“I cannot believe you!” Ingrid groans, pushing her hands into her hips. Her frown is so deep that it hurts.
Sylvain, for his part, looks completely unaffected by her scolding. He’s grinning his stupid, bright smile at her and Ingrid jabs his arm with her finger stubbornly. “What’s up, Ingy?”
Ingrid huffs, spinning on her toe to march back towards the Galatea manor. “My granny! Sylvain! How dare you!”
Gravel crunches under his feet as he quickly jogs past her, stepping in front with wide eyes. “Did I do something wrong?” He looks genuinely confused like he hasn’t figured out what exactly he has done to offend her even if the answer is glaringly obvious.
She whacks his arm. “No sweet-talking!” He recoils and she chases him, smacking his arm over his dress shirt again. “Stay away from her!”
Sylvain flails. “But, Ingy, I don’t know what you’re talking about! I was just complimenting her!”
Ingrid is about to strike him for a third time when a hand catches her wrist. The grip is firm, but not painful in any way. Ingrid freezes and looks over her shoulder to the woman who is now loosely holding her hand.
Ursa Galatea chuckles as she lowers Ingrid’s hand. “Come now, Ingrid, is that any way to treat a guest? Sylvain is here visiting.”
Ingrid pouts and tugs her hand free. “He’s being annoying,” she says.
Ursa’s gaze is amused. Ingrid pointedly looks away. There’s nothing funny about the situation so she isn’t sure why her granny is taking Sylvain’s side. If anything, Ingrid’s granny should be scolding Sylvain too!
“There’s no harm done, Ingrid. Don’t worry Sylvain, I always appreciate being told that I’m beautiful.” An arm winds over Ingrid’s shoulder, warm and familiar, and practically forces her to turn back to face Sylvain. “Some women,” Ingrid’s grandmother continues, “like to be told they’re pretty. Even if sometimes you shouldn’t tell them in conventional ways. And sometimes calling people pretty isn’t the best compliment. Sometimes they are brave and powerful.”
“And smart and strong!” Ingrid adds.
Sylvain blinks at the two Galatea women. Ingrid, tucked against her granny’s side, almost forgets that she had been mad at him in the first place. She’ll always be Ursa’s favourite, no matter how many compliments Sylvain showers her grandmother in.
“Ingrid,” Dorothea says, “are you even listening?”
Ingrid jolts, tearing her eyes from the letter in front of her and turning to face her friend. Dorothea doesn’t look annoyed, just curious, as she quirks a brow and leans forward across the table between them. She fumbles, flattening her palm over the letter where it rests on her open notebook. She has been trying to study in the Reception Hall all afternoon, but Dorothea has been very distracting.
“Sorry,” Ingrid apologizes immediately. “I didn’t mean to ignore you.”
Dorothea waves her off but does look curiously at the letter Ingrid had been so engrossed in. “It’s fine. But what’s with this super interesting letter? Is it from another of your endless suitors?”
Ingrid huffs. “As if I’d be interested in anything they offered. No, it’s from my grandmother.”
That seems to peak Dorothea’s attention. “Your grandmother? You’ve never mentioned her before.”
Ingrid picks the letter back up and folds it down on itself, creasing it in the middle. She places it on the table next to her book and lays her hand flat atop it. She’s not trying to hide it, but its contents do feel personal enough that she wants to keep them to herself. She doesn’t hear from her grandmother very much anymore.
“Yes,” she replies after a moment. “She’s my father’s mother, but she was kind of like my mother too.”
Dorothea’s hand extends, landing atop Ingrid’s, and pats sympathetically. Ingrid lost her mother when she was young. Dorothea understands what that loss is like.
“What’s she like?” Dorothea asks.
Ingrid considers the question. Her grandmother is a lot of things. A proper noblewoman is definitely not one of those things. According to her granny’s stories, Ingrid’s grandmother was the oldest of three and the only girl, but she managed to fight and convince her father to name her as the heir to Galatea, mostly through her marriage to a minor lord bearing the Crest of Charon. Ingrid never met her grandfather, but he apparently wasn’t half the character that Ursa is.
For as much as she reads and admires the knights of her stories, Ingrid also admires her grandmother. Rumours and stories passed down by the Galatea staff tell the tales of how her grandmother was an incredible horsewoman, both with stallions and pegasi. She was a huge proponent in the success of the Galatea Pegasus Corps and was apparently quite handy with a weapon in her own right.
If there was ever to be a woman who Ingrid looked up to, it was her grandmother. Her grandmother, who had three kids, stepped down from her position as head of the house, but then still went on to practically raise Ingrid and her three brothers after the death of their mother.
The only thing Ingrid doesn’t quite understand about her grandmother is the woman’s attitude towards love. While a childish Ingrid had desired a love of fairy tales, and the current Ingrid wants no love but that of her kingdom, her grandmother believes in flirting and the masterful balance of femininity with badassery.
A very small part of Ingrid might be interested in emulating that, but she is unsure of how to approach it.
“She’s headstrong,” Ingrid settles on. “She was the head of House Galatea for a while and she’s a fighter. She was the one who first introduced me to pegasi—flying too.”
Dorothea smiles. “Sounds like an impressive woman. Do you spend a lot of time with her?”
Ingrid’s stomach twists a bit. She used to love being around her grandma. She chased after Ursa’s heels for years, begging for stories and advice. But, something about Glenn’s death changed that. In the last several years, her grandmother has felt out of touch. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge the hurt that Ingrid is feeling and when she does, her frustration is directed more towards the crown and the order of knights that Ingrid wants to be a part of.
“Not as much anymore,” Ingrid admits. “But, it’s harder since I’m here at the Academy and she’s back home.”
Dorothea hums in agreement. “I suppose, yeah. Are you going to write back to her?”
Ingrid looks down at the letter she’s holding. The first part of the letter talked about Ingrid’s brothers and the various exploits that they were up to lately, all three of them currently serving in the military. The next part was full of questions for Ingrid: about her studies, her friends, her pegasus, and, specifically, about Sylvain. Ingrid hasn’t forgotten the way that her grandmother acted around Sylvain all those years ago now, but it seems that Ursa has not lost interest in him even now.
“Probably,” Ingrid says. She is planning on writing back. She is just planning on conveniently not replying to or addressing any of the parts where her grandmother asked about Sylvain.
Dorothea is quiet for a minute and Ingrid sees her friend’s green eyes narrow as she scrutinizes Ingrid’s reaction. “Why are you avoiding talking about it? Is there something specific you’re avoiding?” Dorothea leans forward, propping her chin on her hand. “Is it about the suitors? I know your father is all over that and she’s his mother so I could guess she’s the same.”
Ingrid sighs. “It’s not about the suitors. Well, not really.”
Ingrid looks around Reception Hall. While there are other people around, there is no one that is immediately familiar to Ingrid. She feels comfortable enough to confide the mostly-awkward details to her friend.
“She’s asking about Sylvain.”
Dorothea raises an eyebrow. “Really? Why Sylvain?”
Ingrid chews the inside of her cheek, trying to decide how much she is willing to share. She decides on some, but not all of the truth. “Sylvain and I have known each other forever. My granny just remembers him from when we were young. She knows that he’s around here.”
Something flickers across Dorothea’s expression. It’s not quite smug, but it’s a little knowing and it makes Ingrid slightly uncomfortable. “He’s around, huh? What kind of around are we talking about?”
Ingrid stares at Dorothea. “You’re joking, right?”
Dorothea giggles. “Oh, come on, Ingrid. Let me have my fun. Surely you can’t look at Sylvain and tell me he’s unattractive. Why isn’t he at the top of your father’s list of suitors?”
Ingrid covers her face with her hands, letting out a low groan. “Dorothea!”
Dorothea laughs again and Ingrid slowly feels her hands pulled away from her face until she is looking at the songstress again. Dorothea’s smile is amused, but she’s not revelling in Ingrid’s discomfort anymore. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes earnestly. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I guess I was just curious since Sylvain’s family is of equal status to Felix’s, aren’t they?”
Ingrid nods. “House Gautier is of equal prestige to House Fraldarius, but their situation is—” She pauses, trying to determine how she wants to explain the complicated relationship that exists between Sylvain and his father, fostered by the brutal traditions of Gautier. She coughs shortly and continues, “—more difficult. They’re further away, for one, and they also have a lot to deal with regarding Sreng.”
Dorothea sits back a bit, processing, but Ingrid can tell that her friend knows she is hiding something. Dorothea is good enough friends with Sylvain too that she must know about the difficulties between him and his father, but she is polite enough not to bring that up with Ingrid. She turns the conversation back to Ingrid’s grandmother instead.
“So, your granny just likes to ask you about Sylvain? Does she ask about Felix and Dimitri too? She must know them as well.”
Ingrid fiddles with the end of her braid. Her grandmother rarely asks about Felix and Dimitri. Usually, they are afterthoughts when asking about Sylvain, or she uses them to ask about Sylvain. “She knows them,” Ingrid agrees. She leaves it there and hopes that Dorothea understands she doesn’t wish to further discuss the topic.
Fortunately, they are interrupted before Dorothea can keep asking questions.
Ingrid twists in her seat, looking over her shoulder to the entrance of the Reception Hall. Sylvain is walking towards her, one hand lifted in greeting. His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows and the top two buttons on his shirt are noticeably undone. His hair is ruffled in a way that can only be intentional and she tries not to focus on his appearance, but it’s difficult when she has both Dorothea pointing out Sylvain’s physical attractiveness and her grandmother asking whether or not he is still doting on her.
“Hi, Sylvain,” she replies. Ingrid swings her legs over the bench and stands up, brushing out her skirt. “Did you need something?”
“We’re supposed to go on flying patrol,” he explains.
Ingrid nods. She turns back to the table, picking up her books and the letter from her granny. She smiles tightly at Dorothea. “I’ll see you later, Dorothea.” Turning back to Sylvain, she finds that he is much closer, almost standing in her personal space. Ingrid blinks but manages to gather herself before she trips over her next words. “I just need to drop some things off at my room first.”
“Sure,” Sylvain says easily. “I’ll come with you.”
She almost wants to tell him no, purely out of spite, but he looks genuinely relaxed and like he’s just trying to be nice today. It would be unfair of her to rudely brush him aside when he is, for once, not being irritating. Ingrid nods and doesn’t dare let her eyes drift back over her shoulder to Dorothea. She already knows that her friend will be wearing a very knowing, very smug grin that she really, really doesn’t need to see.
Her ears are ringing. Her ears are ringing, her vision is blurry, and her whole body aches. Distantly, Ingrid hears what sounds like the crashing of metal on metal and yelling. The shouting comes from all around her and it sounds both angry and worried. Her head spins wildly and she groans, twisting and pressing her forehead against the ground. She is dizzy and disoriented.
With her head pressed to the dirt, she breathes slowly and deeply, trying to clear her vision and the ringing in her ears. It takes a few heavy breaths and slow blinks before her mind defogs enough that she hears a loud, familiar and very panicked shout of her name.
Twisting, Ingrid pushes herself up so that she’s sitting. Her body groans with the movement and her head spins again, but she is now coherent enough to register that she is on the ground in the middle of what seems to be a warzone. Her right arm is completely numb and the fuzziness of her head has passed enough that she recognizes the iron-like taste of blood in her mouth.
There’s the shout again. Ingrid cranes her head to the left, looking for the source. It doesn’t take her long to see him: Sylvain cutting his way through soldiers around her, Lance of Ruin glowing in his hand. His face is grim and smeared with blood and dirt, but his eyes are fixed on her. He is on horseback but he leaps off next to her before he has fully stopped.
Ingrid feels slow and bewildered as he throws himself to the ground beside her. “Sylvain,” she murmurs. His name comes out slurred and disoriented. His frown deepens and he quickly raises a hand, brushing at her head.
The second his gloved fingers touch her hairline, her head explodes in pain and her vision goes white. It takes a long moment for it to clear and when it does, Ingrid is no longer on the ground. She gets an eyeful of dark steel from Sylvain’s armour as he cradles her against his chest. Somehow he has lifted her onto his horse and is holding her tightly against him as he rides towards their backline, yelling for help.
Ingrid’s stomach twists with horrible nausea and she lets out a displeased noise. Sylvain’s arm tightens around her. Ingrid carefully rests her temple against his shoulder, closing her eyes, her breath shuddering. The jostling movement of the horse doesn’t help her nausea but the darkness of the back of her eyelids helps somewhat. It also seems to make the ringing in her ears get a little quieter.
She doesn’t even notice that she’s passing out until she can no longer hear Sylvain’s heaving, frantic breaths.
The first thing she notices when she wakes up is that her entire arm feels like it’s on fire. The pain is enough to make her let out a displeased, hissing breath before she has even opened her eyes.
The next thing she notices is a sharp, familiar laugh. It’s rough with age and short enough to almost be a bark but not without warmth. Ingrid knows this laugh. Despite how heavy her eyelids feel, she manages to pry them open so that she can see her grandmother.
Ursa sits at her bedside, poking a needle through a mostly-finished needlepoint hoop. She isn’t looking at Ingrid, but there is no denying that it is her. What Ingrid doesn’t understand is why her grandmother is here, inside what appears to be a medical tent—with needlepoint—and why the woman looks so relaxed.
“Granny? What are you doing here?”
Her grandmother chuckles again. “You took a hard fall, my dear. I wanted to make sure you were alright. You never replied to my last letter, after all.”
Ingrid blinks slowly, still lying back against the pillows of what she now determines to be a medical cot. It’s true; her grandmother’s last letter lays unanswered in her bag. She hasn’t had time to try to string together a coherent group of words to explain everything that has happened in the last several months. The war has been confusing, difficult and exhausting.
Still, the last thing Ingrid really remembers is being on the battlefield at Fort Merceus. She has no idea what her grandmother is doing here. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, unanswered letter or not, unless it’s just—
Ingrid blinks slowly. She turns her eyes up to the roof of the tent. The canvas blurs part way up the wall and the whole ceiling is a fuzzy, unfocused mess. “I’m dreaming this,” she murmurs.
“Maybe,” Ursa says. “But you’re dreaming of me for a reason."
“I almost died,” Ingrid breathes.
“That you did, silly girl.”
She twists against the bed, looking at her grandmother again. “Am I dying?”
Ursa scoffs. “As if that charming boy would let you die.”
Ingrid tenses. “What?"
“That boy that you keep insisting you’re not in love with. He’s obviously in love with you,” Ursa says. Her tone is so matter-of-fact that Ingrid feels like she’s been slapped in the face.
She and Sylvain are not together. They’re not courting. They’re not holding hands in the courtyard and sharing kisses in stolen corners. But, they’re not nothing either. Sometime in the five years between when the war started and where they are today, something has changed. She is not just friends with Sylvain. There’s something unspoken between them, fluttering and faint, but undeniably present.
It’s in every grazing touch and every quiet night shared with a drink in the stable. It’s in Sylvain’s smile and the way that his eyes crinkle at the corners when he sees her. It’s in how her heart flips when he saves her a seat at dinner or the times he has carried her back to her room after she fell asleep in the library.
This something is everywhere.
Ingrid tries to look around the tent. Unfortunately, her dreaming mind hasn’t really filled in anything beyond the immediate radius of the cot. There is nothing but static grey and white vaguely tent-like background behind her grandmother’s chair and, beyond the slow poking of a needle through fabric, there is no sound.
Ingrid tries to sit up on the bed, but her arm flares with pain. Ursa’s tongue clicks and she lowers her needlepoint, shaking her head at Ingrid.
“Stay down, dear. It’s alright. There will be people here for you when you wake up. And I’ll always be there to read your letters when you write.” She smiles at Ingrid. It’s a warm, familiar smile.
It feels like home.
It also makes her eyes feel incredibly heavy. Ingrid’s mind starts to fog so she reaches out with her uninjured arm, trying to grab for her grandmother. Through the haze, she can just vaguely see her grandmother reach out for her as well, but right before their hands brush, Ingrid’s vision fades to nothing.
This time, her awakening is sudden. She bolts off the cot, nearly toppling off the side as her body swings with the momentum she was using in her dream to extend her hand. She tries to flail her way back to balance, but just as in her dream, her right arm is numb and unresponsive. It’s also in a sling and immoveable and, as a result, entirely useless in the action of rebalancing herself.
Therefore, as she pitches towards the left side of the cot, Ingrid is prepared to meet a very unpleasant collision with the floor. That is, until Sylvain swoops into her field of vision and catches her before she can fall more than a few centimetres. He immediately rights her on the cot and leans in, looking incredibly worried.
“Ingrid?” he questions. “What just happened?”
She feels her cheeks flame. “I had a dream,” she admits. “I didn’t mean to throw myself off the cot.”
The alarm in his expression fades a bit, lessening to something softer, but still concerned. “Oh, alright. How do you feel?”
Ingrid shifts her shoulders, trying to assess how she feels. Her head hurts, but not nearly as much as her arm, and there’s a twinge of pain from her left ankle too. “Sore,” she admits. Carefully she touches her temple and winces when her fingers graze over sensitive skin. “What happened?”
Sylvain exhales deeply and shifts away, falling back into the chair next to the cot that she had hardly noticed. He runs a hand through his hair and as she watches him, she realizes how exhausted he looks. It reminds her of the Sylvain who didn’t sleep for two days after the fight against his brother.
“You got winged up there and you fell. I didn’t see you get up so I went to get you.”
She remembers now, the way that he surged through soldiers on horseback to reach her, obviously abandoning his own objective. Guilt needles in her stomach.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
He shakes his head. “Don’t apologize. I’d do it anytime.”
Ingrid sits up. Sylvain frowns and looks like he’s about to scold her, so she cuts him off. “Would you do it for anyone?”
That catches him off guard. He blinks slowly. “What?”
Normal Ingrid would be completely mortified to be having this conversation. Whatever Ingrid she has morphed into since her dream about her grandmother wants to know how he feels about her. She is tired of maybe with Sylvain.
“I would have done it for you,” she says firmly. “In a heartbeat.”
Sylvain’s lips press together as he processes her words. “Ingrid,” he murmurs, the tone of his voice much quieter and almost uncertain.
“Do you love me, Sylvain?” she asks. Ingrid has never been one to talk around things—not like Sylvain can—but she is not usually this blunt either. It’s as if a bit of her grandmother’s courage squeezed through the dream with her consciousness.
Sylvain stands up from his chair. He steps closer to her, resting against her cot. One of his hands lifts, moving towards her face. It trembles, just the slightest bit, before lightly brushing back a piece of her hair. He leans a little closer to her—close enough that she can feel his breath on her face.
“I do,” he says quietly. “I was, well, I guess I was waiting for you.”
Ingrid’s heart jumps. Her whole body feels like it’s buzzing with nerves and she almost pulls away. She lets her chest rise and fall with a deep, shuddering breath, her eyes dropping to Sylvain’s lips.
“What are you waiting for now?”
He kisses her. His hand is warm against her cheek and his lips are chapped as they move against hers. The kiss is simple and almost chaste, but it makes her toes curl. Ingrid leans into the kiss until her head twinges with pain and she can’t stop herself from wincing. Sylvain pulls back then, leaving his hand on her face as he stares into her eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
Ingrid lifts her left hand, touching his wrist reassuringly. “I’m fine.”
He smiles. “I’m glad.”
Sylvain’s hand is sweaty. Ingrid stops walking and drags him to a stop next to her. She drops his hand and reaches up, poking him in the chest as he turns to face her. He looks mildly bewildered for a moment.
“What is it?”
“You’re nervous,” she accuses.
He blinks. “What? Of course not!”
He is. He’s using his liar voice and Ingrid laughs, a smile spreading across her face. Sylvain immediately notices that he’s caught and he sighs, reaching out to loop his arms around her waist as she giggles at him.
“Why are you laughing at me?” he complains.
“Because you’re scared of my grandmother!” Ingrid exclaims between giggles. “You faced death almost every day in a war that lasted five years. You’ve already spoken with my father and my three, highly-trained brothers about us. And you’re scared of the old woman who can’t climb stairs without assistance anymore!”
“As he should be,” a new voice cuts in.
Sylvain immediately drops his hands to his sides and practically jumps away from Ingrid. He spins to face Ingrid’s grandmother and drops into a hasty half-bow out of respect.
Ingrid presses a hand to her mouth to stifle her laughs as Ursa gives Sylvain an assessing look. Sylvain looks more nervous now than she has seen him since he awkwardly called her beautiful in the Cathedral back at Garreg Mach.
“And Ingrid,” Ursa says, turning her gaze on her granddaughter, “why do you laugh at this nice young man? He’s certainly afraid of the right people.”
Ingrid blinks, staring at her grandmother. “What?”
The corners of the old woman’s eyes wrinkle as she smiles and steps closer to Ingrid. She reaches up, touching Ingrid’s long-since-healed shoulder. “I’ve always liked this one, dear. I think you picked a keeper.”
Warmth bubbles in Ingrid’s chest as she peers around her granny towards Sylvain who still looks a bit bewildered. “I know,” she says. That makes Sylvain smile and then her grandmother squeezes her shoulder before turning back to Sylvain.
He straightens. “Yes?”
“I’m giving you my seal of approval, but only because I’ve known you had it in you since you were very young. And know that if you ever hurt her, I’ll be sending every bastion in Galatea’s barracks after you. There won’t be anywhere you can hide up in those Gautier wastes of yours.”
The threat makes Ingrid laugh. Sylvain looks at her over her grandmother’s head, betrayed, and Ingrid just smiles.
It’s not going to be something he’ll have to worry about. She knows it’ll never get to that point. Sylvain is it for her. And, as far as she can tell, she is the same for him.
He finds her standing alone with her hands clasped behind her back. It’s easy for Ingrid to turn into him, letting him wrap an arm around her shoulders as she grips the expensive material of his jacket.
Sylvain’s lips press into the top of her head and Ingrid closes her eyes, taking a shaky breath in. His arm tightens around her and she feels his chin land at the crown of her head as he holds her wordlessly.
“I thought it would be easier by now,” Ingrid admits quietly, half-muffled by the fabric of Sylvain’s jacket. She leans back then, forcing him to shift, and looks into his face.
He’s frowning so she raises her left hand and pokes lightly at the corner of his lips. Her ring catches a sunbeam in the fading light, almost blinding her and she drops her hand hastily. Sylvain chuckles, amused, before he kisses her forehead.
“She meant a lot to you, Ingrid. That’s okay.”
Ingrid sighs. “She did. I just wish that she could have lived even one more year. I wanted her to,” she pauses, trailing off as a lump swells in her throat.
“I know,” Sylvain replies simply, filling in the gaps. “But she would have been proud of you anyway.”
Ingrid is about to reply when she hears a loud, high-pitched laugh and the rambunctious clatter of footsteps over stone. She twists out of Sylvain’s arms, looking past him back towards Galatea Manor. Sure enough, sprinting down the path towards her with their dresses blowing behind them are two young, redheaded girls with wide grins on their faces.
Ingrid barely has time to brace herself before the smaller girl is barrelling into her and Sylvain almost doesn’t catch the older one as she leaps into his arms.
“Mommy!” her younger daughter exclaims. “We were looking for you!”
Ingrid laughs as she scoops her daughter up. “Really?”
More footsteps on the path signal the arrival of the girls’ nanny who looks horrified that the girls have reached their parents. “My Lord, My Lady, I’m so sorry. We tried to keep them inside but—”
Sylvain waves her off. “No harm done. We can handle them from here.” He hefts their older daughter up.
Noelle, the younger of the two, entertains herself fiddling with Ingrid’s necklace. Celine, on the other hand, looks down to the ground where Ingrid and Sylvain were looking previously and frowns, extending a hand down, confused.
“What’s that say?” she asks, pointing at the engraved stone at their feet.
Sylvain looks at Ingrid, letting her answer and Ingrid takes a slow breath. “It says Ursa Ingrid Galatea,” she explains. “She was your great-grandmother.”
Celine’s eyes grow wide as she blinks curiously. “Really?”
Ingrid nods, tightening her grip on Noelle. “She was one of my greatest friends.”
“Mommy misses great-grandma?” Noelle asks, tapping Ingrid’s shoulder with a small hand.
Ingrid sighs. “Every day.”