Dimitri learns from a young age how fragile the world is.
He is four when he first snaps a training lance between his fingers, wood splintering as easily as the delicate glass vases his mother likes to keep flowers in.
He is five when he first bends metal, accidentally gripping a spoon too tight during a meal and distorting its shape into something twisted and warped.
He is six when he tries to carry an abandoned nest of eggs down a withering tree to safety, and he is six when he lands on the ground and finds his fingers covered in eggshells and something cold that slips between the cracks of his fingers.
He is six when he stops touching people.
Lambert is the first one to notice. After he’d found Dimitri, kneeling and crying in the snow, still gripping the twigs of the nest in his hands, he’d carried him back to the castle without another word, tucked him into his bed and shushed him when Dimitri had protested, worried about dirtying the covers, and stayed by him until he fell asleep.
A week after the incident, he’s sharing drinks with Rodrigue one evening when Rodrigue heaves a heavy sigh. Lambert raises an eyebrow and sets his wine glass down. He hadn’t always enjoyed drinking, more doing so out of courtesy than pleasure, but found himself starting to appreciate the taste in recent years.
“What’s troubling you, my friend?” he asks. Rodrigue takes a deep sip before answering.
“Felix has been upset lately.”
Lambert knows Rodrigue well enough to know that that’s his way of politely saying, “My son is having another temper tantrum and I don’t know what to do.” This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. Between his two sons, Rodrigue often had his hands full. Felix was emotional and prone to rapid mood swings, and his older brother, Glenn, was only ten and already possessed enough snark to send adults reeling back with the sting of his words.
Lambert nods in an understanding manner, opening his mouth to repeat his usual consolation. Rodrigue, sensing what Lambert is about to do, speaks first.
“Apparently His Highness has been avoiding him.”
This makes Lambert pause. His mouth clicks shut, and Rodrigue eyes him carefully.
“Is that so?” Lambert keeps his voice carefully neutral.
“Yes, since a week ago.” Rodrigue slides his glass of wine to the side of the table so that it’s out of the away and unobtrusive. He folds his hands on the table, fixing Lambert with one of those sharp Fraldarius stares of his that Lambert can never quite meet without flinching. “Lambert, did something happen?”
Lambert remembers back to the bird nest, and a wave of guilt washes over him. He should’ve been more attentive, he thinks. While it was true he’d been busy the past week, what kind of father was he if he couldn’t tell something was wrong with his own son? He should’ve known the incident would still be on Dimitri’s mind.
Rodrigue must see the shift in Lambert’s expression, because he lets out a long sigh. “Lambert, you should talk to him,” he says. “He’s your son.”
Lambert is ashamed that this isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation. Dimitri had always been so mature and obedient compared to the other children his age that Lambert would often forget that Dimitri was still young. And Rodrigue, with four extra years of experience at parenthood, liked to remind him that raising a child wasn’t the same as training soldiers.
Sometimes, Lambert finds himself forgetting the difference.
Lambert bows his head in guilt and agrees to talk with Dimitri. Once he’s sufficiently convinced Rodrigue that there’s nothing life-threatening going on, the two lapse back into their usual conversation, though Lambert finds his thoughts drifting more than usual.
Dimitri jolts awake when he hears his bedroom door click open. He’s become a rather light sleeper ever since the assassination attempt. It had been a year ago, when he was five, and Dimitri still remembers the panic, the suffocating fear of opening his eyes to a stranger hunched over his bed. It had taught him that his life was a target, and that he couldn’t always leave it to others to protect him.
His shoulders relax when he sees his father’s familiar silhouette in the doorway, and he slumps back onto his bed, tugging his covers up higher so that only his eyes are visible.
Lambert quietly approaches the bed after shutting the door behind him and a quick word to one of the guards posted outside. He sits down at the end of the bed, and Dimitri feels the mattress shift under his father’s weight.
“How are you, Dimitri?”
His father always speaks to him formally, the same way he addresses other adults. It makes Dimitri feel important, but terribly nervous, too.
Dimitri says he’s fine, then realizes his words are muffled by the blankets, so he pulls them down a little and answers again. Lambert nods and reaches over a hand to lightly ruffle his hair. He’s still wearing his gauntlets, which are cold on his skin, but Dimitri still leans into the touch all the same. He closes his eyes, relaxing under his father’s familiar presence.
“You sure about that?” Lambert asks. Dimitri pauses and opens his eyes again, torn between bothering his father and lying to him. Lambert sighs.
“I heard you’ve been avoiding Felix lately. He’s been rather upset about it. He thinks you’re mad at him.”
Dimitri’s eyes widen and he bolts up, hitting his head against the bed’s headboard in the process but ignoring it in his panic. “I’m not angry!” he says quickly in an attempt to explain himself. His shoulders slump, and he stares at the blanket. “I’m sorry,” he says in a solemn voice.
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” Lambert says. “But tell me, what’s been bothering you?”
Dimitri hesitates, eyes darting between his father’s expectant gaze and his hands, before he finally tells Lambert about the bird nest, the training lances, the spoon, and everything else he’s broken.
He tells him about shattering the vase of flowers he’d been carrying for his mother, of hugging Felix too tightly, of the unease he sees in castle servants’ eyes when he passes by, of the whispers in the halls of Prince Dimitri’s monstrous strength.
“He’s dangerous,” he heard a maid whisper.
Dimitri remembers that his mother has never hugged him.
His tiny fingers clench around his blanket as he speaks, and he looks down when he hears a rip, realizing he’s torn the cloth apart. He blinks at the feathers falling out of the gap, wide and jagged and ugly, and something in him breaks.
Before he knows it, Dimitri is sobbing and Lambert has pulled him into his arms, hushing him as he blubbers into his chest.
“It’s okay,” he soothes, rubbing circles around Dimitri’s back. “It’s okay.”
Dimitri hugs him back, small arms gripping him so tightly he’s terrified he’ll snap his father in two, but Lambert just keeps holding and him and saying it’s okay, so Dimitri hugs him tighter.
After that, Lambert takes it upon himself to personally teach Dimitri how to control his strength. In hindsight, he should’ve done this from the start, but somehow it hadn’t registered when Dimitri had been tested and he’d been found to possess the same crest Lambert has.
Dimitri takes to these lessons seriously, clinging to every word of advice Lambert gives with an attentiveness that surpasses his age. He’s still overly cautious and avoids touching things when he doesn’t need to, but he’s begun seeing his friends again after apologizing to a crying Felix, and Lambert has noticed that his son has become much more attached to him.
He’s not sure what to make of it until Rodrigue points out, half exasperated with his obliviousness and half fond, that Lambert is probably the only person in the world Dimitri never has to worry about hurting with his strength. The answer is a surprise to Lambert, though he supposes it shouldn’t have been.
Lambert can remember himself when he was at that age, first learning the damage his strength could cause. His own parents had been rather distant, too busy with Kingdom affairs, and Rufus always got in even worse moods whenever Lambert accidentally broke something.
“Clumsy brat,” he’d say, a level of loathing in his voice that far surpassed mere irritation. Rufus had never hesitated to sneer at him when he failed to control his Crest, had taken every opportunity to point out how ill-suited to rule Lambert was. Since a young age, it had been clear to Lambert that his brother hated him.
Lambert shakes his head, trying to redirect his thoughts. Thinking about Rufus does nothing but put him in a bad mood, so he instead thinks about Dimitri, the way he looks at him like Lambert is King Loog himself from the legends. Lambert doesn’t know what to make of it. He’s at once proud to be the object of such admiration, yet also can’t shake the feeling that he’s lying to his son, somehow.
Lambert passes by the training grounds and pauses when he notices Dimitri.
Dimitri had never been fond of fighting, disliking combat and instinctively flinching at violence. Lately, he has begun to take his training more seriously, and is often seen swinging his lance around in deep concentration, as he is now.
“He’s a real Blaiddyd,” someone says beside him as Dimitri practices lance forms. Lambert doesn’t respond.
A month ago, he’d found Dimitri crying in his room with an embroidery hoop in his lap and dozens of bent needles surrounding him on the bed. Lambert had carefully removed the needles, taken the hoop and cloth away from Dimitri, and after a bit of coaxing learned that Patricia had been trying to teach Dimitri how to sew. Lambert had, as gently as he could, explained to Dimitri that there were some things he just couldn’t do.
“Because of my Crest?” Dimitri had asked between sniffs.
“Yes,” Lambert said.
Dimitri’s expression had shifted into something dark, something bitter, something that should never be on a face so young and innocent.
“I don’t like it,” Dimitri said, hugging his knees. “I never asked for a Crest.”
A strange feeling bubbled up, and Lambert swallowed to keep it down. He kept his voice carefully steady as he answered.
“There’s good things about our Blaiddyd Crest, too.”
Dimitri looked up. “Like what?” He sounded both curious and disbelieving. Lambert ruffled his hair as he spoke, both out of habit and as a way to calm the shaking in his hand.
“You can use your strength to protect the people you care about,” he said.
“Like from assassins?”
Lambert’s eyes darkened at the mention of the assassination attempt, but made sure not to let it show to his son. “Yes, and from other things, too. You care about your friends, don’t you?”
Dimitri nodded enthusiastically, and Lambert chuckled.
“See? There’s plenty of use for your strength.”
“Even if I can’t sew?”
“Even if you can’t sew,” Lambert conceded. He was silent for a moment, gaze shifting to a flock of birds soaring in a V shape outside the window. His eyes were distant when he spoke again. “Listen to me, Dimitri. There are some things in this world that you simply won’t be able to do because of who you are. There are other things that you will excel at, even if you dislike them. As the future king, it is your duty to use the strength you have to protect the people you care about and this kingdom. That means you’ll have to make sacrifices, and you won’t always be able to do what makes you happy, but that is part of your duty. Do you understand?”
Dimitri’s blue eyes were wide as he nodded, hesitant. Lambert bent down to give his son a tight hug.
“Good,” he said.
As Lambert watches Dimitri now, swinging his lance back and forth, he can’t help but wonder if that was the wrong thing to say. Should he have consoled Dimitri instead, told him he could be whoever he wanted to be?
Lambert stares down at his own hands, images of his distant childhood and sugared lies, of his coronation and the heavy weight of the crown, flashing in his mind as he shakes his head.
No, he decides. It’s better to have told him now, while Dimitri is still young, than to let him grow up not understanding reality.
And so, Lambert strides across the training ground to where Dimitri is, calling out and instructing him on how to improve his grip.
Dimitri learns from a young age that he is not supposed to live for himself.
He has a duty: to his people, to his father, to his kingdom, and he exists to fulfill it.
Dimitri learns to enjoy fighting. He convinces himself to like the rush of swinging his lance, the adrenaline of tossing a javelin and watching it hit its mark, the rush that comes after a difficult fight. He puts thoughts of sewing and bird eggs out of his mind, tries not to think about his mother’s forlorn gaze as she stitched away beside the windowsill, and throws himself into his training.
He’s sparring with Glenn now, the older boy stepping circles around him with his lance raised. Felix was sick, or he’d be sitting on the sidelines watching. Dimitri smiles when he thinks of his friend, remembering his pout when they’d told Felix that he should rest.
“It’s not fair!” Felix had said. “Why does Glenn get to do everything with you?”
“Because,” Glenn said, ruffling his brother’s hair, “little sick boys should stay in bed until they’re better. His Highness doesn’t want your snot everywhere.”
“I’ll spar with you when you’re better,” Dimitri promised. That was usually enough to calm Felix down, but on that day, he hadn’t looked convinced. Dimitri had frowned. “Is everything alright?”
“You’ve been with Glenn a lot more,” Felix said.
“Glenn is my retainer.” The older Fraldarius sibling had been officially appointed as such a month prior. Dimitri could still remember Rodrigue and Lambert’s proud faces as they watched their children fulfill a longstanding tradition. Felix had thrown a terrible fit afterwards, proclaiming that he would do a much better job at protecting Dimitri than Glenn ever could. He was Dimitri’s best friend, he’d argued, and it wasn’t fair Glenn got to get the job just because he was older.
Dimitri can tell, looking at his friend’s face, that he’s still thinking of that, so Dimitri quickly adds, “But you’re my best friend, Felix, so you should rest and get better so we can play again!”
Felix still hadn’t looked fully convinced, but had dropped the subject. Dimitri suspects he’d gone to complain to Sylvain again, and notes to himself to ask Sylvain about it later.
Glenn suddenly darts forward, his lance shooting out in his signature jab, and Dimitri pushes up his own lance to parry it, easily matching the older boy’s strength.
“Not too bad, Your Highness,” Glenn says, stepping back and preparing another strike. Dimitri keeps his lance up, using it as a guard.
The two spar another hour before stopping to take a break. Dimitri takes a long sip of water, not noticing Glenn watching him from where he was undoing his ponytail. Dimitri pauses and glances his direction, setting the water down.
“Is something wrong?” he asks.
Glenn hums noncommittally and stands. He’s a good deal taller than Dimitri, having begun his growth spurt while Dimitri remained short for his age.
“When did you start liking fighting, Your Highness?” Glenn asks.
Dimitri frowns, trying to come up with an answer. “Hm, I’m not sure,” he says. He taps his chin in thought. “I think… maybe I got used to it?”
“Used to it.” Glenn’s voice is unimpressed, and Dimitri nods, sheepish. Glenn sighs and shakes his head in a manner that reminds Dimitri of Rodrigue whenever he was disappointed. The two were far more similar than Glenn liked to admit.
“If you’re really sure you like it, Your Highness,” Glenn says, and though he says it in an exasperated, sarcastic voice, something about the words sets Dimitri on edge. For the rest of the day, he can’t stop thinking back to it, wondering exactly why those words made Dimitri’s skin crawl.
Glenn is in a terrible mood.
That much is clear to Dimitri, even without Felix complaining to him about it. While Glenn had a rather poor temper, he had gotten better at controlling it as he grew older, relegating his anger to snappy retorts that didn’t disturb his duties or cause physical harm.
Today, however, Glenn takes no such courtesies. He snaps at anyone who approaches him and is so aggressive during his spars that his instructor kicks him off the training grounds and tells him to go cool his head. Right now, he’s standing at Dimitri’s door, arms crossed and foot tapping impatiently as he waits for Dimitri to head down to the dining hall for dinner.
Dimitri stares at Glenn for a moment, frowning, and after weighing the pros and cons, decides to ask, tentatively, “Is everything alright?”
Glenn’s gaze snaps his direction, and Dimitri freezes, certain he has said the wrong thing, but Glenn’s fury deflates just as quickly as it appeared.
“It’s nothing, Your Highness,” he says, and Dimitri can tell that his title is the only thing keeping Glenn from snapping at him, too.
“It’s clearly not,” Dimitri insists. “Please, tell me what’s wrong.”
Glenn sighs. “Stubborn as ever, Your Highness,” he mutters. He leans back against the door, posture carefully guarded. “I’m engaged to Ingrid,” he says.
Dimitri’s eyes widen. “What?” he squeaks. “When?”
“Since my old man decided on it,” Glenn says. He kicks a heel back against the door, causing the whole thing to shake, but avoids doing any lasting damage.
“…I thought you liked Ingrid?”
Glenn rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but not like that.” He lets out another sigh, and for the first time Dimitri is struck by how old he looks. There’s a weariness in his eyes that shouldn’t exist in any teenager his age, and a defeated slump to his shoulder that’s so unlike the Glenn Dimitri has grown used to. He’s unfamiliar, distant, and the thought scares Dimitri.
Glenn leans his head back against the door, eyes staring at the ceiling. “I just… I’m mad he decided it without asking me, you know?” Glenn closes his eyes. “He’s always doing stuff like that, making choices for me. My whole damn life’s been laid out for me since before I was born.”
Dimitri nods, unsure of how to answer.
“Your Highness,” Glenn suddenly says, and Dimitri jumps, looking up to face Glenn’s piercing gaze.
“Promise me,” Glenn says, and Dimitri swallows. “Promise me you won’t let this happen to you. Promise you won’t let anyone else make your path.”
“Felix doesn’t get it,” Glenn says, and Dimitri senses that the boy is rambling now. “He’s still too young, too naive. Ingrid’s obsessed with knights, and Sylvain’s…” he trails off at the mention of the red-haired boy and shakes his head, sighing and stepping away from the door.
“Just promise me, okay, Dimitri?” Glenn says.
Dimitri doesn’t understand, but because Dimitri has never seen that kind of desperation in the older boy’s eyes before, because Glenn almost never uses his real name, Dimitri promises.
Glenn relaxes, shoulders slumping. “Good,” he mutters, almost too low for Dimitri to hear. “At least that’s one of us.”
After that, Glenn is distant. His conversations with Dimitri are relegated to official business and basic pleasantries. Felix tells Dimitri that Glenn has been training more lately, and a year later, he becomes the youngest knight in the Royal Guard.
Dimitri watches as Glenn kneels to be knighted by King Lambert, a beaming Rodrigue clapping in the background, and though he stands after the ceremony, proud and head held high, Dimitri can’t shake the feeling that there’s something terribly hollow, terribly defeated, in Glenn’s eyes.
Glenn returns to his usual self after that, cracks jokes and teases them, but the feeling never goes away. Slowly but surely, Glenn molds himself into a perfect knight. He never addresses Dimitri by name again. He never speaks of that night again.
It isn’t until years later, after Glenn’s body has been burned and slashed beyond recognition, after the Kingdom falls to the flames of war, after the voices have reached a crescendo, that Dimitri understands what it was he had promised.