In winter, frost spreads across Fhiridad's castle like decorative vines. The patterns in the ice twist and crack, leaving long, leaf-like, images painted against grey stone. The mountain walls were meant to hold snow, Dimitri thought, because the castle was always prettiest when there was a blanket of white over it.
He normally loved the ice and snow. It was not a surprise, he was told it was because of his Blaiddyd blood. His old nanny used to say it was because he was gentle as soft snow, so much so that when he was born a light blanket of white fell across all of Faerghus, like the spirit of winter itself kissed their Kingdom when he was born.
"Ye were a miracle child." His nanny used to brush his hair, "A soft an’ gentle babe o’ snow born on the solstice day itself. The bells rang aw thon day whan ye were born. We dancit i’ the street at the guid fortune, because the goddess herself blessit us."
He hadn't been allowed to speak to Nanny for a while now, and he had long ago learned that he was neither gentle nor soft, and most certainly not a blessing. He was a curse, an unwanted blight on the Blaiddyd name, the one that shouldn't have survived, who had stolen life from the more worthy. He must work to make up for his existence, to find justice as an apology for his continued life.
He was well aware the celebrations in the streets weren't for him, that he shouldn't be allowed to want to be part of it.
But...he was selfish, and he couldn't wait to watch the dancing in the streets, the gentle blankets of snow across the buildings, the warm bonfires burning in their irons, the happy laughter as citizens clanked their mugs and laugh, musicians playing in the streets. It was the solstice, and his birthday, and his uncle had confined him to his office, ordering him to finish his studies in architecture. He should be content, he should. He needed to study, and work, and to strive to be better.
But in his heart he was selfish, and he wanted to be out there.
So he leaned against the open windowsill, his hands gripping slippery stone. He thought he could do it, it would be hard, but he could. He'd climbed out this window before when he'd spotted Sylvain needing to be stopped from doing something, though he'd never tried with ice covering the stone before. It was dangerous, it was foolish, he should turn around, be a good prince, be a good nephew, a good son, and study.
But he heard the music and laughter and his heart yearned.
So he slipped one foot out the window, then another, hands gripping tight against the sill before descending. One brick at a time, one step at a time. Keep a tight grip. Don't look down. It's not that slippery if you don't pay attention. Just hold on to the bricks. You're almost there. Don't fall.
And this was foolish, beyond foolish, and it shouldn't have worked. Not even Sylvain would have tried it. But, slowly, Dimitri found out he was desperate enough to descend four levels of icy stone wall from his window to the ground. And when he did, he let out a shaky, terrified, breath. His hands were cold, and his cloak was covered in snow, and he was shivering with anxiety.
Still, he made it.
He shuddered, pulling his hood higher over his head, letting the anxiety give way to satisfaction as he made his way, on solid ground, around the corner wall and into the street, happy that the guards were all drunk on kuprik and cider.
It still surprised him how close the city was to the castle walls. He only had to walk through a small courtyard to get to the main gates of the city, a patch of grass and flowers that surrounded the castle like a moat, but instead was snow, winter flowers, and a few hedges for decoration. Thanks to Lady Luck, there were no guards patrolling the area like they would normally do, so he was able to slip out with no problem.
Dimitri couldn't stop the look of awe that passed his face when he walked right into the bustling city, a place so much more busier than normal thanks to the Winter Solstice celebration that was happening for the next few days. Decorations colored in blue and white were hanging off shops and benches, some even wrapped around the large fountain where children would rush around and play. The Prince had always wanted to run around that fountain and splash in the water - but there was no water flowing out of it at this time of year, instead it was filled with snow and ice. That didn't seem to stop some other kids though.
"The castle is busy today."
"Many of the maids have been running around with their heads cut off!"
Dimitri pulled down his cloak as he passed the two guards, eyes downward and hoping they didn't recognize him.
Most of the main events of the festival were being held tomorrow. Dimitri was looking forward to experiencing the games and challenges for the first time. He didn't think he'd dare participate, just in case someone recognized him, but he'd love to watch. The day after that was the Solstice Ball, which he didn't like because it was boring, but he'd have to go with Uncle Rufus anyway because he was a Prince and 'had duties he was responsible for as a price of his birth'.
Dimitri sighed as he weaved through the crowds. Today was mostly for socializing. Lots and lots of people came into Fhirdiad for the festival. Shops and restaurants held special sales, people flocked through the streets, unique goods were bought and sold. The little Prince had wanted to experience the city at one of its most crowded and happy times.
He passed some of the city guard, head held low and hood over his eyes. There were so many people in the city during this time that the guard had to be bolstered by paid mercenaries. Dimitri had never met one, but he had heard that they were a rough, uncivilized bunch. He hoped he would get to set eyes on one.
He held on to his hood, making sure it didn't fall as he snuck along the outer wall. Keeping his head down so no one would notice, Dimitri watched the crowd, trying to find the best place to weave himself in without becoming too noticeable or knocking back his hood. His feet crunched against the snow, boots sinking as he creeps along.
All around him was laughter and well wishes. Friends who had gone too long without seeing one another shared greetings, long missed relatives hugged one another after long years apart. There was a clink of mugs, and whoops of laughter and joy. He distantly heard a declaration of merriment as a barrel of cider was smashed open with an axe.
Dimitri spotted a vendor with rows of sweet rolls and cinnamon buns, hot and fresh from a small iron oven behind them, fire still burning as it doubled as a source of warmth. Dimitri's stomach rumbled at the sight, a stark reminder that he hadn't eaten at all yet. He licked his lips, wanting nothing more than to trail over and ask for a sweet, but only took a single step forward before he remembered he'd packed no coin.
Disappointed, he stepped back, placing his hand on the wall and trailing along it again to find a better place to break into the crowd.
Finally, seeing something he was interested in, Dimitri hopped through the crowd and into a side street full of vendors with various crafts on display. The one that had caught his attention had a beautiful suit of armor on a stand in one corner. It was positioned so that its hands rested on the hilt of a silver sword with a blue gem in the cross-guard. Both pieces were polished to a brilliant shine, and the Prince couldn't help but want to reach out and touch them.
"What are you doing?"
He whirled around, cloak flying and his hood falling back. Just behind Dimitri stood a girl with teal colored hair and big lavender eyes. She was dressed in plain clothes, but had guards on her elbows and knees that might have been too big for her. In her hands were two of the sweet rolls Dimitri had been admiring earlier. His stomach gurgled at the delicious sweet smell.
The girl narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him. She had icing on her face. "You weren't planning on stealing anything, were you?"
The boy paled and immediately brought his hands to his body as he hunched himself over with guilt despite not doing anything wrong. "N-No! I would never steal!!"
His fingers fiddled with one another as he looked at the girl with the suspicion in her eyes. Dimitri could already feel himself sweating under her gaze and was picturing her calling for the guards before he was dragged away into the dungeons for crimes he hadn't committed. Or worse, he'd be dragged to his Uncle and do taxes forever!
Just the thought made the boy hunch over more while his hands began to rub together instead, already feeling a phantom pain spread over his knuckles and up his wrists in aching pulses. He swallowed, "H-Honest! I just wanted to touch it! I didn't know it was bad, I'm sorry! I won't do it again!!"
The girl blinked, munching on one of the treats in hand, but never taking her eyes off him. "That's something only bad guys would say."
Dimitri gulped and shook his head, blond hair whipping against his cheeks. "N-No! I'm not a bad guy!"
But the girl's eyes only narrowed further, watching him as she chewed on her treat, eyes unblinking. His own lips trembled, icy irises trailing to the sweet in her hand. He didn't remember what they tasted like, but it was plump, and warm, with steam still rising from it. He thought it would be warm in his empty belly.
His tongue snuck over his lips, stomach growling in protest.
The girl sized up, "So that's it."
"W-What's it?" Dimitri sank in on himself, shamed.
Her eyes flickered over him, like she was studying every inch of him. It's not unlike how he met his uncle, with eyes flickering over him over and over again, studying every nook and cranny of him, trying to size him up and evaluate his worth. Dimitri wished he could sink further into his clothes, hiding behind the fine cloth. It's a poor shield, but a shield nonetheless.
"Your clothes are too expensive for a normal urchin," The girl stated, taking another bite of her treat, "You have to be a thief."
"W-What?" Dimitri jerked back, "N-No."
"Then you're something worse." The girl leaned in, expressionless face on him, "So, what are you up to?"
"No! I'm not up to anything, I swear!"
The girl leaned back, fist on her chin. "Hm. I don't believe you. I'm going to follow you until I find out what you're doing."
Dimitri sputtered, stepping back and making her eyes narrow again. "Wha-Why?! I truly haven't done anything!" Except sneak out his window and climb down icy castle walls when he wasn't supposed to go outside . The Prince began to sweat.
"Because you're hiding something. And we're supposed to be helping catch bad guys." The girl pointed at herself with a sticky finger.
He tried to sidle away, but true to her word she was following him. "But I'm not a bad guy!" And who was this 'We' she was talking about?
The girl perked up. "If you're not a bad guy, are you lost? I could take you back to your parents."
Dimitri felt the question like a blow. The girl watched him shrink into himself and she felt terrible, though she didn't know why. "Um. Are you okay? Are you hurt?" She looked around, flailing for something to fix this.
She held out her other hand with the one sweet roll she had left. "Do you want this?"
Dimitri's eyes immediately zeroed in on the sticky, gooey treat and felt his mouth water. Swallowing, the boy looked away with a shake of his head, "N-No! It's fine!! I'm not hungry!!"
She blinked, watching him refuse to look at the sweet roll while his trembling hands went to his shirt, twisting and pulling at the fabric just above his stomach. His eyes would look to her for a second before glancing away again, his face scrunched up and body tense as they both stood in silence. The girl sniffed and pressed the treat against his mouth, smearing a little icing on his chin.
Dimitri recoiled but she merely stepped forward again, sticky treat pushing against his lips once more. The bun was still warm and the Prince could smell the flavors he couldn't properly taste. He tried his best to ignore it, but he'd accidentally licked his lips out of nervousness and was cursed to feel the sweet icing on his tongue.
"It's okay. I've already had six." She urged the roll closer, "Eat it."