Fields of Duscur
The next day, Dedue and Mercedes made their way to a dress shop Dimitri’s tailor recommended as well as a jeweler’s. She bounced on her toes as they walked, eyes alight. He could scarcely believe she was so excited about the prospect of marrying him, of all people. It wasn’t as if they did anything exciting off the battlefield other than make love. They sat by the fire and read together, talked about Duscur, cooked side by side, sewed, or worked in his garden. Sometimes, they just sat in silence, hand in hand, and gazed out the window. Peaceful, yes, and all he wanted out of life, but she burned so brightly it hardly seemed worthy of her talents. She would have been better off a church official, helping the masses instead of his countrymen. He kept his opinions to himself, however.
It turned out they had similar taste in rings. They chose two simple golden bands with a single amethyst inset flush in his band and a few small emeralds inset in hers. They ate lunch and headed back.
On the way to the castle, she kept glancing at him expectantly. It was as Dimitri said—although she knew he wished to marry her in the Fódlan fashion, she still wanted to be asked. His palm began to sweat against hers despite his certainty of her answer. He would ask her tonight, before they retired for the evening. The weather was warm. Perhaps he could persuade her to sit in their garden with him and ask her then.
“I don’t want or need a big to-do,” Mercedes said as they drew near the castle. “Really, I’d just like a small gathering of our dearest friends.”
Which happened to include a king. Dedue nodded his agreement anyway. He’d noticed the dress she’d picked was one that could be worn again for any special occasion. Her practicality, as ever, pleased him greatly.
“Yes?” Dedue looked down at Mercedes.
She smiled softly. “It’s far too early to tell, but I think last night was special.”
“Every evening with you is special to me.”
“That’s not quite what I mean.” She rested her hand on her belly and opened her mouth to continue speaking, but they had arrived at the castle. The frantic activity there pulled Dedue’s attention away from her words. A perimeter of soldiers three people deep ringed the entrance, and more soldiers rushed about beyond. Drawn weapons flashed in the sun, accompanied by frantic shouts. Something had happened. Dedue’s heart clenched in his chest, his body suddenly cold.
“Hurry.” Dedue sprinted toward the castle, Mercedes at his heels.
He dashed to the highest-ranking soldier. “Captain, what’s happened?”
“Master Molinaro!” The soldier’s face was pale. “There’s been an assassination attempt on King Dimitri.”
Mercedes gasped behind Dedue. He gripped the captain’s armored shoulders. “Is he all right?”
“H-he’s wounded,” the soldier began, but Dedue didn’t wait to hear more. He barreled through the defensive lines. Mercedes called to him, but he ignored her, all his attention on finding Dimitri. If he had been at his post today instead of gallivanting about with Mercedes…. It was his fault Dimitri was injured. Dedue had failed his king.
Nausea rose within him. Something between a scream and a sob surged up his throat along with the bile, but he choked it down. He should have known he couldn’t be both the consummate bodyguard and a loving husband. This life was not kind to people of Duscur.
“Dedue, wait,” Mercedes called again behind him.
His mind reeled. This had happened because of him, because he had not given his entire self over to his sworn task. The gods were punishing him for his inattention to his duty. If he did not correct course, things would get worse. Next time, Dimitri might die.
But to make it right, to ensure something like this never happened again, he would have to remove distractions.
Distractions like Mercedes.
“We cannot be married,” he said when she caught up, and uttering the words were like carving his heart out. But he had warned her, long ago, that his life was not his own. He should have heeded his own words. “I have failed in my duty because my duty has been divided. I should have realized to fulfill my vow to my king, I must devote my entire self to the task.”
Tears filled Mercedes’s eyes. The pain in her expression hurt him worse than any wound ever had. But the year of their commitment was up. They had tested themselves to see if they could be together forever. He had failed that test and must accept the consequences. If only he didn’t have to hurt her in the process.
“We can talk about this later, when you’re not so upset,” she said, a tremor in her voice. “I would never ask you to shirk your duty to Dimitri.”
“I know. The failing is not with you. It is with me.” He allowed himself to touch her one last time and wiped the tears from her cheeks with this thumb. “I will always treasure the past year with you. I swear I will never love another. But we cannot be together. Goodbye, sweet Mercedes.”
A gasping sob burst from her as he turned and ran through the halls of the castle. He buried his own tears as he went. Time to focus on his service to his king, to be the king’s shield. At least now, only Dedue’s body could perish, because without Mercedes, his heart was already dead.
It didn’t take long to discover that Dimitri was not in the infirmary—it was too crowded. Many soldiers had been injured in the attack. That didn’t bode well. Dedue cursed himself anew.
By the time Dedue reached Dimitri’s quarters, he was sweating and out of breath. The six soldiers stationed outside Dimitri’s door let him in without question. More soldiers ringed Dimitri’s private apartments—two at each door and four at each window. Dimitri lay on his bed, a blood-soaked cloth pressed to his side and abdomen smattered with burns. He was pale but blessedly alive.
“Your Majesty,” Dedue said as he knelt by Dimitri’s bed. “Please forgive me. I have failed you.”
Dimitri turned his head. His hair stuck to his sweaty brow, the skin around his eye tight. “Dedue. You’re supposed to be out planning your wedding.”
“I should have been here.”
“I’m glad you weren’t. If you were, you might have been killed.”
Dedue stood and scowled around the room. “Where is your healer?”
Dimitri waved the comment away. “With Ingrid. Her wounds would have been fatal without immediate attention. I’ll keep for a while longer.”
“Would you rather her die just to spare me some temporary discomfort?”
“You have lost too much blood.”
“I’m the least worthy of us all. You know that.”
“You are the best king we will ever have. We cannot lose you.”
“Dimitri,” a new voice cried.
Dedue’s heart constricted as Mercedes dashed into the room. She shot him a wounded, haunted look before she bent over Dimitri. Her selflessness was just one of the many reasons he loved her.
“Here, let me help,” she said. She spread her fingers, and a green light enveloped Dimitri.
A deep sigh left the king. “That’s much better, Mercie. You have my thanks.”
Mercedes took Dimitri’s hand with a familiarity Dedue envied, for he could never muster the courage to touch his liege. Perhaps she would make a better bodyguard for the king. She was useful in these sorts of situations. All Dedue could do was watch.
“Of course,” she said. “What happened?”
Dimitri scooted up in bed as she initiated another healing spell. “Assassins. Magic users. An entire group, targeting both me and the Sreng ambassador. Ingrid defended me with her life and took out many of them. I helped, but I think we would have died had Sylvain not been there with his spells. I’ve never seen him so angry.”
“He almost lost Ingrid in the war,” Mercedes said, hands glowing with magic. “I remember trying to heal her. And the Sreng ambassador?”
Dimitri smiled. “He’s unscathed. I was injured saving his life, and Sylvain destroyed the assassins left over from Ingrid’s counterattack. I daresay relations between our countries will improve.”
Dedue crossed his arms over his chest. He found nothing amusing about the situation.
Mercedes finished the healing and peeled away the makeshift bandage. Once she washed away the blood, the burns were gone, and his skin was whole. “There,” she said. “The wounds weren’t that bad. Just make sure you get plenty of rest.”
Dimitri shot a pointed look at Dedue. Dedue clenched his teeth.
Mercedes’s brow furrowed. She glanced at Dedue and blinked rapidly as her eyes grew moist. “I think I’ll go see if there’s anything I can do to help the others. Do you know where they took Ingrid?”
“I don’t, unfortunately. Thank you for your help,” Dimitri said.
Mercedes stood and curtseyed. She looked at Dedue. Her imploring gaze was like a dagger in his chest. He hardened his heart and gazed out the window. She hurried from the room.
Dimitri got up from the bed and wiped off the rest of the blood using water from his washbasin. Dedue fetched him a comb and fresh shirt.
“What was that about?” Dimitri asked as he pulled on the shirt.
“Mercedes and I will not be getting married.”
Dimitri stopped in the middle of pulling the comb through his hair, his single eye wide as he stared at Dedue. “You broke up with her?”
Dedue nodded, surprised by the tears that pricked his eyes.
“I thought you loved her?”
“I do.” His voice broke on the words.
“Were you not happy together?”
“Then why in the world would you do such a thing?”
Dedue pressed his lips together. There were too many guards in the room to speak freely, and Dimitri knew him well anyway.
“You can’t throw your happiness away,” Dimitri said, voice pitched low. “Not for me, not for anyone. I ought to dismiss you just so you have no excuse.”
An icy fist punched Dedue in the chest.
“Don’t look at me like that. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Dedue didn’t relax.
Dimitri waved at the guards. “All of you, you’re dismissed.”
“Your Majesty,” Dedue protested.
“I’m the king, and I’m dismissing all of you. Let everyone know that I’m well, that the Sreng ambassador is well, and that peace talks will proceed as planned.”
The soldiers saluted and marched from the room. Dimitri waited until they were gone and finished combing his hair. “Fetch me a new waistcoat and jacket, please?”
Dedue did as requested. There was comfort in the familiarity of acting as Dimitri’s valet.
Dimitri put them on and buttoned them up, inspecting himself in the mirror with a frown. He still looked a bit pale, but it was a far cry from moments ago. Dedue was grateful Mercedes had followed him, even if he had repaid her by breaking her heart.
He hoped she knew he’d broken his own in the process.
Dimitri sighed and faced him. “I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. And I appreciate your dedication. But I love you, too, and if you had been there today, you would have died. Neither of us can cast spells or do much against ranged magic. Ingrid’s javelin arm and Sylvain’s spells were what saved us today. You likely would have flung yourself in the way and been killed. Do you think that’s what I want? You’re my dearest friend. I want you to be happy.”
“Serving you makes me happy. Perhaps you should consider asking Ashe and Annette to return to Fhirdiad. They both excel at ranged attacks.”
Dimitri crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re not listening. Besides, Ashe and Annette are busy trying to put Gaspard territory back in order.”
“Someday…” Dimitri rubbed his face. “Someday soon, I must marry. An alliance with the church would likely be most beneficial at this point.”
“And when you do, you will not need me,” Dedue said.
“That’s not what I meant. We will both have our work cut out for us during the day, but our personal time should be just that—personal. We are the very best of friends—nothing will ever change that—but we must also be our own people with our own lives.”
Dedue remained silent, hoping Dimitri would take it for assent. He had tried to build a life outside serving his master, and it had almost led to his king’s death. It was his duty to die for Dimitri. He could not fulfill that unless he was constantly at the king’s side.
Dimitri’s gaze swept over Dedue’s face, searching. “You’re a good man. One of the best I know. But that doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.”
“I made one today, leaving your side.”
“I meant breaking things off with Mercedes. Do you think finding such a perfect fit is a blessing to be discarded?”
Dedue swallowed the lump in his throat and forced his expression to remain impassive.
Dimitri shook his head and moved toward the door. “I know how tender that heart is beneath your stoic exterior.” He shook his head. “You’ll punish yourself far more thoroughly than anyone else ever could.”
Dedue gazed at the door for several moments after Dimitri left. As much as he hated to admit it, Dimitri didn’t understand. Divided loyalties were as bad as having no loyalty at all. He had made his decision. He did not expect it to be easy or to be thanked for it. It wasn’t even necessarily the right thing to do, although perhaps it was kinder to Mercedes. She was an amazing woman and was sure to find happiness with another man someday.
Dedue crammed his feelings for Mercedes into the dark pit where he kept his grief for his country and family and hurried to catch up with his king.