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The Masks We Wear

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“Oh no, not like that.”

You paused, the pin you’d been about to put in your hair snapping shut as Sylvain hastily entered the room.

“Why not?” You asked, frowning at the redhead as he swatted your hand away from your hair.

“It’s… Not how most girls in Fodlan wear their hair,” He replied, standing between you and the mirror with a thoughtful frown. “Here, I found this and thought we could do something with it.”

He held up a thick black ribbon, grinning even as you frowned at him. Where had he gotten that ribbon?

Had it been from one of the ‘guests’ Felix spoke of? Would she be upset that you were about to be the owner of that ribbon? Did she even know?

“Relax, most of my friends have long hair so I’ve gotten some practice in over the years.” Sylvain carefully wound the ribbon around your head, tying it into a neat bow on the right side of your head, just above your ears. “There, how does that look?”

He stepped aside and you looked in the mirror, frown deepening as you slowly reached up a hand to touch the ribbon. Battle-wise, it was wholly impractical. But Sylvain looked so proud of himself…

“Pretty.” You said finally, making his grin widen.

It had been a struggle for him to teach you what ‘pretty’ actually meant. There wasn’t really a word for it back home, but your future husband had been determined to get you to understand the word.

The bow really was pretty.

But you didn’t see any benefit to having it there once the fighting began.

“I’m glad you like it,” Sylvain stepped back, crossing behind you to grab the last of your bags from your bed. “Now come on, if we want to get to Garreg Mach on time we’ll need to leave soon.”

You nodded, sparing a glance in the mirror one last time as you stood. You looked almost nothing like you had when you’d arrived at the Gautier estate a month ago. With the black-and-gold uniform you were wearing, along with the ribbon Sylvain had just helped you put on…

You looked less like a Sreng princess and more like a girl born into Fodlan.

Yet another mask for you to wear.

Though you trusted Sylvain quite a bit… Even he didn’t know the real you.

The next few minutes were a blur. You said goodbye to Sylvain’s father, allowed a guard to help you into the carriage and then suddenly you were leaving the estate.

The ride was long, and you spent most of it brushing up on your reading and writing. While you weren’t exactly an expert in it, you were certainly a lot better at it than you had been when you arrived.

You’d begun to find it much easier when Sylvain started finding ways to relate it to something you did understand: Combat.

Because of that, your writing skills had developed considerably faster than anyone expected. The quill was your sword and the ink… Well, let’s not get into that.

At the very least, nobody would be able to tell that you didn’t belong.

“So, when we get there we’re going to have to be very careful.” Sylvain said about an hour into the ride, making you look over the top of the book you were slowly making your way through. “My friends are used to me acting a certain way and if I suddenly stop doing that… They’re going to get suspicious.”

“Your… ‘guests’?” You asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

He winced at the word, choosing to look out the window instead of at you.

“Felix told you, huh?”

“He did not really… Tell me.” You replied, looking back down at the page. “He asked if I was one of your... ‘Guests’.”

“Of course he did.” Sylvain sighed. “Listen, my Crest makes it… Hard for me to trust people.”

You looked back up, sliding the book shut and putting it onto your lap so that he had your full attention. You were probably going to need all of your focus just to interpret what he was saying…

“There are a lot of people out there who think that marrying me, or getting their daughter to marry me, will earn them a comfortable life and more power within the Kingdom.” You nodded for him to continue, folding your hands over the book in your lap.

“I hate it. I hate people pretending to like me just because of something I had no choice in… So I flirted with every girl I met, breaking their hearts before they could break mine. I’m not proud of it, but I figured I wasn’t going to have a choice anyway, so why bother looking for love?”

You blinked slowly, allowing yourself time to process his words and formulate a response.

He… Flirted?

You wanted to ask what ‘flirted’ even meant. But you also wanted to ask what he meant when he spoke of ‘breaking hearts’.

If you were to break a heart… That person would die, surely. The heart was, after all, the very thing that kept people alive.

Perhaps Fodlan was a much more brutal and cut-throat place than you had first thought.

If your future husband was killing girls left and right… You shuddered to imagine the kind of people you were going to encounter at the academy. Or…

No. Perhaps it was a figure of speech?

“That sounds…” You pursed your lips, searching for the word you’d learnt only a few days before. “Alone?”

“Lonely?” Sylvain laughed, smiling softly at you. “It’s not so bad.”

“I see.” You did not, in fact, see. “Crests are… Strange. In Sreng, my father is not the king because of some… Great power. He is king because he is the best warrior.”

“You mean he didn’t inherit the throne when his father died?”

“He did.” You frowned, only just now realising that there were other ways to inherit a title in Fodlan. “The old king was the best warrior… Until he lost a fight... To the death. With my father. His son.”

“That’s…” Sylvain shifted uncomfortably, his gaze darting to the dagger sitting beside you. “Interesting.”

“The king has… Many children.” You said slowly, struggling to describe it. “But only the best can… Inherit the throne.”

“And what if none of the king’s kids are ‘the best’?”

“They are… Cast out.”

“Were you…?”

“No.” You replied quickly. Probably too quickly, judging by the look on his face. “I have a… A duty.”

“Still,” the redhead looked out the window. “That sounds rough.”

“It was… not so bad.” You replied, offering him a tiny smile when he looked your way again. He looked surprised to hear you use the same phrase he’d used earlier, then smiled himself. “But now you see why I cannot… Uh… Could not read or write.”

“You know, I don’t think I’d mind running away from all of this and living in Sreng.” You tilted your head at his comment, a deep frown on your face. “It sounds like Crests mean nothing over there. I could get used to that.”

“No.” You muttered darkly, earning another look of surprise from Sylvain. “Your Crest… Means death for me… For all in Sreng.”

He shifted uncomfortably again, the dagger beside you earning another look. You sighed, forcing your muscles to relax. You had scared him, it seemed.

“But you…” You leant forward, gently placing one of your hands on his own. “You are… Kind to me.”

Sylvain’s gaze lingered on your hand, and you slowly withdrew it. He almost looked disappointed, but you couldn’t quite tell. Somehow he’d managed to hide his emotions better than he had when you’d first met.

And once again you were forced to re-evaluate your opinion of him. Every time you thought you’d gotten a read on him… He surprised you.

He wore so many masks that you wondered how he managed to keep track of them all.

As you picked up your book once again you realised that you, too, had an awful lot of masks.

And you weren’t entirely sure how you kept track of them either.