Deceptive

It was as any other day. The sun shone as brightly as it had the day prior, and likely as much as the day that would soon come to follow. He stood at the window for a good deal of time and simply stared. There was no need for haste, no place to rush off to, no social gala requiring his presence, and… Well. Nothing that really called for his attention. How did a knight spend his time when he wasn't escorting his liege?

Seth truly didn't know. It was difficult to be restless, though. Idle hands made for mischief and while he never would have considered himself to be the troublemaker, he certainly didn't like the idea of sitting on his hands as he waited for the day to pass. And staring out the window for a few hours more certainly wasn't conducive to getting anything done. So it was with a slight reluctance that he eventually dressed and donned his duster.

Setting himself right, prim, and proper, he moved to leave his quarters and paused at the missive left at his door.

"If you would, I have something important I wish to speak with you about.
At your earliest convenience, please come to the banquet hall."

And yet no signature. No name left for him and considering the penmanship was impeccable, he could not readily determine whose hand it was written by. His eyebrows knit together with thought and as he pulled the parchment from his door, he carefully folded it and stashed it away for safe keeping. It'd seemed he had something to do after all. Alas, the private time for a knight was but a fleeting ideal. But to say he was displeased by the prospect of doing something with his idle minutes and hours would have been nothing short of a falsehood.

-x-x-x-

Seth's footsteps were strong and firm, made with intention, for in his mind, the words written on that fated letter could have been dire. Perhaps there had been an emergency. Perhaps there was talk of invasions afoot. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The man could create an endless stream of possibilities, but without meeting the writer, he would only be left in agonising suspense and anticipation. Sword at his side, Renais' general rested a hand over the hilt with trembling fingertips.

What if it had to do with the twins? What if something had befallen them? When he wasn't observing, at that. What a failure of a retainer that would make him. To survive through a despicable war, only to lose them a little while after. The very thought was bitter and left a form of hollowness within him. He didn't even want to imagine what that would entail. Some things were better left unsaid, and even more things were better left not even entertained.

As he broke into a hurried gait, he realised he was breathless by the time he reached the archway of the fine dining halls. Elegant beyond compare, they were rooms of memories and nostalgia for him. From his days of being a page, to his entry into the knighthood, and eventually as the renowned general of Renais' defence, he had been there many times. As an adolescent, it was his introduction to court politics, an aspect of nobility he was neither well-versed in nor particularly comfortable. Politics could lead to other things aside from peaceful talks and compromises. Darker things. Like betrayal, and the mere consideration was a disconcerting one at that.

But alas, Seth had grown a reputation of protector and guardian to the fullest. In the age he was at present, that boy had become a man and Hell be damned, he had no intentions of allowing such a deceit to fall upon the royal family he'd sworn fealty to since the first day of his induction. And by the power of the gods, such an image he displayed to others that while his modesty blinded him, his ears could only be deaf to the whispered praises for so long. Yet none ever seemed to truly reach his head, for an ego on a knight of chivalrous purpose would lose his becoming stature by falling victim to arrogance. Even worse, such a perspective could put his liege lord and lady at risk, and he would have sooner died than to bring either of them harm.

His pace slowed when he found himself alone. Not another soul. His only immediate companion was the collection of thoughts staining his mind, the ever consistently running theories and conjectures on what had him there to begin with. Secondarily, there was the main hall, decked in gold and an undeniable sheen that spoke plenty of Renais' success with reconstruction and prosperous days. He did so love the kingdom and the people in it. He did so find himself enamoured with the life he'd chosen for himself, and no amount of regret lingered in his veins. If anything, he was only more committed to the cause.

I do feel as if I've been made the fool.

A bit dejected, his shoulders began to drop, only slightly displeased by the idea of someone yanking him about and he turned to go. Yet before he excused himself, his eyes caught onto a vase of flowers—dahlias—and after a moment's hesitance, he found himself cautiously approaching, but not without a scouting gaze about. They were the only flowers present, and that alone made them more than worthy of suspicion. Looking the flowers once over, he noted they were fresh, likely picked early that morning. To leave them out for so long, however…

Well. Seth certainly was no gardener.

"Take one, if you would, and bring it with you.
It's nice to see that you'll follow orders even if they're on paper. I'd like it if you would visit the stables. There's something for you there."

So it was a game, then. He really was being toyed with, but it didn't seem to be a malicious game, by any means. And it would have been an outright lie to say he didn't want to know who was at the other end of such a scheme. But Heavens help him if it was someone like Forde, who simply tried to get a rise out of him. Or even Ephraim at that, though he doubted his prince could be so cruel. On the other hand, Ephraim had been his own form of conflict-causing youth in days before the War of the Stones.

Seth sighed.

I am to be the mouse to the cat, it appears. Although I suppose since I had no other plans, that there is no harm in indulging the writer a bit longer.

-x-x-x-

Considering the situation, he no longer found it pertinent to be hasty. In rush, one could easily make errors. Gods knew what sort of discrepancy he'd make, save to damage the flower he'd taken at the request of the second letter. Despite the idea that it was merely a plant and certainly more would eventually spring up to take its place, he had the distinct impression that he was meant to treat it with reverence. And that was something Seth could do with great ease.

As he eyed it closely, his head tipped, his mind a little lost in wonder. What was the significance of it? He knew the name of it, of course, and recognised it. The colour of the one he held was eye-catching, a vibrant pink and purple, somewhere between the two. An effeminate flower, he might have said, though the knight always considered women to be something akin to flowers. Well… The women who were princesses anyway. Eirika certainly had something flowery about her. The comparison—or the fact that he was comparing the two—made him smile.

What else did he know of the dahlia he was escorting to the stables? Its stem was sturdy. Had to be to support the bloom. A pleasant shade of green at that, not too light, but what he must have thought to be just right. Considering he knew nothing of raising plants, however, he had to admit that it was a field unfamiliar. For all he knew, the fact that he'd removed the flower from its happy home in the vase could have made it take a turn for the worse. When he considered how much he was analysing a simple flower, of all things, he wondered if he had somehow gone soft.

The general needed to be firm, he'd decided some time before. If he was not, he could not aptly act when his lieges needed him to. If even hesitance entered his actions, it would reveal a crack that could easily be broken through. It was difficult to be so praised for his position. To be sitting above Forde and Kyle, the leader of the knightly order. Saying Seth lacked leadership qualities simply wasn't true, but when he wasn't donning the armour and swinging his sword arm, he even had a hard time believing the man on the gallant steed was him. He wouldn't have described himself as being anything less than what he was, but at the same time, the notion of compliments on his abilities seemed lost on him.

Still, if any other had seen him or the way he eyed the flower he held, he wondered what they would have seen, what they would have thought. Renais' military foundation and the man responsible for such security… What did people truly expect of him? What did he expect himself? Both were questions he constantly asked and neither were the sorts easy to answer. Yet if anything came to him easily, it was too good to be true. Perhaps a bit of a jaded way to perceive it, Seth believed in no reward without effort expended to obtain it.

His attention drew off of his closest companion of the plant kind as he was greeted by the nonchalant neighing of a horse. His horse, to be more precise. Brown, plain to some, and yet perfect and reliable to him. A slight incline of his form turned into a bow and as his horse leaned over to graciously eat the flower Seth held, the knight moved away.

"Now, now. I am almost positive you've been fed already, no?" His expression lightened, as if to imply his horse was an entity he trusted with his bare core in comparison to those beneath his protection. He reached over with his other hand, smoothed the coat of his steed, and held no reservations about offering up a more prominent curve of his mouth. "If you insist upon eating, I'll see that you're fed post-haste. Although something tells me that you are jesting, dear friend."

Another neigh of what appeared to be submission and Seth moved past him and into the stables. It smelled… like horse. Silly to think otherwise. It wasn't his first time at the stables. He visited at least once a day for he knew if he was getting stiff legs from inactivity, that surely his horse suffered the same. There was the addition that Renais from horseback as wind whipped across his face just wasn't the same experience that he got from a casual stroll.

A first glance located him nothing, but as he turned his sights onto the rafters, he found a woven basket suspended by rope. In it, his prize. Well, prizes. Another flower, this time a bunch of… heliotropes, it'd seemed. Pastel blue and not too unlike the sky, he idly thought the leaves and stem were more likely to choke out the line of blossoms. Distantly, he thought to consider the flowers to feel insignificant beside their leafy brothers. Then his attention drew onto the note.

"You're very observant. I have always liked that about you.
Please take a single bunch of these as well. The idea of you with flowers is a little amusing, but endearing. I hope it's not putting you out too much.
Afterward, I'd like it if you visited the throne room. You'll probably run into someone. You don't have to keep these notes a secret."

Amusing? That wasn't what his first pick of words would have been, admittedly. He hardly found it entertaining to wander about with a growing following of flowers. Fortunately he'd only been requested to take a singular grouping, for if he'd brought the entire basket, it would have looked rather silly. In his opinion, at any rate, and while he was an open-minded individual, there was no denying than some people simply didn't look… proper with flowers.

Taking the note carefully, he held it with the others, hidden away in his garb, protected and barred from the view of prying eyes. Aha. Someone who is acquainted with me. Yet, I must confess I have not done much in the way to hide my observance. The very trait is required for a person of my position.

And had another heard him, he was certain he'd hear a lighthearted berating over his modesty.

-x-x-x-

The departure from the stables had forced Seth to once more evade the over anxious mouth of his horse. As he left, however, he made the mental note to visit before night came and passed to ensure the diet of his faithful steed.

He could feel himself grow anxious again. When would this game of notes end? Would it, even? He couldn't see himself really enjoying such a frivolous 'sport' for days upon days. No… One day would be enough. More than enough, really. The great man who symbolised strength and courage being reduced to strolling back and forth with flowers and parchment. Yes. He was just utterly the sight to behold. Despite whatever modesty he might have had, Seth supposed to some degree that he didn't wish to be underestimated by his peers—or unimpressive, at that.

With the thought in mind, especially considering that his third missive had said he'd inevitably cross paths with another had his pace quickening. The sooner he could find the next 'step,' the sooner he could keep composure and his dignity in one piece. For if he found the wrong person, he was undoubtedly unsure of what he'd say in his defence. Could he even say anything? One look at him and the imagery spoke for itself.

I can simply say I am taking up the care of flowers.

Except he imagined that such a drastic action from the naturally careful and wary man was not going to be bought as genuine. That left him in the very same position that he found himself in when he stopped at the double doors to the throne room. The guards on either side simply stared at him, a little mirth hidden within their eyes. Yet they made no motion to either hinder or encourage him, and perhaps that was for the best.

"I have something I must retrieve," Seth explained. With no immediate response, he cleared his throat as he tried to keep himself together. "Please."

Niceties granted him entry and if he had been younger, he imagined he might have mumbled under his breath. Those days were long gone, however, and to be fair he had no desire to relive a good deal of them. He'd certainly had his own share of embarrassing moments, like learning how to wield a lance and doing so poorly before he had become accustomed to the skill. Sword training and spars gone awry, where he'd lost his balance and nearly lobbed the very head of his partner. No. Those were definitely days to stay far behind him. If he could help it, he had very little interest in divulging stories of those days to much of anyone, save perhaps one or two individuals—and likely only if they'd required him to.

Like most rooms of Renais' castle, the throne room was particularly grand. But it was expected to be. A good majority of the soirees that weren't held in the banquet rooms were placed under the direct attention of the prince and princess. Well. King and queen, he supposed, though he'd admitted to himself it was hard to break the habit of former titles. He'd found no quarrel from either Ephraim or Eirika, so unless they corrected him, he took it to mean that they found little conflict. And it was no grand surprise. Both had been reasonably easy-going when it came to him, something that had likely come from the years they'd spent together.

On the right chair, he found Ephraim. It was a little surprising, as he'd assumed the guards were the ones foretold in his letter. Aware his entrance had been none too quiet or subtle, he did consider simply turning and leaving as quickly as he'd come, but the moment his liege lord's eyes found his, he suddenly straightened up.

"Seth?" Ephraim asked, unable to hide the amusement in his tone. He motioned with his right hand to the general's rigid standing, flowers and all. "Dare I even inquire?"

I wish you wouldn't. Except Seth knew very well he would.

"I…" He began, uncertain as to how to begin. "…That is…"

Ephraim moved to his feet and shook his head, "Come on. Out with it, man. It's unlike you to be so unguarded."

It was undeniably a good point. He was being rather unguarded. But he thought it was obvious. Seth clearly had no idea what he was doing. Aside from standing before his king and feeling more the fool with each moment that passed. He cleared his throat again and thought it only his best to own the moment and his actions he took with it.

"It seems I have been caught up in a juvenile attempt to spend my time," he confessed. His free hand reached for his letters and he showed them, trying to keep any potential shame to himself.

Being left in silence was a rather unnerving experience for him. For as much as he knew both siblings, he couldn't claim to know everything. Ephraim could have been howling in laughter on the inside for all he knew. But he hoped he wasn't. When he began to bow in order to excuse himself, the teal-haired prince-turned-king lifted a hand to stop him.

"Ah, yes," Ephraim conceded with a bit of a boyish smile. Stepping down, he took from his comfortable seat familiar parchment and yet one more flower in well-kept condition. "I do believe these are for you. I wasn't aware you were the sort for games. Yet, if all you did was work, Seth, I'd worry for your humanity. Life was made for enjoyment, after all."

It was a white flower. Seth wasn't familiar with it, yet when Ephraim offered it over, he took it with some hesitance. Then he tentatively accepted the note, "I must admit that the amount of suspense this plaything has brought about is not how I anticipated to spend my day." He turned his attention onto the note after realising that Ephraim had no intentions to turn away. There was hardly a sense in suddenly becoming bashful, though he did believe that his liege lord was in on the plot afoot.

"Deception isn't something I enjoy doing. Yet sometimes it seems the best way to accomplish a task.
There is one more place for you to visit and once you do, I promise I'll have no more for you. Please come to the fountain by the gardens."

"The last one," he aired with some relief, not missing the arch of Ephraim's eyebrow. Then he smiled quickly, as if to cover himself, "I meant only that it will be nice to see the mysterious author." Offering the lord a low and respectful bow, he turned to leave and paused at the doorway before he lifted the flower and eyed his king.

Without even needing the question, Ephraim left him not unsatisfied. "Rainflower." Then he motioned towards the doorway and the hall that followed it, "Go on now. Surely whoever put you up to this task will not be patient forever, General."

An uncertain nod was Seth's departing farewell and for one reason or another, his stomach knotted up.

-x-x-x-

Dahlia, heliotrope, and rainflower. What could be the significance? Why those three flowers? What was the ultimate point to them? Gods be damned, after the shenanigans were over, Seth vowed to bury his nose in a book on flowers in the event that such a thing would ever come to pass again. And even if it didn't, he'd have the knowledge and surely it'd prove itself useful at some point. Perhaps. Even if he couldn't describe a single situation to support the theory.

He hesitated mid-step, unsure if he should be more casual in approaching the gardens, or hasty. Again, hastiness proved to erroneous from time to time, but certainly this chain of events had been meant for savouring, even if he couldn't quite comprehend what he was to take away from the journey through the palace. To him, it'd seemed like an odd way to enjoy the day, but in other ways, it had given him time to think. He hadn't needed that, though. The Silver Knight certainly had an abundance of days, months, and years to think. One solid day to do so hardly made a difference.

He knew there was something more. But… what?

Then as he passed through the welcoming and willowy stems of leaves and flowers, he eyed them a bit more closely, idly wondering if he'd find them in likeness with the ones he held. Beyond the forest of flowers that were kept orderly for the most part, there was the clearing and in its centre, the fountain he was to meet at. Alone again, it seemed. The steps of his boots echoed against the cobblestone and he wondered if it had all been a ruse.

Perhaps I should have known better.

"Thank you for playing."

He'd not even heard her approach. Hadn't known if she'd been there the entire time. If she'd not, then she was so quiet that he sincerely felt his heart nearly lodge itself up into his throat. He quickly turned—too quick, in hindsight—and yet he felt himself instantly become a contradiction as he looked her over. Eirika. Beautiful Eirika in all of her wonder and glory. Compassionate Eirika with her kindness and thoughtfulness. Innocent Eirika in all of her honesty. Oh… How he loved her with every breath. She was the only one who had made him feel that he was both calm and panicking at the very same time.

"My lady…" he began somewhat uncertainly until he noticed she was carrying something. Something none too small. A… pastry of sorts.

"I'm sorry I had to deceive you," Eirika started, a little bashful. She held up the platter as she approached, despite the way he felt himself grow tense. "It's… your birthday, isn't it?"

If he was shocked, there was no way for him to hide it in that moment. She had… done everything simply to… To what? He still couldn't understand. Was she distracting him, so she might meet him there at that very spot? At that very moment? What a cunning woman he'd chosen to fall in love with! How he wanted to take her against him in a loving embrace for the very thought on her part. The day had been nothing special to him, yet she had treated it as if it was worthy of celebration…

"…Lady Eirika, it is but another day," he admitted to her, disliking that he couldn't simply own up to his feelings.

She shook her head, "No. It isn't. Kyle… told me that you always spend this day alone. If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have known." Motioning with a hand, Eirika coaxed Seth to sit at the fountain's edge and not long after she joined him, setting the platter at her lap. "You see… It may mean very little to you, but you came into the world, Seth. And with you, you brought the boy who looked over me since I was young. And now you're the man who looks over me even now, even at the cost of himself."

Her mouth curved into a sweet smile and she eyed him with an adoration that was too open and direct for him to ignore. Still, he made no further motion from his spot. He could not be considered untoward to her. He refused to be. But she had softened his heart. Her delicate words, laced with sincerity and a blatant endearment that he could not so easily dismiss. As much as he wanted to protest, he could find neither the words nor the will to do so and instead, simply felt all the more foolish.

"I am grateful for each day you are in my life. I thank the gods you remain by my side. I thank the Everlasting for not claiming you yet…" A flush of pink kissed her cheeks, which he thought was stunning and incomparable, even to queens of Magvel's history. "As such… would you please spend your future birthdays with me?"

As if he possibly could have turned her down. Foregoing his propriety—for a moment—he leaned over and settled his lips to her forehead. Then he nodded. "Aye."

I can think of no other I would rather spend it with. And while he couldn't say it, he had a feeling that his eyes made him as much an open book as she often was.

Remembering the flowers she had undoubtedly lured him along with, he showed them to her in their pristine condition. "The missives I understand well and good, but I confess plants are not the forte of this war-hardened man."

Her explanation was succinct and all too clear, like the sky with no clouds and he was certain a part of him forgot the rest of the world when she spoke. And without regret.

"…With dignity and devotion, my love is yours."