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Fields of Duscur


Chapter 10


A pounding on Mercedes’s door nearly made her jump out of her skin. Her fingers tightened on her sewing, every nerve in her body alert. The pounding came again. She eased out of the chair, leaving her needlework on the small table of her rented room. Magic flickered down her arm. She had more than just herself to protect these days.


She froze at the sound of the deep voice on the other side of the door. It couldn’t be. After so many weeks of hoping, had the goddess finally answered her prayers?

Mercedes flung the door open, and there he was, dripping wet, clothes sticking to his massive body and hair plastered to his head. His chest heaved, naked desperation in his features. The only other time she’d seen such open emotion on his face was when they made love.

“Dedue,” she said, his name sticking on the sudden lump in her throat. Beyond him, the spring rains pounded the paving stones. “You’re soaking wet. Come in before you catch a chill.”

Dedue took two steps into the room and fell to his knees. He wrapped his arms around her, head pressed against her middle. “Please forgive me. I have repaid your love and kindness with a grievous wrong. I beg you to let me make it right.”

“I don’t know if I should make it that easy for you,” she said, even though her heart felt like it might explode.

“I do not deserve it. I do not deserve you.”

His body shook silently, and she set a hand on his shoulder. Was he…weeping? She’d never seen Dedue cry. Secretly, she’d wondered if he ever had.

“Why did you not tell me you were pregnant?” he asked, voice broken and muffled against her clothing.

So he had found out, and that was why he had returned. She stroked his wet hair, tears pricking her eyes. “You made it clear that you needed to focus on your duty to Dimitri.”

“Then why keep the child?”

“I always wanted to have a baby with you. I just didn’t think it would happen when it did. Once I found out I was pregnant, I was glad to be able to keep a part of you in my life.”

Dedue looked up at her, face wet from more than rain. “Had I known, I would have come immediately. I would not let you bear the burden alone.”

“I know.” She caressed his handsome, scarred face. “But if you returned to me, I didn’t want it to be because of duty. I would rather raise our child alone than feel like being with us wasn’t your heart’s desire.”

A muscle in his jaw twitched, and new tears spilled from his eyes. “I want to be with you. But my promises—”

“Were made to someone you love. Someone who loves you in return and doesn’t want to see your sense of duty tear you apart. You’ve committed so much of your life to other people, but what of your duty to yourself? What about your dreams?”

“I owe His Majesty a debt—”

“Have you asked him if he feels it has been paid?”

Dedue bowed his head, eyes squeezed shut.

Mercedes put her arms around him and pulled him to her. Her clothes wicked the moisture from his, but she didn’t care. “I don’t want to speak for Dimitri, but I suspect he would like to see you happy.”

Dedue didn’t respond. He just held onto Mercedes tightly, as if she were a rock in a tumultuous sea. She stroked his head in silence, wishing she could tell him she didn’t care, he could serve his lord however he liked. But she had let others control her life for far too long—first her adoptive father and then Dedue.

It wouldn’t do for him to fall ill, so she helped him remove his sopping clothing with as much detachment as she could muster. The sight of his magnificent, beloved body sparked memories that threatened to make her tears fall anew. Fortunately, her ever-present nausea kept her desire at bay, and soon he was wrapped in a blanket by the fire. She changed out of her wet clothes into her nightgown—it was too late in the day to put on another dress—and sat in the chair next to the hearth. Silence reigned as the fire crackled away.

“What would make you happy?” Mercedes finally asked.

Dedue exhaled through his nose and closed his eyes. “To show my child the fields of Duscur in bloom, you by my side.”

Mercedes nodded. The lump in her throat had grown too large to talk around. That was what she wanted, too. She wanted to visit his homeland with him, to start their school and educate the people of Duscur so their culture wasn’t lost.

“Perhaps we should pray,” Mercedes said once composed. She’d been doing a lot of that lately. It seemed it was too soon to tell if the goddess had heard her prayers.

They folded their hands and bowed their heads. Mercedes prayed with all her heart and soul for Dedue to find peace and balance and become the man he wanted to be, whatever that might look like. When she was finished, she raised her head. Dedue continued to pray, tears leaking anew from his closed eyes. Was he praying to the gods of Duscur, her goddess, or both? As long as one of them listened, she supposed it didn’t much matter.

Mercedes left him to it as she prepared a simple stew for dinner. Having him near brought back memories of cleaning, cooking, and sewing together. They both enjoyed the domestic arts. The memories were as painful as they were pleasurable. Her heart had been wounded several times in her life—running away from her stepfather’s home, being forcibly adopted, losing her brother twice—and breaking up with Dedue had hurt just as much.

She was just finishing up when Dedue stirred. Unlike when he arrived, his eyes were clear. She handed him a bowl of stew. He took it from her, but he immediately put it on the table.

“I have been a fool.” He drew near and ran his thumb over her cheek. “I was blessed, and I cast those blessings aside. I love His Majesty, yes. I also love you. I am selfish and greedy, for I want both my work and my family.”

Mercedes waited, although it took all her willpower not to fling herself into his arms.

Dedue returned to his knees before her, blanket draped around his massive form. He took her hand in his and looked into her eyes. “Mercedes, will you be my wife, if you can forgive what I’ve done?”

“This isn’t because of the baby, is it?” she asked, although the way her words wounded him was evident in his gaze.

“It is because a life without you is no life at all.”

Mercedes sniffled, blinking rapidly. Her hand seemed so pale and small in his.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

“Yes,” she croaked and threw herself at him, nearly knocking him over.

Dedue’s warm, strong arms enveloped her, and it felt like coming home. She sobbed against his bare chest. At long last, all the hurt of the past few months came pouring out. He cradled her and rubbed her back as she wept. His strong, steady heartbeat echoed in her ear, helping her calm. Eventually, her tears dried, and she sat up and wiped her eyes.

“Dinner is cold,” she said with a weak laugh.

“Sit. I will take care of it.”

Dedue settled Mercedes in her chair, re-wrapped the blanket around his hips, and spooned the stew back into the pot to warm over the fire. It was just like it had been before, although the quarters were far shabbier and cramped. Yet she was happier than she’d been in a long time.

After they ate, Dedue cleaned up. Color stole into his cheeks when he caught her gaze and asked, “May I stay here tonight?”

Heat rose in her own face. “Of course, although I don’t really feel in the mood to—”

“I only wish to hold you,” he said with a shake of his head.

“That sounds nice.” She almost said it had been too long, but she didn’t have the heart to punish him. Their time apart seemed to have been as painful for him as it was for her. Perhaps more so, since he had himself to blame.

Mercedes’s bed was too small and rickety to hold them both, so Dedue moved the table and chairs and pulled the mattress in front of the fire. They got ready for bed and settled down together, bare skin against bare skin. She closed her eyes and smiled. He felt so good, so safe. This was where they belonged. He seemed to agree, for he let loose a gentle sigh and pulled her closer, fingers spread protectively over her belly.

“Are you excited about the baby?” she asked.

“I am overjoyed. It feels like a miracle.”

Her smile widened, and she rested her head on his shoulder. She’d missed the pine and cedar scent of him. Perhaps tonight she’d finally sleep well.

“Tomorrow I will speak to His Majesty,” Dedue murmured, but his warmth and the fire and her happiness overwhelmed her, and she dropped off to sleep before she could hear the rest of his words.