To Sleep, To Dream
The official announcement that Dimitri had selected a queen spread quickly. Letters from his friends soon came pouring in. Some expressed surprise at his choice, but all seemed happy for him. Felix, of course, told Dimitri that Flayn could do better—as if he didn’t already know—and Sylvain offered to give tips for the bedroom, should he need them.
In that respect, Dimitri liked to think he was doing just fine. Flayn was bold and inventive, and soon his own inhibitions about lovemaking had fallen away. Just the thought of her fingers dancing over his body made him shiver and harden.
Unfortunately, planning a royal wedding was a bit much on top of everything else he was trying to do for his fledgling reign. Mercedes had taken over most of the wedding duties along with Flayn. To complicate things, Flayn wanted to be married at Garreg Mach. Dimitri’s sole contribution had been to write a letter to Seteth asking for his blessing. Dedue was far more useful, helping to make connections with vendors and planners and whatnot. Once again, Dimitri thanked the goddess for the day he met Dedue.
Dimitri was so wrapped up in the wedding and the business of running a kingdom that Claude’s visit had utterly slipped his mind. It wasn’t until Dedue put him in his dress uniform and dragged him to the entrance of the castle that he remembered the state visit. Flayn, strangely, was nowhere to be seen.
“Dimitri!” Claude opened his arms wide as the rest of his wyvern cohort landed beyond the gate. Dimitri descended the steps, and the two embraced with slapping of backs.
Dimitri took a step back and smiled. “It is good to see you, Claude.”
They turned and walked toward the steps, where Dedue bowed. “Don’t be like that,” Claude said, giving Dedue a hug. “We went to school together, remember? I hear you’re married with a baby on the way. Congratulations.”
“Thank you. Congratulations on your marriage.”
Claude sighed and shook his head. “Do you have any idea how hard it was to get Hilda to agree to marry me? I’d have thought if anyone was cut out to be a queen, it’d be her.”
“But at least we got to choose our queens, right?” Claude said as they went inside. “We’re lucky to have fallen in love with women who can help our causes.”
Dimitri’s smile turned wooden on his lips. Did he love Flayn? Her certainly couldn’t imagine doing without her, but that was hardly the same thing.
“But listen to me, getting ahead of myself.” Claude shook his head. “I’m not king yet. My father’s making noises about abdicating, though. He and my mother are still disgustingly in love and want to go travel while they’re still young enough to do so. We should all be so lucky.”
He kept up the chatter all the way to Dimitri’s study. It would have been better to have the meeting in the council chamber, but Dimitri didn’t feel like having his ministers intrude on negotiations with an old friend. A part of him also hoped Claude would be less on his guard—and less outlandish—without an audience.
“And let me tell you, was she ever surprised when I whisked her away to Almyra,” Claude said with a chuckle. “I mean, she’d guessed the Almyran part, just not the royalty bit. I’m surprised none of rest of you ever figured it out.”
“Sylvain mentioned it once. We all thought he was joking.”
Claude shook his head. “That guy. Smarter than he lets on.”
Dimitri shrugged. It was one of the reasons he’d secretly approached Sylvain about becoming his spymaster.
“The Alliance nobles weren’t very happy when I abdicated to you.” Claude sat down in a chair in front of Dimitri’s desk. “They been giving you any problems?”
“In terms of battles? No. Headaches? Yes. Fortunately, Gloucester is quite devoted to the church. The Archbishop’s support has done much to ease the situation.”
Dedue served refreshments and took up position just inside the door. Claude opened the satchel he wore over his shoulder and pulled out a stack of documents. Dimitri sighed. Treaties were interminable things, but it was important to get the language just right.
By the time they finished, Dedue had gone home to his wife. Dimitri and Claude sat by the fire in his private sitting room, enjoying a glass of wine. Flayn had been absent all day. Dimitri kept glancing at the door.
“So.” Claude swirled the wine in the bottom of his glass. “There’s something else I wanted to discuss.”
Dimitri nodded. Claude always had an ulterior motive.
“How much do you know about your sweet little wife to be?”
“I thought we were friends. Speak your mind.”
Claude pouted. “Anyone ever tell you that you take the fun out of things?”
Dimitri leaned back in his chair and waited.
“Fine.” Claude sighed. “Flayn is Saint Cethleann.”
Dimitri snorted. “Nonsense.”
Claude’s expression turned indignant. “Come on. Nobody knows how old she is. Her birthday is the same as Saint Cethleann’s. Her Crest, too. And Ignatz told me once that Flayn was very interested in hearing his flattering opinions of the saint. Thing is, the saints weren’t even human. They were the children of the goddess. Tell me, what shape are Flayn’s ears?”
Dimitri stilled. Come to think of it, he’d never seen Flayn’s ears. Had he ever nibbled anything other than her earlobes?
“I fail to see how it matters,” Dimitri said.
Claude snorted. “Fair enough. I suppose it doesn’t. Except she’s over a thousand years old and could fall asleep for hundreds of years at a moment’s notice. But if you love her…”
“I do.” It came out as more of a snarl than Dimitri intended.
“Woah, big guy.” Claude held up his hands. “I respect that. Trust me, I know all about how rough relationships can be. I just had to make sure, all right? Because Holst told me something strange about Hrym.”
Dimitri listened in disbelief as Claude told him about the Nabateans and Agarthans, about those who slither in the dark. He recounted the truth about Nemesis and the goddess and the professor, about what had been done to Edelgard and Lysithea. By the time he was finished, Dimitri’s stomach churned, and he thought he might be sick.
If only Edelgard had trusted him with this information. If only she hadn’t been twisted by her experiences. Dimitri swallowed the bile that climbed up the back of his throat.
“And these people…they are still plotting?” Dimitri asked.
Claude nodded, all traces of joviality gone. “Holst sent men. So did Lorenz. None of them returned, and you’ve heard the rumors about Hrym. Here’s the kicker: If Flayn’s a Nabatean like I think, she’s in danger. Sure, she’d have been safest at the monastery with her daddy and the professor, but she was stifled there. You’re the next best thing.”
“She loves me.”
“Why wouldn’t she? Look at you, all handsome and brooding and needy.”
“Show some respect.”
Claude shrugged and tossed back the last of his wine. “I’m handsome and needy, too. Just not as brooding, more like scheming.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
Claude smirked. “Because I have a dream where borders don’t matter, where countries don’t matter, where people live as people. Under you, Fódlan is united. Under me, Almyra can make overtures of peace. Our borders can blur until our peoples understand each other and prejudice is a thing of the past. It’s not far from what Dedue and Mercedes are trying to accomplish, just on a grander scale.”
“But.” He took a deep breath. “Some crazy mole people living underground in Hrym could really mess up that dream. It’s not Almyra’s territory, so my hands are tied, and even Hilda’s connections get us only so far. You, on the other hand, have a solemn duty to protect your country, including from eldritch, ancient threats.”
Dimitri steepled his fingers and tapped his chin. Claude spoke sense, if he actually spoke the truth.
“If you needed support from Almyra, that could be arranged…” Claude raised an eyebrow.
“Not for free.”
“No, not for free.”
Dimitri sighed. “Your terms?”
“Dismantle the nobility. De-emphasize Crests. Provide for the poor and the orphaned.”
Dimitri pressed his lips together, but the action couldn’t stop the mirth from bubbling up inside him. A laugh escaped, and soon he was holding his sides.
Claude sniffed. “I had no idea my ideas were so hilarious.”
“It’s not that.” Dimitri wiped his eye and took a deep breath. “I already planned to do all of which you speak. In fact, the last is already in motion. I’ve increased taxes substantially on the nobility—everyone is to have a minimum basic income, and medical care is subsidized by the crown. I fear it has not endeared me to the nobles.”
A smile slowly stole across Claude’s face. “Well, then. I’m glad you’re king. I thought you’d care more about being popular.”
“I have hated myself for far too long to care what others think of me.”
“You shouldn’t, you know. Hate yourself.”
“You don’t know what I’ve done.”
Claude shrugged. “True. But I know you were there for Derdriu when we needed you, and I know the good you’ve brought to these lands.”
Dimitri shook his head.
“I think I’ll get some rest,” Claude said. “See you tomorrow.”
They embraced, and Claude left. Dimitri poured himself another glass of wine and stared into the fire. He went to bed, but Flayn did not join him. Sleep only came in fits and starts.
The next morning, Dimitri went to Flayn’s quarters. They were empty. The church guards stationed outside her door were gone. It was as if they’d never existed.
Dimitri swore under his breath. He turned on his heel, cape snapping, and strode toward the guest apartments where he’d put Claude. Although he bore no weapons, the Almyran soldiers stood in front of the door, expressions nervous.
“Claude,” Dimitri roared. “Come out before I tear your soldiers to pieces and rip this door off its hinges!”
“Sounds serious.” Claude threw open the door, shirtless and half his face covered in shaving soap.
Dimitri started forward, but the guards blocked his way. “Flayn’s gone. This is your fault. She has always been afraid of you and your prying.”
“Woah, hold on. I had nothing to do with it. If you think—”
“You will help me find her or goddess help us, I will wipe Almyra off the map. I will destroy everyone you ever loved—”
Claude held up his hands. “I’m going to stop you right there, Captain Crazy. I’ll be happy to help. Just let me get dressed.”
Dimitri stalked away, hands balled into fists. He pinned the nearest guard with a glare. “Bring me Dedue. Now.”
The guard saluted and sprinted off. Dimitri went straight to his apartments and slammed the door so hard it came off his hinges. Damn her, where had she gone? The church contingent hadn’t left, after all—most of them were just as alarmed as he was, for they hadn’t known of her departure. It appeared she’d taken off with just a small group of guards. At least she’d had enough sense not to go completely alone.
By the time Dedue arrived, Dimitri had already packed his saddlebags. It was better he didn’t take much so he could move swiftly. He tucked a small box inside his belt pouch.
“Your Majesty,” Dedue said, breathing hard. He must have run.
“Flayn’s gone. Mobilize the troops. Get wyverns in the air. Send messengers to Houses Gaspard, Gautier, and Fraldarius and have them attend me at once. When that’s done, send messengers to Houses Goneril, Gloucester, and Ordelia, Bergliez, and Aegir. I want Hrym surrounded.”
“Immediately.” Dedue paused and looked Dimitri in the eye. “Are you all right?”
Dedue the friend was asking, not Dedue the vassal. “No. I must find her.”
Dedue nodded. “And so we shall.”
“When I go, you must stay here and govern in my stead. Do you understand?”
Dedue’s brow furrowed, and for a moment it appeared he might protest. Then his shoulders slumped, and he nodded. “Understood.”
Dimitri retrieved his Relic and stormed through the corridors and out to the stables. Soldiers shouted and saddled mounts. If only he’d taken the time to learn to ride a wyvern. Perhaps once this was all over. He cut through the bustle like a hot knife, found his horse, and shouldered the groom out of the way. Moments later, he was riding out the castle gates, his soldiers at his heels.
Claude caught up a few miles out of the city, his white wyvern difficult to spot amongst the clouds. “Any news?” the Almyran prince shouted as he landed.
“This is your doing,” Dimitri called back. “She feared what you knew, feared you would use it against her.”
“Secrets are power.” Claude came and stood at Dimitri’s saddle. “But I would never try to hurt her.”
“Too late. Find her.”
“Trust me, I know what you’re going through. I almost lost Hilda once. It was agony, knowing she was in trouble.” Claude shook himself and frowned. “You need to use your head, Dimitri. Where would she go if she were feeling threatened? Straight back to Garreg Mach. Follow that road.”
“You fly ahead. I’m right behind you.”
Dimitri rode at the head of the column, pushing his mount as hard as he dared. If his message reached Gaspard territory in time, there was a chance Ashe could head Flayn off. The sooner she was found, the better—the discussion with Claude the night before had chilled his bones. If Flayn truly was a Nabatean, and those who slithered in the dark were after her….
Dimitri would spill whatever blood necessary to keep her safe.