All About Us
Prologue, Part II: "Noble Lady of Caelin"
"Please, just one more…"
The words Lyn spoke had been soft and certain the night before they reached Castle Caelin, but they spun through Kent's head every day after that night. He indulged her that one small thing; it was only a kiss, after all.
Only a kiss, but it meant so much more to both of them.
Maybe it had been the longing in her voice, or the way her eyelashes fluttered just slightly as she whispered her request that made him give in—he didn't know. That particular incident was one that stuck out the most to him, the one he immediately thought of when he heard or was reminded of dragons, of war, or of love.
It was supposed to be a last kiss, final kiss, the closing scene of the short relationship they had shared with one another. He wanted to be with her more than anything, and he had allowed himself the hope that maybe—just maybe—it was possible. Hector and Florina, Eliwood and Ninian… they were marrying people who weren't even respected members of their community.
Kent had always been quiet and perhaps a bit withdrawn, but he liked to think that those who knew him respected him.
Kent wasn't the problem, though he wished he could be. Maybe then things would be okay. Maybe then, they could be together.
The kiss they shared while Sain and Florina's backs were turned was not to be their last…but it was to be the last one that didn't set their hearts to pounding out of fear of being discovered.
That seemed like years ago, Kent often thought as he stood position outside of Lady Lyndis's door in the middle of the night; nobody was awake but those who were trusted with the safety of the nobility, and he found that he had far too much time to think. Maybe it had been years ago. Days, weeks…months. Time was not on his side, nor would it ever be.
After that last free kiss, they had returned to Caelin. Lord Hausen was revealed to the public to be alive. Surprise and doubt flew through the small canton; they had led everyone to believe he was dead, after all. People talked, gossiped, wondered if the Hausen who was on the throne was even the real one, wondered if Lady Lyndis was the real one.
Chancellor Reissmann had been a wreck, nervous and haggard when they set eyes on him for the first time in over a year. "They hate you," he informed Lyndis immediately before remembering his manners and bowing. "Forgive me, milady, but it is the truth."
Shocked and hurt, Lyn asked him to explain.
When Hausen had been declared dead, she had left. She had left for an entire year with next to no explanation. She had abandoned her country, some said, leaving them all to rot and wither. Bad crop yields were blamed on her, illnesses were her fault. Chancellor Reissmann could not have defended her name even if he had been given the chance; he knew very little about the circumstances under which she left, and even less about what occurred afterward.
Kent's heart sank in his chest at the news. He had expected it—to a point—but…how could he have known things would get so out of hand?
Careful, dutiful, always-thinks-things-through Kent had left along with Sain, leaving Caelin without a marquess, without the heir to the throne, and without two of their top military officers. In the aftermath of Laus's invasion, the people of Caelin had been scared, defenseless. And they had had every right to feel that way.
It had taken a year after Lundgren's attack to put the pieces of Caelin into some semblance of order, only to have Laus scatter the newly formed trust of the people. After returning from the Dragon's Gate, a year wasn't nearly enough time to convince the people that everything was better.
Florina left five months after arriving in Caelin to marry Lord Hector, and Lady Lyndis, Kent, and Sain had just enough time to see the beautiful young girl walk down the aisle before they had to return to their respective duties. He knew it still bothered Lyndis to think of it. She had wanted to be there for her friend, but her choices were limited.
It wasn't easy to reinstate trust that was hardly there to begin with; it required constant attention. Dallying in Ostia was not something any of them could afford.
Kent found himself fixated on repairing the broken, crumbling Caelin military more than anything, dragging Sain after him like one might drag a resisting horse on a lead. There were men to train and positions to assign. The work was never-ending.
Constantly exhausted from trying to turn everything completely around, his mind didn't travel to that of his lady as often as it once did. He tried to convince himself that he preferred things that way; he wasn't sure that his heart was strong enough to take the continuous beating that thinking of her and knowing she'd never truly be his gave him.
He never had been very good at lying, even to himself.
One night, Lyn found him alone as he patrolled the darkening corridors, and she had taken the opportunity to not only sneak up on him, but also to kiss him while he stood there in shock, his mouth hanging open.
He couldn't resist her—he had never been very good at that, either—and before he knew what he was doing, he was kissing her back, his hands clutching at her waist as she tickled the underside of his tongue with her own.
"I missed you," she had whispered raggedly when they finally pulled apart.
His hand brushed against her cheek, but a noise around the corner startled them, breaking them apart.
"I still love you," she said before disappearing around the corner.
I'll always feel that way, he thought to himself as he attempted to gather his wits, and his weapon from the cold stone floor.
Time passed, and Lord Hausen grew steadily weaker and closer to death. Caelin's military was what it had been, maybe better, and Lyndis sought Kent out more and more often. She didn't have to ask for kisses. She took them, sometimes, and he always reciprocated willingly. Rarely did they have time for more than a quick peck on the lips or a small affectionate nuzzle, but it was better than nothing, and it gave them both something to look forward to in the days ahead that seemed darker and more dreary with each passing moment.
One evening, as he was about to fall asleep, she came to him, eyes downcast, voice worn; she was utterly exhausted. He sat up and moved over, making room for her on his small bed, and she all but fell into his arms, tears silently making their way down her face.
"Grandfather's dying," she whispered, her fingers twisted in the fabric of his shirt. "He won't make it to the end of the week."
He held her for what felt like hours, rubbing her back gently, twisting her long hair in his fingers. After more than an hour passed, she stirred, leaning up to trace her fingers over his jaw, his cheek, the corner of his left eye.
"Kent," she said, sounding completely lost. "I promised Grandfather that I would marry to ensure my and Caelin's future." She sighed, her eyes closing as her head found his shoulder. "He said that he would pick someone… I-I don't know…"
He could only squeeze her a little tighter. "It is expected," he forced himself to say, "that a woman of your station would marry for your country's future." But inside, his heart bled at the thought of another man having her when she had sought comfort in his arms.
She nuzzled closer to him, "Don't leave me."
"Never," he whispered fiercely, resting his head against hers. "Never…"
Two days later, Lord Hausen was dead, Lady Lyndis became more withdrawn and tired-looking, and Sain packed his things to head for Ilia, land of snow and ice, home of his bride-to-be.
The night before Sain was to leave, there was a grand ball. Nobles from every canton around came to wish Lady Lyndis, Marchioness of Caelin, good luck and a long, prosperous life. The strings on her corset were drawn unbelievably tight, her hair was securely curled and pinned up in an elaborate style, and her chin was held high. She smiled and talked cordially to everyone, she walked gracefully, curtsied flawlessly, and Kent couldn't be prouder of her.
"A real noble lady," the people tittered.
A few older women sighed, "She looks beautiful, even though she's not exactly one of us."
Kent, forced to stand on the sidelines—to look pretty, Sain liked to joke—to keep things in order, couldn't disagree more. The powders and perfumes hid everything physical that he loved about her. Her corset and dress made her look too thin, her hair was lovely but he liked seeing it fall down her back, her makeup and gloves and long skirt tried to hide her heritage—something he personally found attractive.
She was doing so well according to the standards laid out in Lycian society that he couldn't help but feel a little swell of pride in his chest despite his own personal feelings on her attire. He wished she didn't have to act so unlike herself, but after struggling for so long to do things right, she had finally succeeded. She danced when asked, smiled appropriately, and snuck glances at him whenever possible. He tried to nod at her reassuringly, but his heart hurt. At the end of the night, they would announce Lyn's ascension to the throne, and along with that, the name of her future husband.
To say he was worried would be dramatically understating things.
She finally made her way over to him when most of the noblemen began to talk about a new kind of horse race invented by a man from Etruria. In a swirl of maroon and white skirts, she was in front of him, smiling the first real smile he had seen all evening.
"Lady Lyndis," he said, bowing at the waist, wanting nothing more than to take her in his arms and kiss her completely senseless right then and there. Quickly, he reined in his thoughts before they spiraled out of control and took her hand, kissing it instead.
She moved closer, "I wish you were kissing me, and not my hand."
He looked up to find her laughing, though she stopped quickly, flushing as she struggled to catch her breath.
"Damnable thing," she gasped when he turned concerned eyes on her. Fanning her face swiftly, she sighed. "Will you take a walk with me before everything starts?"
Of course he couldn't refuse her, and simply smiled slightly, holding his arm out for her to take. Nobody stopped them at the door, and they slipped out into the garden for a slow walk. As soon as they were away from the party, and the noise faded into the background, Lyndis turned toward him, eyes pleading. "Please," she started, but he already knew what she was going to say, as she had asked it over and over again for the last two years. "Just one more…"
His lips found hers without any trouble, and his hands found her face, her cheekbones, her jaw, the curve of her neck. They broke away when she ran out of air, and he wrapped his arms around her thin waist, holding her against him tightly.
She tugged out of his grip a few minutes later, a couple of curls hanging about her face. He gently pinned them back into place though the temptation to take her hair out of its ornate style was almost overwhelming.
Her hand stroked his face, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
"What is it, Lyndis?" he asked quietly, closing his eyes at her touch. He wondered if she knew how much she affected him.
"Kent," she whispered, lips pressing against the hollow of his throat, unprotected thanks to his dress armor, "I don't know what they're going to say. I don't know who I'm going to marry…"
"You don't have to marry," he found himself saying, brown eyes almost desperate. "You could go back to Sacae…"
She smiled against his skin, the kind of sad smile a poverty-stricken child looking in a store window at a porcelain doll might wear. "I promised Grandfather… I can't go back on that. And Sacae," she sighed, "is only land, grass, sky. Nothing more."
She pulled away and looked up at him, taking his head in her hands before pulling him down for a soft, unhurried kiss. "That is what I told myself, anyway."
His heart was beating so fast he thought his chest might explode. Surely, the people of Caelin knew how noble a woman Lyn was! All that she was willing to sacrifice for her grandfather and for Caelin. She would marry a complete stranger and agree to never return to her homeland—a place she held closer to her heart than any other.
He fell in love all over again.
She pressed her face into his shoulder and stayed there for a long moment. He knew she was crying, if only a little, and let her do so. She released him after a few minutes and laughed, embarrassed, "I'll ruin my makeup," she said.
His thumbs brushed away her tears, careful to keep her makeup from smearing. "I don't like it, anyway," he said seriously, though the corners of his lips were turned up slightly.
"Do you like my dress?" She held up one of the many layers of her skirt and sighed at the white embroidery all over the dark red material.
"No," he answered, honestly. "You don't look like yourself in it."
She smiled coyly and whispered in his ear, her breath sending a shiver down his spine, "Would you like it better off?"
He flushed in embarrassment, a startled, strangled, "Lady Lyndis!" flying from his lips.
"Well, I'm right, aren't I?" She didn't wait for a response from him before melting back into his embrace. "Promise me something," she said.
"Anything." He meant it.
"Stay with me." Her eyes closed for a moment before opening again, a brief butterfly kiss against his neck. "No matter where I go or who I marry, continue to stay by my side as you always have."
He didn't so much as hesitate, "Always, Lady Lyndis—Lyndis."
"Am I two people, now?" She opened her eyes and took his arm, preparing to go inside for the announcement.
"Two vastly different sides to the same coin, milady," he answered softly, palm cupping her face as he let himself kiss her. "One that I love more than anything."
She smiled at him, the happy-sad sort of smile that a woman about to marry the wrong person might give. "Kent…"
They returned to the noise and the music and the noblemen who were still talking about the newest type of horse race. Lyn was whisked away in a twirl of skirts when a young boy asked her to dance, eight years old and charming. Her smile when she accepted was nothing short of genuine. He wondered if she might look that happy again, someday.
He took his spot by the wall and stayed there, saying nothing even when Sain joined him. "I can't believe you're letting her marry another man," he said sourly, clearly upset with his redheaded companion.
Kent barely shrugged as he watched the little boy step on Lyn's feet. She only laughed. "It is a decision she made," he said, desperately trying to concentrate on how beautiful Lyndis looked when she was happy rather than how heartbroken he would be when she married a man that wasn't him. "I will support her in every decision she makes."
Sain sighed, tapping the toe of his dressy boot against the marble floor in irritation. "What if her chosen husband is someone terrible?" he tried. "Would you let her marry someone like that? Could you live with yourself then?" When Kent didn't reply immediately, he pressed on with a gentle, "Well, could you?"
He stopped, turning to glare at his friend. "Be quiet, Sain!" he snapped. "That is not my decision to make!"
The sandy-haired young man crossed his arms over his chest as he sent a glare right back at Kent, "I thought you loved her."
I do, he thought. I love her more than my own life.
But when he opened his mouth to speak, all that came out was, "She's doing it for Lord Hausen."
"Who is dead and was probably not in his right mind as he was dying." Sain sighed and threw his arms up in the air. "Kent, I'm disappointed in you. And for once in my life I'm not trying to be funny. What kind of man are you? What kind of man lets the woman he loves—and who loves him in return—marry someone else? If Lyn marries an asshole, Kent, I'll never forgive you."
And with that, Sain stalked off.
Kent sighed, suddenly feeling terribly alone in the crowded ballroom. Sain just didn't understand the circumstances, he told himself. Lyndis didn't allow herself to go back on promises, just as she did not allow herself to lie. It was a quality he couldn't help but admire in her. He would never force her to do something that would go against everything she believed. He would never force her to do anything.
She wanted to do the right thing—the right thing by her grandfather and by Caelin—and who could fault her that? Certainly not him…
No, he had to support her in everything. She was the most beautiful, kindhearted, benevolent woman that he had ever known, and he loved that about her, loved everything about her. Could someone else love her like he did? A part of him knew that it was possible, but the rest of him rebelled at the mere thought. Nobody—no one—could love her with as much passion and loyalty as he did!
He loved her and cared about her more than he did himself. How many people could say that? How could a man who had never met her love her when they didn't know anything about her? She was nothing like any of the nobles of Lycia…
So no matter where she went, no matter who she married, he knew that he would find a way to follow her, to stay with her, to be by her side as he had from the beginning…to care about her in case others didn't, to love her if her husband couldn't, and to watch over her because she needed him as much as he needed her.
His heart still wobbled uncertainly in his chest when Chancellor Reissmann stood and called for the room's attention. Silence fell over everyone. Not even a whisper was heard.
"As you all know," he began, gesturing to Lyn who stood next to him, "Lady Lyndis will be ascending to the throne as our Marchioness."
Applause could be heard all across the ballroom, and whistles and cheers of happiness pierced the air.
Reissmann held up a hand, "But that is not all," he continued. "Before his death, our beloved Lord Hausen arranged a marriage, beneficial to both Lady Lyndis's well-being and to the well-being and safety of Caelin itself."
Whispers, hushed and almost impossible to understand, flooded over the room.
"Marriage? To whom?"
"She should already be married, she's certainly old enough… But I don't…"
Waving his hand slightly, the older man got the crowd to settle. "Lady Lyndis has expressed a desire to do as her grandfather requested. Lord Hausen wished to establish peace between Caelin and another canton, part of the Lycian Alliance that showed hostility toward Caelin in the past. With the death of Lord Darin of Laus, Lord Erik has taken over as its new Marquess, and is the man that our own Lord Hausen chose for Lady Lyndis to marry."
Cheers erupted in the crowd as Lord Erik himself stepped forward and took Lyn's hand, bowing low as he kissed the back of it. He smiled and bowed to the crowd, too, making them cheer even louder.
The people began to talk about peace and change, and a hope for things to get better now that Lord Darin was gone, and his son—a much better prospect than his father, they thought—had taken his place. They were happy. They wouldn't have to worry about Laus attacking them, again, if Lady Lyndis married into the royal family. A marriage of peace was of the best sort; they chuckled as the music started back up and everyone danced with twice the energy they had before.
Kent's heart sank as he peered over the dancers to catch Lyndis's expression. She curtsied perfectly as Erik bowed and asked her for a dance. She let him lead her onto the dance floor. She let him put one hand on her delicate waist. She let him take her small hand.
She held her chin high the entire time, proud, uncomplaining.
But her eyes, they roved across the edge of the ballroom until they locked onto his, desperately seeking some kind of reassurance, some kind of it's okay or everything will work out.
He tried to smile at her, but he couldn't. He couldn't, and then she was facing the other way as her dance with Erik continued. He sighed and fell back against the wall as his strength fled from his body like a spirit from a corpse.
His gaze flickered up from the floor for a brief moment, only to see Sain looking at him from the other side of the room, arms folded over his chest, expression serious before he turned on his heel and left the party. Kent shrugged helplessly and let out a shuddering sigh.
There wasn't anything he could do. His beautiful Lady Lyndis would marry Erik of Laus; Erik, who could never appreciate her like he did, Erik, who didn't deserve someone like Lyn, Erik, who—who wasn't Kent.
"Blast it, Eliwood!" Kent heard from nearby. "We can't let her marry that son of a bitch!"
"Well, maybe he isn't that bad," Eliwood answered, trying to placate his friend and possibly his friend's wife. Florina held onto Hector's arm tightly, her face pale.
"Isn't that bad?" Hector glared in Erik's direction. "You saw how he was the last—"
"Maybe now that his father's gone, he won't be so terrible."
Ninian smiled and nodded, agreeing with her husband. "That is a possibility," she said softly before letting her eyes drift to the floor. "The sins of the father should not have to be borne by the son…"
Kent sighed again and tried to catch Lyn's eye. Maybe…maybe Eliwood and Ninian were right. Laus had invaded Caelin before, but the blame for that lay solely on the shoulders of Lord Darin, who had died several years earlier at the end of Sain's lance. Without Lord Darin, surely Erik would not do anything stupid.
When he finally managed to get Lyn's attention, though it was for a mere fraction of a second, he pressed his hand against the fancy armor that covered his heart.
Lyndis's eyes softened, and she allowed a ghost of a real smile to turn up the corners of her lips before the music ended and she curtsied to Erik again, thanking him for the dance before she applauded the orchestra.
The next morning, Sain left for Ilia without saying goodbye. Hector, Eliwood, and Lyndis discussed her upcoming marriage, but Hector left in an angry huff not even an hour into the conversation, and Eliwood left a few minutes later, wishing her good luck. Florina and Ninian hugged her tight, and though they weren't happy with her decision, themselves, they told her they loved her and wanted nothing more than her happiness and well-being. Not long after the others left, Erik came by to speak to her for a few minutes before heading home, himself.
Once again, Caelin was quiet, and Kent returned to his usual duties as a knight commander.
Three days after the announcement of Lyn's marriage to Erik, she found her favorite knight standing duty at the end of one of the corridors in the most secluded section of the castle.
"Kent!" she called, sounding relieved and happy as she ran up to him and flung her arms around his neck before kissing him hard on the lips. If she was uncomfortable with his armor in the way, she didn't say anything. She was back in her traditional clothing, but her feet were bare and her eyes bright. She looked relatively happy.
"M-Milady," he said when she pulled away. "You're to be—"
His protests fell on deaf ears; she merely took advantage of the fact that his jaw was slack by kissing him again, this time slipping her tongue into his mouth to tease his. Quite some time later, they broke apart and she nuzzled his face. "I don't care," she said, a late reply to his statement. "I love you, not him."
He didn't dare argue with her. "I love you too, Lyndis…"
Weeks flew by and letters were exchanged. Sain sent word to Lyn—still clearly upset with Kent—that he accidentally ran into Wallace in Ilia, and that he and Fiora were already married and living happily. Erik and Lyndis exchanged letters consistently; details about the wedding had to be ironed out, and things had to be arranged.
It was decided that Chancellor Reissmann would remain as steward; he was to train someone to take his place whenever he felt he should do so. Lyndis had requested to be allowed to take several of her own vassals with her. Kent was to come as a personal guard, and Lyn was also bringing her seamstress, an older woman who was quiet and gentle, and her handmaiden, a young girl who had only done right by her since her arrival in Caelin.
The wedding was set for late summer, and everyone was so busy preparing for it that they scarcely had time to do anything else. Lyn wore her regular dress every day and shoes only when necessary, claiming that once she was married she'd have to wear shoes and fancy dresses every day no matter what.
Kent could sense a measure of sorrow in her voice when she spoke of it, but she managed to fool everyone else into thinking that she was excited about her wedding. During the final fitting of her dress for the ceremony, the maids left her to fetch the veil and she peered around the doorframe to pull Kent into the room.
"What do you think?" she asked, turning around slowly. Her hair was down, cascading down her back in waves, naturally, still damp from a bath. Beautifully cruel.
"Perfect," he whispered, unable to keep himself from stealing a kiss.
She kissed him back eagerly, her hands stroking the side of his face. "Good," she said. "Your opinion is the only one that really matters." With that, she smiled at him and shooed him out of the room before the maids came back and discovered him with her.
Several weeks went by, and before anyone realized it, a group of men from Laus arrived to escort Lyn to her new home for the wedding. Kent packed what few things he called his own and mounted his horse as he waited for Lyn to get into the carriage that was waiting for her. He would ride beside her for the entire journey to Laus—nothing could sway his mind on that decision.
When she stepped out of the castle, Kent sighed a little to himself. Her hair was pinned up in a plain style, and her dress was simple, suitable for traveling, but she looked nothing like herself. Without a word, she climbed into the carriage. He caught her eye as she stared out of the glass window toward Sacae, and he smiled slightly, trying to reassure her.
She smiled back, but the lurch of the carriage moving forward made it wobble before it fell away from her face completely.
In one week, Kent thought to himself as he watched Lyndis's uneasy expression from his seat in the saddle, they would be in Laus, and the woman that he loved would marry someone that wasn't him.
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