeing you injured.”
“You…” Dorothea started and stopped, her cheeks fully burning now. She wasn’t sure whether she should chastise Petra or fall immediately into her arms. She wanted to, she realized, with an urgency that left her feeling unmoored. Petra’s earnest, determined gaze was burning holes in the restraint that had for so long buoyed her.
As if sensing her internal turmoil, Petra steadfastly continued on. “Dorothea, you have been giving me so much kindness since we have known each other. I see the strength in your heart and I am feeling like… like I could survive hundreds of arrows. Such kindness and strength is rare. And I would not be deserving your strong heart if I did not do everything within my powers to protect it from harm.”
Dorothea should have had the right words to give Brigid’s princess in return. She was a former student of the opera, after all, and unlike the other woman, a native speaker. But as she stared at Petra, saw Petra watching her, she understood that there weren’t words for the way that they were looking at each other. There weren’t words for what she was feeling—the gratitude, the comfort, the yearning—not in that moment.
And so Dorothea stopped searching, stopped thinking, and gave Petra—endearingly earnest, unduly resolved Petra—the most eloquent reply that she could muster.
She leaned forward, cupping the huntress’ cheeks, and captured her lips in a kiss so ardent that not even the opera could hope to replicate it.
For a heartbeat, Petra was seemingly too surprised to follow. But then her mouth began to move, a pleased hum escaping her, and the kiss deepened—an instant balm to Dorothea’s frayed nerves and aching, exhausted limbs. Even her heart, which so often beat madly from Petra’s words, calmed immeasurably.
It wasn’t such a clumsy thing, not as many first kisses go. But the songstress reminded herself, this wasn’t the first kiss they’d shared, only the first that she’d asked for. They each fell into the rhythm of it effortlessly, willingly.
Petra’s hand snaked into Dorothea’s hair, fingers lighting a trail of warmth along the nape of her neck. Dorothea hummed, careful not to press too hard into the princess’ bruised body, but sank into the kiss regardless. She hadn’t meant for things to deepen so, not while Petra was still injured; but months and years of pent up feelings were welling up and—
Someone cleared their throat—quite loudly—and Dorothea pulled away. She blinked, dazed, and turned around to see Agathe and the other healer staring at them. While the garrison’s healer was a bit red in the face, Agathe smirked impishly.
“I see our patient is awake. And being tended to already.”
“Uhm, yes,” Dorothea sputtered, “she’s awake.” Awake, but looking for all the world as if she were dreaming, with her cheeks flushed and eyes slightly lidded. Dorothea’s lips quirked, heart squeezing with tenderness.
“Yes, clearly. Thank you for looking after her, Dorothea, but if you don’t mind, we’ll need to have a once-over, too.”
The songstress’ cheeks were utterly on fire. “Yes, of course,” she hastily agreed, having come somewhat to her senses. She stepped back, making room for the healers to crowd in and examine Petra. She looked away as they began peeling back Petra’s tunic, resuming the prodding the huntress had been so eager to avoid.
In that moment, the sickroom felt just a bit too crowded, and Dorothea found herself glancing down at her own blood-speckled shirt.
“You know, I should maybe go change or… get a bite to eat,” she told them, heading towards the door suddenly.
“Dorothea, wait,” Petra called out. She had that vulnerable look again, hunched over and wincing as the healers poked and rubbed salve on her newly scarred skin. There was a sort of desperate anxiety there too, a kind that reminded Dorothea of a night so long ago, when a sweet kiss had sent the songstress running. “Will you be returning?”
Dorothea stopped, a soft smile on her face. “Right back. I promise.” Petra’s expression softened, too, though her relieved smile was broken by another wince. “Try not to give them any trouble, okay?”
Dorothea slipped out of the room then, fully intending to change and find food as quickly as possible, but first, she had to stop—just for a moment. She rested against the wall, pressing her fingers to her lips. What had possessed her to do it, she wondered? Or, more importantly:
Why hadn’t she done it sooner?
Friends, I'm sorry for the delay on this chapter (especially after the last). Work turned bonkers, my brain turned to mush, etc. I hope the end of this one made up for the wait though.
For all that she enjoyed fineries—fancy clothing and sparkling trinkets—Dorothea’s favorite things were far simpler than that. At home in Garreg Mach, she loved long mornings at the market hunting for beads and baubles to fashion into jewelry. She loved reading and re-reading her favorite opera scripts and belting out sweet arias. She loved playing with the children and helping Bernadetta tend to the monastery’s newborn kittens.
Dorothea quickly came to find, however, that all of that paled in comparison to her new favorite thing: kissing Petra Macneary.
There wasn’t much else to do in the Airmid garrison. They were far from home and surrounded by unfamiliar soldiers. Petra had started walking again, but only for brief spurts, as she’d grow winded alarmingly quick. But even if they’d had all the amusements of home at their disposal, Dorothea didn’t imagine they’d be doing much else.
They’d still be ducking into shaded alcoves while Petra caught her breath, just so Dorothea could steal it from her again. Their tea would still go cold in their cups as they learned what the other liked, learned when to nip at a swollen lip or to trace the line of a jaw. And Dorothea would still be crawling into a narrow cot in the middle of the night, burying her face in Petra’s hair.
Despite having waited so long for these moments to happen, they fell into them with total familiarity, as if they’d been made for it. And Dorothea delighted in it all. There was a sort of chaste quality to it all, but she delighted in that too. She’d been used by too many men and women in the past. It was nice to be respected, admired. It was nice just to fall asleep in Petra’s arms.
Not even Petra’s arms could chase away all the darkness, however. She still dreamt of could-have-beens. She dreamt of that moment when Petra first slumped forward into her arms, pierced with arrows. Except this time, the arrow hadn’t grazed Petra’s lung. It had punctured it completely. This time, Agathe, too, had fallen, and Petra died in Dorothea’s arms, her own paltry faith magic having failed to make any difference whatsoever.
Dorothea woke gasping. She and Petra were pressed close together in the tiny cot, and even in the dark, the songstress could see the worried glimmer in the other woman’s eyes.
“Dorothea,” Petra whispered, hand warm on her damp cheek. “It is all right. You were having a dream.”
Dorothea’s breath stuttered. Her hand clutched Petra’s, heart struggling to slow. “A dream,” she agreed, though her tone was wary.
Petra kissed her forehead, her cheek, and finally her mouth. “What was happening? In your dream?”
Dorothea didn’t want to say it, but here in the dark, just the two of them, she felt like she needed to. “I couldn’t save you,” she simply said.
Petra frowned and pulled Dorothea closer to her with her good arm. “You did. And I am here.”
“I know,” Dorothea buried her face in the crook of the huntress’ neck. She smelled clean and earthy, just as she always did. The songstress inhaled, her heart slowing. “I can’t help my dreams. They just happen.”
“I have understanding,” Petra murmured. “I do not have regret for protecting you, but I also do not want to be causing you bad dreams again, Dorothea.”
“Then maybe we should just stay here,” Dorothea chuckled weakly, her voice wet with tears.
“In bed.” She hadn’t meant it as a come on, but her cheeks heated regardless. “I just meant, laying together. Like this. Safe.”
If Petra blushed the same as Dorothea, she couldn’t see it.. “I would be liking that. Though maybe we should be finding a real bed first. One that is big enough for two people.”
“Yes, we probably should,” Dorothea chuckled again, wrapping a strand of magenta hair around her finger. Already, the cruel images of her dream were starting to fade away. How quickly they fled—Dorothea had to smile, if only slightly. “Which spirit is it that gives dreams to the people of Brigid? You told me once, but I can’t quite remember.”
“Certes, the Moon Spirit.”
“The owl, right?”
Petra nodded, smiling. “He is often taking the form of a horned owl, yes.”
“Do all dreams come from him?” Dorothea asked. It struck her as a silly sort of question the moment it left her mouth, the kind a small child might ask. The talking was helping to distract her, however, and now more than ever, she was eager to learn about Brigidian culture.
Petra’s answering tone was patient, pleased. “Not all. Most dreams are coming from within. They are coming from desires, fears, worries…” She stroked Dorothea’s hair, knowing exactly where tonight’s dream had come from. “Certes is providing visions, some of the time. Or warnings.”
“Have you ever had one?”
Petra nodded. “When I was a child, during the Dagda and Brigid War. Certes sent me a dream of my father. He was dying on the field of battle. Two days later, we were informed that he had passed beyond. It was not long after that, I received a letter. Certes had visited my father, too, and gave him warning of his own death. And so he was writing to me, maybe it was even the same day he fell.”
“I’m sorry,” Dorothea said, touching Petra’s cheek.
“Do not be,” the huntress shook her head. “I am having gratitude. There is not always time for goodbyes in wars. But the Moon Spirit gave me that.”
“Is it rare, to have visions like that?”
“We all do, at some time. There are people that do more than others. Many are saying the Macneary blood is blessed by the spirits. They are favoring us with visions often.” Petra shifted then, for the first time hesitant. “Sometimes I am having dreams… and I am not sure if it is a vision or a warning. Sometimes I only have understanding after.”
Petra turned away slightly, looking up at the ceiling. “Do you remember when you were finding me after my dream last week?”
Was that really only a week past? To Dorothea, it felt so long ago. “Of course.”
“I think Certes was giving me a warning.”
“What happened? You never told me.”
Petra sighed. “I am not proud of what I saw. You were… you were hurt, very badly. And I was holding the blade. I did not have knowing… did not know it was you. Not until after I…”
The distress was plain in Petra’s voice, and growing. Dorothea gripped her tightly around the middle. “That’s not a vision or a warning. You would never hurt me. I know that.”
“I would never be hurting you with intent.” Petra turned to face her again, gingerly so as not to aggravate her shoulder. Her back had healed considerably in just a few days, but she was still extremely sore. And she would still bear an angry scar for what had happened. “I would never want to be hurting you. But all this fighting… it is making people into things they are not. I think the dream was a warning. I think Certes was warning me that there is more to this life than fighting, even now, when blood is being spilled every day.”
Petra traced Dorothea’s bottom lip with her thumb, her gaze once again determined, even in the dark. “People will be changing, people we are believing we have great understanding of. But I am not wanting to change, not in that way. And I have knowing—you will not let me.”
Dorothea’s reply was just barely a whisper. “No, I won’t.”
“And I will not be letting you either. If we are staying together, we will have safety.”
It sounded dangerously like a promise, Dorothea realized. And perhaps now was not the right time for promises, not when Dorothea had just come so close to losing her. However, Petra’s words soothed her nonetheless.
It was impossible to tell what changes would come for them, who might be lost, or who might be found. But maybe this was a place they could return to: alone together in the dark, with very little space left between them.
Dorothea kissed her. Just then, she needed nothing more.
They were on a short walk around the garrison the next afternoon when they first heard the commotion at the gates. The clopping canter of the horses came first, and then the horn blew. A scramble of bodies followed, the generals hollering indiscernibly to corral them.
“What could that be?” Dorothea tightened her grip on Petra’s arm. They’d stopped to rest against a tree so that Petra could even out her breathing. Suddenly, the princess stood tall, alert. Her hand rested on her hip where a sword should be. “Maybe we should go back—”
In the distance, they heard, “Emperor! The emperor has come!”
“Lady Edelgard?” Petra asked, her shoulders relaxing. Dorothea shrugged, content to wait in the shade and out of the fray. Sure enough, a carriage bearing the Adrestian banner came rolling through the gates only minutes later, a generous detail of soldiers in tow. “Look, it is Ferdinand,” Petra pointed. The von Aegir heir sat astride his horse, Caspar emerging from the bevy of soldiers just a moment later. “Should we be meeting them?”
“Let’s wait a minute,” Dorothea cautioned. She herself was practically bouncing on her heels, but she didn’t want Petra to overexert herself so soon. And so they stood watching as the carriage came to a stop, and Hubert opened the door to reveal a stern and well-decorated Edelgard.The songstress watched as she greeted the Airmid generals with a furrowed brow and spoke to them in low tones.
Whatever conversation they were engaged in was interrupted as Caspar caught sight of his wayward friends. “Petra! Dorothea!” he shouted, bounding towards them. Ferdinand dismounted right behind him, matching the shorter man’s stride.
Before Dorothea could caution him, Caspar ran over to sweep Petra into one of his characteristic bear hugs, lifting her clear off the ground. “Petra! Look at you! The missive we received—we weren’t sure—”
Petra winced, a choked sound escaping, and Dorothea reached for her. “Caspar, she’s injured! You have to be careful.”
“It is all right,” Petra assured them through gritted teeth. She rolled her shoulders as soon as Caspar set her back down, her wound clearly irritated. “I am filled with happiness to be seeing you, Caspar. And you, too, Ferdinand.”
Ferdinand delicately placed a hand on her arm, his smile jovial. “I knew that by the time we arrived you would be back on your feet, Petra. I admit I was expecting to see you swinging your sword already, but perhaps you have not been… allowed to.” He grinned at Dorothea sidelong, eliciting an eye roll.
“Those were the healer’s orders, actually.”
“Do not have worries, Ferdinand. I will be ready to return to my trainings by the end of the week.”
“Oh, really—” Dorothea began, only to be interrupted by Caspar’s whoops.
“Oh, yeah! And all the stronger for it, right? That’s what my old man always says. You and I will have a good brawl to ease ya back into it.”
“Caspar…” Dorothea shook her head in exasperation. She loved her friends, truly, but sometimes they just had so little sense.
“Petra,” Edelgard cut in, striding briskly to meet them. Hubert followed just a step behind. To Dorothea’s surprise, his usually somber mien was broken by a hint of a smile. When the shorter woman met them, her demeanor was caught somewhere between that of incensed emperor and concerned friend. In the end, the latter won out. She stepped forward to pull Petra into a gentle hug, ever-conscious of her injuries. “It is good to see you, my friend.”
“I am glad to be seeing you too, Lady Edelgard.”
Edelgard pulled back, holding Petra’s arms as she fussily assessed her from head to toe. “You’re all right? Truly?”
“I am having some soreness, but I will be fine.” Not quite satisfied with this answer, Edelgard looked to Dorothea for confirmation. The songstress nodded, smiling faintly. Only then did Edelgard let Petra go.
“Well, if you’re up to it, I would like very much to hear your account of what happened,” the emperor requested, looking between the two of them. “I’d like to know where we stand before we… proceed.”
Their collective joviality seemed to fizzle at the murky implication. Dorothea’s gaze to drifted to Hubert, whose previous smile, while small to begin with, had vanished altogether.
“Yes,” Dorothea sighed, “Let’s talk.”
Dorothea had hoped Edelgard would know something more about the attack. What she was hoping for, beyond all else, was for the enemy soldier’s dying words to be true—that this was all some sort of mistake, an unfortunate run-in or botched scouting attempt. Even if that was true, however, it would be difficult to confirm. Edelgard wasn’t likely to seek audience with Claude just to do so.
Hubert was already hard at work corresponding with and dispatching informants. It may take time, but whatever the cause of the ambush truly was, they’d get to the bottom of it soon enough. For now, they could only be grateful that they were here, all together and on the mend.
Petra, though appearing fatigued from the afternoon’s excitement, was also happily joking with an energetic Caspar and Ferdinand. Aloof as they might seem, they were both puffed up with the air of protective brothers, sticking close to Petra’s side and vying for her laughter.
Dorothea was openly giggling at one of their ridiculously exaggerated battle reenactments when Edelgard’s hand fell on her shoulder. “Dorothea,” the emperor asked, “might we speak privately for a few minutes?”
“Of course,” she replied, mirroring the emperor’s subdued tone. They slipped out of the room together, Hubert covertly watching after them.
They were just entering the courtyard when Edelgard began, “How are you? Really?”
They ambled along in casual lockstep, warmed by the late afternoon sunshine and the decidedly spring-like breezes. Dorothea clasped her hands together and stared up at the azure skies, carefully considering her answer. “I’m still processing everything, to be honest. Our time in Leicester, the attack—it was… a lot.” She wasn’t sure how much she should reveal about her and Petra. They hadn’t really put a name to what they were yet. There was much they still needed to discuss, actually. For the time being, they’d merely been content—overjoyed even—to get to know each other in privileged new ways.
Ultimately, Dorothea settled on, “What came after was, too.”
“What came after?” Edelgard’s brow raised in curiosity. Dorothea hated how easily she blushed. She’d never been so obvious about these things before Petra, though she supposed this candor was something she’d have to get used to. “What exactly have the two of you been up to?”
“Convalescing, Edie. You’re so quick to assume that scandalous tone…” Just when Edelgard seemed ready to accept this modest answer, Dorothea sniffed and said, “We’ve also been making out. Quite a bit.”
“What? I knew it!” Edelgard grinned smugly.
“Oh, stop.” Dorothea swatted her arm. “You knew nothing.”
“I knew something happened. You two were gazing at each other more… wistfully than usual.”
“I’ve no clue what you’re talking about.”
Edelgard favored her with one of her famously deadpan glares before softening. She reached out to squeeze Dorothea’s arm and asked, “I suppose you had plenty of time for talking then? While on the road and… after?”
“Well,” Dorothea shifted from foot to foot, “after was less about the talking.” While that was mostly the effect of their infatuation, it was also partially avoidance on Dorothea’s part. There were more honest conversations that needed to happen. She just didn’t know how to broach them.
Edelgard didn’t even roll her eyes this time. “I suppose that was the best case scenario.” Suddenly, the emperor’s mouth turned down in obvious regret. “Dorothea, it needs to be said: if I’d had any idea you’d be ambushed, I would not have sent you two on that mission. I would have sent an entire brigade and a full arsenal instead.” Her eyes flashed with ire, renewed hawkishness.
“I shouldn’t have been shocked by this news, but I was. Claude, Hilda—I have no clue whose machinations these were, but I will absolutely not stand for them.”
“Edie,” Dorothea grasped both of the emperor’s arms, mooring her to the present, to the warm spring day and the company of a dear friend. “I know that. Believe me, this was not at all what I was expecting either. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around it.”
Now that Petra’s recovery was a sure thing, Dorothea had indeed found more time to question the ambush, to replay each line of her conversation with Hilda. She’d never thought the girl outright malicious, and even in the most callous moments of their meeting, she’d had an air of teasing about her. It was a rather extreme air, certainly, but it pointed to a girl playing at political design.
“We left there in a hurry. I was furious. What she said about you, what she said to Petra—I was completely riled. But I just thought… she wanted me to be, you know? I thought maybe she was trying to scare us off, so we wouldn’t bother them.”
“Which is exactly what she did. Or what Claude did, rather. I suppose that remains to be seen.”
“Yes, but…” Dorothea sighed, feeling foolish. “I thought it was all bluster. I never once expected the rest of it.”
Edelgard was silent, watching her Imperial soldiers running drills across the distant training grounds. After a time, she turned to Dorothea. “You were hoping for the best, searching for the best, just as you always do, Dorothea. That has been your job since the beginning. I hope it continues to be. I’ll do a better myself to determine when someone might seek to take advantage of that. I promise you.”
Edelgard’s sentiments were only half assuaging. Dorothea should protect herself from being taken advantage of. It wasn’t Edelgard’s—or anybody else’s—job to do so. She’d spent too much of her life alone, scrabbling to survive on the streets, to fall victim to gullibility now.
She didn’t say any of this to Edelgard, of course, for her friend would only argue, shouldering the blame further. Instead, she looped her arm through the emperor’s and nodded, steering them back towards the infirmary. “You’re a good friend, Edie. I hope you know that.”
Color dusted Edelgard’s cheeks, but Dorothea was kind enough not to comment. After all this time she was still so bad at taking compliments. Recomposing herself, Edelgard smiled gently and said, “As are you, Dorothea. I’m not entirely sure what I’d do without you.”
The songstress could very easily say the same.
At Edelgard’s behest, they would return to Garreg Mach the following day, with Petra riding in the emperor’s personal carriage. A princess she may be, the Brigidian woman was not at all accustomed to such lavish transit, and had stubbornly protested the idea. However, with both Dorothea and Edelgard’s stern glares bearing down on her, she’d had no choice but to accept.
Dorothea had allowed her one final concession though. Eager to finally escape the infirmary, Petra requested to spend their last night in Airmid camped outside with the rest of the Strike Force members. And since the night was unexpectedly balmy and clear, she’d further insisted they allow her to sleep under the stars as opposed to cooped up in some tiny tent.
The healers had seen no harm in it, and so that is where Dorothea and Petra now lay. The songstress had still enlisted Caspar to set up her tent, if for no other reason than pretense, but she knew where she’d end up by the night’s end. Sure enough, no sooner had the others retired to their tents had Dorothea abandoned her own.
“If we will keep doing this…” Petra muttered between their first breathless kisses beside the fire, “I am thinking the others will be finding out soon.”
“That’s fine,” Dorothea smiled, tracing her lips along the huntress’ jaw. Nevermind they hadn’t quite determined what this was. Or at least, she would’ve been content to delay that conversation a bit longer if Petra hadn’t beaten her to it.
“Dorothea, I have had wondering.”
The songstress drew back at her anxious tone, attempting to read the line in her brow and the flicker in her eyes by firelight. “What is it?”
Petra turned away, lips pursed in thought. She watched the fire pop and snap as a log collapsed. Finally, she began, “I am wanting you to know first that… on the night of the Garreg Mach Ball, it was not an accident that I kissed you. I was feeling then the same as I am feeling now.”
“Oh,” Dorothea flushed, both warmed and slightly ashamed. She’d spent a great deal of time convincing herself that kiss had been a mistake. “I thought that… I don’t know what I was thinking, actually.”
“Well, I am thinking that something has changed for you. In your feelings. Or at least… I am hoping that they have changed.”
It’s different now, seemed the right reassurance. Everything is different. But if she was being honest, her feelings hadn’t changed at all. She had cared about Petra then. She had loved her then.
That was the truth, wasn’t it? All those times she had said, “Petra is different. This is different.”—what she’d really meant was that she’d loved her. All those flutters in her chest, all those warm sensations. All those joys and fears and utterly too-big emotions.
It was love.
"Nothing changed,” Dorothea replied, cupping her cheek. “I mean… I think I love you. And I think I have since before that night. I just… I was afraid.”
“You… you are thinking you love me?” Petra asked, almost incredulous.
Dorothea’s stomach twisted with nerves, and she had to look away. “I don’t think. I know that I do.” The seconds of silence that followed were almost too much for the songstress to bear. She looked back down to find Petra staring at her in surprise.
“I am filled with relief.”
Petra chuckled. “Dorothea, I have been loving you for a long time. It is giving me much happiness to know I have not been alone.”
“I was trying to make my feelings clear to you. But I am not having the most experience in this. Courting is not the same in Brigid. I was not knowing how to show you properly.” Petra grasped Dorothea’s hand, her brow furrowing. “Were you truly having fear? When I kissed you at the ball?”
“I was,” she nodded slowly. “I was afraid you didn’t quite care for me the way I cared for you. And at the same time, I was afraid that you did.”
“I am having confusion,” Petra tentatively said.
Dorothea sighed, holding tightly to Petra’s hand in return. It was now or never, she supposed. “Petra, we probably would’ve been doing this a long time ago if not for the fact that you are Brigid’s future queen and I am just some commoner from Fódlan.”
Petra’s eyes widened in surprise, and she rushed to contest this notion. “I have never been caring about that—”
“I know,” Dorothea softly assured her. Then, with a dry chuckle, “I was pretty charmed by that from day one, in case you didn’t know. But… It’s not your opinion I’m worried about.”
“Our classmates?” Petra wondered aloud. When Dorothea shook her head, the answer seemed to click. “You are thinking far ahead, aren’t you?”
“I always am.”
“I am, too.”
Dorothea met Petra’s eyes. Their usual brown shown a keen umber in the light of the dying fire. There was no fear in them, a fact that only seemed to tighten the tenterhooks in the songstress’ chest. “Then you must have considered that I have no house, no connections. There’s very little I can offer a queen—not even an heir—at least not without the aid of magic.”
As the silence stretched on in the wake of her confession, so too did Dorothea’s embarrassment. She was getting ahead of herself, suggesting the limitations of marriage when they’d not even put a name on their fledgling relationship.
“Wow,” she nervously chuckled, “I’m really jumping ahead. I shouldn’t—”
When she started to pull away, Petra stopped her, held her closer. With some difficulty, the huntress pushed herself into a sitting position so that she could capture both of Dorothea’s hands in her own. “I want to be explaining something to you, and I hope that you will take it to your heart.”
“Okay,” Dorothea quietly agreed, subdued by the intensity of Petra’s tone.
“I have tried to be explaining in the past—Brigid is not like Fódlan. We honor the blessings of spirits and the bloodlines that are touched by them. That is why the Macnearys have been ruling for so many generations. But when it comes to marrying, we do have choice.
“In Brigid, you know we are believing mortal spirits are returning, time and time again after they are passed. They come back. And when two spirits are strongly bonded, they come back to each other. Sometimes they are coming back as man and woman, or as woman and woman, man and man. There is no one union in Brigid that is truer than the other. I think Fódlan is still disagreeing with that, but we are not Fódlan.
“When I am queen, no one will be choosing my partner. My spirit will choose for me, and my people will have acceptance.”
Dorothea’s throat was too tight to form any sort of meaningful response. She just kept holding onto Petra’s hands, her eyes swimming. When the first tear fell, Petra wiped it away dutifully.
“As for heirs… there is old magic in Brigid. My bloodline has seen benefit from it in the past.”
“Well,” Dorothea started, voice quavering. She felt foolish for many reasons. She could have asked about this months ago, years ago. She shouldn’t have run. She should have bitten back her tears. “I feel kind of stupid now.”
“You are not stupid,” Petra admantly told her. “Why would you be saying that?”
“I feel like this is a conversation we could have had a long time ago,” Dorothea chuckled weakly, wiping away her tears.
“Maybe,” Petra agreed. “But spirits must be finding their way back to each other in their own time. We were not needing to rush.”
Unable to stop herself, Dorothea laughed. The joy rose in her, effervescent and quick. She crushed her lips against Petra’s, unabashed.
“I’m sorry,” Dorothea said, pulling back. She was still smiling, however. “Maybe it’s too soon to even have this discussion but, I just—I love you. I hate the idea of anyone telling me I can’t.”
“No one will be telling you that,” Petra assured her. “And if someone tries, they will be fighting me.”
The princess looked so tenaciously certain in that moment, Dorothea had to giggle. “This is terrible, but I kind of like the idea of you fighting someone over me.”
Petra’s smile turned sheepish. “I already was, if you are remembering.”
“Yes,” Dorothea snaked her hand under the furs to rest on Petra’s side. She squeezed, thrilling at the nervous little jump it elicited. Lowering her voice, she went on, “I liked it then, too. I just didn’t want to admit it.”
Petra was flushed to the tips of her ears, gazing shamelessly at Dorothea’s lips, “I am… having gladness,” she stammered.
“Perhaps you should show me,” Dorothea brazenly continued, delighted by the huntress’ flustered expression. How many different ways could she evoke a flush like that, Dorothea wondered?
That night in Airmid, with the fire burnt to ocher coals and the stars glimmering overhead for them, she decided she would make it her mission to find out. Even if it took a year, or ten years.
Even if it took far, far longer than that.
Psst... they're in love :)
It feels good to finally get these two to talk. Next chap, even more talking and a bit of much-deserved fluff to wrap it all up.
Also, apologies for the delay on comment replies. Will get back to you all after this!