Claude stared at the letter in his hands. The paper rattled with his trembling. Dimitri and Teach were alive and at Garreg Mach monastery. Claude’s pulse thundered in his ears. After all this time, five years of war and horror, hope was on the horizon.
“Summon the lords,” he said to his page, who went running from the room.
Claude put down the letter from his spy at Garreg Mach and took deep breaths until his hands steadied. Hope. Peace.
Everything was possible now. He just needed to confirm that Teach and Dimitri were alive and well, preferably with his own eyes. His dream, which had grown throughout the years, was within reach. The Alliance was too small, not influential enough for his purposes. But with a unified Fódlan and a sympathetic ruler in Almyra, the world would be an entirely different place.
But first to recall his friends. He wrote furiously, even to Lorenz to give him fair warning. Although Gloucester had long ago defected to support the Empire, Lorenz would be able to see the truth of the overall situation even if he could not change his own.
Claude saved the best for last. He and Hilda had been exchanging letters for the last five years, ever since they had fled Garreg Mach for Derdriu and Holst had fetched her home. She had gathered information for him, even isolated at House Goneril as she was, and sent it in cleverly coded missives disguised as flirtations.
Although sometimes he wondered if they weren’t flirtations in truth. His body temperature rose as he remembered her insinuations. Their hijinks during their academy days were some of his fondest memories—she was one of the first true friends he’d ever had. He was close with his other classmates, too, but with her, he felt understood. She alone was his equal.
And now he had an excuse to recall her to his side that not even an overprotective older brother could countermand. He dashed off the letter, careful not to let his anticipation seep through. His letter to Lord Holst was even more businesslike.
There. Nothing more to be done but wait. His heart still did backflips.
He shoved thoughts of Hilda from his mind and retreated to his bedchamber to dress for council. Before pulling on a clean shirt, he flexed a little in the mirror. Yes, he was more muscular than he’d been the last time he’d seen her. More hair on his chest. She wouldn’t arrive for at least a couple of weeks—plenty of time to grow one of those jaw beards the men of Fódlan seemed to favor. He had been a boy when they’d parted, but no longer. Not that she’d ever treated him differently just because she was older.
Enough of that. Five years was a long time. She might have changed. War changed everyone. All that mattered was she was still his friend.
He finished dressing and strode to the council chamber. Already he counted the days until his friends returned. When they did, he’d put his plans in motion and change the world.