To Sleep, To Dream
Dimitri shifted his weight at the top of the steps before the castle’s grand entrance, palms sweating. The honor guard surrounded him—behind, off to the sides, and lining the long walkway in front of him all the way down to the gates. Their polished dress armor shone in the weak northern sunlight. The only sound was the occasional creak of leather, clank of metal, or the distant cry of a bird.
“She’s an old friend and has visited before,” Dimitri said under his breath. “Why am I nervous?”
Dedue, standing directly behind him on his right, made a sound low in his throat.
“She might be feeling the same way,” Mercedes said, standing next to Dedue. “This is an official state visit, after all.”
An ornate carriage rolled up to the gate, surrounded by mounted soldiers. The church was taking no risks with its precious cargo. One of the soldiers leaped down and opened the carriage door. Dimitri swallowed. He understood why the professor couldn’t have come himself. Even so, it seemed a blatant ploy to cement their alliance. One Dimitri couldn’t afford to overlook, considering his kingdom’s fragile state.
A diminutive figure appeared in the carriage doorway and descended lightly to the ground. Dimitri balled his hands into fists to keep from fussing with his cape as the visitor drew nearer, trailing a line of her own guards. When she was halfway to the stairs, Dimitri descended and met her. She curtseyed deeply as he bowed. When they rose, he took her small hand in his and kissed her knuckles. Thank goodness his gloves hid his damp palms.
“It is very good to see you,” Flayn said with a smile.
“And you. Thank you for coming to visit.”
Flayn looked precisely the same as when he first met her, despite the passage of years. The only thing she had changed was her outfit, which was now more becoming of a church official rather than her childish student uniform.
Dimitri offered her his arm. Had she come here expecting an offer of marriage? He had his pick of suitors—noble families were falling over themselves offering him their daughters, including those from the former Empire. Some were even people he’d gone to the Academy with. The entire situation was surreal.
“When would you like to begin discussions?” he asked. There was no point in waiting.
Flayn sighed and looked up at him with an impish smile. “This is the first time in ages I have been allowed to leave the monastery on my own. I would prefer to have a bit of fun first. What activities do you enjoy?”
“Training,” Dimitri answered.
Flayn’s brow furrowed. “Nothing else? Nothing at all?”
“Swimming, I suppose? Riding. Dancing.”
“Swimming! How I adore swimming. I love dancing as well. I do not suppose you have plans to throw a ball in the immediate future?”
Dimitri shook his head, cursing his own short-sightedness. His mind raced for a response, but fortunately, they had reached the stairs by then. Flayn released him and bounded up to Dedue.
“Chef,” she cried and made as if to throw her arms around him, only to pull up short at the last moment. “We have not spoken since your wedding. I hear more congratulations are in order.”
Dimitri’s heart warmed at the soft expression on Dedue’s face. “Indeed.”
“Congratulations,” Flayn said to Mercedes, taking her hands. Mercedes’s pregnancy was evident now. The two women beamed at each other.
Dimitri waved at the gathered soldiers. “At ease. My lady.”
“You are so very gallant when you act formally,” Flayn said with a giggle, but she accepted his offered arm. “I suppose I shall have to humor you with a political discussion first after all.”
Dimitri surprised himself by smiling. He’d forgotten Flayn’s boundless energy. “Let us get business out of the way so we may move on to more pleasant pursuits.”
He escorted her to the meeting room and seated her at the long table before excusing himself. Dedue was already waiting in the hallway. “Please send for refreshments,” Dimitri asked and added, more quietly, “and see what you can do about arranging some dancing after dinner tonight.”
“I will see it done,” Dedue said and departed.
Dimitri returned to find Flayn had already spread several documents on the table. He sat down at the head, her on his right. She appeared supremely confident as she rifled through the papers, as though she had done this sort of thing before. Her apparent expertise seemed at odds with her youth.
“These are revised treaty papers,” Flayn began without ceremony. “They state that your kingdom and the church will work in each other’s best interests to stabilize Fódlan.”
Dimitri nodded and began to read them over. For legal documentation, they were surprisingly straightforward. All the concessions he and the professor had agreed upon through their letters were included.
“And this is all?” he asked. “This hardly seems worth such a lengthy trip.”
Flayn blushed. “In truth, there is a surer way to bind your kingdom and the church. I am here to ascertain if such an arrangement might be palatable.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Specifically, if you and I might see fit to be married.”
And that was why Dimitri had been nervous for her visit. He took a deep breath. “What are your feelings on the matter?”
“I volunteered. I trust you.”
“I have done terrible things. I do not deserve your trust.”
The gaze she turned on him seemed impossibly old. “I have seen more of war than you could ever imagine. As much as it saddens me, very little comes as a surprise.”
Dimitri cleared his throat, unsure how to respond. “Your brother supported your decision?”
“If marriage is a possibility for us, I must tell you the truth. Seteth is actually my father. He was not overly pleased with my decision, but he also recognizes I must be my own woman and have my own life. It is long past time I spread my wings.” She blushed. “I admit, the professor and his wife helped my cause.”
Dimitri’s mouth moved but no sound came out. Seteth, Flayn’s father? The man looked too young to have a daughter. Then again, Flayn had intimated several times that she was older than she appeared. Perhaps the same held true for Seteth.
“I do not delude myself that you are in love with me,” Flayn said, “or that you will fall in love with me quickly, but I would like some assurance of mutual affection. You see, I have always found you quite handsome, and you have touched my heart in a way no one else has. I believe my experience would greatly assist you in your reign, and I can help keep you healthy.”
Flayn shook her head. “You do not have to answer now. Since we have established you do not pick up on subtle cues, I will be plain: please grant me the opportunity to attempt to seduce you.”
Dimitri blinked. The prospect of marriage was not unexpected, but the rest of it was beyond imagining. Flayn was barely an adult. That she thought she had feelings for him was surely a misguided—
Dedue appeared, bearing a tray of individual cakes. Flayn grinned and clapped her hands together. “Did you make these?”
“Mercie did,” Dedue replied.
Flayn bit into a cake and moaned. “Delicious! Would she teach me?”
“I am certain, should you ask.”
Dimitri locked gazes with Dedue and tried to transmit his gratitude. Seldom had he felt so awkward. Did Flayn even understand what it meant to seduce someone?
Dedue raised his eyebrow.
“Now, then, Your Majesty.” Flayn polished off the cake with dainty bites. “Do I have your permission to attempt to seduce you?”
Dedue snorted. Dimitri glared at him.
“You are welcome to try,” Dimitri said. “You must be tired after your long journey. Dedue, will you please have someone show our honored guest to her rooms?”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
A moment later, a pair of guards arrived to show Flayn to her quarters. Dimitri stood and kissed her hand despite his misgivings. It seemed rude to lead her on, but it seemed equally rude to revoke a courtesy he’d previously granted her. She shot him a cryptic smile as she left, as if she knew something he didn’t. It was entirely possible that was the case. She’d certainly managed to throw him off balance.
Dedue returned to clear away the refreshments, but Dimitri bade him sit. “Go ahead, laugh,” Dimitri said.
The corner of Dedue’s mouth twitched. “Flayn is very…direct.”
“Isn’t she?” Dimitri sighed and put his head in his hand. “What shall I do?”
“It appears you have already decided to let her follow through. There is nothing more to be done. She seems sincere. Perhaps you should keep an open mind.”
“She is so young, so naïve. I feel I have done her a terrible disservice.”
“That remains to be seen. Shall I lay out your formal dining clothes?”
Dimitri rubbed his face. “I suppose so. She is an important church official, after all.”
“And a good friend,” Dedue said with a slight smile.
“That, too. Thank you for listening.”
Dedue began to take away the cakes then paused to pop one in his mouth. A soft smile stole over his face as he left the room. Dimitri watched his friend go, pleased that Dedue had found happiness. And a bit envious, if he was being honest with himself.
But Flayn…she seemed so innocent, so pure. As much as he wished for wedded bliss of the sort Dedue enjoyed, Dimitri couldn’t imagine taking Flayn to wife.
Dimitri gathered the treaty documents with a sigh and handed them off to a page to deliver to his legal advisors. Allying with the church was a given. But he also needed a wife. A small part of him hoped Flayn could convince him to marry her, for then the endless proposals would finally stop, and he could focus on restoring Fódlan. That, after all, was what he truly wanted.