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the gold beneath the glitter

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“I’d really be much more comfortable in my dress armor.” Ingrid frowns worriedly at the pile of green cloth draped across the end of her bed. “Are you sure I can’t just…?”

“Not to a wedding!” Annette says. She’s adorable, as always: dainty and cute in a slate-blue dress heavy with copper trim. Ingrid is fairly sure someone told her once that mixing blue and orange was a mistake, but Annette has figured out the secret, whatever it might be.

“Not to Dimitri’s wedding,” Mercedes adds, looking radiant and elegant in silver and lavender. Ingrid is older now than Mercedes was when they met, but she still isn’t sure she’ll ever have Mercedes’s poise. “It’s so important to him that this is a show of peace and happiness. I think even the guards wouldn’t be in armor, if he thought it would be safe.”

“Not,” Dorothea says, leaning against the doorframe, “outside, on a sunny day in the Verdant Rain Moon. Hello, everyone.” Dorothea’s cleavage is framed by a wine-red dress trimmed with black and silver. Even if Ingrid could make her own clothes look like an afterthought, she’d be embarrassed to try.

Annette bounces up. “Dorothea! It’s great to see you again.”

“You look lovely,” Mercedes adds. “That’s a beautiful dress.”

Dorothea winks. “I’m surprised I made it out of the house in it. Or—I suppose I should say guest chambers, shouldn’t I, since I haven’t actually left the house.”

Mercedes nods thoughtfully. Annette blushes.

Ingrid, very late, says, “Hello, Dorothea.”

“Hello, Ingrid,” Dorothea says warmly. “Difficult as ever.”

Ingrid can’t even bring herself to be offended; Dorothea went back to Adrestia after the treaty, but they’d spent more than half a year fighting side-by-side before that, and the affection is clear in Dorothea’s voice. And, well, she is being difficult, a bit. She can admit it. It’s just… “The dress is so…”

“Pretty,” Annette says firmly.

“I’m not really sure what to do with her hair,” Mercedes says to Dorothea.

Ingrid hasn’t cut her hair since the war ended—she liked her braid, a comforting weight down her back. She’d actually ended up missing Sylvain tugging at the end of it to distract her into getting angry at him, of all things. But it’s a strange in-between length now, mostly just past her shoulders, and she usually ends up tying it up with a cord like Felix does.

Even she admits that Lady Ingrid Brandl Galatea, Knight of Faerghus, can’t go to her king’s wedding with her hair tied up in a strip of worn leather.

“Hmm,” Dorothea says, tapping a finger against her lower lip. “Well. Ingrid, why don’t you get the dress on so we won’t mess your hair up, and then we’ll figure something out.”

Ingrid sighs and strips down to her breastband and smallclothes. If anyone suggests she needs something frillier, she can put her clothes back on and leave. What she has is good enough for her, and Ashe has never had any complaints either, and—

Annette silently hands her the green dress. It’s the thick soft green of seawater, something Annette and Mercedes had insisted would bring out Ingrid’s eyes when they were looking at the merchant’s wares, a heavy fabric Ingrid should probably know the name of but didn’t bother to ask. She pulls it over her head and raises a shoulder in an awkward shrug. “I just look like me in a fancy dress. Are you sure I can’t wear the armor?”

“Positive,” Dorothea says. “Do you want me to lace you up?”

“You’re engaged to be married,” Ingrid says, just in case Dorothea plans on saying something else next.

Dorothea sighs. “Ingrid, if you think doing someone’s laces is a salacious activity, I am so sorry for anyone who decides to court you.”

Ingrid can feel herself starting to blush, which she really should have expected.

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” Annette asks brightly, at the same time as Mercedes says, “You didn’t know?”

“I did not.” Dorothea practically sparkles. “Tell me, and also someone who isn’t a threat to Ingrid’s maidenly virtue fasten her up so we can figure out what to do next.”

Annette and Mercedes look at each other. “…Leonie?” Annette says.

Mercedes, looking thoughtful, shakes her head. “I don’t think so.”

Ingrid barely manages to resist the urge to cover her face with her hands. “I don’t care,” she says. “Go ahead, Dorothea.”

Dorothea’s hands are quick and professional on the laces—really professional, Ingrid realizes, and professionally quick. Opera companies very rarely come to Faerghus, but the few operas she’s seen have had a lot of costumes.

“Ashe qualified as a knight,” Annette says, bouncing a little on her toes. “And Ingrid’s father let her pledge herself as one too—”

“Congratulations.” Dorothea rests a hand lightly on Ingrid’s shoulder, and Ingrid is suddenly flung back six years to being in Prof—Archbishop Byleth’s class. Then Dorothea’s voice lightens again. “So, you and Ashe? He’s sweet.”

“It was so romantic,” Mercedes says dreamily.

Ingrid does cover her face with her hands this time.

Mercedes, who has only ever pretended to be nice, goes on. “They were exchanging these beautiful books of love poetry—”

“‘My lady knight’s sword dazzles like the sun,’” Annette quotes, much too dramatically. “‘Her blade is sure as ever her heart’s true. And just as—’”

Out of my bookshelf,” Ingrid says into her hands. Or, no, she’d left it open on the table by her bed, hadn’t she. More fool her.

“A lovely courtship,” Mercedes says. “So of course one of the squires asked Ingrid if she could return something to her sweetheart for him, and she said yes.”

Ingrid straightens. A knight does not falter or cower in the face of defeat.

“And then she asked who her sweetheart was,” Mercedes finishes.

There’s laughter bubbling up in Dorothea’s voice as she asks, “Did you really?”

“Oh, they actually weren’t courting yet,” Annette says cheerfully. “I kept telling Ashe he should ask her, but he didn’t want to presume.”

“Goodness.”

Ingrid deploys a conversational combat art. “What did you want to do with my hair?”

“Hmm,” Dorothea says, distracted for the moment. “Do you have a looking-glass?”

“I have a spell!” Annette outlines a vaguely oval shape in the air, murmuring a few words as she does, and suddenly Ingrid is looking at her reflection. The green really is pretty; it makes her eyes look somehow brighter and darker at the same time.

Dorothea gathers the hair at Ingrid’s temples. “There’s a Brigid technique Petra taught me back during the war,” she says. “That’s a lovely spell, by the way, Annette. You’ll have to show me how it works before I leave.”

Annette beams. “Absolutely!”

“I think your hair is long enough—does anyone have pins?”

Mercedes rummages through several pockets and eventually produces a few. Dorothea pins the first strands ruthlessly into place against Ingrid’s head and goes back for more from behind her ears. After a few more repetitions of the process she nods, satisfied, and undoes her work.

“Wow,” Annette says. “That’s going to look amazing. I’m so glad Mercie thought of asking you for help.”

Dorothea sections the first bit of hair she’d started with and begins to braid it. The rhythmic tug is familiar, reminding Ingrid of—

“Are you doing my hair like I did it during the war?” she asks suspiciously. She hadn’t been willing to cut her hair any shorter than she had, but she’d needed it out of her eyes without messing around with pins and clips.

“It’s similar,” Dorothea says, “but much more elegant.”

Ingrid looks warily at her reflection, which looks warily back. Then again, if it hadn’t, she would have had a much bigger concern, about what exactly Annette’s spell was doing.

Dorothea pins the first braid into place and gets started on the next. “So, what other thrilling gossip have I missed while we were busy restoring the Mittelfrank?”

Annette and Mercedes make what bears an unnerving resemblance to a mission report while the back of Ingrid’s head begins to feel increasingly rigid. Dorothea’s little braids are shaping her hair, guiding it in a neat single fall down her back, but there are quite a few of them.

“There you go,” Dorothea says finally. “Does anyone have a clip I can use instead of the pins?”

“I do!” Annette says. “Oh n—oh, no, there it is, okay.” She hands Dorothea a gold clip with a greenish stone in the middle that’s almost the same color as Ingrid’s dress, framed with pearls. “Will this work?”

“I think so,” Dorothea says, and twists it into place. “There.”

Mercedes says, “Oh, Ingrid, you look lovely.”

“You do!” Annette beams. “Now you need just a little makeup. A teeny, tiny bit.” She starts to hum. “A grain, a drop, hm hmm, to sparkle…no. I’ll figure it out.”

Ingrid hesitates. “You won’t use too much, will you?”

Dorothea steps back so she can look Ingrid in the face, not the reflection. “What is the problem?” she asks. The words could be harsh, but her tone cuts more like a lancet than a sword, a physician’s blade instead of a warrior’s. “You dressed up for the White Heron Ball at the Academy without fighting this much, didn’t you?”

“We used to…talk about it, when we were younger,” Ingrid says, looking down. “Before.”

She means Before the Tragedy of Duscur; she means Before the boy I was engaged to died and she means Before Dimitri almost drowned in his own grief and she means Before Felix decided it was safer not to admit he felt anything.

“We never planned the coronation,” she says. “It would have been…”

“Of course,” Mercedes says softly, sadly.

“But we talked about his wedding.” Ingrid has to smile remembering the time that they had all snuck into the chapel to plan it, some day when Dimitri’s tutors had been particularly strict. They’d been caught by a very tired cleric while they were arguing about which rows of pews it would be appropriate to assign the bride’s family, with Sylvain insisting they needed to know who she was first and Dimitri adamant that his future wife would have the best his kingdom had to offer regardless. “Felix insisted he would be his prince’s attendant, and I said I should get to be the attendant since I was the only girl, and…oh, it was all silly.”

Sylvain had always reminded her she couldn’t be the groom’s attendant if she was already married. One time she’d shoved him so hard he fell backwards into a horse trough, though she’d insist if she were asked that she didn’t cry about it after.

“It would have been Glenn, of course, if it hadn’t been me,” she says, and her voice is very nearly steady. “Not Felix.” Glenn had never participated in their plans—he’d been older, and he hadn’t needed to figure out what he was going to be doing when he was grown in quite the same way.

Mercedes draws Ingrid into a lavender-scented hug, careful of her hair.

“We didn’t have…any of this, back then,” Ingrid says, pushing on. “I always wore my best to Fhirdiad, but I didn’t have hairclips or makeup or anything like that, and my dresses almost never fit quite right. My mother had them made a bit too big, and then once I’d started to grow out of them she’d let the seams out to get just a little more use before we had to pay the tailor again.”

Annette’s eyes are huge with dismay. Dorothea nods, the curve of her mouth rueful.

Ingrid says, “But that’s how we used to talk about it, back then, when it was something fun to look forward to. Dimitri said Felix and I could both be his attendants if we wanted back when I was as plain as a training sword and Glenn was still…his Shield.”

“He won’t throw you out of the cathedral if you show up dressed up,” Dorothea says, almost gently. “There’s nothing wrong with putting on some glitter to show off that you have it now.”

“I know,” Ingrid says. “It’s silly. It’s just…”

“It’ll just be a little!” Annette says. “You’ll still look like a grown-up version of yourself, not like a stranger. I promise.”

Dorothea glances out the window at the angle of the sun. “Are you in the wedding party? We need to get a move on if you are—Mercedes didn’t mention that.”

“Oh, no,” Ingrid says. “He offered, but three attendants would have been too much, and if I hadn’t bowed out Dedue probably would have offered to instead.” That would have been wrong; she’s glad she knows that now. “Though I suppose the archbishop might have added him to her retinue, if he had. Flayn would have been disappointed, but she might have helped Seteth with the ceremony itself…”

“Second thoughts are for the bride only,” Dorothea says briskly. “Annette, the eyeshadow.”

“It’s all right,” Ingrid says, as Annette approaches. “It was just a passing thought.”

Mercedes says, “You don’t think Archbishop Byleth is having second thoughts!”

Dorothea laughs. “I’ve met the happy couple. For that matter, I’ve met the archbishop at all, and I don’t think she’s likely to change her mind. Edie certainly didn’t, though in her case it was really just paperwork—imagine if the emperor had to have a state wedding for every consort or be accused of playing favorites.”

“Close your eyes,” Annette says to Ingrid, “and try not to move.”

The brush tickles. Ingrid holds still while Dorothea and Mercedes discuss brides they’ve known. Annette moves on to her cheeks, then does something to her forehead, then says, “Now part your lips and try not to squeeze them.”

“What?” Ingrid asks.

“Relax,” Dorothea says. “No, Ingrid, I said re-lax.”

Ingrid tries to let her mouth go slack. Annette makes a satisfied noise and swoops in with a different brush, so she must have succeeded.

Once Annette has stepped back, Mercedes approaches with a small square box and a large soft puff. The box is full of glittering dust that she sweeps over Ingrid’s hair and face and the skin bared above her neckline. “There,” she says, brushing something off of Ingrid’s shoulders. “Lovely. You did beautifully, Annie,” she adds.

Ingrid, very cautiously, looks at her own reflection. The young woman who looks back looks…still mostly like Ingrid. Her eyes are a little bigger and a little greener, her cheeks and mouth are a little pinker, and she sort of…glows. That must be the glittering powder, though she can barely even see the glitter anymore. “Thank you,” she says politely, even though she’s not really sure there was a point to it all. Well, she’d wanted to still look like herself. She shouldn’t complain.

“You look wonderful,” Dorothea says, warm and sincere.

“Just amazing!” Annette says. She bounces a little, bangs her knee on the side of Ingrid’s bed, and yelps. “Oh, I can’t wait—do you think we can go down yet? It must be almost time.”

“I think so,” Mercedes says. “Shall we?”

Ingrid has to be careful with her skirts on the stairs—the dress has a train—but she makes it safely down to the bottom eventually. Sylvain is waiting in the anteroom just down the hallway, leaning too-casually against the wall. When he sees the four of them he straightens up and whistles.

“Stop it,” Ingrid says, regretting her tightly-fitted sleeves. Normally she’d elbow him in the ribs, but she’s not sure she won’t split a seam. “Where’s Felix, anyway?” As soon as she’s asked she realizes the answer: with the wedding party itself, same as Dedue.

“Attending,” Sylvain says serenely. “I’m safe from anything worse than threats unless you intend to stab me, but I think his Majesty would be more than a little upset if you did.”

Ingrid gives up and laughs. “Just a little.”

“Well, I’ll leave you here,” Dorothea says, “and go find my lot.”

“Bye!” Annette says.

“Thank you again for your help,” Mercedes adds. “It’s lovely to have a friend we can call on in times of need.”

Sylvain tries and fails to muffle a laugh of his own.

The door opens again. Ashe, still in the hallway, says to someone out of sight, “—you sure? I’ve never really had to wear anything this fancy before, even for his Majesty’s coronation.”

“You look great!” Caspar says at unmistakable volume. “It’ll be fine, it’s a wedding. Nobody cares what anyone looks like at a wedding.”

“The bride, surely,” Sylvain says under his breath. Ingrid kicks him gently on the ankle, and he pantomimes a howl of pain and doubles over dramatically.

Caspar, fortunately unaware, continues. “Go on, I’ve gotta get going.”

“Okay,” Ashe says hesitantly. He stops in the doorway when he catches sight of Sylvain. “Are you all right?”

Sylvain looks up, clutching his ankle. “Your girlfriend is trying to maim me.”

“I barely touched him,” Ingrid says, even though Ashe should know that by now.

“Of course,” Ashe says. Then he looks at her, and his eyes go wide. “Oh wow, Ingrid. You look…wow.”

Annette’s smile is audible as she says, “Doesn’t she?” Mercedes shushes her. Sylvain, wisely, stays out of range.

“You look incredible,” Ashe says, ignoring them. He’s blushing a little, and the color in his cheeks makes his eyes seem to glow—or maybe that’s just the way he’s looking at her. “I mean, you always do! But right now you look…like a storybook version of yourself.”

Ingrid can feel herself blushing, too. She wonders if the makeup covers it or makes it worse. “Thank you,” she says, wishing she were a little more used to getting compliments so she’d know what to say. “I—you look very handsome too.”

“Really?” Ashe asks doubtfully.

He does—dressed up in dark blue and silver, which is always a safe choice in Faerghus but which on Ashe makes his hair shine and his skin look…Ingrid isn’t quite sure of the word. Not soft exactly. Luminous? “Really,” she says, and crosses the room to give him a very quick kiss.

Even if she hadn’t meant it to be quick, she would have had to stop when Sylvain whistled again. Mercedes is beaming at them both like a fond mother. Ingrid has the worst friends.

The door opens again and one of the heralds pops in to summon them to the cathedral. Ingrid gathers her train up and goes, Ashe sneaking awed glances at her the whole way. She can deal with all these skirts once in a while, for her friends and for this.