Fields of Duscur
Dedue found it almost impossible not to rush through the corridors to his quarters when the afternoon meetings were finished, but Dimitri’s presence required proper decorum.
“Please walk next to me,” Dimitri said.
“You are my king.”
Dimitri sighed. “I am aware. I get a crick in my neck trying to talk to you over my shoulder.”
Dedue fell in step—too eagerly, for he nearly passed his liege.
Dimitri smiled. “In a hurry?”
Dedue clenched his jaw as his cheeks burned.
Dimitri stopped and looked Dedue in the eye. “Do you have feelings for her?”
“I am ever your loyal servant,” Dedue replied.
Dimitri sighed and glanced at his other guards. “You two are dismissed for the evening.”
“But, Your Majesty—” one began.
Dimitri dismissed them with a wave of his hand. “Ingrid and the other knights have security locked down. Besides, I’ll be with Dedue and Mercedes. You know how Dedue is, and Mercedes is one of the most talented healers I know.”
He waited while the two guards bowed and left. Then he looked at Dedue again. “I know you’re loyal, more than I have ever asked for. I’m telling you that what you perceive as your duty and what you might want for yourself aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Dimitri put his hand on Dedue’s shoulder. “Any debts between us are long since paid. We’re practically family. Just as you wish for my happiness, I wish for yours. If you love her, be with her.” His expression grew somber, his gaze faraway. “You never know how much time you have left with the ones you love.”
Dedue nodded, pressure building in his chest. Was it hope? Anticipation? Regardless, Dimitri was right—the situation was unsustainable. At the very least, the conflict distracted him from his duties.
“Come on,” Dimitri said. “We mustn’t keep her waiting.”
When they arrived at his quarters, Dedue knocked once before entering. He swung the door open to reveal Mercedes standing up from her chair, where she’d been reading a book. Her face lit up when she saw him, as if they were the only two people in the world. She took two steps toward him before she noticed Dimitri.
“Oh, Dimitri!” She grinned then grew flustered. She dropped into a curtsy. “I mean, Your Majesty.”
Dimitri shook his head. “Just Dimitri, please. You’ve saved my life too many times for us to stand on formality.”
Dimitri opened his arms, and Mercedes smiled as she hugged her king. Dedue itched to take her into his arms next. Instead, he took her hand and led her back to the table. She squeezed his fingers before she let go. Her eyes shone as she smiled. Dedue couldn’t help smiling in return.
Dimitri chuckled. “That clinches it,” he said. “Dedue’s smiled more in the last two minutes than he has all week.”
Dedue sat next to Mercedes, ears growing hot.
Mercedes put her hand on Dedue’s knee underneath the table, the action obscured by the tablecloth. “I’m happy if he’s happy.”
Dedue’s face joined his ears in burning.
“It is so good to see you, Mercedes. Tell me, what have you been up to?” Dimitri asked.
Dedue heard little of their conversation—he was too engrossed in studying the woman next to him. Every little gesture she made was pleasing. He enjoyed the sound of her laugh. The feeling of her soft body in his lap last night on the ride home had stayed with him and made for a restless evening. The thoughts seemed impure, but he wanted to know her on a more intimate level. To touch more of her and be touched by her.
How to tell her he was in love with her? He couldn’t take for granted that she already knew.
“And I think I could truly help the people of Duscur,” Mercedes said, the mention of his birthplace snapping Dedue out of his thoughts. “I promise I won’t come between Dedue and his duties. Except perhaps to have him take me to visit his homeland.”
Dimitri smiled. “You will have the full support of the crown. We must make amends to the people of Duscur. When your plans are in place and you know what you will need in the way of funding, let us speak of this again.”
“Thank you, Dimitri.” Mercedes beamed at Dedue, and he returned her smile.
A bell sounded outside the room, the door opened, and in streamed servants bearing trays. They quickly set the table and departed. Dedue uncovered the food. A salad of greens, onion gratin soup, and saghert and cream for dessert. He took a bite of salad and chewed. It seemed fine, no poison.
His head snapped toward Mercedes as she took a spoonful of soup and tasted.
“What are you doing?” he asked, more sharply than he intended.
She gave him a knowing look. “Exactly what you’re doing. Dimitri can’t taste well, can he? But I don’t want you to get poisoned, either.”
Dimitri broke out in laughter, making Dedue startle.
“What’s so funny?” Mercedes asked.
“You two are far more alike than I first thought,” Dimitri said. “I should have a kitchen installed in my apartments and have only a friend cook for me.”
“Flayn and the rest of the Church envoy will be here in three weeks,” Dedue said. “I am sure she would be happy to cook for you. Until then, I will prepare all your food personally.”
“I would love to help,” Mercedes said.
Dedue allowed himself the fantasy of cooking with Mercedes every day, preparing meals for Dimitri. Somehow, in his imaginings, children also sat at the table. His children. His hands stilled in the middle of portioning out the soup.
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Dimitri said. “But for it to work, you’ll need to take up residence in the castle. Dedue, would you be so good as to work out the details with Mercedes?”
“Of course,” Dedue said. Mercedes would be within reach at all hours. The room was suddenly far too warm. Sweat pricked his underarms. His love for her was pure, but it was not chaste.
They ate their meal, rang for wine, then rang for tea and cake. Dimitri and Mercedes talked and laughed, and Dedue basked in the atmosphere. It was the most relaxed he’d seen Dimitri in a while, and all moments spent with Mercedes were good ones. Perhaps he should make a note to ensure more former Blue Lions visited frequently. Dimitri seemed at his best when his friends were around. The gods knew the king would need all the support he could get in the coming months.
“My goodness, look at the time,” Mercedes said hours later. “I should get going.”
Dimitri frowned. “You’re right, it’s quite late. I’m not sure travel is advisable at this time of night. I suggest you stay here. Dedue, will you ensure Mercedes is made comfortable?”
Dedue bowed with a nod, careful to keep his expression from revealing the storm suddenly brewing inside him.
Dimitri hugged Mercedes one last time, kissed her on the cheek, smirked at Dedue, and left the room.
For the first time, the silence between Dedue and Mercedes became uncomfortable.
Dedue clenched his jaw. He couldn’t offer to take her home, not after what amounted to an order from his king. That the order was given for Dedue’s own benefit mattered little. Mercedes wore a wistful expression on her face, although he could not tell what she wanted. He could barely tell what he wanted.
No, that was a lie. He knew exactly what he desired.
“Mercie.” He hadn’t intended to say her name like a prayer, but it came out that way. “Would you consider staying here for the night?”
Her eyebrows rose. “Here? In your quarters?”
“Let me give you a tour.”
He opened the door to his bedchamber. A four-poster bed with curtains sat in a corner, big enough for two of him. The fireplace stood in the wall opposite. An armoire, chest of drawers, washstand, and writing desk stood against the walls. The bedroom’s window looked out upon the same small courtyard as his sitting room. Flowers sat in a vase on the desk. He enjoyed fresh-cut flowers, but now he hoped the touch didn’t seem as if he had been trying to anticipate her presence.
“This is the washroom.” The small chamber adjacent to his bedroom held a bathtub and a privy closet. The tub was also big enough for two of him. Another washstand stood against the wall. A lone window high in the wall would be the only source of daylight come morning.
Mercedes wore a dazed expression on her face, hands folded in front of her.
“It is not much,” he said.
“It’s so…luxurious.” She looked around with wide eyes. “But I suppose it is in a castle.”
“It is certainly the nicest place I have ever lived. Although I have not yet had time to read all of the books.”
“I appreciate what a tidy housekeeper you are.”
“Thank you.” He cleared his throat, insides buzzing. “You may take the bed.”
“And where will you sleep?”
“Would you…” She twisted her hands in front of her, cheeks red. “I can’t let you sleep on the floor after you’ve been such a gracious host. The bed looks more than big enough for two.”
His mouth dropped open, and a fire ignited low in his belly.
“N-no, that’s not what I meant!” She waved her hands frantically, although he couldn’t tell if she was dismissing her previous comment or fanning herself. “I j-just thought it might be more comfortable. Warmer. And I think I would feel safer in an unfamiliar place if you were next to me.”
“Yes,” he said, voice thick. It was a miracle he could speak at all. “I would like that. Let me find you something to wear.”
Dedue pulled out two nightshirts, heart slamming against his ribs. Mercedes took one and disappeared into the washroom. He quickly changed into his own nightshirt and was folding his uniform when Mercedes emerged. The shirt was far too large for her, gaping at the neck, but even so, it did a poor job of concealing her curves. He began to run through training exercises in his mind to distract himself.
“I’m a little nervous,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Dedue turned down the covers. “Which side would you prefer?”
Mercedes stared at the bed, biting her lip.
“I shall take the outside,” he said after a moment. “You will be warmer that way. Please wake me should you need to use the washroom and I will be happy to move aside.”
Mercedes nodded and climbed into bed while Dedue banked the fire. When he was finished, he pulled out the tie holding his hair back, set it in the bowl on the bedside table, and slid into bed next to her. She had rolled onto her side, her back to him. They lay in silence, his blood roaring in his ears. To have her so close, so inviting, and not touch her was maddening. Not to mention beyond his willpower.
“May I hold you?” he finally whispered.
“Yes,” she whispered back.
Dedue put his arm around her and slowly pulled her close, so that he curled around her. He tucked his fingers between her waist and the mattress. She was so soft, so warm.
“Are you comfortable?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Do you know I am deeply in love with you?”
Mercedes spun in his arms, eyes shining in the candlelight. “Do you know that I’m madly in love with you, too?”
Dedue studied her face, committing the moment to memory. His heart filled with light and heat until he thought it might break free from his chest and disappear into the sky.
“It doesn’t bother you that I’m older?” Mercedes asked.
Dedue pulled her closer still, until their legs entwined. Her breasts pressed against him, sending a thrill through his core. She put her hands on his chest. He brushed her nose with his, and she did not pull away. Their breath mingled as he brought his lips close to hers. Still, she did not pull away. Her hands curled into fists, clutching his nightshirt.
Dedue pressed his mouth to hers. Mercedes’s lips were soft as they molded against his. He had never kissed a woman before, but kissing this woman was better than he had ever imagined.
When they broke away, breathless, he realized his hand had slipped to her waist. The swell of her hip rested against his palm.
“Do you remember our conversation in the church before the war?” he asked. “When we spoke of travelling to Duscur?”
“Vividly,” she said, lips grazing his jaw and making him shudder.
“I was not only praying to the god of war, but the goddess of love. I could not admit it to you then. My apologies.”
She shook her head, her fingers tracing his face—running across his brow, down the bridge of his nose, over the curve of his ear. “Sometimes things have to wait for the right time.”
His hand had moved to her thigh before he caught himself. The hem of her nightshirt was so close, and it was all he could do not to bare her skin and caress her.
“I agree,” he said. “I will not take advantage of you tonight. You have my word.”
“And what if I want you to?”
A low sound of need escaped him before he could corral it. His erection throbbed, and he had no illusions she was unaware.
“Does your goddess condone such things?” he asked.
“The goddess wants us to be happy and is only concerned that such things are done with true love. What about the gods of Duscur?”
“Coupling before the giving of vows is forbidden.”
Mercedes blushed and averted her eyes.
“That is only one of many reasons I would like you to trade vows with me,” he said.
Her gaze snapped back to his, her lips parted and eyes wide.
“In Duscur,” he continued, “A couple must commit to a trial year of marriage before they may wed longer term, to ensure they are compatible. They make vows to each other and exchange gifts. Then they may do as they please. At the end of the year, if they still wish it, then they perform the final ceremony.”
“I have no gift for you,” Mercedes whispered.
“You are the gift.” He kissed her again, longer this time. “But you are right, we must obtain tokens to present to one another.”
He smiled. “If you like.”
“And when the year’s over?”
“If it has gone well, we will be married in the manner of Fódlan.”
Mercedes sighed and rested her head in the curve between his shoulder and neck. “That sounds lovely. Will we have children?”
“As many as you like.”
“I adore children.” She yawned.
Dedue kissed her cheeks and forehead as her eyes fluttered closed. He smiled into her hair. Since the death of his family and the loss of his country, there had been a cold ache deep inside him. For the first time in years, he felt whole.