Imperial Year 1185
Red Wolf Moon
Two Weeks Later
“Oh, that guy? The red-head with the silver tongue? Yeah, he came through here.”
Like an oasis in the desert, like rain during a drought, like a breeze of cold air on a hot day - the tavern owner had seen Sylvain.
Finally. It had been almost two weeks since they had a lead.
Dimitri heard the exchange from his spot at the table nearby, his eyes lingering on Byleth’s back. The old man behind the counter had no subtilty about himself, he spoke as if addressing the entire room. The only other people that would hear the exchange was a shady man in the corner, and an old woman knitting at a table by herself. The building was empty with the darkness of midnight blanketing over the world - normal people were in bed by this time. Yet, it was obvious that Dimitri and Byleth were not normal.
It was a small village, it had very few houses, and even fewer businesses. The tavern was the biggest building, yet it remained empty. Dimitri found himself comfortable at the table in the corner while he watched his traveling partner question the owner. Byleth always insisted upon being the one to speak to everybody, she liked to be in control that way.
“Did he mention where they were going?” She leaned forward on the counter, her hands flat against the surface while she questioned the old man, “Was he okay? Did he act odd at all?”
A scoff that echoed through the empty room, “Odd? Hell yes, he did! He was all over this one big chested lady,” he put his hands to his chest as if to emphasize the sheer volume of this woman - most likely Cornelia, Dimitri realized with a bristle. The man’s eyes widened as he recounted the experience, “but then he left her and went after my wife! And the missus is loyal, lemme tell ‘ya, but this boy was sure charming. Heck, if I was a younger man…”
Was there some sort of discrepancy in this world that made Sylvain truly charming now? Or perhaps Dimitri’s memory of his dear friend was corrupted by his distaste for his flirtatious manner. Whatever the reason, he had been womanizing a complete trail through Western Faerghus.
Byleth had a wonderful poker face. She raised a brow, her lips set into a line. She did not even react to the old man with his hands on his chest, “Did you happen to hear where he was traveling to?”
“South! South, they all go South. That gang o’ kids who hang around the woods said he and his weird friends were heading South!”
Garreg Mach, South. The Oghma mountain range separated Faerghus and Adrestia. Sylvain would have no choice but to stop at the monastery to be able to move any further Southwards. Dimitri rested his cheek in his palm and thought for a moment - would it be the monastery, or Enbarr? Both options were plausible, with as little information he had about the cretins that he traveled with.
Byleth had the same line of thought. She looked over her shoulder to eye Dimitri across the room. Her lips moved silently, mouthing something that seemed like ‘the monastery’. Her brows furrowed in that way they always did when she was worried over something she couldn’t immediately fix.
“So uh,” the tavern owner broke the beat of silence with narrowed eyes and a gruff clearing of his throat, “you his mother, or something?”
His mother? Byleth? Who was younger than Sylvain?
He couldn’t possibly be serious.
“Excuse me?” The royal voice had emerged out from her monotone, her lips parting in shock. Yet, this old man was serious. Byleth stared with narrowed eyes, “I am not his mom.”
“Ex-lover, then,” another nonchalant wave, “kids these days, with all your boyfriends and dates. Frankly, I miss the days of arranged marriage! The princess had the right idea!”
If only he knew. That arrangement was not the princess’s idea.
Unamused, Byleth turned away from him. She was done with the conversation, her face blank as she approached Dimitri. He offered a smile while he read the most subtle of expressions that flickered across her features - she was annoyed, worried, miffed. She was not in a good mood today.
And that was okay, she was tired. They'd been traveling for two weeks straight. As she sat down in the chair across from him, he slid the plate of jelly covered bread to her, “Eat. You deserve it after that.”
“No, no,” she pushed the plate back, “you haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“I’m fine, really.”
“Lance-Snapper, you need food-”
He nudged the plate back towards her, “I’m fine, your highness. You eat.”
“We are not having this argument again.”
“We are. And you need it more than I do.”
“You are so stubborn.
A rueful, amused smile, “Yes, I am. And I’m right.”
“I’ve already eaten today, Dimitri.”
“Eat again, it’s been a while. I can handle it-”
“No, you can’t. It’s been 24 hours.”
How did she know? Was she keeping track by the length and direction of the shadows? Even he didn’t bother to pay attention to such things. It was in the last two weeks that they’d begun their travels again, when he finally noticed just how observant she was in this lifetime - possibly a result of being raised as royalty. One had no choice but to be observant of the little details of life, and the people around you. As a mercenary, she was far more one track minded.
And she was most likely correct, it had been 24 hours since he ate that chicken leg, stolen from a farm in the village several miles away - He was very good at stealing chickens.
“I’d rather you have it,” he held the plate towards her so she could not push it away any longer, “please? I heard your stomach growling earlier.”
It had been, he knew that she was hungry. His crest allowed him to go longer with his extra stamina, and his high tolerance for pain. He would be fine for another few hours.
Yet, Byleth narrowed her eyes at him. They were fetching, as always, dark and lash lined with a certain kind of intelligence flickering behind them. She sighed, looking suspicious, “How much money do we have left?”
Very little, which is why he was giving the food to her. They barely had enough for that piece of bread, let alone two whole meals.
“A bit? Let me see the pouch.”
He knew he was caught. Sighing, he unstrapped the coin pouch from his side and handed it over to her. She snatched it away and opened the top to peer inside of it’s dark confines.
“It’s nearly empty.”
“Yes, well, that’s what happens when you spend it.”
She looked up, wide eyed, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
A shrug, “I didn’t want you to worry. I’m used to living like this, your highness, it’s not that shocking to me, I suppose.”
“Well, it’s shocking to me,” she peered inside of the bag once more, closing one eye as she lifted it closer to her face, “Goodness, we can’t even get a room tonight.”
“We can get a small one,,” he tapped the edge of the plate to grab her attention, “you just eat this. I can go hunting tonight.”
“So no sleep or food?”
No, not tonight. At least not for him. He sent her a subtle smile, a close lipped expression that spoke a million words she’d never understand in this lifetime. She always looked at him as if she didn’t know what he was thinking - he hadn’t seen that look since before they were married. It was refreshing, but odd, new and old at the same time. She simply didn’t know him now.
She, also, didn’t quite understand the lengths that he would go to keep her happy and healthy. “I’ll be fine. I’ve told you before that my crest allows me extra stamina.”
Her shoulders fell, “I just don’t think you should push it-”
“I’m your knight. Let me be… knightly.”
“It’s not very knightly to collapse from exhaustion like you did two days ago.”
“I apologized for that,” for her having to drag him across the road, straining her shoulder in the process and worrying over whether her traveling partner was dead or not. It had to have been at least a little bit traumatizing to have him fall face-first into the dirt. “But I’m okay, trust me.”
Trust him. He hoped that she could one day, he hoped that she might just let herself do so. Sothis assured him that she was beginning to, yet he had trouble seeing it.
“I should just go hunting with you-”
“Your highness, please,” he put up an argumentative hand, “I’ll be okay. All I want is for you to get some rest.”
A beat of thoughtful, hesitant silence. The sound of the old woman across the room and her knitting needles filled up the space between them, coupled with the grumbles of the tavern keeper speaking under his breath. Dimitri loved the silence of taverns after midnight, it was the most calming time of day for him.
“Okay…” Defeated, Byleth took a bite of the bread and closed her eyes, savoring the flavor, “Don’t get hurt, I can’t hunt as well as you. I’d starve if you went missing.”
She’d starve if he went missing. Well, he couldn’t possibly allow that to happen. Keeping her safe was his number one priority.
“I promise I’ll make it back safely, your highness,” she had stopped trying to correct him into saying her actual name, an interaction that always reminded him of himself and Dedue. He had newfound understanding of his retainer’s insistence on titles now, having actually been in that position himself as of late.
He stood from his chair and pushed it back into the table. She took another bite of the jelly smeared bread and closed her eyes, sighing deeply as she chewed. If she was happy, he was too, no matter how much his stomach panged with hunger. He could handle it, he knew that she could not.
“I’ll be back later,” his eyes went to the nearly empty money pouch on the table, “go ahead and get a room for the night. Lock your door, too,” his voice lowered to a whisper, “that man over there has been staring.”
Byleth, while observant about the people around her, was unobservant about the feelings of others. She straightened up, mid-bite, and glanced about the room. It was so empty that her eyes landed rather quickly on the stranger sitting at the table far away, in the shadows. He was not staring in that moment, but Dimitri had a perfect view of him so as to catch his subtle glances towards Byleth. He could’ve been dangerous, a spy - or simply a curious villager who couldn’t sleep.
Whatever he was, he was suspicious. Byleth looked back to Dimitri, “I’ll keep my sword close.”
He smiled, “I’ll try to return as quickly as possible.”
Another bite of her bread, another sigh, “Stay safe, Dima.”
The nickname hit him like a slap to the face. He couldn’t recall if she had ever called him that before, if he had ever noticed it. He didn’t know. But now, in this moment, she said it. The name that had been tagged onto him for his entire life. His father called him Dima, and Byleth used to call him that in another life. But now, she was not his wife, and they were not in love - mutual love, on his end he was still very much in love with her - and ‘Dima’ had fallen into disuse for the most part.
Yet, now, here she was, looking up at him with wide eyes. She had no idea the havoc she could wreak with those lips of hers.
“Do you not want to be called that?” Respectful, as always, she sent him an endearing frown, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“N-No!” He nearly shrieked in his absolute shock and panic, “No, your highness, I apologize for my odd behavior.”
“It’s… uh, quite alright.”
“It just caught me off guard,” he put a hand to his chest and sighed, trying to steady himself, “I didn’t expect it, is all.”
“Are you… okay with it?”
Was he okay with it?
Were the birds okay with flying? Were flowers okay with soaking up the sun? Was the ocean okay with it’s beauty?
“Of course,” a smile of relief, of happiness, of a marriage long forgotten, “I’m absolutely okay with it.”
“Okay… Call me Byleth, then.”
She didn’t understand, and how could she? She wouldn’t understand how much it hurt.
“Fine, sir knight,” her chin lifted as she took another nonchalant bite of her bread, avoiding his eyes in favor of the wall in front of her, “then you shall never be known as ‘Dima’.”
What a wicked woman. He swore he could hear Sothis snickering in the back of his mind.
And it was perfectly fine that she would not refer to him as such. It would most likely catch him off guard every time, he would never grow used to it again. Not unless they were married like they used to be. The nickname ‘Dima’ shouldn’t be used by someone such as her. It was teasing, cruel - his heart could only take so much.
He smiled in the most charming way he could - which was not very charming at all. Byleth’s eyes flickered towards him and lingered as he gave a short, polite bow, “I’ll be back later. Stay safe, your highness.”
Another flicker of emotion, another unreadable face. She bit her lip, staring at him. Her lips parted to say something, but no sound came.
“She’s blushing.” Sothis whispered.
The goddess herself was absolutely insane. He’d never have guessed that an almighty deity would be so speculative, so dramatic, so as to see something that was not there.
It struck his heart like lightning. A rock caught in his throat.
“Goodnight, your highness… I’ll be back soon.”
He needed some fresh air. He needed to get out of there, out from under her eyes.
Some days, he just couldn’t take it anymore.
The most terrifying part of this altered reality were the memories of his life before.
And how they had begun to fade.
Every day, Dimitri did the same exercise. He would walk through the woods of Faerghus and close his eyes. His feet knew the way from years of walking these same trails. Byleth would oftentimes be beside him, but today she was not. It was dark, and she was back at the tavern buying a room for herself. Dimitri was alone tonight, and he could think far better than usual. He could try to remember.
It was only natural, he supposed, that memories fade. The faces of his children had begun to disappear, his oldest son with his sarcastic sense of humor. His daughter, with her stern demeanor that masked the sensitive girl underneath. They were his life, and they were probably raising their families right then, long past the mourning of their elderly father. He hoped that his eldest was good at ruling the Kingdom, at least. He had a feeling he’d be fine.
Yet, as terrible as it felt, their faces had begun to blur. It had been 23 years in this new reality, and they didn’t exist now. Perhaps, in another timeline, everything was as it should be. It was all too confusing to even comprehend, their existing and not existing at the very same time. He wished he didn’t have these memories, it was too scary to think of losing them.
One thing that would never fade were his memories of Byleth. She never left him, as she promised. The wedding, the years they spent together, the children they raised.
As he walked through the woods, listening to the sounds of crickets around him, he thought of the past, his real life. It almost seemed as if it had never existed in the first place.
Did he want it to exist? Why had Sothis given him this life, in particular? Did she truly mess up, or was this on purpose? He could have the relationship with his father, the one he had always desired. And he was spending this opportunity on wooing Byleth once more.
Guilt began to eat away at his heart. It was slow, like a dark cloud hanging over him. He looked at his feet, muddy and wet from trudging through half melted sleet on the corners of the trail. It was the wettest time of year, and Lambert’s favorite. His father had always loved autumn and it’s changes. It was something he didn’t know about him until knowing him now, in this altered reality.
Yet, his father thought he was delusional. He would not even listen to his defense. It was probably for the best, even if Dimitri didn’t know how this entire ordeal would end.
There was a very good chance that he’d be thrown in jail by the end of all this. Frankly, he found himself not caring.
Byleth was safe, that was all that mattered. He’d made sure of it.
He was not one for archery, but he could shoot well enough to catch dinner. He had a cheap bow in his hands, pilfered from the last village since he had broken three of them already. Byleth figured out rather quickly that she could not waste money on weapons, as Dimitri would oftentimes break them after just two uses. This bow was new, sturdy, but cheap. The string dug into his fingers as he flicked at it absently, walking through the woods in the dark.
He didn’t know what to expect this night, he didn’t know if he would even catch anything. This part of Faerghus, the Southwestern border, was not very ripe with game. It was far more bleak than Fhirdiad, rainier and more humid with an odd mixture of weather, as if the clouds could not make up their mind. He didn’t quite like this part of the country, but the forests were thick, and he could find solace in the moist greenery around him. He’d hidden from many search parties in the tall branches of this place.
The moon above was bright, providing enough light for him to see by. It silhouetted the mountains in the distance, the highest trees rising above him. It shone down on the ground as he walked, trying his best to not trip on overgrown roots in the carved out trail. He was simply glad to not be climbing the side of the mountain for once - his legs ached with the past week’s traveling.
While there was not much light, he could see well enough. He fancied himself more accustomed to the dark, forced by his chronic insomnia and his love of the quiet. He felt comfortable, his bow in his hands, shoulders straight and to attention. He nearly didn’t notice the shadow standing on the trail in front of him.
A man. A thing. Something, some type of creature. Appearing as if summoned by the shadows themselves.
His eyes shone golden like a cat’s. Dimitri’s heart rose to his ears and skipped a heavy, painful beat. His breath stopped, his blood froze, his skin crawled. It smelled like sulfur.
There was someone there, in the dark. Nobody had been standing there just a moment ago. He had appeared in all of his dark glory, eyes locked onto Dimitri.
His reflexes told him to lie, to put on an act, as if he was just a simple hunter looking for food. It would be too far from the truth. He could only hope that the strange shadow would not notice the royal blue color of his cloak, and the significance in it’s tones. He could only be a simple hunter in this moment, nothing worth bothering.
“W-Who goes there?” he faked his best terrified stutter, his senses on high alert, “I-I see you!”
A tendril, like those fried squid the cooks would always make at the academy. How odd, to see the outstretched hand of a shadow reaching for him across the trail. He took a step back, hair raising on his arms as he tried to catch his breath.
“Who are you?” The shadow asked. It’s voice was like hell, what he imagined the fires of Aleill would sound like if they could speak.
“I'm a hunter,” he answered, “who are you?”
The shadow would not give him the response he wanted, “Why are you here?”
Why else? He was far too old for these nonsensical games. He’d seen too much in his life to be scared by some random person cloaked in darkness, he’d fought Hubert before, he’d seen worse. “I’m looking for food.”
“No,” a hiss, an entirely too human hiss. Pale skin flickered for just a moment under the moonlight above, the wrinkled cheek of someone who had lived past their prime. Dimitri squinted at the sight, watching the shadow lose it’s composure, “Why are you here? You’re out of place, hunter. You’re not meant for this world.”
Not meant for this world. He was correct. He was entirely too correct. He was the only person to ever know that his existence was not meant to be.
Now, the fear set in. Dimitri felt cold, goosebumps rising on his arms. His hair stood on it’s ends as he stepped away. He kept his finger on the notch of the bow, ready to attack if need be. With his heart racing, he asked, “What do you mean?”
“That girl,” the man disguising himself as a shadow explained ominously “Byleth. Bring her to Garreg Mach.”
Did he really think that would work?
A cloud passed from it's spot over the moon above. It shone down on the shadow and revealed the bright eyes and wrinkles behind his dark magic. Dimitri let his shoulders drop in sudden surprise as the face smiled at him across the woodlan trail, “Solon? Is that you?”
A pause. A glare.
The shadow flickered with annoyance, “No! Quiet, you asinine ape-”
“I have ended you before,” he held his bow up, arrow pointed at the Agarthan, “and I will not hesitate to do so again.”
The shadow began to flicker more quickly as if he was about to retreat. Solon himself was cloaked by the darkness, yet the bright moon above betrayed his ghastly form. With golden eyes, he stared at Dimitri, wide and entirely too reptilian. “Bring the princess to Garreg Mach!”
“Like hell I will!”
“You are a fool,” the old man spat bitterly, “you have a chance to change the world for the better, to do what you had wanted before! You were held back by human restraints, your Majesty. You do not need to stay weak as you are now.”
Held back by his human restraints. Weak. How could this shadow possibly know of his past life? “You died long ago, Solon, you know nothing.”
“Ah, but now I am alive,” he spread his hands apart, “And I can help you. Take the princess to Garreg Mach, and she shall love you again. The world will be right once more. Isn’t that what you want, your Majesty? Isn’t that why you’re here?”
Scowling, Dimitri let loose an arrow. It flew from his bow, flying through the air with a whistle. It passed through the smokey shadow and lodged itself into the ground behind him. The noise was deafening, but the smell of sulfur and fire had disappeared.
Solon was gone. The shadow was gone. Dimitri was alone once more.
Silence set in, thick with anxiety and tension. His racing heart slowed as the crickets began to chirp in their usual song. “Goddess,” he ran his hand through his hair, “I’m stupid. I should’ve captured him.”
“I don’t know if you could’ve,” answered Sothis smartly, “but it’s fine, at least you know where not to go.”
A sigh, “Byleth has her sights set on the monastery, she knows Sylvain is there.”
“Sylvain is not her primary objective, though, is he?”
No. He was not. Byleth just wanted to run away for a while, and Dimitri was the fool who helped her do so.
He would obviously end up in jail at the end of all of this. He knew what awaited him.
And now, with the Argarthians involved, he could only wonder what it was that they wanted. Solon was far more intelligent than that, he would not appear to Dimitri so suddenly, so obviously, and simply ask him for whatever he wanted. He had to know that Dimitri would not give in to any requests, if he had one bit of sense.
So, what was his point? What did he know about him? And how did he know that he didn’t belong in this timeline? It was all too confusing, too odd, and too stupid.
He let the situation sink in. Solon, who had tried to kill Byleth once before. Perhaps he was waiting in the monastery for her arrival, ready to kill her again. Sothis was not with her this time, though, and she could not cut her way through the sky. She was normal in this life, she was only human, for once. The very thought brought a shiver through his veins.
“This is too damn confusing,” he told Sothis, “If Solon is involved, so is Edelgard. Just like I thought.”
“I thought there was no war?”
He bristled in disgust, “Not every war has to be played in public.”
“Hmm,” the Goddess mused in the back of his mind, her presence filling the forefront of every thought, “But Byleth didn’t seem concerned about her earlier.”
He didn’t miss a beat, “Was I ever concerned about her before she took off the mask?”
“...Good point. What are you thinking, then?”
“I’m thinking… that we need to avoid the monastery.”
“Distract her from Sylvain?”
That wouldn’t be difficult, as concerned as she was for her fiancé, he was a good excuse for her to continue their travels. Yet, Garreg Mach was the only safe way South - unless they moved the complete opposite direction and went through Alliance territory.
Byleth was terrible at reading maps, she had Dimitri always do that for her. He could lead her East, towards the Alliance, and completely bypass whatever awaited her in Garreg Mach. With the high profile Sylvain and his posse kept, he was sure that they’d hear at least something of him in their travels.
Yet… Sylvain could also be in danger. He might need Dimitri and Byleth’s help as soon as possible. Could he really afford to be selfish?
What that Agarthan said was odd - almost as if he knew who Dimitri truly was. How could they possibly know that? Despite their dark magic, they did not have the power of Sothis.
It was far past his understanding. He’d always known that there were odd, unexplainable things in Fodlan. The very existence of his wife was one of them. Yet, he’d never bothered to unravel the mysteries. He was far too busy.
Sothis was waiting for an answer, quiet for once in the back of his mind. He wondered if this was how Byleth spent that one year of her life, haunted by the ever-heavy presence of a Goddess. It was invasive, distracting. He sighed, “I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to take her to Garreg Mach, but what if Sylvain needs help?”
An amused huff, “He seems perfectly fine! What I’m wondering is why Solon had acted so stupid. Last time we met he sent Byleth into oblivion.”
“... What do you mean?” He recalled the battle, the gut wrenching feeling when he thought he’d lost her, he never wanted to experience that again.
”What do you mean what do I mean? Are you dumb?”
He had newfound respect for Byleth dealing with this Goddess as long as she did.
Sothis huffed like a child, “It’s far too obvious! He tells you to go to Garreg Mach, he ought to know that you won’t! Maybe he wants you to stay away from there.”
Yes, or… “Maybe he’s just stupid in this timeline.”
“Stupidity doesn’t change based on timelines!”
“Why not? Everything else did!”
“You’re rude,” another huff, a high pitched squeak that reminded him of how his youngest daughter used to pout. He wondered if she took after the Goddess in her girlish mannerisms. Sothis was part of his family, after all, in some odd way that he never understood.
Without a goodbye, she left. Her presence filtered from his mind like a mist dissipating with the sun. She came and went as she pleased - it almost felt like his mind was not his own.
Dimitri stood in the dark, in the middle of the forest trail. The bow was empty in his hands, and he had not yet caught dinner for the next day. Byleth was most likely retiring to her room by then.
He sighed and readied another arrow between his fingers. While having traveled with Lambert and Dedue this lifetime, they were adverse to staying at inns. He preferred the ground over a soft bed, yet he knew Byleth’s back was accustomed to modern comforts. He would give her that - he’d give her anything.
With Sothis gone, he could finally think. He walked down the trail and kept his eyes open for anything lurking in the woods. He wasn’t the best at hunting, but he knew how to survive, he knew how to take care of those he loved. The next village was miles away and would take nearly another day to get to, with nowhere to stop in between.
Then, there was the other option, to go East, to bypass Garreg Mach completely. It would be far more difficult to travel, and there was the chance that it would not even be safer.
Perhaps Sothis was correct. Perhaps it was a trap.
The forest was alive with the sound of bugs, the falling of autumn leaves onto the soft floor. Behind him, a branch snapped with a quick noise that perked at his ears.
His heart skipped a beat. He whirled around to face the direction the sound came from, “Who’s there? Solon?”
Her hair and her clothes were far too dark in the shadows of the trees. She blended in behind the thick tree trunk she leaned against, pushing her palms flat against the bark and watching him from a distance. All he could see was the silhouette of her body, the light color of her skin, the sword reflecting at her hip.
Her voice was unmistakable. Relief flooded his senses as he let out a short sigh. He lowered his bow and offered a smile, “Oh, I apologize. You just snuck up on me.”
A beat of silence. She watched from her spot on the trunk, shifting on her feet as if she was uncomfortable. The forest at night had that effect on its visitors.
“... Who’s Solon?”
He wasn’t quite sure how to answer that.
“How much did you hear?”
“I just arrived,” a shrug in the shadows, “was there more for me to hear?”
A sigh. His heart had begun to race once more. What could he possibly say to her? To explain that some magical old man told him to take her to the Monastery?
Yet, it was in these moments that his supposed delusions came in handy. He could simply tell the truth.
“Well,” he shifted uncomfortably, “you know how I’m from an alternate reality? This old man from that time appeared, and uh, he just insulted me is all.” An understatement, to say the least.
“Ah… I see…”
He was so on the spot. He felt like a light was shining over him. Byleth simply watched.
He’d creeped her out again. Why couldn’t he just stop doing that?
“So,” he cleared his throat, “may I ask what you’re doing here?”
She was supposed to be at the tavern, sleeping in her bed. Yet, she took a step towards him with her eyes wide in shock. She glanced around the woods as if she was under attack, “Is that Solon man still around?”
“No!” He reassured, putting up a hand, “he left when I tried to shoot him.”
Her eyes flickered to the arrow sticking up from the wet ground ahead, then back to him. She was wary, tense, “Are you okay, Dimitri? Are you… uh, seeing things?”
She hadn’t looked at him like that since Arianrhod.
The world wanted to stop around him. His mind wanted to take a break, to tune out the insects of the forest, the wind whispering through the trees. His heart caught in his throat as he stared at his beloved, soaking in every detail of the suspicious expression she wore.
How many lifetimes would it take for him to escape the stigma of his trauma?
“I-I promise it really did happen,” his voice stuttered with an emotion he didn’t want to identify, “your Highness, I did not imagine that. He was here, he just disappeared. I don’t… I don’t hallucinate.” Not anymore, at least.
Byleth looked away. Her hand remained on the hilt of her sword, her eyes avoiding his in the soft shine of the moon above. She would ignore his promises, answering instead, “I didn’t get a room. I felt bad for you out here alone.”
Avoidance, whether it be from chosen ignorance, or fear. He could go with the flow she created, pushing aside his own anxieties in order for thinly veiled comfort.
“You need rest,” an assurance, “if not the inn, then allow me to set up a tent for you.”
Her hands drew from her sword, to her chest, where they clasped together as if she was trying to hold herself together. Only he would catch the hesitation that flickered through her eyes.
“I came out here to hunt with you,” she finally responded, “to see how you do it. I thought that if I learned, then we could trade and you could get some sleep.”
A nice gesture, one he hoped that she wouldn’t regret. Yet, to imagine teaching her, to spend extra time alongside her. It was tempting not to accept her offer.
“I don’t know,” he allowed a sigh, “what if the King finds out I was putting you in danger? You could get mauled by a red wolf, it’s that time of year.”
Byleth’s gaze hardened. She spread her hands and gestured to the woods around her, “This entire trip is dangerous. If you were that worried then you’d had taken me back to Fhirdiad by now.”
He hated that she had a point. But he is that worried, he was only here for her sake - to make her happy. He’d most likely be in jail by the end of it all anyway.
As hesitant as she looked, she still stared with endearing eyes. He gulped, “I… I can’t resist that look. Fine, if you really want to learn then I’ll teach you.”
The most subtle of smiles. His heart skipped a beat, the air left his lungs. He would never be used to her.
“Thank you, Dima.”
A whirlwind of shadow, tinted purple with dark magic. The air smelled of sulfur and fire. Heat filled the room as Thales watched his subordinate materialize in front of him.
He breathed a deep, heavy sigh. His voice croaked with age, “The boy was not interested.”
“Has that ever stopped us before? Was not Edelgard resistant?”
The old man spread his crinkled hands apart, “The girl is different-“
“Why?” A hiss from a thin set of lips, “She had a goal, as does he! Keep trying, you fool. He will give in eventually.”
He would, as they all do.
A knock at the door broke the thick tension of the room. Thales sat up to attention, while Solon conjured another teleportation spell. Dark magic swirled around him and entered his lungs, taking his body far, far away.
“Lord Arundel?” Asked the servant behind the door, “I apologize for bothering you, but the King is holding another meeting and requests your presence.”
His face was in the process of morphing back into a human’s, “Oh yes, I’ll be there in a minute, thank you.”
The king. The Eisner family was full of too trusting fools.
While one old man reported to Thales, another reported to Ingrid, hundreds of miles away from the capital. He slipped into her camp, silent as the night.
“Sir Knights,” he bowed to her and Glenn, “They just left the village, presumed to be traveling Westward.”
Glenn kept his eyes on the flickering flames of the campfire. One hand held his sword, the other holding Ingrid’s in a rare show of affection.
“Garreg Mach,” he mumbled as he glanced towards his fiancé, “that has to be where they’re going.”
She sent him the softest of smiles, “I’ll send a battalion there to warn them. They can capture him as they arrive.”
“Wonderful idea, dear. That loser’ll be in jail in no time.”
She merely smiled. Glenn got carried away so easily, he believed everything she told him. It was the fortunate side of being in love.
Ingrid stood to approach her Pegasus knights at the other end of the camp. She passed by her and Glenn’s tent, large like an army general’s. His own battalion of knights were all swordmasters, who were trained to work with her Pegasus knights. They took care of their mounts as Ingrid approached.
Her second in command stood to attention. A hand went to her forehead in a salute, “Sir Knight! To attention, ladies!”
Ingrid clasped her hands behind her back while the knights lined up in front of her. They watched, and waited for the command to come. “Knights, are you ready for your first assignment? You’ve been traveling for weeks, break time is over.”
A smile, “Great… and remember, this is between us. Do not tell anybody your assignment.”
She glanced at the swordmasters across camp, all of them loyal to Glenn only.
Clearing her throat, she went on, “Ladies, you are to go to Garreg Mach, and warn them of our princess kidnapper’s arrival.”
A chorus of surprise went through the group. Ingrid smiled again.
“And tell them to welcome him with open arms. He is to be a guest of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus."
"A... guest, sir knight?"
She nodded in assurance, "Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd is an honored guest. His father and companions will not be far behind. If they are not there in two weeks... Find them, and bring them there."
"Yes, sir knight! As you command!"
Ingrid watched them gather themselves together. They would be ready to take off in just a few minutes, to carry out her betrayal against her fiance. She glanced behind her shoulder to find Glenn giving commands to the spy who had been trailing Dimitri and Byleth. Two weeks of trying to be subtle, following them with their battalions without being seen. This was the moment she had been waiting for.
"Mercie," she whispered as she made her way towards her shared tent, "please be careful. This won't go on much longer."