Prompt #5: Resolution (Free Day)
(Gisele x Haurchefant, 5.5k words.)
Haurchefant had never flown home with such speed as he did that day.
Aetheryte travel was, to his great dismay, entirely out of the question, as the crystal had been locked down ever since Vishap’s assault upon the Steps of Faith, as a precautionary measure; t’would seem heretics had infiltrated the Temple Knights, and Ser Aymeric was chary indeed. So it was that Haurchefant readied Chretienne’s saddle himself, stroking the bird’s deep black feathers with great affection before hoisting himself up into it with the practiced ease of one who spent a lifetime as such. And as the first steely light of dawn shone dull through the wintry skies of the Highlands, he tore through the western gate of Camp Dragonhead like a man possessed.
She had been bred for speed, his darling chocobo, and Haurchefant put it to good use, though he did not favor the winds to take flight that day, and feared the cannons besides; only a fool would approach the Holy See by the skies, these days when the Temple Knights were more likely than not to shoot first and only to make inquiries of the cadaver left behind.
Thus, he trod the well-worn road to the Gates of Judgment on chocoboback. It was brisk that morning, unusually so even for the Central Highlands, but it invigorated him—not even the dry, frigid air could stand between him and his goal. For it was no mere social call he set to make that day upon the stately manor he called home. Three precious lives were held in the balance—one more precious still, dearer to him than none other save sweet Francel, and that was only for the length and breadth of their shared history. Haurchefant had little doubt she would come to stand; she occupied his every waking moment not devoted to the defense of his beloved homeland. That Eorzea itself teetered in the balance by extension meant little to Haurchefant, in truth.
It was thoughts of her—his Gisele—that drove him to push his strong bird nearly to her limits, racing the length of the snowbound valley at a breakneck gallop. By the time he reached the Gates, she was near lathered, and when he dismounted, he swallowed the pang of guilt that gripped his chest, and gently stroked her feathers, whispering comforting endearments.
“Forgive me, it was for good reason,” he murmured, then led her by the reins to the ever present guards.
“These gates are closed by order of the Archbishop—” one began, but the other glared daggers at him.
“Have you been in your cups enough to not recognize the Lord Commander of Camp Dragonhead when you see him?” the second sighed, long suffering. He turned to Haurchefant, bowing his head. “My lord, pray forgive his impertinence. Of course you may pass. May the Fury guide your steps.”
Haurchefant nodded. “And yours as well, good man,” he said.
The long, harrowing bridge which spanned the tumultuous, storm-lashed winds of the Sea of Clouds still bore the scars of the battle some few weeks past, from Vishap’s assault, and Haurchefant’s eyes narrowed as he walked Chretienne across the scorched stones. It was one matter to hear tell of the destruction of Daniffen’s Collar, but it was altogether another matter entire to see the end result of it so plain before his eyes. He curled the mail-sheathed fingers of his gauntleted hand into a fist about the leather rein, unconsciously, heat rising up from his belly to sear his face. The closer he got to the gates, the fresher the scars; it must have been the previous day’s assault at fault.
The Lord Commander had bid the Fortemps knights to hold fast at Camp Dragonhead, guarding the eastern passages against any incursions of reinforcements by the aevises of the fallen Steel Vigil or heretics alike. And Haurchefant would never, could never question Ser Aymeric’s judgment, for his tactical acumen was beyond reproach, and he himself saw the need for it. But it did not mean he was not seized by guilt, wondering if his men would have made a difference had they bolstered the defenders at the gates.
It was as he told himself, however: men could perish drowning in the wake of what might have been. If he had led the Fortemps knights to join the defense at the gates, there may well have been far more Dravanians free to join the assault upon the city, and the bloodshed would have been even worse.
And he would not have been present at the fortress to receive the refugee Scions the past night, either.
The sight of Foundation shattered his heart in twain, still. So many wooden structures there were, in this part of the city, and so many had been reduced to smoking, charred ashes. The dead were still being carted away in wagons, by the Temple Knights. Chirurgeons attended the wounded upon the very streets, beneath the shroud of vast canvas tents; the hospitaliers certainly seemed to have their hands full. And his eyes grew wide, as he gazed up in horror to see the familiar statue of Saint Valeroyant before which he had prayed so often as a lad scorched and beheaded. He took a deep, ragged breath, and exhaled, shaking his head as he continued walking forth toward home, through streets eerily devoid of life.
When he reached the Pillars, twas as though nothing at all had happened; mayhap a few more knights upon the watch at the Last Vigil, but otherwise it seemed as ordinary a day as any other within the rarefied heights of the Holy See, and Haurchefant snorted, firmly shoving down the powerful sense of anger that roiled in his blood at it. His day’s purpose would not be served by such pique.
Twas Ser Pauleaux who stood watch that day, when he reached the manor, and he stood straighter upon Haurchefant’s approach, though beaming from ear to ear with bright and dazzling eyes. Haurchefant would know that smile anywhere, of a surety.
“Welcome home, my lord!” Ser Pauleaux exclaimed, bowing deeply.
“Good day, ser knight! I hope it finds you well,” Haurchefant replied, with a cordial incline of his head.
“Far better now that Lord Haurchefant has graced us with his brilliant, if elusive presence,” Pauleaux said, with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. Haurchefant laughed, clapping him upon the shoulder with a firm grip—and a light massage of the chain which sheathed it. Still so strong, his broad shoulder, Haurchefant mused silently, pursing his lips.
“Forgive me if my duties keep me from home far too often,” he purred, winking at the fellow, who immediately turned red as a ripe Dzemael tomato. “Pray, good man, is his lordship presently in residence?”
“Yes, my lord. He just returned from his morning constitutional some moments ago. Shall I see to Chretienne?”
Haurchefant nodded, handing Pauleaux the bird’s reins. “I thank you kindly. Pray forgive me, but I must take my leave. I come on a dire matter that requires my father’s attention. I bid you good day.”
With that, he swept past him to enter the manor.
“Young master!” Firmien exclaimed warmly, the old steward greeting him at the door. He beckoned to a familiar servant then, tall and straightbacked, his dark hair slicked back neatly. Grantien was a good man, Haurchefant thought, loyal and faithful, and was a fine addition to the small legion of retainers in the house’s employ. He was brought on upon Firmien’s own recommendation, and while he had served only a few weeks as Haurchefant’s manservant, but he had already proven indispensable more than once, particularly as a messenger to the Scions’ Antecedent. At that, Haurchefant could not help but frown a little, sighing. The loss of Mistress Warde had taken an incalculable toll upon Gisele, and she need not have spoken too much upon it for Haurchefant to know it was so. He knew a shattered heart when he saw one. And it was why he had come, beyond all else.
Haurchefant greeted Grantien with a warm smile, handing him his heavy black riding cape, and turned to Firmien. “Where is my father, do you know?”
“In his office.”
The smile crumbled from Haurchefant’s lips, along with the rest of his face, at the sound of that brusque, familiar tone. He glanced up to see Artoirel, with arms folded against his chest, standing in front of the mantle with a narrowed gaze.
“Brother,” Haurchefant said by way of greeting, in as neutral a tone as he could manage, as Grantien and Firmien prudently withdrew with no small amount of haste.
Artoirel’s mien was cool, the frosty smile upon his lips nowhere near the vicinity of his steel-blue eyes, which were hard as agates. “Brother. Tell me, to what do we owe the pleasure of your exalted presence gracing the manor this day? Have you run out of sellsword skirts and trousers to chase at the fortress, at the last?”
Haurchefant clinched his jaw, grinding his teeth. As always, Artoirel cast his line with casual cruelty, with the crudest bait upon the hook. But Haurchefant would not rise to it, not this time. He must not, he thought firmly. “Nay. I must speak with Father on a matter of dire urgency,” he replied flatly, exhaling through mildly flared nostrils, his hands trembling at his sides.
“What urgency might there be for the Lord Commander of Camp Dragonhead himself to vacate his post in a time of increased hostilities?” Artoirel asked.
Haurchefant straightened yet further, narrowing his eyes. “Tis a matter for the Count’s ears, and his alone. You may be his trueborn heir, but tis all you are, and I do not answer to you. Only to him, and the Fury herself,” he replied darkly. “So, unless you plan to sprout the sacred lance and hoplon within your hands, I shall go now to see my father.”
With that, Haurchefant swept past his fuming brother, through the furthest doors of the foyer, and traversed the broad stair up to the Count’s quarters, and knocked upon the intricately carved doors painted scarlet which led to his personal library.
“Yes?” the voice was muffled from behind the door, but distinct.
“Tis only me, my lord,” Haurchefant replied, adding hastily, “Haurchefant.”
The door swung open so swiftly it rather startled him, in truth, and Edmont stood at the threshold drawing him into his arms for a warm embrace.
“Haurchefant!” Edmont sighed, with no small amount of relief in his voice, squeezing him tightly. It struck him as passing strange, but Haurchefant returned it, wrapping his arms about his father, and unconsciously plunked his chin upon his shoulder. He had outstripped the elder Fortemps in height nearly as soon as he made his majority, but somewhat seemed frailer in him now than Haurchefant remembered. The old injury, mayhap, which banished him from the field for good. As it was, when he pulled away, he leaned upon his finely wrought, gilt-edged cane.
“Hello, Father,” Haurchefant replied, a bit awkwardly. His heart was thundering within his chest, his palms grown clammy within his gauntlets, and he removed them by turns then with mildly trembling hands, setting them down upon a nearby table.
“What brings you home this day? Bear you news from Dragonhead?” Edmont asked. He turned to the dark cabinet beside him, retrieving a large decanter from within, and poured out cordial in a pair of finely struck crystal goblets, passing one to Haurchefant.
He gladly took it into his shaking hand, immensely grateful for his father’s hospitality. “Thank you. Yes, of a sort,” he answered, and took a long sip. It tasted of apricot, and burned mild and smooth with a hint of sweetness down his throat, doing much to settle his frayed nerves.
Edmont raised his dark brows, as he lifted his own glass to his lips. “And?”
Haurchefant took another drink, longer that time, and inhaled deeply the familiar scent of dark, polished chestnut which permeated Edmont’s library, with the faint hint of well-kept parchment. It was comforting, in its own way, and helped as much as the cordial. “Father, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn begged an audience with me last night. Whilst the Dravanians lay siege to Foundation yesterday, it seems there was a coup staged in Ul’dah, with the Sultana assassinated and General Raubahn imprisoned. The Scions were falsely implicated by the Crystal Blades, and only three managed to flee the desert: Mistress Surana, Master Leveilleur, and their secretary Tataru Taru. Not knowing where else to turn, they bid Master Garlond spirit them safely to Camp Dragonhead upon his airship, and beyond our walls they remain safely ensconced, for even the long arm of the Syndicate does not reach so far as Coerthas,” he said darkly.
“By the Fury!” Edmont gasped, incredulous, and turned the corner of his desk to sink into his tall chair. “This tale you bring beggars belief.”
“I swear I do not play you false when I bring it, Father.”
Edmont sighed, shaking his head, and took a long drink of his own. “I know, Haurchefant. Tis too wild to be false. Who rules there, now, in Ul'dah?”
“I cannot fairly say. Likely the rest of the Syndicate. It seemed this dire event unfolded in the midst of the reception Ser Aymeric attended at the palace last night. Teledji Adeleji named Sultana Nanamo’s assassin Gisele herself, slandering her as a murderess before all gathered, but was cut down shortly thereafter by Raubahn, which is why he was imprisoned. Gisele suspects Lord Lolorito rules as yet, but the Brass Blades were loyal to Adeleji’s coin, as were the Crystal Braves. Tis a sordid affair our friends have been thrust in the center of.”
“The Warrior of Light?” Edmont balked. “How absurd. Surely no one would believe such rot, she’s Raubahn’s right hand.”
Haurchefant’s brow furrowed low. “I do not know. What I do know is I cannot—we cannot permit these lies to stand. I know her, Father, and she is no murderess. Gisele is the kindest, most compassionate woman I have ever known, and a heroine of the realm besides. No truer friend can one have, and she loved Nanamo as her own sister; I heard the anguish in her voice, as she told us what transpired, she is haunted by these things. Even if I believed her capable of such a terrible act, it could never be the Sultana.”
Edmont sighed. “Tis an unfortunate and cruel turn of events indeed, Haurchefant, but I do not understand why you are here.”
Haurchefant swallowed hard, and took a long swig from his glass, along with another deep breath, all to steady himself. Still he trembled when he made his intention plain, however. “I come bearing petition from her, and Master Alphinaud: they seek sanctuary within the Holy See, for it is the one place the Syndicate cannot hunt them. And though I have vowed to do all that I can to aid them, and stymie their pursuers, tis only a matter of time before such pursuers come calling and mine subterfuge and veneer of frosty Coerthan inhospitality runs thin. But those foul jackals dare not chase them here. The Holy See is the only place in all Eorzea where remaining Scions shall be safe while unraveling the dire conspiracy which hounds them,” he said at last, grave and severe. “The Gates of Judgment must be opened to them.”
He feared he overstepped then, for Edmont sat in deathly silence; the old manner of silence he so detested as a boy, with his shoulders pulled back, his hands folded primly as he rested his elbows upon the desk, staring at him overlong, as though he were boring holes through him. And just as he had so many times as a boy, Haurchefant found himself squirming beneath the weight of it. He downed the rest of the contents of his glass; anything to avoid that withering stare, and that godsdamned, oppressive silence that suffocated him. And he remembered why he was so absent from these walls, so often and for so long.
“Are you mad?” Edmont said at last, puncturing that silence with but three sharp words, uttered in the softest tone, that felt as daggers punching through the weak places of Haurchefant’s fine chain.
“But we must—”
“This city has only just suffered the most grievous attack upon its walls in centuries, Foundation is still smoldering, and you would pry open those gates? Where does House Fortemps stand to profit by inserting ourselves within Ul’dahn intrigues, for that matter?” Edmont demanded. “We risk much in jeopardizing our contracts with the consortium, and I should not have to tell you how dire it would be should the flow of iron from Thanalan cease, at a time when the Horde is escalating its attacks.”
“Father!” Haurchefant gasped incredulously, his nostrils flaring, blood boiling within his veins. “You cannot be serious! Is this how House Fortemps repays her debts? Is this how we treat with our friends, in their time of need?”
“The Scions received materiel in good faith, Haurchefant. That is surely enough.”
“That was for Lady Iceheart,” Haurchefant countered. “What of the debt incurred in the name House Haillenarte, our closest ally? Lest you forget, Father, Gisele uncovered a false Inquisitor and saved Francel the fate of Witchdrop, she washed clean his name—the name of my dearest, and oldest companion. Think you I would not do everything within my power to clean her own name, stained by accusations just as monstrous, just as false?”
“Haurchefant,” Edmont began, his eyes narrowed, “I do not doubt her innocence. Ser Aymeric has commended her well, Mistress Surana, and he is a steady and sober man—”
“Unlike me,” Haurchefant spat, bitterly. He would speak what his father would leave unspoken, what he always left unspoken these long years. For all he claimed to the contrary, why else would he spend so many of them so distant, were Haurchefant not a disappointment in his eyes? He was Edmont’s bastard get, after all, one not worthy of any name but Greystone, as he had been reminded over and again the whole of his life. Fit to hold court in a stone fortress, of a surety, but far from the lofty Pillars which gossiped about his every move and perpetually questioned his father’s judgment.
He did not care, in truth, for names and titles; “Silver Fuller” was aught that mattered to him, etched upon the beautiful mythrite blade he’d wielded since earning it with his deeds. But he did care for the distance, far more than he cared to dwell upon. It was a simple thing to ignore it, certainly, when his days were full to the brim with scouting reports, and war counsels, and requisition orders and inspections, between which he so furiously sculpted his physique for glorious nights spent with the myriad nubile adventurers and strapping mercenaries which warmed his bed. And he adored those nights. They allowed him to endure, betimes when nothing else did; when patrols returned with fewer in number than which they set out, when the freshly driven snow ran red with the blood of those loyal and faithful under his command and he could no naught but commend them to the Fury’s frozen halls with prayers and libations of mead. And they permitted him to forget it was a manner of exile, to keep peace within the manor. The emotional distance was simple to forget, when bolstered by that which was physical.
But it was not so simple a thing, however to endure his father’s distance within these walls, in his father’s august presence. Indeed, these were mayhap the most words the two men had exchanged in years entire.
“You have been among the finest knights who have ever served our house, my son,” Edmont said sharply. “And you have led Camp Dragonhead ably these years, do not doubt that. No finer a knight commander has served in its stewardship for generations. But I fear your emotions, however sincere they may be for this woman, do cloud your judgment. My son, I beg you to see reason; there is naught to be gained in this. We cannot afford to take upon ourselves a crusade that is not our own, not when we are so vulnerable, not when the might of the Dravanians may well fall upon us at any moment—”
“FATHER, I LOVE HER!”
He bellowed the words and they seemed somewhat outside himself, as though someone else had cried them at the top of his lungs, but his cheeks were burning, his blood beating in his ears, and he felt hot tears streaming down his cheeks; some small part of his consciousness was mortified, as soon as it happened, for he had not shed tears in anger since he was a boy—not before his father. Haurchefant swiped at his eyes, shaking, and rushed the cabinet in but a single long stride, his hands shaking as he poured yet more apricot brandy into his glass.
“Haurchefant,” his father said, sighing again, from across the room, still seated at his desk.
Haurchefant blinked hard, and took another long drink, before dragging a hand down his face, taking a deep breath to calm himself. He turned then to face his father once more, striding to the desk behind which he sat with his eyes full and startled, at last sinking to his knees, with his head bowed, eyes clamped shut for a moment, and Gisele’s beautiful face swam before his vision, bronze and tear stained. He remembered how his heart shattered to see her so disheveled and bloodied, resembling naught of the spirited lady adventurer who exchanged such pleasant flirtations with him upon so many occasions, nor the mighty sorceress that brought heretics and Primals and the Black Wolf of Garlemald himself to his knees. He remembered how broken and so very small her voice sounded as she recounted the horrors she had endured that night, in his office. He remembered the way she trembled in his arms, clinging to him in the night, and how desperately he wished he could kiss away her tears. And his heart grew full at the memory of it, of how he squeezed her tightly, of how he would have given anything to protect that brave and fragile woman in his arms, how she confided in him and placed her faith in him, when so many had betrayed her—upon two worlds. For his was the hearth to which this remarkable woman fled seeking warmth in the cold of her darkest night, and he would do anything, give anything, to see her safe in his arms once more.
How could he so cower before his father, when she needed him so?
He rose up then, standing tall, finding the steel once more in his spine, to lower his gaze upon his father. “I love Gisele Surana, the Warrior of Light, she who is the greatest heroine Eorzea has ever known. And she has lost so much, Father; suffered so grievously, beyond all ken. She is lost, and alone, bereft of all who cared for her in this world save two, who share her need. By the Fury, Gisele needs me, Father! And I would be her shield, I would protect her with all that I am, no matter the dire conspiracy that has brought her low, even if Nidhogg himself was its architect! Even should all the world hate her, if all the world despised her and feared her and named her a murderess, yet still I would be her knight. Because I love her. And a knight lives to serve,” Haurchefant declared, defiantly.
It was Edmont then, who could not bear the weight of Haurchefant’s stare, and lowered his gaze to shut his own eyes, sighing deeply as he rested his brow against his hands; twas then Haurchefant noted the faint hint of a smile beneath them. And then he rose from his chair, crossing around the wide corner of his desk, to stand face to face with Haurchefant, glancing up at him, with his hands gripping his shoulders tightly. “Let none gainsay the strength of your heart, my son,” Edmont said softly. “What would you have me do? But speak the word, and I shall do all that is within my power as ruling Count of House Fortemps.”
Haurchefant’s shoulders relaxed beneath his father’s hands, and he exhaled a breath he did not realize he’d been holding. “I have asked naught of you ever in my life, Father, save to be a knight in service to my house,” he said.
“I know, Haurche,” Edmont said. He raised a hand up to cup Haurchefant’s cheek within his withering palm. “What would you have me do?”
“I would beseech you, Father: petition the Lord Commander, the magistrate, the Archbishop himself, whomsoever you must, but pray throw wide those gates to our friends in desperate need, that they might find sanctuary here, within the Holy See herself. Invoke Gisele’s deeds at Snowcloak, upon the Steps of Faith if you must. But the Scions must come to Ishgard, mayhap as retainers of House Fortemps,” Haurchefant answered.
Edmont nodded, and idly wiped away the salty remnants of tears from the high point of Haurchefant’s cheekbone with his thumb, before fondly patting it. “Very well. You have my vow, in the name of the Fury, it shall be done. But I do not think even retainers would be permitted to cross the Steps, not now. A stronger claim will surely be necessary, for foreigners to gain the gates.” He paused, pursing his lips in thought but a moment, then smiled. “I shall make them wards of the House. That shall give them all the claim they require.”
Haurchefant’s heart nearly stopped within his chest. “My lord shall have his jest,” he balked.
“Tis no jest,” Edmont replied, smiling in reassurance. He squeezed Haurchefant’s cheek before withdrawing to his desk, searching for fresh parchment, reaching for his inkpot. “I shall draw up the petition immediately, but it shall likely take time to be heard by the Vault, even should I present it before sundown. Seek Eugenie in the kitchens before you leave, there is as yet tea and café au lait from the morning’s repast. You should move swiftly, however, for the skywatchers have noted an ugly storm blowing in from Abalathia’s Spine, and the roads may grow impassable.”
Edmont smiled. “I do not mean to chase you away, do not misunderstand. But you said it yourself, lad: she needs you. Go to her, and be a comfort.”
It was a tempting offer, of course, but Haurchefant shook his head. Fleeing back without surety to provide would prove little comfort to her at all, and he dared not raise her hopes with promises of a petition only to see them dashed were the outcome unfavorable.
“Nay, Father, I shall remain here. I will not return to her until I know with all certainty that she and her comrades will find sanctuary within these walls. I cannot give her false hope, it would destroy her,” Haurchefant said.
Edmont quirked his brow in surprise, but nodded his head in approval. “A sober decision, indeed. Very well. I shall have Firmien bring us some morsels then, and we shall break bread. There is much we must discuss, I think.”
Much indeed, Haurchefant thought, smiling for the first time he left Gisele’s side.
Over butter-rich, flaky pastries and warm drink was Edmont’s petition was completed, and together father and son submitted not long afterwards, to the Supreme Tribunal’s magistrate of civil affairs. Haurchefant was immensely grateful for his father’s cleverness, for it proved quite the ingenious scheme, seeking to make Wards of the Scions. It was a far simpler matter than begging open the gates themselves, one merely of receiving the right signatures as it turned out, for the High Houses governed their own such affairs in sovereignty, needing only declare their intent to the Vault. There was also precedent for such a thing, for Ser Lucia herself, the Lord Commander’s own right hand, was deemed a Ward of a House Minor, and she was a foreigner, though Haurchefant did not know from whence she hailed, merely a land to the East. With the war intensified, however, and the Holy See teetering upon a knife’s edge, granting a trio of foreigners the dispensation of a High House proved a rare but expected point of contention.
For once, however, the isolation which had set his homeland apart from the rest of Eorzea had proven a boon rather than an infuriating hindrance, to Haurchefant. So far as he knew, news of the Sultana’s assassination had not reached the Holy See; none in Ishgard knew of what transpired far away in the Thanalan desert, save himself and his father. Even Ser Aymeric, who had been present that night, had left before Teledji Adeledji’s bitter accusations were made, and blood was spilled in the Sultana’s palace, for the alarum had sounded here in the city, when the Dravanian siege had begun. Few knew of the Scions within the walls of the city, at any rate; like as not believed to be a company of foreign sellswords as anything else.
In the end, twas Gisele’s heroics upon the Steps of Faith, and at Snowcloak against Lady Iceheart, which proved the difference in the deliberations. Ser Aymeric himself vouched for her character, and that of Master Alphinaud, submitting a brief upon their behalf as soon as Haurchefant asked if he might intervene. And of a surety did Haurchefant nearly weep to see that letter, before Ser Lucia brought it before the magistrate, such effusive praise the Lord Commander heaped upon his dear sorceress. No flattery it was, either, but fairly earned by all Gisele had done for Ishgard’s defense—and the Scions by extension. But it was an act that Haurchefant would never forget for all his days, such kindness the Lord Commander showed in their hour of need, and for naught in return.
Haurchefant bided his time conversing with Ser Yaelle over linkpearl, receiving reports upon the Horde’s movements, which seemed fewer still since the assault upon Foundation. It was a relief, in more ways than one. But he spent his days in counsel with his father, speaking of matters weighty and inconsequential by turns. And by the hours, he seemed to feel that distance shrinking, inexplicably; even Artoirel seemed more amiable, sympathetic to the Scions’ cause, or at least did not gainsay it. Emmanellain was, of course, Emmanellain, may the Fury bless him for it. Content enough he was to lose soundly at Triple Triad in the parlor, the way it was when they were children, though as men grown this time the wagers were not for wooden chocobos and toy shields, but rather fine whiskey and salacious drawings.
He’d missed it, in truth, more than he could say.
Late afternoon, upon the third day of waiting, the Tribunal’s messenger arrived at last with the edict: House Fortemps’ petition was accepted, and the three should be wards. The manor erupted into a flurry of activity, naturally, for quarters would need to be prepared for their new guests, both private and for the work of the order, with supplies procured, clothing, and so on. And their papers still needed to be finalized before they could set forth through the Gates of Judgment. There was naught more that Haurchefant could do, and so he saddled Chretienne once more, even as the storm rolled over Abalathia’s Spine; it was as delayed as the resolution, but he cared not.
He would bring her surety, at last.
The sun had been smothered in a dull, colorless sky, and frigid wind whistled all about him, as he raced down the road, attempting to outrun the storm, flying with all haste down the eastern road back to Camp Dragonhead. Icy shards stung his his cheeks, though the deep hood of his traveling cloak was raised. Still he rode as a man possessed, entirely undaunted, filled with determination. Twas when the sun began to sink lower upon the horizon, setting hairline fractures of ochre and violet within the iron gray skies above the Highlands, that the massive stone walls of the fortress beckoned in the distance, the twinkling of the fires along the parapets beckoning him onward, to home. His eyes grew wide in amazement as he spied a single spot of color upon the highest parapet: a scarlet cloak blowing in the wind, along with a wealth of curls snowy white and soft as a karakul lamb’s wool, gloved hands clutching the pendant about her neck as she always did when anxious.
Haurchefant grinned, and urged the bird on faster, his heart pounding such warmth to course through him that the cold was as naught.
For she awaited him, his Gisele, keeping his hearth; twas her that warmed him, more than any flame, and he would protect it for all his days, if only she but asked.