“That’s the last of them…” Dimitri sighed to himself, placing the most recently signed document atop of all of the other papers. He had just finished finalizing a pile of paperwork for the night. Some were due a day or two later, while others weren’t due until a few days later. Either way, he had wanted to get them all over with, preferring to spend more of his time hearing the actual voices of his people over signing off some paperwork. That, and he was also trying to save up time for his friends and family; it has been a while since he especially got to spend some time with his friends and former classmates outside of his royal duties as king.
Dimitri cleaned up his working desk area, rearranging the quills and inks in its proper places; he did his best to keep his office quarters as tidy as possible, especially after he was done with his work for the day - or in this case, the night. He then stood up from his cushioned office chair, picked up his miniature chamberstick with a glowing thin candle as lightly as possible, and made his way towards the door. With a twist of the doorknob and a push to the door, he swiftly exited his office, closing the door behind him.
The corridors of the castle were quite dark, as it was nighttime. Dimitri hadn’t noticed how long he was holed up in his office. Before he departed to the office, he was enjoying dinner with his wife and son. The sun was just starting to dip down in the sky, in the process of transitioning from its beaming yellow to a warm orange. While their family dinner together was lovely as always, he had noticed his son, Nikolai, was a little… off, in terms of behavior. He was extremely quiet and absentminded, essentially poking and prodding at his food. It was unusual for him to be acting as so; typically, the young prince would be exceedingly talkative. Both Dimitri and his wife had noticed, asking if he was alright. Nikolai flashed a bright grin as he stated that he was doing well. His smile was big and looked believable. However, Dimitri noticed that it wasn’t a genuine, true smile; he knew based on his own experiences, where he had to don such an expression as a broken prince, struggling to keep the remains of himself from shattering. That, and Nikolai’s uncharacteristically murky eyes, were proof that something may be wrong.
The shadow in his son’s eyes… He had been seeing it on and off for the past couple of days. It cast his youthful, optimistically-brimming hues into that of… guilt and disdain. It was indeed troubling; what would cause his own son to melt down into such negative emotions?
Frowning back to those thoughts, Dimitri decided to make his way to his son’s sleeping quarters. He hopes that he would be able to help his son out if he would allow him to. He typically dropped by to check up on him before bed, anyways. Dimitri also hoped that his son wasn’t fast asleep by now. Then again, it would perhaps also be a relief, as he would know that his son would be taking the time of the nights to rest up, rather than staying up and wasting the night away. Sleep is indeed crucial; it had taken some time after his vagabond days for Dimitri to truly realize the value of resting up. Though there were instances where he stood awake for nights to attend to his duties, or - worst - his inner turmoils, he still tried to get an adequate amount of rest as possible. After all, he would not hear the end of it from his wife if she found out that her husband was not taking good care of himself. Dimitri chuckled at the thought, while also feeling a chill of fear.
Moonlight glowed through the tall glass windows of the castle hall, blanketing the brick walls and royal blue carpets on the floor with its pale silver luminosity. The few knights that stood guard for the night were practically shining in the radiance of the moonlight. As Dimitri passed by each one of them, they bowed their heads in greeting, wishing him a well night. Dimitri nodded back at them in acknowledgment; he was truly grateful for these knights, to sacrifice their time for resting into keeping the castle and its inhabitants safe for the night.
After a couple of minutes of navigating through the castle, Dimitri finally arrived at his son’s sleeping quarters. He saw the orange glow of candlelight peaking through the cracks of the door; Nikolai was still up. Holding the chamberstick with one hand, Dimitri used his spare hand to open the door. He saw his son perk up at the sound of the door opening as he sat on the edge of his bed.
“Nikolai…” Dimitri greeted, an affectionate smile tugged at his lips as he fondly stared at the younger boy, “I am quite surprised to see you still awake at this hour.” He entered his son’s room and closed the door behind him. Across from him, a few feet away from the rather spacious room, was his son’s bed, lined in pastel-blue silks and comforters. As Nikolai sat on his bed, Dimitri saw a book lying atop of the bed next to the boy. It was open to a page with what seems to be a Crest scribbled on it, along with a rather wordy length of the description. Next to the boy’s bed was a polished white dresser, with a still-lighting candle on top.
Nikolai smiled up at his father. However, the smile itself was quite weak, and there were still some shadows lingering in his youthful eyes. Despite that, he spoke up, “I will be sleeping in a couple of minutes, Father.” He brought a small hand to the edge of the book and clamped it shut. “What brings you here?”
Dimitri’s eyebrows raised at the rather… odd action and question. It all seemed quite off. “I just came by to check up on you. As usual.”
“Oh, right,” Nikolai nodded with that same grin. He then glanced down at his feet. He looked quite… dejected. Especially for someone at the age of nine.
Dimitri stepped forward, a worried expression growing on his face. This, along with his mood during their evening supper, and as of lately in general, was perturbing him even more. He started off a little slowly, “My son… Is everything alright? You were awfully quiet during our evening meal.”
Nikolai immediately nodded, “Yes, Father! I am fine! I was just thinking about something…”
Dimitri cocked his head, “What was occupying you?”
“N-Nothing much! Nothing much to fret over!” Nikolai stammered. His hands were folded together on his lap, garbed in royal blue night clothing pants. His gaze didn’t completely meet Dimitri’s.
That was too fast of a response… Dimitri thought. He placed the chamberstick on the dresser next to the other candle and took a seat right next to his son. He felt himself sinking into the plush fabrics of the comforter and mattress for a couple of seconds. The king’s icy-blue eye glanced at the book for a split second; it was flipped over to the back cover, a chocolate-brown color with a summary written in silvery text. He couldn’t make out any of the text from where he was sitting since the text was practically microscopic. Dimitri decided to ask, “What are you reading at this hour?”
Nikolai physically sagged a bit as he answered in a rather reluctant manner, “Um, well… Something about Crests… Nothing really interesting or special...” He placed a palm on the book, his minuscule back nearly facing Dimitri.
Dimitri’s blonde eyebrows now wrinkled at Nikolai’s dismissive manner. His worry only increased. In a more delicate tone, he asked, “And why would you be reading up on Crests on such an hour?”
Nikolai twisted forward, his palm leaving the book as both of them now gripped his knees. His head bowed down towards his lap. His long, sunkissed locks framed around his face like a veil as his head dipped downwards, making it difficult for Dimitri to see his face. Despite that, he was able to hear his son’s voice, suddenly faint and quivering, “Well…” He took in a shaky breath, and then spoke at a slower pace, “I actually have a question, Father.”
“Yes? What is it?” Dimitri asked, his voice nearly dipping down into a whisper. He tilted his body a little forward himself, hoping to get a better look at Nikolai’s face. It was still quite an arduous task to get a proper look at his face, but Dimitri was at least able to see some of his son’s eyes through layers of his blonde disheveled strands. It was still murky and tainted with distress. Dimitri felt his heart clench; what could be troubling his young prince at such a degree?
Dimitri continued to patiently stare at Nikolai as he listened to the younger boy fumble on his words, “Are you... Am I… Do you…”
After a few more seconds of seeking out the right phrasing, Nikolai eventually settled with “Are you…” He continued on from there, “Are you disappointed in me, Father?”
Dimitri gasped, his mouth widely agape upon the sudden question. He could have sworn, the blonde man felt his heart shatter within his chest. He managed to rasp out, “My son… Why would you ask such a question?”
His single eye darted back to the book that laid next to Nikolai; the book that he read up on Crests. His eyebrows furrowed as gears turned in his head, his thoughts processing.
A book on Crests… Dimitri thought. And then that question… Wait… Oh, goddess...
Before Dimitri could even react, Nikolai whimpered, “Because… I do not bear a Crest.” He still refused to look at his father in his eye; his voice sounded so frail, so agonized, so pained.
Dimitri wistfully sighed through his nose as Nikolai’s worries confirmed his thoughts; his son was ashamed of not bearing the minor Crest of Blaiddyd or any other Crest. Ever since Nikolai was a baby, the royal doctors and monks would conduct various blood sampling and body scanning tests to detect any Crests. Each year they would test his blood and search for any forms of marks, they would end up with no results. No signs of marks on his body. No variant coursing through his blood and veins. No signs of a Crest. His recent test was just a couple of weeks ago, and it would be his last; any tests done at the age of nine yielded definite results for the rest of one’s life. Once again, he had borne no progresses. And since it was to be Nikolai’s last test, it meant that he was never going to develop any Crests ever.
Nikolai is the Crestless Prince of Faerghus.
Dimitri grimaced at the pressure the young boy may be feeling. He did not think that the news would bother him at such degrees. In fact, he thought that he would have minded bearing no Crest; whenever they received negative results from the tests, Nikolai would just shake it off with his usual wide, boyish grin, especially in his much younger days. Perhaps the weight of the crown of his head as the future king was starting to become heavy as he aged, became more mature and educated, and more aware.
“Nikolai...” he started, his voice still gentle and nearly hushed. He wrapped a comforting arm around Nikolai’s petite shoulders, “I am not disappointed in you for not bearing a Crest. I could never be.”
He was being completely honest; he was content enough for his son not having a Crest. To him, the inheritance of a Crest did not matter. Especially in this time, where many of those were also starting to value Crests less.
“Y-You’re not?” Dimitri heard Nikolai asked softly. The younger boy now turned to look directly at his father’s face. His blonde hair was now framed away from his face, leaving only his bangs to cover his forehead. His eyes were wide and shining, brimming with an intense emotion of shock. But still with lingering shame.
Dimitri nodded with a warm smile, “How could I ever be disappointed in you?”
Nikolai broke his gaze away from Dimitri, twiddling his tiny fingers. Now keeping his eyes on his hands, he dolefully muttered, “Well… I am the prince. Soon, I will take your spot as the king of our people, the king of our country.” He attempted to take in a breath, but he ended up shuddering. Dimitri saw the boy’s hands tremble; his voice had done the same as he asked, “H-How… How can I protect our country… Our people without a Crest?”
Dimitri donned a sympathetic look at his son; Nikolai had taken after him in numerous aspects, one of them being his compassion and care for the people. He was thankful that his son possesses an empathetic heart for their citizens; such kindness can lead their country in the right direction. However, he was also more than aware of the downfalls that can come with holding a thoughtful heart. Especially if the said heart was overly thoughtful.
Dimitri gave his son’s shoulder a light squeeze - putting in extra effort to not squeeze too tightly - as he answered, “No one ever said that a king needs to bear a Crest in order to rule and protect others. Having a strong will and the compassion for the people is plentiful in ensuring their protection.”
“Th-That’s not what they said!” Nikolai’s voice was still low; but it also took on a sudden shrill pitch, as if he was a few seconds close to crying. Dimitri’s eye widens with worry.
“Who are you referring to?” Dimitri asked uneasily, pulling Nikolai closer to him in an embrace.
Nikolai snuggled up against Dimitri as he answered, “Some of those lords that came from the south a couple of days ago. Mainly, Little Lord Damien and Little Lady Maura.” He took in another shaky deep breath as he continued, “Th-They told me how the former kings and regents all had Crests of Blaiddyd, and how I should also have it to rule.”
Dimitri held back a rueful sigh. Although he did consider having a Crest to not be a necessity in ruling the country, he cannot deny the historical implications of needing one. He specifically remembered how his father - a younger sibling with a Crest - was favored and chosen over his uncle - an older sibling without a Crest - to rule over Faerghus. He remembered the negative effect it had on his uncle, and how it especially reflected as he was put on the throne after the former king’s death; it resulted in the spiraling downfall of the country as a whole as he neglected it over women and alcohol, along with the strained relationship between him and Dimitri.
He then thought back to that lord and lady that told Nikolai about “needing a Crest.” They were children of nobles that still held onto the idea of worshipping Crests. Although the notion of Crest-bearers and ancient Relics being superior have started to cease over the years, there were still those that cling onto their faith of these Crests and Relics - notably nobles who have had gone significantly far with the use of these Crests and Relics. The population of those stubbornly holding onto their Crest ideas are indeed very few, a small group; yet, they were somehow loud and relentless. Dimitri had dearly hoped that those voices would not reach to Eisner’s ears. Unfortunately, however, it already has, through the Little Lord and Lady. Dimitri knew that those children weren’t at fault; they were under the influence of their parents, after all. He did hope that they would grow out of their parents’ shadows and learn about equality of those with Crests and those without Crests.
Still keeping his arm around Nikolai, Dimitri spoke, “That was all in the past, though. It does not mean it needs to continue as so. Besides,” he patted his son’s shoulder lightly; Nikolai again looked up at him, eyes still brimming with emotion, “Crests are starting to lose importance these days. Many people are starting to realize that they are not necessary for everything. Especially when it comes to ruling. Take Uncle Ashe, for instance.” Dimitri grinned fondly at the mention of his friend and former classmate, “He’s the Lord of House Gaspard. Even though he bears no Crest, he still defends and governs over his land fairly. Not only that, but your uncle also has tremendous skill and strength without a Crest. He always had great assets especially with the bow even before he became a Lord. Which also makes him able to protect his people.”
Nikolai continued to stare at his father, staying silent. However, his sorrowful gaze was starting to waver.
Dimitri continued, “Uncle Dedue also has no Crest. Yet, he is perhaps one of the strongest, most capable men I have ever known, ever since we were young. He was - and still is to this day - very strong and also quite tactile. Your uncle is now using his skills to help aid the people of Duscur.” Dimitri’s gaze softened. “You see, my child, both of your uncles have no Crests. However, that does not limit them. Their hard work and dedication are what truly mattered. With their efforts, they were both able to make great achievements and become highly capable. In fact, they both outperform many of those that actually bear a Crest. Do you see what I am trying to say?”
Nikolai thought aloud, “You are trying to say that… there are those without a Crest that can do as much as those with one?”
Dimitri patted his son’s head, “Exactly. Those without Crests are just as capable as those with them, especially if they put in the effort to improve. They are able to go on par with those that bear a Crest. In fact, I have seen more hard-working people without Crests than those with. I feel that many of those with Crests tend to rely more on the strength of their Crest than on their own inner strength. You, in a way, have the advantage of being able to focus solely on yourself. To build your own strength within yourself.”
Nikolai shook his head as if he was starting to understand his father’s message. He then asked, “Like Uncle Dedue and Uncle Ashe?”
Dimitri nodded. “Yes, just like your uncles. I fully believe you will be as strong, fair, and capable as the two of them.”
Nikolai shook his head again. After a couple of seconds, he then asked, “Father… Do you think I am hard-working?”
Dimitri answered confidently and without hesitation, “Without a doubt, my child.” His hand went back to Nikolai’s shoulder, “You are a very hard-working prince, always putting in dedication into your training and studies. Always seeking out ways to learn and improve.”
Nikolai smiled at the response; it was minuscule, but it was almost completely devoid of any lingering self-loathing or doubt. “You really think so, Father?”
Dimitri responded, “Of course. If you keep working diligently, you will make a fine King one day. Even your concern earlier about protecting our people without a Crest reflects on how well of a King you will be, especially a warm-hearted one.” He again placed his hand on his son’s head; this time, he stroked the top of his sunny-blonde locks, earning a giggle from Nikolai. “Your mother and I… We are blessed to have been able to bring such a strong, compassionate soul like you into this world. We have absolute faith in you for the future, to lead our country and our people justly.”
“Oh, Father…” Dimitri heard Nikolai murmur. Then, he felt tiny, thin arms wrap around his larger waist and chest. A hug. Dimitri encircled the boy with his own arm as he returned the warm gesture. Nikolai looked up towards him, his chin resting on his father’s chest as he admitted, “I feel a little bit better, Father. Thank you.” His eyes now shined like the starry nights of countryside Faerghus, as they usually do. As they should always be. Free from the darkness that holds him back. Free of doubt, of loathe.
A wave of relief overflowed Dimitri as he heard those words, saw those eyes. He was glad that he was able to offer comfort, even though he has a Crest himself. However, that did not single him out from the experiences he had as one with a powerful Crest. He remembered the constant, grueling training he had to endure under Gustave’s tutoring daily and nightly throughout his childhood due to his Crest; how he had to wear extremely heavy armory as he was forced to run laps across mountains at cold and late nights, lift boulders nearly four times his size as a child, and train with tall lances for hours on end. How he had to quell a rebellion at the age of fifteen.
Looking back at his childhood, along with the stories and experiences of those without Crests, he realized that while those with Crests have suffered just as much as those without; while those without Crests were constantly neglected and looked down at, those who bore Crests often dealt with tremendous pressure and attention. It was unfair on both ends. He would not have wished any of the pressure and weight he faced as a child, nor the abuse and neglect his uncle or Sylvain’s brother had felt, upon Nikolai or any other child.
Perhaps that could be a story for another time.
But for now, Dimitri spoke up, “I am glad, my child. I hope you stay as so. Know that you are also not alone in one day ruling without a Crest. Edward, Uncle Sylvain’s firstborn son among the twins, also bears no Crest. Soon, he will inherit Uncle Sylvain’s role as Margrave, along with the land as a ruling Lord. His sibling, Émeline, does not bear a Crest, either. But she would soon be taking up an important role in the future, as well.”
“None of them have a Crest?” Nikolai asked, sounding quite surprised. The boy unwrapped his arms around Dimitri, now peering up at him, “They never mentioned that to me. What about their younger sister, Clara?”
“She has not developed a Crest, either,” Dimitri answered, “It may be likely that she will not bear a Crest, either.”
“I see…” Nikolai mused, “Is Uncle Sylvain alright with that?”
“They are, undoubtedly. In fact, your Uncle Sylvain has been working extraordinarily hard to persuade nobles that Crests are unnecessary, and to promote equality for those with and without Crests. It has been quite difficult at some points, and as you have witnessed, there are some that still hold onto the unneeded values of Crest superiority. Even with my aid, it is still quite difficult. However, Uncle Sylvain has been able to relay his message successfully to many others, as well.” Dimitri kept his arm around his son as he continued, “Perhaps when you become King, you can help continue the spread of the message, in order to further unify the country and its people. Not only that, but you also would not be alone in this matter, as his children will also be able to help out in the future alongside you. What do you say?”
Nikolai stared at his father for a couple of seconds. Even with the candlelight beginning to dim down, Dimitri was able to see his son’s eyes glimmer with ideas, with dreams and hopes, with inspiration. He then nearly exclaimed, “That sounds like a great idea, Father! I would love to carry on Uncle Sylvain’s message!”
That’s my boy… Dimitri thought proudly. The boy with great enthusiasm and aspirations for the future was back. His bundle of joy and compassion.
Nikolai's tiny hands balled up into fists as he eagerly went on, “I will show them that my Uncle Sylvain is right through Uncle Dedue and Uncle Ashe’s legacies! I will show them that people without Crests are just as strong as people with Crests! I will create equality among everyone!”
Nikolai just kept going on and on, afterward. Dimitri just grinned and nodded along, glad to see his son no longer gloomy about himself. Glad to see him spirited and passionate about leading his people, especially at a very early age. Gushing about ideas to implement in the future, the thoughts of protecting their people, improving foreign relations. It was these aspects of his son that truly shined the most, like the morning sun.
Through his son’s energetic vows and the rapidly diminishing light of the candles in the room, Dimitri realized that he may have made Nikolai too enthusiastic, especially this late at night. He just remembered how he originally came in to see if his son was sleeping. Instead, he had somehow made him more awake than needed. He sighed to himself; it was a hefty price for cheering up his son.
Despite that, he didn’t really mind.