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putting down roots

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There’s horses to feed, and floors to sweep, and a greenhouse to tend; so, in other words, it’s just another Sunday at Garreg Mach. For most of the students here, Sundays are an opportunity to bask in the quiet of a rare day off. For Cyril, though, Sunday is just another day of work.

So he feeds the horses, and sweeps the floors, and then heads over to the greenhouse. Today, tucked away in the very corner of the Garreg Mach greenhouse, there’s a new patch of flowers, just beginning to shoot up stalks. Cyril knows every plant in this greenhouse like the back of his hand, but these new flowers are unlike any he’s ever seen before.

The ground around the flowers is thoroughly soaked, with far more water than Sister Victoria usually uses. She’s at the other end of the greenhouse eyeing the flowers (and him) with some suspicion, so he scurries out of there before she enlists his help with further tasks. He doesn’t have time for that on his schedule today.

The next Sunday, Cyril’s duties at the greenhouse are at the top of his to-do list. When he pushes the door open, he’s surprised to see Dedue in the back corner bent over the flowers, but he’s not watering them at all. The soil around the flowers looks bone-dry from where he’s standing. For flowers that were completely soaked last week, it seems a little odd; but then again, maybe this is how you’re supposed to take care of them?

Across the greenhouse from him, a few of the sisters are gathered in a small clump, eyeing both him and the small patch of flowers with apprehension. One of them asks, “Is there truly a place for Duscurian flowers here?”

“His Highness said they were to be left alone,” Sister Victoria says, a shade of derision in her tone. Cyril gets the feeling that if His Highness hadn’t said anything, the flowers wouldn’t still be there.

Sometimes, he gets the feeling that if His Highness hadn’t spoken up for Dedue, Dedue wouldn’t be here either. Cyril can empathize.

He doesn’t really care about being from Almyra, these days. He’d told Claude as much, just the other day: Life was a whole lot harder for me there than it's ever been around here. But other folks still care about him being from Almyra, even if they’re polite enough not to say something while he’s within earshot. He imagines it’s probably the same for Dedue, as well.

Not that he knows Dedue that well. Dedue’s a closed-off sort of guy, and Cyril’s busy with his own work, so they’ve never really talked before. That, and he’s never really sure what to say to the guy. It sucks that people judge you before they even talk to you is true, sure, but it’s not exactly a great conversation opener.

He doesn’t say anything to Dedue, in the end. But after Dedue leaves, Cyril crosses over to the back corner of the greenhouse to take a closer look at the greenhouse’s newest additions. They’re developing small buds, but their most striking features are their thick stalks and their long, narrow leaves with scalloped edges. They’re nothing like any Fódlanian flowers he’s ever seen.

He pokes at the dirt around the flowers, just to confirm his suspicions from earlier; the soil is completely dry, and some of it sticks under his fingernails when he takes his hand away. Dusting his hands off, he turns his back on the flowers and leaves the greenhouse, avoiding eye contact with the sisters.

What would make someone who’s already ostracized by almost everyone at the monastery want to plant flowers from a land that’s almost universally despised by Fódlanders? He’s still mulling this over as he steps into the dining hall, but when one of the sisters calls, “Cyril, would you mind helping peel the potatoes?”, he obediently picks up a knife and pushes those thoughts to the back of his head.

When the next Sunday rolls around, the Blue Lions are out on a mission, shaking down some bandits for stolen goods or whatever Garreg Mach students do on the weekends. Cyril doesn’t know, and doesn’t really care; he’s got more pressing concerns here at home. After Mass ends, he finds himself in the greenhouse again, squatting by the small patch of newly-bloomed bright blue flowers in the back.

Running a finger tentatively over the dirt around the plants, he finds it’s bone-dry once again. The sisters must really not want to touch these flowers, he thinks. Lucky I’m here. As he’s carefully watering the flowers, someone squats down next to him. With a jolt of surprise, he realizes it’s Dedue.

“I, uh,” he says, holding up the watering can. “I thought your class was out on a mission this weekend, so I was gonna give ‘em a little water while you were out.”

“We march out tomorrow morning,” Dedue replies. “But I must thank you for taking care of them nonetheless. I planted these ones specifically because they can survive on their own…” He’s got a faraway look in his eyes, as if recalling some distant memory. “But they do thrive best when they’re given a little bit of care. I appreciate you doing so.”

“They’re… from Duscur, right?” Cyril asks cautiously. “I heard the nuns talking about ‘em last week.”

Dedue nods in the affirmative and kneels down, uncaring of the dirt gathering on the knees of his uniform pants. Pensively, he runs a finger over the bright blue petals of one flower. “My father gave me these seeds, before—” His voice catches, and he pauses for a moment. “Before. The mountainsides used to be bright blue with these in the summers.”

The used to in that sentence tells a whole story in and of itself. Cyril’s never been as far north as Duscur—he’s never even been up to Faerghus—but he knows enough of Fódlan’s history with Duscur to guess that these flowers may be some of the last of their kind.

Why grow them here, though? It’s a question Cyril doesn’t know how to word. “It seems like a lot of trouble growing flowers like these,” he says, instead. “With the way the sisters look at you for growing them here, and all.”

“It is,” Dedue replies. A moment of silence stretches between the two of them, teetering on the edge of awkwardness, before he adds quietly, “But I think they’re worth the trouble.”

Before Cyril can ask what would make the flowers worth all that, the bells ring out throughout the monastery, and he jumps to his feet. “Oh no, is that the time? I gotta get to the stables, I was supposed to brush the pegasi today. But, um, good luck on the mission.” Dedue, still kneeling down by the flowers, waves Cyril off with a small smile.

When Cyril arrives the next week, Dedue’s already there, just looking at the flowers. They’re in full bloom this week, their droopy blue blossoms almost the size of Cyril’s thumb. Across the greenhouse, the sisters are clustered in a small clump, throwing suspicious glances at the two of them every few minutes. It’s enough to spur Cyril into giving voice to the question he’s been pondering for the past few weeks.

“What makes this worth the trouble?” Dedue looks a little confused, so he backtracks, lowering his voice. “Cultivating these flowers, I mean. The sisters give you such dirty looks for growing ‘em here. Why would you keep trying?”

Dedue deflects his question with another question. “You, too, have been taking care of them. Why would you associate yourself with something Duscurian, when you already face enough stigma for being Almyran?”

“My job’s to take care of all the plants in this greenhouse, no matter where they’re from,” Cyril shrugs, then takes a second to think. “And, well—the flowers are kinda like you and me, right? They’re not from around here, but they’ve taken roots here.”

Something in Dedue’s face softens at this. He spends a moment in thought before replying: “That’s quite the way of looking at it. For me, I suppose it comes down to this: Almyra will remain after you are gone. There are so few of us left that I cannot say the same of Duscur. But as long as we draw breath, I want Fódlan to know that Duscur yet survives.”

They sit there, side by side, as Cyril stares thoughtfully at the flowers. The entire time he’s been in Fódlan, he’s let go of everything Almyran just to blend in and get by. And yet, Dedue still wants to hang on to bits and pieces of where he came from.

What makes that pride worth it? Maybe, just maybe, that’s something worth thinking about. But for now, Cyril has horses to feed, and floors to sweep, and a greenhouse to tend.