She had known him all her life and always he had been her knight– but nothing more. Wrapped up in her own affairs, matters of state and responsibilities, bound by her position, by the rules that governed her life as princess of Renais, she had never thought beyond those rules, those obligations... until that night. It was only when her world had crumbled around her, and all her illusions with it, that she had allowed herself to see what might be.
That night her whole life had changed. When Renais fell, they rode away into the darkness. Without a nation, without a family, for a moment he'd been her whole world. Encased in his arms, she'd glimpsed a life she'd never imagined, a life with only the two of them.
Even now as she stood once more on the soil of her nation, staring into the darkness beyond the edge of camp, her ears filled with the patter of raindrops, she shuddered as she recalled how it had felt to be pressed close against his chest. Tucked beneath his chin, his lips had brushed over her hair whenever he'd moved. He'd smelled of leather and the tang of oil used to polish his armour. Something inside her trembled when she thought of the way his cheek, stubbly after their long ride, had rasped against her skin. She knew it was her imagination– he'd been wearing armour after all– but she almost believed she'd been able to feel the pounding of his heart. Somehow, in spite of all the horrors of that night, she'd felt safe in his arms.
Eirika's breath caught in her throat as she felt a hand on her shoulder. She knew instantly that it was him. Among all her retainers, only Seth dared to touched the princess of Renais.
"Seth," she breathed.
She hadn't heard him approach; the rain had covered the sound of his footfalls as he had made his way through the rows of tents to stand behind her beneath the portico to her royal tent. The tent itself, twice the size of any of the others and reserved for her alone, was an incredible luxury, one they could ill have afforded just a few months ago when she had been leading a scrappy band of soldiers into the heart of Grado territory. A bedroll had been a luxury in those days. But everything was different now. The war was over, the Demon King defeated, and the world once more at peace. This time she journeyed to Frelia on a happy errand: to escort Tana back to Renais where she would wed Ephraim and take her place as Queen of Renais. Tana had always been like a sister to her and now she would be one in truth. Even so, Eirika could not help but envy their happiness.
"You should take care, my lady," said Seth, and she felt him place a cloak over her shoulders. "I would not have you catch cold." He stood a hand's breadth away and her heart pounded at the nearness of him.
She turned just as lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating the camp for an instant. In the flash of brightness she thought she surprised a pained expression on his face. It was gone as quickly as the storm-light, and in the wavering glow of lantern light he wore the stolid mask she was accustomed to. His air was saved from stoniness by a certain gentleness about his eyes and the way his lips curved into a smile, slight though it might be.
For a time they remained there with only the occasional thunderclap and the slowing rhythm of raindrops to fill the silence. She longed for him to bridge the distance between them, to wrap his arms around her, but he stood as still as any statue.
"Seth, walk with me."
"But, princess, the rain–"
"Please," she cut in, shaking her head. The earlier downpour had worn itself out so that it was now only a light summer's rain. Though thunder still groaned in the distance, the storm had passed them over. "I– I need to clear my thoughts."
With a sigh, he nodded and together they stepped out from under the cover of the portico. As they manoeuvred the muddy paths between the tents, illuminated only by the pale glow of oil lamps, Seth placed a hand on her back, gently guiding her steps. Shew knew that even as he did so he must be struggling to think of her as his queen rather than as "someone he wanted to protect from all harm". She had given up on making that distinction in her thoughts. They at least were her own and none could touch them. And why should anyone find fault in them? Was it so wrong that whenever she stood near Seth she yearned to once again feel the comfort of his embrace?
That night... I felt what you felt. She remembered his voice, taut with emotion, as he had spoken those words which at once made her heart leap with joy and constrict with the pain of knowing that he would never speak of that night again.
Pushing back a stray lock of her hair and heaving a sigh, Eirika came to a halt on the outskirts of camp. "We'll be in Frelia in two more days."
"Tana will be happy to see you once again."
A smile crept onto Eirika's lips. "Not as happy as she'll be to see Ephraim once we escort her back home."
"Perhaps not," he said, wryly and she smiled; for an instant she felt the space between them filled by the camaraderie they had shared through those difficult months of war. There had hardly been a night at camp when they'd not been exhausted by travel or by battle with Grado's forces. Even wearied and worn, he'd been unfailingly attentive, and so often his quiet words of encouragement had been the only thing that had kept her going. For a time there had a been an easiness between them. She missed that.
They had lapsed into silence once again. It had become a familiar pattern of late as if he were afraid of what words might spill out if he allowed himself to speak at all. "Lady Eirika," he said finally, "we should go back. Your brother will be displeased if I let you catch your death out here."
"I'm all right, Seth. You needn't protect me."
There was a flicker in his eyes then– or perhaps it was only a trick of the wavering lantern light, she thought, when he said nothing.
Together they turned back towards the centre of camp, Seth following half a step behind. They had only taken a few paces when she felt something brush by her cheek leaving behind a trail of stinging pain. At once Seth swooped over her, one arm pushing her behind him, the other drawing his sword. He bellowed a call to arms and within moments the camp was alive with men and women scrambling out of their tents, weapons at the ready. The darkness beyond their camp remained undisturbed, yet when Eirika glanced over her shoulder, she could see a single arrow buried in the earth behind her.