"Once upon a time, in a land far far away, on a dark and stormy night—"
"Uncle Ashe, is this one of your weird knight stories?"
"Uh, no, no. It's far more important than that, but I can't tell you why because that'll spoil the surprise. So sit tight and let your uncle finish, okay? Now, where was I? Oh, right!
"On a dark and stormy night, a boy with raven hair was born. He screamed and screamed all through the night. In fact, he continued to cry even as his mother fed him and his father invited his allies and fellow lords to visit. The babe cried for so long, the healers feared something was wrong. But then the Lord Gautier and his young child visited and the noble Lord Fraldarius's child ceased his tears. The midwives said that it was a sign. The two lords agreed. Their sons, they decided, would train together and become brothers-in-arms.
"The two boys were named Felix and Sylvain and they were the best of friends…"
Felix dismounted immediately upon gaining approval from his father. He dashed up the path to the main keep, his horse abandoned to some poor stable boy. Felix dodged around a maid with clean linens, twisted between two guards on patrol, and under a cook hauling the night's roast to the kitchens.
He burst into the training hall, where the sound of wood on wood and steel on steel was music to his ears. His eyes scanned the main chamber for the familiar flop of red hair.
"Sylvain!" Felix shouted.
"What? Is that—" Sylvain disengaged from his tutor, looking over at the doorway. He grinned ear to ear, the joy on the teen's face only matched by that on his friend's. "Felix!"
The two boys ran at each other, the hug turning into a wrestling match as Felix pushed Sylvain to the ground. The two tumbled on the stone floor, much to the amusement of the knights who were watching. It took a moment, but Sylvain had hit his growth spurt already and soon he was the one pinning Felix to the ground. Sylvain straddled Felix easily, ruffling his hair — the black locks had fallen out of their leather tie, which was now somewhere on the floor.
"I win!" He declared. Felix squirmed beneath him, pushing at Sylvain's knees.
"Off. You're too fat, you're squishing me," Felix complained. Sylvain stood up before reaching down and offering Felix a hand up.
"I didn't think you'd get here so soon! My father said you'd be here tomorrow," Sylvain said. He dragged Felix over to his arms instructor. "I wanna show you what I've been learning."
"Oh, so you do want to train?" The instructor teased.
"Please, please, please!" Sylvain bounced up and down. "Felix, I've been learning how to use a lance. It's so much fun and I'm really good at it."
Felix wrinkled his nose. "Why would you want to use a lance? All the best knights use a sword. Glenn uses a sword!" And, of course, Glenn was the Ideal Knight and Felix knew that Glenn could do nothing wrong.
"But you can do a lot more with a lance! Like—" Sylvain picked up his training lance and poked Felix with it. "I'm all the way over here and you can't do anything."
Felix drew his practice sword, which he insisted on carrying with him, since he would one day have to carry around a real sword. He launched himself at Sylvain, who parried the wild blow with ease. Sylvain laughed, going to smack Felix on the side. Felix dodged to the side, knocking the lance away.
The two of them ventured across the chamber, narrowly avoiding the fully grown knights training near them. Sylvain made use of his longer limbs and weapon, but Felix was stubborn and fast. They crashed through the room, neither able to get an edge over the other, until —
The Lords Fraldarius and Gautier stood in the entry to the hall. The knights all took a knee out of respect. Sylvain's eyes went wide and he went to kneel as well, but Felix's sword was already moving through the air. Felix knocked Sylvain's lance out of his hands. It went spinning through the air, almost hitting a knight in the head.
Felix blushed, dropping into a bow.
"Father! Lord Gautier!"
"See, I told you that they would be fighting. They're going to be good knights in the future," Lord Fraldarius said. Lord Gautier grunted. "Come here, Felix. You're filthy. We need to clean so that we can be presentable during dinner tonight."
Felix scampered over to his father without question. Sylvain stood and, slower, walked to his father. Lord Gautier glowered at his son.
"Why are you so glum, Sylvain? You aren't looking forward to dinner?" He asked. "It's for your knighthood, after all!"
Several things happened at once. First, Sylvain turned to Felix. Second, Felix dropped his sword. Third, Felix burst into tears.
Fourth, Lord Fraldarius realized that no one had informed his son of the purpose of this visit.
"Felix, please listen—"
"No! You — I can't — you lied to me!" Felix was crying, but he wasn't crying to the point of not being able to talk. His cheeks were red and his eyes were red and he had fat tears rolling down his face, but he could talk. That was as good a benchmark as any.
Sylvain knew that semi-desperate times called for semi-desperate measures, so he walked over to his friend and hugged him. Felix struggled for half a second before he just clung to his friend and sobbed. Sylvain rubbed circles on Felix's back.
"It's okay, I'm not going to go away forever. I'm just gonna get trained so I can protect people like Glenn does. And you'll be joining me in a few years. Heck, you're so good I bet you can get your dad to let you go early to knight school." Sylvain bit his bottom lip. "But I'm still gonna be your best friend, even if I'm gone."
Felix wailed louder. It was a testament to his reputation that none of the servants questioned why the youngest Fraldarius was crying in Sylvain's bed chamber. It wasn't a proper visit from the Fraldarius family if Felix wasn't crying at least once. Well, that and the fact that the two boys were thick as thieves.
"Hey, hey, hey. Let's make a promise, okay?" Sylvain suggested. He pulled a little away from Felix, just enough that the two could look one another in the eyes. "Like an oath."
"A knight oath?" Felix's voice was rough from tears. Sylvain brushed his cheeks off, a small smile on his face.
"Kind of, but just between us. So it's even more special." Sylvain looked around the room. He saw one of his scarves and reached over to grab it. Felix was calming down, rubbing at his eyes with one hand. The other was still tightly grasping Sylvain's hand. "This'll be what we swear on, okay?"
"O… Okay?" Felix still didn't seem to know what was going on, which was fitting since Sylvain didn't know what he was doing either.
Sylvain wrapped their hands together with the red scarf. "Repeat after me," he said. "I swear on my honor and name that I, Sylvain Jose Gautier—"
"I — I swear on my — my honor and name that I—" Felix wrinkled his nose. "Do I say my name or your name?"
"My name, Felix Hugo Fraldarius…" Felix stared at him. Sylvain blinked. Was it his turn? Whoops.
"That I will always fight by your side, and never ever die unless it is at the same time as you." The ending was a bit weak, but Sylvain didn't pay much attention during the big ceremonies. That was something Felix was more into.
"That I will always fight by your side, and never ever die unless it is at the same time as you," Felix repeated earnestly. He smiled, the last traces of tears gone. "I'm really excited that you're going to be a knight, and I can't wait to be able to go to knight school too." He hugged the scarf towards himself. "I'm gonna hold on to this, because if you have it then I know you're gonna lose it."
"It's just a scarf," Sylvain pointed out.
"But we swore an oath over it, so now it's special!" Felix tied it around his waist as a sash. "And when I see you there, I'll be able to remind you every day about our oath."
“Yeah, exactly.” Sylvain grinned. “Now, come on. I bet we can get the cooks to slip us a few treats before dinner. Race you to the kitchens!” He took off, Felix shouting and following close behind. For the moment, the earlier drama was forgotten.
Three days later, Sylvain went to begin his training as a knight at the historic Garreg Mach Monastery.
Five days later, Glenn died.
Felix ran away from home. He never did become a knight.
"Fuck this stupid — a treasury full of gold! All the women you could want! A lot of really, really good alcohol! You just had to be a sucker for a pretty letter and some promises, didn't you?" Sylvain groaned. He shook his head before summoning up the last dredges of his energy. He managed to haul himself up over the ledge, his armor making a horrible noise as he lay there gasping for air.
The next time a deal too good to be true comes up, you turn that shit down, Sylvain thought. Save the heir to the throne! Return him to the kingdom! All the riches of the world, yours forever!
"Goddess, I hate being a knight." Sylvain forced himself to his feet. He looked at the balcony door. It led into the chamber where the prince of Faerghus had been held captive for over a decade. Rather than doing what every other failure tried, Sylvain had snuck around the Demonic Beast that acted as guard and climbed the tower.
From the outside.
Without a rope.
Sometimes, Sylvain agreed that he should have taken flight instead of riding in school.
He could just barrel down the stained glass door — the room inside seemed quiet, so perhaps the prince was asleep. But that also would be rude and also stupid. Sylvain had been attacked one too many times by frying pans to surprise a damsel in distress.
Gentleman in distress? Whatever.
Sylvain knocked on the door. When he didn't get a response, he knocked again.
"Hello, your highness? This is Knight Sylvain of Gautier. I have been enlisted by your father, King Lambert, to rescue you. Hello?" Sylvain counted to ten. Then he broke in.
There was no one in the room. No one sleeping in the bed, hiding in the wardrobe, or cowering under the desk. The real front door was opened and, much to Sylvain's surprise, there was a trail of blood leading up and down the spiral staircase. This sort of a thing had only happened once before, but Sylvain immediately recognized the situation.
"Fuck!" He kicked the table. "Stupid royalty, selling the contract to multiple pepole—"
He headed down the stairs, armor clanking with every step. His lance was strapped to his back, but it was too awkward as he descended so he took it in one hand if only to avoid it from dragging across the ground.
He was maybe halfway down when he heard the Demonic Beast roar and — was that a wild boar?
Knowing that if the prince died he was super fucked, Sylvain hightailed it down the rest of the stairs. He turned down a corridor, jumped over a pit trap and stepped around a spike trap. He could hear shouting and the noise of roaring, stone crumbling. He didn't actually see the fight until he got to the main hall, the very place that he had avoided his first time up.
It appeared that his competition had the same idea, but wasn't able to get back out stealthily. The prince was nowhere to be seen and Sylvain decided that he must be hiding and wasn't eaten or something. What was very easy to see was the Demonic Beast, all claws and teeth, trying to crush, slice, or smash the attacking swordmaster.
Sylvain didn't think. He yelled what he hoped was an intimidating battle cry and charged forward.
He stabbed the Demonic Beast in the side. It howled in pain, reeling onto its back legs. Sylvain drew his lance back. The blood that spurted out was black and smelled awful. Sylvain gagged as he stepped back. This close, it was much larger than he originally thought.
The Beast slashed at him. Sylvain raised his lance up and got thrown off his feet. His armor crumpled against the stone wall that he hit. Breath leaving his lungs and head spinning, he swore he was hallucinating as he watched the swordmaster run up the back of the Beast. Sylvain's view was blocked when a huge, hulking cloaked figure stepped in front of him.
He yelped when the man extended a hand towards him. At least, it was hand-shaped. The hand itself was the size of a frying pan.
"Up." The voice was deep but human, despite belonging to someone close to seven feet tall. Sylvain made a quick guess —
"Your Highness?" He asked as he accepted his aid. His Highness — Dimitri, if Sylvain recalled correctly — nodded. "Stay behind me, your Highness!" Sylvain spun his lance before going to help the mysterious man in the rest of the fight.
Between the two of them, the Demonic Beast was surprisingly easy to defeat. Sylvain's armor would need some fixing and the stranger was limping, but they were both alive, so Sylvain called that a success. He had his signature lady-killer grin as he gave the swordmaster a two-fingered salute.
"Nice blade. You know your stuff." Sylvain eyed the stranger critically, trying to tell what house he was from.
"Hmph." The stranger wasn't a knight, Sylvain realized. He wore simple leather armor, used a plain steel blade without even a crest in the hilt, and his face was covered with a tattered red cloth. He had long black hair that was kept back in a tight bun, but a few strands were falling loose.
Despite himself, Sylvain wanted to fix them. He resisted the urge. Strange mercenaries wielding swords tended to not be friendly or open to cooperation. Which brought Sylvain to his current predicament…
"So, I'm guessing you want the reward?" He asked the stranger.
Instead of answering, the swordmaster pointed his blade at Sylvain. His eyes — the only part of his face that visible — narrowed. Sylvain raised his hands, lance loose in his left.
"I think we can settle this amicably…" Sylvain swore when the sword flashed in the air — he barely could react, dodging underneath a strike that could have taken his head off. "I guess not!"
He rolled aside, trying to take his foe's feet out from underneath him. The swordmaster jumped out of the way. He fell into a defensive crouch. Sylvain had a brief moment of hesitation, but the stranger had made his decision. Lashing out, Sylvain started with a basic thrust and was unsurprised when his lance was batted aside. Sylvain pulled back, falling into his own stance with his lance at the ready.
Sylvain saw Dimitri hiding behind a pillar. Good, better than getting caught between us, Sylvain thought, although His Highness didn't look like some small, innocent princeling.
He didn't have time to think of anything else since he was suddenly on the defensive. The swordmaster was fast and brutal, each blow meant to break Sylvain's defenses and his kneecaps, ribcage, spine, or other body parts. He was tired from his climb, which was his excuse for why he was struggling so much. He parried away blow after blow, giving ground where he could and artfully tumbling or leaping away when he found his back to a pillar.
His lance rang out against his foe's sword, breaths coming hard and fast from both of them. Sylvain grunted as he deflected the sword and caught the brunt of the blow in his shoulder. Without warning, the blade was pressed against his throat and his lance was clattering uselessly on the ground.
Sylvain's vision swam as he gasped for air. "Go ahead," he spat. "I'm defenseless. Do your worst."
For a moment, he thought the swordmaster was going to leave him there. Then the man swung at him with a fist, a sharp pain bursting up all along the side of Sylvain's face. He heard something crack. His nose was bleeding.
"Fuck." Sylvain doubled over and stumbled back in one movement. He almost tripped over his own lance. "What was that for? Just kill a guy, jeez."
"You're an idiot," the stranger replied.
Sylvain's eyes went wide. It had been years and his voice was deeper, but —
"Felix?" He watched with wide eyes as Felix unwrapped his face. He was — he was handsome. He had sharp features hardened by a rough life, and there was a scar crossing from his left cheek to his throat that Sylvain wanted to trace with his tongue. Which was completely at odds with the last time Sylvain had seen his best friend —
"Your technique is sloppy." Felix offered him a hand up. Sylvain took it. Even through Felix's gloves and Sylvain's gauntlets, he felt warm. "How the fuck did you get here?"
"I should be asking you that! You — I didn't even know if you were still alive," Sylvain said. Felix winced but turned away before Sylvain could look closer. "Where have you been? Are you — you're a mercenary, then? Does your father know what you're doing?"
"Your Highness!" Felix called out, ignoring Sylvain. "Come on. We need to get you back to Fhirdiad."
His Highness Dimitri was still lurking behind one of the columns in the large hall. Once, this was probably a sweet fort. Now, there was just a lot of dust, dirt, and dead bodies. Felix didn't look like he was going to be patient though. He just walked over to Dimitri, sword sheathed and his face covering now a scarf around his neck.
"Felix, wait—" Sylvain hurried after him, ignoring the unpleasant feeling of blood running down his nose. "Come on, talk to me. You went missing. We all thought you had been kidnapped or killed—"
Felix spun on his heel, glaring at Sylvain with the intensity of the sun. "I ran away. Is that what you want to hear? I ran. My brother died and all my father said was that he died like a good knight. I realized that all of it — knighthood and nobility and these stupid quests to rescue princes and princesses — is just a farce. Nobody really cares. Nobody is really in love. Everyone is just doing what they should, playing nice with one another, until they die and it's another noble sacrifice.
"And Glenn will be immortalized in stories and songs like everyone else who has died, only to be forgotten during the next big tragedy. And I wanted nothing to do with it. So I left. I'm sure my father spared no expense to find me before putting a quest on my head as another lost child asleep in some tower far, far away."
The silence could be cut with a knife. Sylvain barely breathed. Felix sniffed and Sylvain realized, his stomach dropping, that he was about to cry.
"No. Go away. This is my bounty. You can go and rescue someone else." Felix walked away, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Your Highness! Come on, we're getting you out of here."
Dimitri stepped out into the light. Sylvain felt his stomach twist. Even Felix faltered.
Sylvain's horse was not happy. She kept trying to walk away from Dimitri but also wanted to smell Felix's hair. Since Dimitri was between her and Felix, and Sylvain was doing his best to keep her controlled, she was naturally doing her best to misbehave.
Dimitri was not happy. Even under the ugly blue-grey mash of wolf pelts that he called a cloak, his twisted visage was still visible. Sylvain considered himself open to all sorts of beauty, but Dimitri…
He had a boar's head and no, that was not a metaphor.
The rest of his body seemed larger than a normal man and, from what Sylvain could tell, he was also covered in thick fur. In short, they could hardly bring him back to the capital — he’d probably get shunted back to a tower and Felix and Sylvain hung for embarrassing the royal family. But of course Dimitri hadn't the faintest idea how to break the curse, because that would be too easy.
"Are you sure that we're going the right way?" Sylvain asked as a thick fog rolled in. The trio was travelling in a dark forest, because there was no way a group of witches would live in a nice, well-lit meadow or anything.
"Do you know the way to the coven? Do you want to take over?" Felix challenged. It was the most that he had said in the last few days, which Sylvain decided was a success. Sylvain didn't reply, which caused the sneer on Felix's face to drop a bit. "Yeah, I didn't think so."
A raven cawed in the distance. Sylvain's horse neighed nervously. Dimitri grunted.
"This is stupid. You should let me live and die in peace. Rescuing me was a mistake," he muttered.
"Oh shut up, boar," Felix snapped. A stick snapped. Both Felix and Sylvain drew their weapons. "Who's there?"
Sylvain spun his lance in the air and activated its magic. The red cast an eerie grow, cutting through the fog that was rapidly growing. Still, he could not see anyone in the shadows. He squinted, as if that would help at all.
"We have company," Dimitri growled. He was looking straight ahead.
Sylvain let out a very manly yelp as two figures emerged from the shadows. They both had tall, pointy hats and long capes.
"Witches," Felix said. "Show yourselves without the games and dance, unless you're too cowardly."
One of the witches turned to the other. "I told you that the fog was too dramatic, Mercie."
"But you wanted to look cooler," the other witch replied. "Okay, okay." She clapped her hands together and the fog disappeared.
Sylvain blinked, actually pulling his horse back. Felix had his sword ready, but the two women didn't look all that intimidating. One was blonde and had a tan knit shawl. The other had short red hair and a fluffy white fur half-cape. They both could have been sixteen or sixty — they had an ethereal sort of aura that made the hairs on the back of Sylvain's neck stand up.
"Hello! I'm Annette and this is Mercedes. Who are you?" The redhead asked. She skipped over, entirely unintimidated by Felix's sword. "Let's see… we have a knight, a mercenary, and a prince… Let me guess — you want to elope."
"What? No—" Felix sounded so offended that Sylvain was almost insulted. "The boar prince needs to break his curse. How do we do it?"
Mercedes sighed. "You don't just ask like that. Really, who taught you manners?"
"He ran off when we were kids and I'm starting to think he got raised by wolves or something," Sylvain offered helpfully. Felix glared at him. Dimitri sighed.
"I was cursed as a child to have a horrific appearance. I need to return to my home and take my place as the heir, but I cannot do it like this." He shook his head. It was a bit disturbing to see him speak. His mouth had two tusks extending out and his snout was — well, it wasn't human. Boar’s head. Literally. At least when he spoke it sounded like a normal man, albeit deeper than most. "I am horrific."
"I don't know, I think your tusks are kind of cute," Annette said. "But it would be hard to be king with them."
"We can't break your curse," Mercedes apologized' "But I do know who might be able to."
"Great, I knew this was a waste of time," Sylvain muttered.
"An experience is never a waste, even if it ends differently than you would have hoped," Mercedes counseled. "You need guidance and we can give that to you."
"Yeah! You're not the first one to come to us for help." Annette clapped her hands together. "Oh, this is so exciting though. I see a dashing rescue, a promise never forgotten—"
"Get to the point," Felix snapped.
Annette stuck her tongue out at him. Sylvain laughed. Felix glared at him. Sylvain had no regrets.
"If you want to break the curse, you must find someone who can see the real man underneath your monstrous visage." Annette crossed her arms, as if that was obvious. "Only when someone sees the real you and loves you for that, then the curse will be broken."
"Oh for fuck's sake—" Felix slapped his palm against his forehead. "You're telling me that we have to get someone to fall in love with this?" He thrust a hand towards Dimitri.
If Sylvain was spoken about like that, no matter how horrific his appearance was, he'd probably get really angry. Dimitri just sighed and looked mildly annoyed.
"Look, I didn't curse him! And don't talk about your friend like that. He's still a good man, I'm sure!" Annette said.
"Yes, even if he has tusks and fur, that doesn't mean that he has a hard heart," Mercedes agreed. "It fact, I can tell that you have a very warm soul, Dimitri."
A breeze began to come through the forest. Sylvain's horse whinnied, pawing at the ground. Sylvain pat her neck, trying to calm her.
"How do you know my name?" Dimitri asked.
"We know some things more than others," Mercedes said with a smile. "Go and see the siren. She can look into your heart. She can help you find who you need."
The wind picked up, blowing faster and faster. Sylvain held a hand up to protect his eyes. Felix looked like he wanted to stab the wind, but he knew that wouldn't actually do anything. He hugged the red cloth up over his mouth. Dimitri closed his eyes.
"Good luck, adventurers!" Mercedes said.
"Invite us to the wedding!" Annette added.
The wind rose up, forcing Sylvain to close his eyes, and when it died down the witches were gone. Felix swore loudly. Dimitri sighed. This was going to be harder than Sylvain thought.
"So, when did you get put into the fortress of solitude?" Sylvain asked one night. The walk — or, for him, the ride — to the siren was a boring one. It was at least safe — they hadn't seen another breathing person the entire time. Thankfully they were only another day out. Felix was probably going to get his face locked in a permanent scowl if he kept it up.
That would be a shame. He's actually pretty handsome, all grown up. Sylvain wasn't blind. Felix had grown into a handsome man. He was the kind of guy that Sylvain would flirt with and, if the stars aligned, show him a whole new world beneath the sheets.
But Sylvain also wasn't an idiot and Felix had barely spoken more than two sentences to him. Sylvain didn't know what else he could do — he had tried bringing up all the conversations that they used to have when they were kids to no avail, and he had given Felix space, thinking that he might be more open on his own terms. He wasn't, so Sylvain did the only other thing he could think of — talk to Dimitri.
That was also a bit like talking to a brick wall, but at least Dimitri didn't seem like he wanted to kill Sylvain for opening his mouth. "I was a child. I got kidnapped. I don't remember much else."
Ouch. And Sylvain thought his family sucked.
"Well, your family's been looking for you this whole time. There's been hundreds of knights looking for you."
"So many lives lost for something pointless," Dimitri murmured. "A prince who cannot be seen in public. A joke."
Sylvain winced. He saw Felix roll his eyes before going back to sharpening his sword. Sylvain had to resist the urge to yell at him. If he was going to be so huffy, then he could pick something else to talk about.
"So, uh, what did you do in the boar cave? Like. For the last decade and a half." Sylvain thought that's how the math worked out.
"I had books." Dimitri looked down at his — his feet? Paws? He didn’t wear shoes because, frankly, Sylvain didn’t think anything would fit him. "Some training. I started learning how to use a lance before I — well, before I was made this way."
"How good are you with weapons?" Felix asked. Sylvain almost rolled his eyes. Of course Felix was interested in the talk about fighting and weapons training. Nice to see that some things haven't changed.
Dimitri waved a hand. "Not good." He still had thumbs, but his hands resembled a bear's paws more than anything else. Not exactly good for finesse. "I didn't need them anyways. I do not get many visitors."
Felix grunted. Sylvain waited for him to say anything else. When he didn't, Sylvain cleared his throat. "So what do you think the siren is going to be like?"
"Pointless." Felix stood. He sheathed his sword. "I'm going to bed. Wake me for my watch, Sylvain—"
"Yeah?" Sylvain let a bit of his frustration out. Felix paused. The two of them locked eyes. "Why are you even here, Felix?"
"Because I did all the hard work, and fuck if I'm not getting paid."
"You got us attacked by a Demonic Beast!"
"That was the boar. I was doing fine," Felix argued.
"I am going to bed." Dimitri stood and walked away. Neither Sylvain nor Felix so much as blinked.
The fire crackled. The smoke hung heavy over the camp. Sylvain could see every detail of Felix's eyes.
"Why won't you talk to me?" He asked. "We're friends—"
"We aren't friends. Not anymore."
"Because you ran anyway! I lost my best friend—"
"I lost you first. You went to go be a knight and didn't even tell me until I couldn't do anything about it." Felix spat on the ground. "And now you're just like all the others. Stupid, idealistic—"
"I know you're wearing the sash. I remember our promise."
Felix's hand flew up to the scarf. His eyes narrowed, almost as if he didn't realize he was rubbing the faded fabric between two fingers. Sylvain wasn’t sure what he wanted. He wanted to scream, to shout, to grab Felix and ask if he knew that Sylvain had cried over him. That Sylvain thought he had died.
Instead, Sylvain asked, “Did you ever even think about me?”
Of all the reactions, Sylvain wasn’t expecting a flinch. Felix looked at the ground, no longer glaring. A few strands of hair fell in his face. In the firelight, he looked small. Tired. The shadows aged his face. Felix, Sylvain thought, did not look like his father at all except for the eyes. They both had very tired eyes.
“Of course I thought about you, idiot. I… it was supposed to be easier this way. You were supposed to forget about me.”
“But why? I still don’t get why you left. If you hated the idea of being a knight that much, then you could have convinced your dad—”
“He said that he wished I was dead instead of Glenn.” Felix tugged the scarf over his mouth. “I’ll take first watch. Get some sleep.” He walked off and Sylvain was too dumbstruck to even know what to say.
The beach smelled wonderful. Sylvain had always been a fan of the ocean, mostly because he didn’t go there anytime other than brief family trips. His older brother had also hated the water, so it promised some freedom from his tormentor at least for a time. It didn’t seem like Dimitri or Felix were nearly as excited as the trio went up and down the Enchanting Coast. Somewhere, a siren sang. Those who heard her were blessed to see what their heart desired most out of everything.
Some called it a curse. Sylvain thought it was intriguing.
And, of course, if one couldn’t pull themselves away from the vision, then they would drown themselves trying to swim to the siren to get it. That was the part that Sylvain was worried about.
“We have been searching for three days,” Dimitri cursed. “Are you sure this is the right area?”
“Yes! Do you think that there’s just any old coastline called the Enchanting Coast? You think they called it that just for fun?” Felix asked. “Do you know where the siren is? Do you want to take lead?”
“Yeah.” Dimitri pushed past Felix even though there was plenty of space to walk around. His fur pelt — both the ugly thing he called a cloak and the actual fur on his body — had to be uncomfortable. Sylvain was sweating profusely. The last time he had been to the beach, he had been in much less armor. “Come on,” Dimitri ordered.
Both Sylvain and Felix shared a look. Sylvain shrugged. Sometimes being stuck in a tower your entire life made you really bad at asking nicely. It wasn’t like the Demonic Beast that guarded Dimitri had discussed saying please and thank you.
They were walking for another ten or so minutes when Dimitri stopped. Felix almost ran into him. “What, need to go dig up some truffles? Come on,” Felix complained.
“Can’t you hear that?” Dimitri asked.
“No, I can’t hear anything. Come on—”
“Felix, shut up.” Sylvain made a note to maybe apologize later. “I can hear it too.” Sylvain strained his ears but yes, there it was. Singing.
There weren’t words, not in a language that Sylvain understood. But there was a melody, soft and calm and so alluring. Sylvain turned away from the others, facing the ocean in an attempt to hear it better. He wasn’t able to see where it was coming from but that didn’t matter. His feet were moving anyways, sliding through sand. Where were the others? It didn’t matter.
He saw a few figures appear on the beach, people that he would swear weren’t there earlier. The two of them looked like children. One had red hair and the other black like raven’s feathers. They were chasing one another. They both had toy swords that made a weird clack when they connected. The noise echoed in Sylvain’s head.
Sylvain felt almost like he was wading in honey. His movements were sluggish and uncoordinated and his head hurt. It felt like the one time he had passed out from drinking and then, in his eternal wisdom, decided to drink more when he woke up. So unpleasant to say the least.
“There you are,” Felix said. Sylvain turned his head to the side. Felix had changed. He no longer had his leather armor on. Instead he wore simple trousers, a dark blue tunic, and a leather cloak. The cloak, Sylvain noticed, had the crest of House Gautier on the interior.
Sylvain tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn’t open. His chest felt tight, like he had run a marathon. If Felix thought that was weird, he didn’t say anything. He jerked his head towards the kids.
“I was looking for you. The kids want to go swimming but we both should keep an eye on them.” Felix frowned. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“I — I’m confused.” Sylvain felt so safe, so happy, but he didn’t — he didn’t know why. And he didn’t know why he got a sense of belonging when he looked at Felix. “What — What’s going on?”
“Idiot.” But Felix sounded fond. Happy. He was — he was smiling. “Come on, the kids are probably getting impatient. He walked over to Sylvain, pressing his lips against Sylvain’s cheek as the water flooded Sylvain’s lungs.
His eyes flew open as he thrashed around, but his armor was so heavy — he couldn’t make any progress. How long had he been underwater? Which way was up? His lungs burned. He tried to maintain control of himself, but the waves were strong and kept pushing him around.
Where’s Felix? He couldn’t see him anywhere. Sylvain summoned up one last burst of energy, intent on finding his friend, when something grabbed him and yanked him up.
Sylvain broke the surface and gasped for air. Felix managed to look annoyed and distressed at the same time. He held onto Sylvain out of sheer force of will. Lungs burning a little less, Sylvain managed to get back to the beach. The singing was still audible, but the magic had worn off.
“Fuck…. you…” Felix muttered. Sylvain flipped him off. He was laying on the sand, just focusing on getting air into his lungs, when —
“Where’s the prince?” He asked, sitting up. Felix gestured to the ocean. Sylvain half expected to see the dead body of the prince of Faerghus floating away. Instead, he was standing amidst a collection of rocks and speaking to a brunette with red scale mail. Wait, no — “That’s the siren.”
“He’s just — just talking to her? What if she kills him?” Sylvain started to get up, but stopped when Felix just laughed.
“Goddamn bastard is seven feet tall and has literal tusks. I think he’s good.” Felix pulled his sword out and methodically started to oil it. Sylvain looked around the beach, which didn’t seem quite as nice as it had just a few minutes ago. His horse was pawing at the sand a few yards away. She didn’t seem affected by the singing, but she kept looking at Sylvain like he owed her an apple.
Fuck, for dragging her through this he owed her an entire goddess-damned salt lick. Though that did make him wonder….
“So what happened anyways?” He asked. Felix ignored him. “Did you get distracted by her song too?”
Felix huffed. “I am trying to clean my sword. If you were half the knight you wanted to be as kids, you’d check your sword too.”
Sylvain knew that Felix was trying to distract him but it was a good point. Sylvain primarily used a lance but he still had a sword in case. He took it out of its sheath and examined it. He would have to clean it, but he was sitting down and his horse with all his supplies was over there…
Felix threw a rag at him.
“What?” Sylvain asked as he grabbed it out of the air.
“Clean your sword before it becomes useless.” Felix didn’t offer any room for argument. A near death experience took a lot out of even the best and Sylvain honestly didn’t mind just sitting there for a bit. He still kept an eye on Dimitri, but Felix was right. It didn’t seem like he was in any danger. Sylvain didn’t have a clue what he could be talking with the siren about, but if it helped them break his curse then Sylvain wasn’t complaining. Although… his vision did make him wonder.
“So what did the siren show you?” Sylvain asked.
“You shutting up for more than five minutes.”
“Rude. I’m a charmer. What would your life be without me?”
“I lived for over ten years without you. I think I could do it again.” Felix held his sword up to the light. It was great craftsmanship, but still paled in comparison to some of the blades Sylvain had seen House Fraldarius produce. “We aren’t going to be friends again, Sylvain. I’m sorry if it’s so disappointing, but I’m not the person you used to be comrades with anyways. That boy is dead.”
Sylvain snorted so hard a bit of saltwater came out his nose. “So he grew up and realized that the world wasn’t the way we thought it was as kids — so what? Do you think I’m the same guy who went off to knight school? I know he was your brother, Felix, and I’d never say that it hurt me more, but I was Glenn’s friend too. I didn’t — I didn’t even get to go to the funeral. So yes, maybe I’m a stupid knight. But I know what I signed up for. There just wasn’t any other choice.”
“I tried running off. I — I was going to find you. I got caught. Multiple times.” Sylvain sighed, hanging his head. Stpuid near death experiences making him bare his heart. “Just don’t act like I gave up on you. I didn’t then and I won’t now.”
Felix frowned. His eyebrows furrowed down, drawing a shadow over his face. There was a crease in his forehead that was very Lord Fraldarius. He opened his mouth to say more, but Sylvain cut him off again.
“I don’t know why you don’t get it, Felix. I don’t care about being friends with who you were. I cried over him already. I want to be friends with whoever you are now.” Sylvain decided that his sword was good enough. He’d clean it a bit more when they camped, but he was getting to be gross and the sand was rough and coarse and getting everywhere. He stood and walked over so he could hand the cloth back to Felix. “You know, the color red looks good on you.”
He walked off to get his stupid horse.
Dimitri wouldn’t say what he and the siren had talked about. He did say that they had to go to a specific inn, one at a place aptly called The Crossroads. Sylvain had heard of it. In fact, he had been there before. The Crossroads was actually a whole town, called so because any real quest or adventure had to at least stop there. It was fate or a weird coincidence, but regardless — it wasn’t the middle of nowhere, which was what mattered.
Sylvain liked The Crossroads. Lots of good memories here. He thought he had been a patron at every inn and bar, so he was surprised when Dimitri led them past all the popular places. There wasn’t necessarily a bad part of The Crossroads, but if there was then they would be in it. Sylvain wasn’t worried for his safety — even alone he would have been fine — but where was Dimitri taking them?
“It should be here,” he grumbled when Sylvain asked.
“I know what I’m doing,” he snapped when Felix asked five minutes later.
"This is it," he said when he stopped in front of an old, but well-kept inn. According to the name, it was The Book And The Raven Inn.
None of them moved. Sylvain's horse whinnied, shaking her mane. Sylvain dismounted and quickly tied her to the hitching post outside. There weren't any other horses, but maybe they just had a separate stable?
He still didn't walk inside. He eyed Dimitri and Felix hesitantly. Felix returned the look and raised an eyebrow. What do you want me to do? He seemed to ask.
"It's your decision, Dimitri," Sylvain said. "If you want to go live in the woods like a mountain man, you can."
Felix stared at him like he was nuts. Dimitri sighed — he did a lot of that — and went up the front steps of the inn. The wood creaked ominously under his weight but nothing collapsed as he pushed through the door. He had to lean down to fit. A bell jingled as he walked inside, half-muffled by his cloak.
Sylvain followed closely behind, blinking furiously as his vision adjusted to the smokey interior. It was actually nice inside, he realized. There was a nook in the back corner with blankets and a large couch and many, many pillows as well as a bookshelf crammed full. There were tables set out in rows, most of which were clean and whole, but there was one that looked like someone had cut it in half and then used some shoddy magic to put it back together.
There was also a staircase that went to the second floor, as well as a kitchen area that was blocked off by a curtain — at least Sylvain assumed it was a kitchen based off of the clattering he heard.
Other than two people eating at one table and someone taking a nap in the reading area, it was empty.
"Coming!" A woman called. She ran down the stairs and stopped suddenly when she saw Dimitri. In all fairness, Dimitri didn’t seem to know what to do either.
Sylvain stepped forward with a smile on his face and a hand outstretched. “Hello, fair maid. My name is Sylvain and these are my, uh, compatriots.”
“We’re on a quest,” Felix explained.
“Oh, well, we certainly get a lot of people needing to spend the night. Or a few. Um, will you be needing three rooms or—”
“I’ll sleep in you stable,” Dimitri said. Sylvain groaned.
“Okay, buddy, we’re trying to impress someone, right? Get them to see the real you or something? Well, princes don’t sleep in stables,” Sylvain pointed out. Dimitri grunted. He didn’t have time to say anything else, because another man came out from the kitchen.
“Ingrid, it appears we are low on flour. While it is slow, I will—” He stopped when he saw Dimitri. Sylvain prepared himself for another quick explanation — and really, was it the first time these people had seen someone who was cursed? — when two things happened.
First, Dimitri said a name so soft that it could have been no more than a gasp. His shoulders slumped and, impossibly, he seemed small.
Second, the stranger ran over and fell to his knees in front of Dimitri.
“Your — your Highness,” the man said. “I’m so sorry, I failed you. This is my fault.”
“No, Dedue — It never — Goddess, I’m so happy to see you.” Dimitri pulled Dedue to his feet — and Goddess, but Dedue was almost as tall as Dimitri — and hugged him. Dimitri was definitely crying.
Felix, Sylvain, and the woman known as Ingrid, all blinked. Felix opened and closed his mouth a few times, which is pretty much how Sylvain felt.
“What’s going on? Is everything okay?” Another man came out of the kitchen.
“Are you also someone’s long-lost friend or something?” Sylvain asked.
“Um, I don’t think so? My name’s Ashe?”
“Ashe, can you please grab three bowls of soup and some bread? I think that we’re going to be talking for a while,” Ingrid said. She took another look at Dimitri. He and Dedue were standing at an acceptable distance, but with a heavy tension that said that it was unacceptable to them. Their voices were soft, but Sylvain could hear snippets of phrases — reassurances, promises, apologies.
“I don’t think they care,” Sylvain said helpfully.
“This is stupid. Do you have any good books here?” Felix asked. He turned to head over to the books in question.
Ashe perked up. “Yeah! We have every chronicle in The Adventures of King Loog and Knight Kyphon!”
“On second thought, I’m starving.” Felix crossed his arms. “Is your food any good?”
“Just put a lot of spices and meat in it,” Sylvain suggested. “Felix isn’t nearly as picky as he looks. What?” He returned the look Felix was giving him.
“N--Nothing! Just surprised you remember, that’s all.” Felix was blushing, but Sylvain wasn’t quite mean enough to point that out. “Let’s eat.”
“So if all we need to do is wait for Dimitri’s curse to be broken, that’s simple,” Sylvain said. “I mean, he’s the one who brought us here so obviously the person he needed to meet was Dedue.”
“I… hadn’t thought of that. I assumed it would be another guest,” Felix admitted.
"Oh, childhood friends reunited and fated to fall in love? That's so romantic!" Ashe murmured, actually sighing and looking at the wall with glazed over eyes.
“Well, regardless of that, the three of you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like. It's nice to meet new people and there's always something going on." Ingrid's smile faltered. "Unless, of course, you two are busy, what with being knights and all."
"I'm not a knight," Felix said.
At the same time, Sylvain said, "It's not really that busy."
There was a moment of silence.
"I always wanted to be a knight," Ashe said. "It sounds so cool to rescue people and help out those who can't help themselves. And, well, you get to go places that normal people such as myself can't even dream of."
"Did you not apply for knight school?" Sylvain asked, curious.
"I did, but it cost too much." Ashe shrugged. "But I still help people. Like Dedue."
"How did the best friend of the prince of Fhirdiad end up working as a cook here?" Felix gestured with his free hand. "Not what I was expecting when we got here."
Ingrid and Ashe shared a look. "Dedue came here when I was a kid," Ashe said. "This used to be my family's inn. Ingrid joined a few years ago. But, no, uh, Dedue just… showed up one day. My dad offered him a job and when it became obvious he knew how to cook, he started helping me in the kitchen."
“So what do we do while we wait? We can’t exactly walk off and do other quests. I’m still getting the bounty,” Felix emphasized. “I did all the hard work.”
At this point, Sylvain didn’t even care enough to argue with him. Besides, that meant Felix would be sticking around.
There was a moment of silence. Sylvain looked at where Dimitri and Dedue were still talking. They looked like previous lovers, though they hadn’t touched since their initial greeting, but they had so much tension around them that Sylvain wished they would. He also felt a stab of jealousy. When he saw his best friend after years and years of tragic separation, Felix beat him up in an unnecessary duel. Nobody had hugged him yet.
God, Sylvain sounded like an idiot even in his own head. What was he, a lovesick fool? Wait, what? He blinked.
“Are you okay? You look pink,” Ingrid said. “If you need to rest, we have open rooms. Did you bring a horse? I can bring them to our stables.”
“I’m fine — maybe I just need to, uh, check on my horse.” Sylvain stood. “I — I’ll be right back.” He headed out of the inn, face burning. His hands shook and his steps felt heavy. His vision was blurry, but not from tears — he was just that distracted. There wasn’t any other reaction he could have to realizing that he was in love.
It was stupid. The siren’s song didn’t do it, no, he had to watch Dimitri pine over someone from his childhood. Then he had the mortifying thought of being hugged. And the worst part? Felix still didn’t want anything to do with him. They had been wandering around on this stupid quest for weeks. If he wasn’t at least nice now, then there was no hope.
His horse nudged him with her head, knocking him out of his thoughts.
“Hey, girl. Looks like we’ll be here for a while. Good for you, huh? Get to rest. Probably have to change your shoes…” Sylvain sighed, petting her nose. “Your knight is an idiot.”
“I could tell you that.”
Sylvain spun around. Felix stood outside the inn, arms crossed. He had a blank expression on his face. Sylvain forced his most casual smile to show up. This was the smile that had gotten him through The Pass of Evil Giants and this was the smile that got him a second serving of dessert when he was a kid. Felix wasn’t buying it.
“Are you leaving?” Felix asked.
“Why, do you want me to?” Sylvain replied. Felix scowled. “Aha, so you do want me around! Finally, a sign that you don’t absolutely hate my guts.”
“Of course I don’t hate you. If I did, you wouldn’t be standing here.” Felix tapped on his sword. Sylvain snorted.
“You only had the upper hand because I had just climbed an entire tower. I could totally beat you in a real fight. Also, you did leave a mark.” Sylvain tapped his nose, which had healed a bit crooked. Felik at least had the decency to look a bit embarrassed.
“A healer can fix that.”
“Nah, it makes me look more handsome.” Sylvain’s grin grew. “What do you think?”
“Your face is stupid and I’m surprised more people haven’t punched you in the face before.” Felix sighed. He stepped closer until there was just enough space between them that Sylvain felt like he could feel Felix breathe. “I’m sticking around for a bit. I — I’m going to write. Write a letter. To my father.”
Sylvain suddenly felt like he was swimming in a pool of sharks with an open wound. “That’s… nice?”
“He deserves to know I’m alive and I’m not making you have that conversation with him.” Felix scratched the back of his neck. “I got really caught up in my head — and I’m only saying this once, so you better listen close — but I… I think that, when I ran away, I forgot the good that I was running from.”
There were a million things Sylvain could say, but he couldn’t stop himself from saying, “Well, I could have told you that.”
Felix gave him a blistering look. If Felix knew magic, Sylvain probably would have combusted on the spot. As it was, Sylvain took a step back, knocking into the fence that his horse was tied onto.
Felix didn't follow. The two stood there while the world turned around them. The noise was just a background hum, barely audible beneath the beating of Sylvain's heart.
"Do you think you're going to go back to live with him?" Sylvain asked.
"I haven't thought that far ahead," Felix admitted.
"You're welcome to stay with me. Miklan's disowned — you could have an entire wing to yourself. Just a bit dusty." Sylvain's mouth moved before he could stop it. He almost apologized, but Felix didn't look mad.
In fact, he actually thought about it. "Maybe. I guess it depends on what my father says."
The silence returned. Sylvain — he wanted to say a lot, but he also didn't want to scare Felix off. It felt like such luck, such unimaginable luck, that Felix would even want to stay. After all, why would he change his mind now—
"I never told you what the siren showed me," Felix started as Sylvain pointed to the inn and said,
"I think I'm gonna go." Both of them blinked.
"No, tell me about—"
"It's fine, see you—" Felix huffed. His cheeks were red. Weird, Sylvain thought. It's actually pretty warm out. "Shut up and let me finish."
"Got it, shutting up."
Felix uncrossed and then recrossed his arms. He bit his bottom lip and opened and closed his mouth several times.
"I didn't see anything when the siren sung."
Sylvain was sure he had misheard. The confusion must have been clear on his face because Felix elaborated,
"You and the boar and — and everyone else who hears the stupid siren, you all see things you want more than anything, even if you don't realize it."
Something in Sylvain's chest tightened as he remembered two kids on the beach. "Right."
"But I didn't see anything. I — I just saw you and Dimitri start walking off towards the water like someone had charmed you. And I could hear the singing and it was nice, but I didn't see anything. I thought that maybe I was strong enough to resist but," Felix laughed, "I'm not that cocky. I know my limits. I should have been tempted just like anyone else."
"Maybe she just couldn't figure you out. You know, with your whole mysterious and dark thing," Sylvain suggested. He didn't know where this was going and he wasn't sure how wanted to find out.
"She's magic though. She knows stuff about you that you don't even know. There's no way that she couldn't read my mind and find what I wanted or whatever."
Sylvain knew he wasn't supposed to say anything, but he also never knew when to keep his mouth shut. "What does your heart desire?" He asked, trying to tease Felix. It came out too earnest, too honest, and he cursed internally.
Felix licked his lips. "I think the reason I didn't see anything is because I already have what I want."
Ouch. Sylvain didn't know what he was surprised about. A life of freedom, away from family expectations and the pressures of being a knight? That sounded wonderful. Felix could go anywhere he wanted at any point. He would never have to worry about living up to what Rodrigue wanted or what he was supposed to do according to the knightly code —
"Why are you looking at me like I just kicked a kid?" Felix scowled. "You should be happy for me, asshole."
"Oh, right. No, I am happy, I just — I guess I thought that you'd be sticking around longer since you said — it’s stupid.” Sylvain grinned. It didn’t reach his eyes. “When you run off and do your thing, at least write? I’d like to know that you’re still alive.”
“What? Why would I run off?”
“You just — you just said that you already have your dream life… I’m confused.” Sylvain frowned, unable to keep his smile on. Felix stepped forward and slugged him on the arm. “Ow! What the fuck?”
“You’re an idiot. I— I have my dream now. Not — Not before.” When Sylvain didn’t react, Felix groaned. “I can’t believe you’re making me say it. I — I’m happy because I get to spend time with you, dumbass. I — I guess I missed you more than I thought. And besides. I have a promise to keep.” Felix fidgeted with the red scarf around his neck.
Oh. Oh. Was this what floating felt like? Was this what euphoria meant? Sylvain couldn’t feel his toes. His heart was hammering out of his chest. He thought he was going to fall over or turn to stone. His hands were sweaty. Oh Goddess, was his face sweating too?
“Say something,” Felix mumbled. He looked a little — a little nervous. Sylvain didn’t know what to say, so he kissed him.
Felix tasted like stew. Maybe not the most romantic, but Sylvain had kissed a lot of people and he would take the spice of Felix’s lips over the sweetest of anyone else’s. Felix let out a soft noise of surprise, but he didn’t move away. In fact, he deepened it, hands clutching Sylvain’s shoulders. Sylvain placed a hand on Felix’s waist and another on his cheek. Sylvain wished he didn’t have his gauntlets on. He wanted to know if Felix’s skin was as soft as it looked.
There was a soft moan. Was it Sylvain? Was it Felix? It didn’t matter. They were together.
Sylvain knew that, if the siren sung, he wouldn’t see anything anymore.
“Uncle Ashe! You told me this wasn’t one of your knight stories.”
“Well, it’s more than that! It’s about your uncles. So it’s a family story.”
“Uncle Felix and Sylvain are pretty gross…”
“They’re getting married, you know. That’s where we’re headed. Did your dads tell you that?”
“Yeah! And Daddy told me that if I behave, he’ll buy me a lance.”
“That… I’m going to talk to Dimitri about that. But, oh, I think we’re here.”
“Wait, Uncle Ashe. You didn’t finish the story right.”
“Yeah, you gotta say the magic words.”
“The — oh, of course. And they lived happily ever after.”