The Harvest Festival: A Tale in Two Acts
Act One: The Feast
The Shepherds crossed through northern Plegia and into Ylisse. The group traveled much faster when they didn't have an army in their wake. Flavia and Basilio remained behind in their own country, determined to keep things together until spring returned and with it, a journey back to Valm to dethrone the Conqueror.
In just over a week since their landfall in Regna Ferox, the Shepherds reached the town of Brindlow. It was the first major city in Ylisse they had seen since departing more than six months prior. Chrom had expected a hero's welcome, but the Shepherds received somewhat less. Pyrrhus understood: many of the citizens were focused on the loss of friends and family in the overseas war, and had difficulty picturing what might happen if the Ylissean League should fail in Valm. It was an easy and natural position to take, one that Pyrrhus had read about extensively in his studies of strategy. The attacker always suffered the loss of support in his own people, even in a just war. Furthermore, many could still recall the exploits of Chrom's father and the holy war he had begun with Plegia. They were wary of the Exalt exerting his will where it did not, politically, belong, lest history repeat itself. Pyrrhus intended for that not to be the case.
Brindlow was a bustling burg, perhaps half the population of Ylisstol's city, and surrounded by staunch stone walls to repel attacks. From the outside, it appeared well-kept, certainly better off than most of the small Plegian towns they'd passed. The outlying fields lay stripped of produce and abandoned, as everyone had gone into Brindlow to celebrate.
The party that greeted the Shepherds at the gates of Brindlow was diminished somewhat, but no less fervent to see their beloved king than any other. A cheer went out when Chrom crossed the threshold, and another when Sumia joined him. Nobody seemed to care much when Pyrrhus entered, and to his relief: such public displays made him uncomfortable. Even Cordelia garnered her share of recognition, Pyrrhus surmised from those in town who recognized her.
Chrom and his four-person entourage (including Frederick) met with the local duke, there with his own retainer. The duke, a thin man, nearly bald save for a few wisps of white hair that clung bravely to his scalp, bowed before Chrom. His retainer was much younger, and had the bearing of one who had served in the military. Pyrrhus noticed the sword at his side and deduced that he must also be the duke's bodyguard.
The duke bowed slowly before Chrom. "My Lord Exalt," he began.
Frederick cleared his throat. "It's just Lord," he corrected. "He has never claimed the title of Exalt." Pyrrhus still wondered why people insisted on calling him Exalt, but then he never really understood court politics. Neither did Chrom, for that matter.
"Of course!" the duke replied quickly. "Apologies, Lord Chrom. Nevertheless, it is an honor to have his majesty's presence in our humble city for the Harvest Festival."
"The honor is mine," Chrom answered, bowing slightly in return. "Might I introduce my beloved wife, Lady Sumia, Sir Pyrrhus the Wise, and Dame Cordelia."
The Duke addressed each of them in turn. "Lady Sumia, you grow more beautiful each time I see you." Pyrrhus disagreed on that point. Poor Sumia wasn't having the best time with her pregnancy. She had carried little Lucina quite well, and not once looked anything less than royalty, but the strain of pregnancy while at war was something altogether different. Her stomach was rather more swollen than one would expect for her duration, such that she no longer wore the typical pegasus knight armor. Instead, she stood in a dress with a little extra room. Her ankles, too, had swollen, and it seemed she had to stop much more frequently than normal to rest. Pyrrhus would never be so rude as to say any of this to her, of course, but he could not lie to himself.
"And Dame Cordelia, such a lovely lady!" The Duke continued. "Why, I can still remember when you could barely reach my knee!"
Cordelia smiled and curtseyed. "It's a pleasure to see you again, sir."
"Sir Pyrrhus," he said finally. "Your reputation precedes you, though we've not met. I am Duke Francis of Brindlow, but please call me Francis." His smile made the wrinkles of his face all the more visible, but in a good way.
"Francis," Pyrrhus replied awkwardly. "Nice to meet you."
Francis turned back to Chrom. "Now, I'm certain you and your Shepherds will want to rest, so I've had my militia clear away some room in the barracks. I've also had the maid prepare guest quarters in the keep for yourself, Lady Sumia, and Sir Pyrrhus. No doubt Dame Cordelia would prefer to spend the duration with her parents."
"Speaking of whom, where are Mom and Dad?" Cordelia asked.
"They wanted to be here," Francis said reassuringly. "Unfortunately, your father had an important meeting and your mother has been helping to organize the festival. Not sure it would have happened without her!" He chuckled casually. "Your father asked me to tell you he'll meet you at home."
The rest of the Shepherds crowded in, greeting the welcoming party in earnest. Francis and Chrom, apparently having things to discuss, walked back over to the castle. Everyone else was dispersing to the barracks to drop off their equipment and come back to enjoy the festival, but Cordelia and Pyrrhus decided to hang back a bit.
Cordelia blushed lightly. "You know, Pyrrhus, if you'd like, we could go and meet my father. From his letters, he seems very eager to meet you."
Pyrrhus put his left hand on her shoulder, unconsciously patting his coin purse with his right. "I'd love to, but I'm afraid I've got business to take care of. Have to go see the smith and get some work done. I'm afraid it'll take most of the day."
"Most of the day?" she asked skeptically. "What're you having done? Your armor is still in fine shape."
"No, I need to reforge a spearhead," he replied. "It's a long story, you don't want to hear it."
"Well, okay," she relented. "When you're done, I'll probably be at the festival with everyone else. The main party will be in the town square, and I'm sure the Shepherds will have found a bar. Meet me there, would you?"
"Will do." Pyrrhus gave her a kiss goodbye and they parted ways, her heading eastwards and up towards the center of the city, and Pyrrhus northward around the edge towards the guild district.
Returning from the smithy, Pyrrhus wandered towards the center of town, where the celebration had already begun. The Harvest Festival was a day-long affair; the morning and afternoon were dominated by contests and games geared mostly towards the children. This was intended to allow their parents the necessary reprieve from childcare in order to focus on preparing the feast.
Pyrrhus fell in behind a pair of men carrying a large barrel of alcohol (he couldn't see what kind) towards the market square, which had been decorated for the occasion. Brightly-colored banners and ribbons dangled between rooftops and off of signposts. Autumnal flowers and multicolored leaves had been strewn about the street. Costumed street performers had converged from all over the town into the square, creating as high a density of jugglers, clowns, and musicians as Pyrrhus had ever seen. The smell of freshly-baked bread and roasting meat permeated the air in a heavenly bouquet that drew Pyrrhus's stomach to a ferocious growl, still yearning for fresh food after the travel rations he'd been eating.
It was evident that the Shepherds had focused on a single local watering hole to have a few celebratory beverages before the feast. He recognized Sully and her daughter walking inside together, and could see several other Shepherds through the windows. Judging by the sun, he deduced that he had a while yet before Cordelia would be there, so to assuage his nerves he chose to pop in for a drink himself.
He entered to a halfhearted celebratory cheer and meandered over to the bar, grabbing a seat in the crowded establishment and motioning towards the bartender. The man behind the bar poured him a mug without asking what he wanted, and placed it in front of the tactician. This was customary for the Harvest Festival. The only alcoholic beverage anybody drank that day would be the best of whatever the previous year's harvest was. Two years ago, for example, the weather had produced some truly exquisite grapes, so the drink of choice last year had been wine. Judging by the amber cider in the mug before him, last year had delivered a bumper crop of apples. He took a sip and, as suspected, found it to be delicious.
Another similar cheer indicated another new arrival. Pyrrhus spun around on his stool and spotted Donnel. He beckoned over the young farmer-turned-soldier. Donny carefully pushed himself between the packed tables and made his way over to Pyrrhus. "Well shucks, Pyrrhus, ain't this a right fine shindig?"
Curious. "Didn't they have the Harvest Festival where you live?" Donny was from Ylisse, after all.
"Well yeah, but t'weren't nothin' like this," he replied. "S'much more about the family there, not so much a town-wide celebration."
"Yes, but this isn't any more extravagant than the festival at Ylisstol."
"But that's the capital," Donny explained. "You expect a right fancy party there."
"Fair enough," Pyrrhus admitted. "Hope you like cider, because that's what we're drinking," he said, motioning for the bartender to bring Donny a glass as he took a hefty swig from his own mug. As he set the mug back down, a familiar chill crept down his back. Pyrrhus sighed. "Hello, Tharja."
The black-haired woman appeared at his right side, opposite Donny. "Pyrrhus," she said coldly. "Have you seen Gaius? We have very important matters to discuss."
"I'm afraid not," Pyrrhus said, trying not to sound too pleased. If she just wanted to speak with Gaius, maybe she wouldn't stick around.
She let out a low moan that Pyrrhus couldn't quite place. Was she actually upset? She sniffed the air carefully. "He's close." Could she actually smell Gaius? Maybe that explained how she could always find Pyrrhus. "If you see him, let me know. But don't tell him I'm looking for him." She stood up and walked away.
Pyrrhus waited until she'd left the pub before releasing another sigh, this one relieved. "Whew, she's gone." He took another sip of cider.
"The coast's clear, Bubbles? Thanks!" Gaius shot up from behind the bar, and Pyrrhus nearly sprayed the man with cider in shock.
"What're you doing back there?" he demanded, grabbing Gaius's collar. "If Tharja comes back she'll think I was hiding you!"
"No worries, Bubbles. I left some false leads over at the bakery. We've got some time." Gaius smoothly climbed over the bar and took the seat that Tharja had vacated.
"Dare I ask why you're avoiding her?" Pyrrhus asked. "I thought you two were actually getting some emotional closeness into your relationship recently."
"We were," Gaius explained. "But then Tharja met Noire."
"What's wrong with Noire? I mean, she's weird, but what would you expect from any child of Tharja's? Crazy doesn't skip generations."
"Noire's just fine… crazy," he admitted, "But fine. That's not the problem. The problem is she's got orange hair."
"What's the matter with- oh." That was the danger of all this time travel, Pyrrhus figured. Lucina could insist all day that the children keep their mouths shut about their parent's future, but sometimes there were some dead giveaways that just couldn't be covered up. Cynthia's very presence indicated that a second child would have been all but inevitable for Chrom and Sumia. The relative youth of Owain compared with his peers suggested that Lissa didn't have him for a while yet. And Noire's hair color… that shade of bright orange was rare to begin with, but among the Shepherds… there was only one man who could possibly have given Noire that little genetic gift.
And speaking of genetic gifts…. Pyrrhus looked at Donny's hair again. He'd seen that color somewhere else recently. Where was it? Nevermind. "I'll give you credit for avoiding her for as long as you have. Anyway, what's your plan? It's not like you can dodge her forever."
Gaius leaned in conspiratorially. "My plan… is… to sit here and drink while you come up with a plan to save me." He threw down an entire mug of cider while Pyrrhus glared angrily.
"How am I part of this?" he demanded.
"You already know too much, Bubbles. If Tharja finds out you've been holding out on her, who knows what she'll do."
Pyrrhus groaned in frustration. Gaius was probably right, he was in deep now. Why did he always have to listen to things? He was always overhearing things and being too observant, always paying far too much attention for his own g-
"Hey Pyrrhus!" Cordelia was here? How had he missed her come in? He turned back around and saw Cordelia standing in front of him, looking quite pleased with herself.
Gaius stood up from his stool and put down an empty mug. "Well, I'm off. Remember, Bubbles, better to say nothing." He bolted out the door without another word, turning right and disappearing into the crowd.
"I am not helping you with this!" Pyrrhus shouted, even though Gaius almost certainly wouldn't hear it.
"Do I want to know what that was about?" Cordelia asked, taking his seat.
"You do not," Pyrrhus explained. "Better to be ignorant of the stupidity than complicit in it."
Cordelia glanced around the pub. "Quite the group here, huh?"
"Yeah, this place is packed."
"Buy me a drink?"
"Sure." Pyrrhus waved to the bartender, who was handing out a pair of mugs to Sully's daughter. Wait a minute, that's where he'd seen Donny's hair color! Did that mean… well, there was one way to find out. It wasn't, strictly speaking, any of his business, and it would doubtless have made Lucina absolutely livid. But on the other hand….
"Hey Cordelia," he whispered so that Donny couldn't hear, "watch this."
Cordelia took her mug of cider in hand and tried not to seem too interested as Pyrrhus turned to his left. "So, Donny, what do you think about Sully?"
Donny, who had been nursing his own cider, put it down carefully. "She's, uhh… swell."
"Just swell?" Pyrrhus inquired. "Haven't you noticed how her hair is that lovely shade of red, how her eyes conceal such obvious passion?"
"I guess…" he muttered.
Pyrrhus spun them both around to look at her, sitting at a table, arm-wrestling a burly stranger while Kjelle watched. "She's so strong and beautiful, right?"
"Why, any man who she married would be the luckiest on earth!" Pyrrhus proclaimed.
"Yeah.…" Donny downed the last of his cider in a pair of gulps.
Pyrrhus spun back around with a wicked smile on his face, Donny completely oblivious. He gave a dark chuckle, and then Cordelia shook his shoulder hard.
"Am I having a nightmare? This is a nightmare, right?"
Pyrrhus laughed again. "Oh, don't worry, Cordelia. I was making all that up."
"For what purpose?" she asked.
"For that," Pyrrhus replied, spinning around. Donny had left the bar and approached Sully. Pyrrhus couldn't hear what either of them said in the noisy pub, but a few seconds later Sully lifted him bodily and planted an intense kiss on him.
Pyrrhus cackled faux-evilly. "Dance, puppets, dance!"
Cordelia stared at them in disbelief. "What… did you just do?"
"It's nothing," Pyrrhus replied with a wave of his left hand, pausing to sip his drink. "Why, even a cursory analysis of their relative compatibility suggests that they would be an excellent pair, to say nothing of the obvious tension between them."
"You could sense all that?"
"No, but I could tell that Kjelle was Donny's daughter. Hair color, see?"
Cordelia tilted her head slightly. "Huh, how about that."
"Ready to go?" Pyrrhus asked, standing up from his stool and plunking a pair of coins on the bar. This place was starting to get really crowded, and they had a lot of other business to take care of this evening.
"Sure," Cordelia replied, taking his offered hand to help her up. They walked out of the pub together, hands clasped, when Pyrrhus noticed Tharja still looking around. As the pair walked by her, Pyrrhus tapped her on the shoulder.
"Tharja. Gaius left the bar going that way." He pointed in roughly the direction he'd seen Gaius go. "He's probably heading for the keep's kitchens to stock up on sweets and hide out there for the evening. He really doesn't want to talk to you."
"He doesn't have a choice," Tharja explained. "Thanks." She skulked off in the direction of the keep.
His entire face brightened considerably as he turned back to Cordelia. Today was really working out so well, he thought as he tapped his coin purse. He'd gotten things squared away with the smith, he'd managed to betray Gaius and not receive karmic retribution from Tharja, he'd helped Donny and Sully connect, and a mug of delicious cider sat in his belly. "Let's go meet your parents!"
Apparently, Cordelia's father was so trusted an advisor that he and his wife were invited to the feast within Brindlow Keep, which also served as "party central" for the more "highfalutin" crowd, as Donny would have put it. There were no small number of nobility in attendance, and Pyrrhus was reminded even more of the Ylisstol Harvest Festival.
Pyrrhus had stopped by the barracks to change and was once again wearing his only packed formal attire, the suit and vest he'd worn the night that he and Cordelia had gone dancing. Cordelia still had to change; she was still wearing the supple leather armor upon which the light plate armor of the pegasus knight was fastened. Since her belongings were back at her parent's house, she left to change and promised to meet him inside. He wanted to ask her why she hadn't changed already, but figured she probably had a good reason, and ultimately it didn't make much difference. He went inside and prepared to mingle, though the very idea made him groan.
He spotted Chrom and Sumia right away, talking still with Francis and looking far too busy for Pyrrhus to feel comfortable interrupting. They were probably discussing grain shipments or something equally boring. At worst, Chrom might even try to force Pyrrhus to take his place while the lord high-tailed it to the refreshments table. No, that conversation was best left alone. They were the only two Shepherds there, though. Lucina and Cynthia had decided to stay with the rest of the Shepherds since it would have been exceedingly awkward to introduce them as Chrom's children.
Pyrrhus stood alone, waiting for Cordelia to return, when he caught a glimpse of a most-unwanted figure. Deftly, he tried to hide himself, but it was too late; she must have known he'd be here. Gossip could have yielded that the Shepherds were returning for the winter, and their path back to the Ylisstol would have been obvious. Rather, it would have been obvious for such a schemer as her.
Pyrrhus ducked behind a column in the main hall, hoping that he might be able to avoid her for a few precious minutes. It was not to be, as no sooner had he begun to suspect that the coast was clear than he found her standing before him.
"Why, Sir Pyrrhus! What an absolute delight!" The sickly-sweet tone buried the unpleasantness beneath.
"Lorraine…." Pyrrhus muttered, filling his own voice with contempt. That vicious little cut-throat socialite. He despised her, not because she was ugly or stupid (she was, in fact, both clever and comely) but because of her transparent alternate motives. Once, before the end of the Plegian War, he had spoken briefly with her, and her regard for him was the sort of attitude one might take towards a chunk of gristle in one's steak. After Chrom had walked over and consulted Pyrrhus on some matters of state, however, she changed abruptly, awkwardly transitioning from subtle derision to downright flattery, and desperately hinting that he might tell her how he was such good friends with the new ruler. She was, he learned, the daughter of one of the wealthiest families on Ylisse, able to put even Maribelle's pristine heritage to shame. Her father had sent her there so that she might 'meet some interesting new people.' That meant, he would learn later, that her father was desperate for more political clout, and would sell his daughter into marriage to gain it. Even worse, it had been her idea! As she praised his clever wit and his masculine features, he knew she was imagining herself whispering into the ear of the man behind the man, playing him like a puppet.
"So nice to see you again, Sir Pyrrhus!" She insisted upon calling him by his title. She held out his hand, intending for him to kiss it.
Instead, Pyrrhus took it awkwardly in his own, turning the gesture into a clumsy handshake. "Hello, Lorraine. How are you?" He made only the most basic attempt to disguise his discomfort.
"Why, I'm simply wonderful, you know!" She giggled in a disturbingly Maribelle way. Did every young noblewoman have to attend a class on laughing a certain way? "You must tell me everything about your adventure in Valm, educating those heathens across the sea."
"They're not heathens," Pyrrhus explained. "They worship Naga, just as we do. This isn't a religious war."
"Of course it isn't!" she corrected swiftly. "I only mean they're heathens for the terrible attack on those beasts from Ferox. Tell me, do they eat their own dead, as I've heard?"
Pyrrhus didn't know how to respond to that. Was that really how the nobility viewed Regna Ferox? "No... they're very much like us. In fact, in a lot of ways they're better than us." He neglected to say outright that he would have preferred spending time with a cannibalistic Feroxi to Lorraine.
Lorraine giggled again. "Really? Don't tell me you've gone native!" She waved her hand, but it caught on his sleeve and she gripped his arm. "My, my, but haven't you gotten much stronger! I daresay you're even more handsome than when you left!" She gently rubbed her hand up his arm. "Yes, a strong man indeed... Tell me, have you been to Brindlow Keep before? I could give you the tour... I know several nice spots that are a bit more... secluded." She took a step closer to him.
Pyrrhus spun around and saw Cordelia behind him, looking utterly ravishing in a red dress that matched her hair perfectly.
"Cordelia!" he practically shouted, simultaneously twisting his arm out of Lorraine's clutches and grasping her hand in his. He placed a firm kiss upon her lips. "Darling, I missed you! Tell me, have you met Lorraine?"
Cordelia wrapped her arm around Pyrrhus like a snake, transparently staking her claim upon him. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure," she said calmly, her voice positively dripping with malevolence. "Dame Cordelia of the Shepherds."
Lorraine's lip curled into a snarl. "It's a pleasure," she replied. "Are you two..."
"Very much in love!" Pyrrhus insisted with a relieved smile. "So much so that I can't possibly imagine myself with another woman."
"And yet I don't see a ring," Lorraine prodded. Perhaps she was searching for a weak link in the chain holding the couple together.
"Oh, no," Pyrrhus explained. "We're married, but it's Feroxi tradition not to use rings." It was a quick lie, and couldn't possibly hold up to scrutiny, but it certainly seemed to shut Lorraine up.
"I see," she muttered. "Well, I hope you're happy," she said, clearly wishing the exact opposite. She turned and stalked away, and Pyrrhus wrapped Cordelia in another hug.
"That was the best!" Pyrrhus exclaimed. "You're so good at scaring off women trying to hit on me!"
Cordelia gave an awkward smile. "Thanks... I think. Really though, I can't leave you alone for ten minutes?"
Pyrrhus chanced a look at the retreating socialite. "Not with her around. Although I have to admit, the idea of you two in a physical altercation doesn't seem too awful."
"I give her fifteen seconds," Cordelia replied.
"I completely disagree," Pyrrhus said. "I give her five." The joke brought a smile to Cordelia's lips, and he kissed her again. "Now tell me, where's your parents?"
"They're around here somewhere," Cordelia said, looking around. "I'll tell you what, why don't you fetch us a couple of drinks while I find them? And, seeing as you're about to meet my parents and considering the importance of a first impression, could you try to avoid being hit on while you do it?" Apparently she wasn't placing all the blame on Lorraine, then.
"Deal." That ale had been nearly an hour ago, and he was in need of a little liquid courage. He walked over to the refreshments table and saw a stack of champagne flutes at the table. It seemed the nobility didn't bother with the Harvest Festival tradition. He grabbed a pair of the glasses and was about to look back for Cordelia when he heard someone call his name.
"Pyrrhus?" It wasn't a voice he recognized. He matched it with a woman approaching him, and turned to say hello, fully prepared to dash away if she should make any untoward comments. She wore a powder blue dress, and she bore more than a passing resemblance to Cordelia, at least in the facial features. She looked a bit younger than Cordelia too, probably just at the end of her teenage years. Her brown hair, down to her shoulders, set her somewhat apart. Her eyes were penetrating, as though able to size him up at a glance, and to know his innermost thoughts as though he had spoken them aloud. The smile she wore was just a bit forced, the same way an introvert might need to force a smile when meeting a new person in public.
"It's a pleasure to meet you…"
"Severa," the woman replied, holding her hand out regally. "Cordelia's cousin."
"Of course!" Pyrrhus exclaimed. "Of course you are! I knew you two had to be related, you look so much alike you could be her sister!"
"I don't know about that," Severa demurred. "But I'm getting ahead of myself. You haven't yet told me your name!"
"Where are my manners, you're right. I'm Pyrrhus- err, Sir Pyrrhus, of the Shepherds."
"Cordelia's famous beau, I see," Severa replied casually.
"You already knew that, didn't you?" Pyrrhus asked, narrowing his eyes in the sort of casual mock suspicion used at such events.
Severa frowned for a fraction of a second before laughing politely. "Yes, you've caught me. Your reputation precedes you!"
"What is that, the town saying?" Pyrrhus muttered.
"I spoke with Cordelia earlier, and she told me all about you, you see. Her description hardly does you justice."
"Better, or worse?"
"Oh, much better," Severa replied. She gasped slightly. "Oh, I'm so sorry, you must think me horrid! Her description of you was fine, it's just…."
"I don't like to pry," Severa explained. "It really is the absolute opposite of my intentions, but you seem like such a nice man, and I would hate to see you hurt." She took a deep breath. "Before she started seeing you… there was another man, yes?"
Severa had been staying here a while, if Pyrrhus recalled correctly. "Oh, did her parents tell you? Yes, she did have a rather serious infatuation with… a different man. But that's all done now."
"Is it?" she asked. "I could hear it in the way she spoke to me about you. It sounded like… resignation."
"Resignation?" he replied. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that perhaps she isn't as over this other man as she says. Tell me, has she given you any signs or reasons to be doubtful of her love?"
"Of course not." Pyrrhus froze. "Well, not in so many words-"
"So she has, then. Could it be that maybe you're too blinded by your own feelings to see that she isn't genuinely reciprocating?"
"I-… no, of course not!" Pyrrhus insisted. "She loves me! I know it for certain."
Severa winced. "But you doubt, don't you?" She gazed casually upon the crowd before her eyes settled on Chrom and Sumia. "Tell me, do you think that Chrom doubts Sumia's love for him?"
"Then you are indeed an admirable person! In your shoes, I would resent Cordelia for dividing her love. I would be wary if I doubted that she returned my affections."
"You're right," Pyrrhus said, mostly to himself. "If she's still in love with-" he paused as he remembered Severa's presence, "-that man, then I can't allow myself to be blind to it. When we first got together, I told her that I wouldn't be able to take it if she decided that I was a mistake."
"What are you going to do?" Severa asked. "How can you show her that you're serious about this?"
But there was something else. If Cordelia wasn't happy in their relationship, then Cordelia wasn't happy. And if, as he believed, he wanted her to be happy more than anything, there was only one option.
"I have to break up with Cordelia."
Severa's eyes widened in shock as she let out another gasp. "How awful! I mean, it makes perfect sense from this standpoint and I think it's a sound decision, but still, it's awful! Maybe you could stay together a bit longer and see if things improve on their own?"
"No, you're right. It's awful, but it makes sense. Both Cordelia and I deserve to be happy. If that means I need to end things between us so that we can both find happiness elsewhere, then it's the only thing to do. I will not have her stay with me out of pity and live an unfulfilled life, not while I can change it!"
"Well, I won't say another word because I don't want to mettle. I'm sure you'll make the right choice." She patted him on the shoulder. "I'm hungry! Are you hungry? I could definitely go for some stuffed squash. I'll see you later, Pyrrhus."
And just like that, she was gone.
Pyrrhus wandered dumbly, carrying both flutes back to the party almost out of habit, when Cordelia returned and grabbed him.
"We're about to sit down to dinner," she explained, before a concerned look overtook her. "Pyrrhus, are you all right?"
He shook his head a bit to try and clear away the cobwebs. "Yes, I'm fine. Let's go." This was going to be awful.
Cordelia's father was a large man, and every detail of his personage exuded the qualities of a former soldier. His red hair was trimmed close and he bore no facial hair, his posture was that of a man standing at attention, but more than anything there was a staidness to him. He seemed, at a glance, to be utterly unflappable; Pyrrhus wondered whether telling him that he would eventually be a grandfather would garner more than a neutral grunt. He was an inch or two taller than Pyrrhus, and, like any good father, made sure to press that advantage in intimidating his daughter's boyfriend. Had they met a year ago, Eddard would have been half again Pyrrhus's size, but thanks to the year spent training in full knight's armor, the overall size difference was much smaller. Ed now had perhaps twenty pounds on Pyrrhus, he figured, and none of it muscle. No, Ed had long since let his military regimen slip, though Pyrrhus did not doubt the man's capacity (or willingness) to kill anyone who threatened him or his family. His brown eyes tore into Pyrrhus, but not the way that Severa's had; his gaze held no small amount of amusement. Maybe he was delighted at the idea of sizing up the famous tactician. Or maybe he just relished making his daughter's boyfriend nervous. For nervous was exactly what Pyrrhus was.
"Father, this is my boyfriend Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus, this is my father, Eddard." Cordelia said the words so casually, as if she didn't even see the glare her father was delivering.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Pyrrhus said, desperately hoping that his voice wouldn't crack. He held out a sweaty palm, which Eddard took roughly.
"Same," the man replied. "Heard a lot about you."
Pyrrhus found himself looking anywhere but at Eddard's eyes. "Yes… right… Cordelia mentioned that she's been writing home. I suppose she's told you about me in those letters."
"Yup. Chrom's pet tactician. I expected you'd be taller."
"I'm sorry," Pyrrhus said quickly. Why was he apologizing? For being too short? It didn't matter.
"Pyrrhus… you ever cut a man open up close?" Still holding Pyrrhus's hand captive, he used his left to draw a knife.
"Ex-excuse me?" Pyrrhus stuttered.
"Father, stop intimidating him!" Cordelia shouted.
Eddard let Pyrrhus's hand go and his grim face broke into a wide smile. "Just a bit of fun, and a little reminder of what might happen if he breaks my baby girl's heart."
Cordelia sighed. "Father, we both know that's not necessary. If someone needs to kill Pyrrhus for breaking my heart, I can do it."
Pyrrhus chuckled fakely. Ho boy, was this going to be awful. Maybe he should have put his affairs in order before coming to this meal.
"True enough, sweetheart, you always could take care of yourself. That boy David still has a limp from when he tried to kiss you in school."
Was that how Pierce got that limp? Pyrrhus wondered suddenly. Had all this already happened, and Cordelia had enacted her vengeance upon that version of him? It made a disturbing amount of sense… but then, there were lots of injuries that could cause a permanent limp, he rationalized quickly. It was probably a coincidence. Probably.
They were standing in the main hall, a few others milling about waiting for the dinner bell to ring. A trio of long tables had been set up for the Duke and his guests. Cordelia's family were to be seated well away from the Duke, but still in a prominent position, but frankly Pyrrhus couldn't have cared less about any of that. So occupied was his mind that Cordelia very nearly had to push him into his seat at the table.
Cordelia's mother joined them shortly thereafter, taking the seat across from Pyrrhus. It was obvious where Cordelia had gotten her good looks; Cordelia's mother had a sort of ageless beauty, despite a few faint wrinkles in her face and a swath of gray in her blonde hair. She offered her hand to Pyrrhus from across the table, who shook it gently.
"Pyrrhus! Lovely to meet you. You can call me Aurelia, or, if you prefer, Mom."
"Mother!" Cordelia interjected.
Aurelia smiled broadly. "Oh now, forgive your dear old mother for wanting a grandchild or two."
Eddard cleared his throat. "Let's not think about that, certainly not until the wedding." The two parents chuckled, as did Severa, sitting on Aurelia's left.
It came too late, for Pyrrhus and Cordelia were already blushing, both knowing that grandchildren were all but guaranteed... just not in the manner Eddard and Aurelia might have been expecting.
The meal was served shortly thereafter, and conversation mostly died away as the family tucked in. Aurelia was a bit more talkative than Eddard, and described the effort she'd put into keeping the celebration on track. She bore an acute mind, able to keep track of even minor details without missing a beat. Indeed, when Pyrrhus mentally combined the evident martial prowess of Eddard and the acuity of Aurelia, Cordelia suddenly made a whole lot more sense.
Despite Pyrrhus trying to avoid the issue, the prospect of marriage inevitably came up in the post-dinner conversation.
"Have you worked out how you're going to propose yet?" Aurelia inquired.
Pyrrhus blanched. "No, not yet," he admitted.
"Make sure it's good, because you'll be telling the story for years to come!" Eddard replied.
Cordelia gasped. "Oh, Mother! Tell Pyrrhus the story of how Father proposed to you!"
Aurelia demurred politely. "Perhaps another time, dear." She reached for her glass of wine and finished the last sip.
"But it's so romantic, and it might inspire Pyrrhus!"
Eddard scratched his chin. "Maybe it's time..."
Aurelia snapped at him. "Don't do it, Ned!"
"She ought to know, Aurelia."
"What ought I to know?" Cordelia asked, evidently confused. "You fell in love, and proposed on the ramparts of the keep where you were stationed, under the moonlight!"
"That's... not quite how it happened."
"Your mother and I were in love, but when I proposed... she didn't think she was ready to be married."
"Oh no," muttered Pyrrhus. He had a terrible feeling he knew where this was going.
"Oh, Cordelia, I was young and foolish back then!" Aurelia insisted. "I should have said yes right there!"
Severa asked the question that Pyrrhus dared not. "What was it that finally convinced you to say yes?"
"It wasn't me who convinced her," Eddard admitted.
"It was you." Eddard nodded towards Cordelia, who gasped and fell completely silent, stricken with shock. Aurelia hid her face, and Pyrrhus became very interested in his empty plate. Severa's jaw dropped open wide.
"I... I can't..." Cordelia stood from the table and hurried off.
Aurelia reared upon Eddard. "Ned, I told you she wasn't ready!"
Pyrrhus craned his neck to track her. "Perhaps I should go after her," he decided, and stood up.
"Just a minute, I'd like a word with you," Eddard said, standing as well. "Privately, if you don't mind."
Eddard very nearly dragged Pyrrhus away from the party and into an adjacent hallway. Pyrrhus was expecting a serious lecture about dating Cordelia, so he was very surprised at what the man said next.
"Thank you so much!" he exclaimed, grabbing Pyrrhus's hand and shaking it. "I know Cordelia just marched off in a huff, but the fact is that both today, and in her letters over the last few months, she's been so happy! She was really hung up on the Exalt there for a long while, and... it's just nice to see my baby girl in love with a man who loves her back." Eddard sniffed a bit. Was he crying? This was a new level of awkward. He wasn't even drunk; the man had hardly touched his glass.
"Sir, if you don't mind-"
"Oh no, please call me Ned. Or Dad!" he insisted. "You're the first suitor of Cordelia's I've met that we both like, and I know Aurelia feels the same."
Pyrrhus gently extricated his hand from Eddard's grip. "Sir... Ned," he corrected himself. Pyrrhus sighed. "Listen, I think we need to talk."
Several minutes later, Pyrrhus found Cordelia standing about the upper halls near the castle's sleeping quarters. She was staring at a portrait upon the wall.
Rather than address her directly, Pyrrhus first appraised the painting. "Sir Rutherford of Antim. Held the gate at the Battle of Hammerhelm while his soldiers escaped. Hammerhelm? This portrait must be centuries old."
"It is," Cordelia explained. "Francis is quite the collector."
"Cordelia... your parents both love you very much."
"I know that."
"And they love each other very much too."
He took a deep breath. "So, in the end, what's it matter what brought them together or you into this world? Everything turned out for the best."
"It did," Cordelia agreed. "That's not why I'm upset."
Pyrrhus stood next to her and admired the painting from her distance. "I'm all ears."
Cordelia turned away from the portrait and to Pyrrhus. "It's the story itself. Ever since I was little, I had this idea of a grand romantic gesture my parents made, and I always admired that. And now I learn, after all this time, the portrait I've formed of my parents was a lie."
"Or a half-truth, at least," Pyrrhus supplied. "The inscription on this portrait doesn't mention how Rutherford foolishly led his own men into the ambush at Hammerhelm."
Cordelia's head drooped. "I guess I just miss the story." She gave him a sad smile. "It's stupid, I know."
Pyrrhus thought for a moment. "I have an idea," he said suddenly. "Come with me."
Pyrrhus grabbed her by the wrist and led her through the castle. Truthfully, he had no knowledge of the building's layout, but he could figure it out instinctively.
"Where're you taking me?" Cordelia called, trying to keep up with the hurried footsteps of the tactician in front of her.
"Almost there," Pyrrhus replied, dashing up a set of stairs. He pushed open a door at the top, and they emerged out into the chilly autumn evening. It was the highest tower in the castle, the highest point, and it presented an absolutely astonishing view of the sunset, the town of Brindlow, and the surroundings for miles and miles. There was a place like this at Ylisstol, but the only view that outright beat it was the one from the branches of the Mila Tree. The celebration below lit the town like the coals of a dying fire beneath them, and the cloudless night made the full moon eminently visible, bathing the parapet in a soft bluish glow.
Cordelia smiled. "I've been up here many times. It's a wonderful view. Reminds me of flying on Diomedes." She walked over to the edge and leaned over to look at the town, and took a deep breath. "Thank you, Pyrrhus. I needed some fresh air."
Pyrrhus took a deep breath of his own. His vision was getting a bit fuzzy, his heart pounding in anticipation of what he was about to do. He walked over to her at the edge of the rampart and put his arm around Cordelia, who leaned against him lovingly.
She kept her gaze outward. "Yes?"
He took another deep breath. "Cordelia... I've been thinking..." He trailed off a bit as he reached towards his hip.
She tilted her head back and up to his. "What's wrong?"
Pyrrhus pushed her away gently. "Cordelia... you know that I love you, right?"
"Of course." She gave him a puzzled look.
"Well, what if that story your parents told you... what if it was real?"
"Pyrrhus, I'm not going to wallow in denial." She scoffed lightly at him.
"I don't mean that," Pyrrhus explained. "What I mean is..." he knelt down carefully, drawing the ring from his coin purse. "I know it's not the same keep, but it's close. There's even a full moon." He let out a nervous laugh.
She wasn't saying yes. Pyrrhus instantly began to panic. "Cordelia, if the answer's no, I understand-"
"Wait wait wait!" Cordelia shouted, grabbing his hands to stop him. "I just... I want to remember this moment exactly as it is for the rest of my life."
Pyrrhus let out a single laugh. "Fair enough."
A pair of tears ran down Cordelia's face as she turned all around, gazing over the tower to the town below again. She turned back to Pyrrhus, gazing longingly at his eyes, and gasped when her eyes ran over the ring in his hand.
Pyrrhus had gone to the goldsmith this morning, not the blacksmith, and had a ring specially crafted. It was a simple gold band, for he could not afford dozens of tiny diamonds. But the one stone that was there was no ordinary stone. It was Naga's Tear, the gem given to him by Tiki months earlier. "In battle, I can't always be there to protect you, so maybe this stone can," Pyrrhus explained.
Cordelia had both her hands cupped around her mouth, but pulled them away to speak. "Pyrrhus, you can't-"
"It's mine to give to whom I wish. That's what Tiki said when she gave it to me."
She took several short breaths. Pyrrhus feared for a moment she might be about to swoon, but she kept her footing.
"Okay, I'm ready," Cordelia said.
"Cordelia, will you marry me?" he asked at last.
"Of course!" she shouted instantly, and Pyrrhus stood and wrapped her in his arms, capturing her lips with his, the ring forgotten in his hand.
They stood like that for several seconds, until they were interrupted by a callous voice. "Oh, come on!"
Pyrrhus and Cordelia broke away to face the interloper. "Severa?" they asked in unison.
"It happened again! Gawds, how could you two be so stupid!" And then she was opening the door and leaving.
"'Again?'" Cordelia inquired to nobody in particular.
"She tried to talk me out of proposing to you earlier today, preyed on my pre-proposal jitters."
"Why were you remotely worried?" Cordelia asked. "You had to know I'd say yes."
"I was more concerned about your parents, but I spoke with your father earlier and he was quite eager to give me his blessing." He thought for a moment. "Maybe we should try and catch up with Severa. I must admit, I'm a bit curious why she'd care about you getting married."
"Yes, let's," Cordelia agreed, with more than a hint of malicious intent. And then the two were dashing through the castle, tracking down Severa's flight path through hallways and corridors, ever lower. Eventually, Cordelia deduced that Severa was heading for the stables, and they found the torn remnants of her dress to confirm her hypothesis on the way there.
The couple burst into the stables to find Severa, now wearing a full set of light armor, with sword and shield on her back, climbing atop a horse that was most definitely not hers.
"Severa, come down here!" Pyrrhus shouted. "We need to talk!"
The young woman ignored his demand, and pulled herself over and onto the horse. Pyrrhus managed to grasp her wrist before she could open the gate and gallop out.
"Listen here, miss, you-" Pyrrhus froze. Strapped to her back, her steel shield didn't suit the rest of her gear. It was much larger, designed for a man in full plate. It had clearly been well-used, repaired multiple times, but one hammered-out dent looked unmistakably familiar.
"That... that is my shield," Pyrrhus muttered blankly. The mark was one his shield had sustained several months ago, when he and Kellam had held that bridge against Yen'fay's halberds.
"Ugh, let me go!" Severa shouted, trying to twist herself free from his hand. "You cretin! It's rude to hold a woman's arm like that!"
"Not so fast, young lady," Cordelia began. "You're not my cousin Severa, are you?"
Severa gave an annoyed sigh. "Took you long enough, Mother."
Pyrrhus yanked her down off the horse and into his arms. "Severa! My daughter!"
Her hands momentarily hugged him back before she began struggling furiously. "Yes, I'm your daughter, you ungrateful wretch. I was trying to help you out, and you just ignored all my advice!" She paused for a moment. "Gawds, stop crying! You'll rust my armor!"
Pyrrhus sniffed, not realizing that he'd been crying. Cordelia maneuvered around the now-slightly-agitated horse and wrapped herself around Severa from the other side. "Oh, honey, it's so wonderful to finally meet you!" she cried out.
Hugging his daughter for the very first time, Pyrrhus felt something hard in his hand. It was the ring! Carefully, afraid to let go of Severa lest she bolt like a frightened doe, he shifted his hand and carefully put the engagement ring on Cordelia's finger.
"I love you, Cordelia," Pyrrhus said again.
"I love you too, Pyrrhus," Cordelia replied, elated.
Severa didn't seem to share the love. In fact, she really only had one thing to say on the subject. "Ugh, gag me with a spoon."
A/N: Hey, that didn't take nearly so long as the last one!
I had most of this planned out already by the time I started, as opposed to the last chapter which took me a long time to plot. We get some major payoffs in this chapter, including a few bits that have lain idle for many chapters. That was always going to be the use of Naga's Tear, for example.
We finally get the Severa reveal in this chapter, and I hope it was worth the wait. When I was figuring out how to introduce Severa, I knew I didn't want to do things the way the paralogue did. I thought about the character herself, and I'd already worked out that most of the children were going to be actively searching for the Shepherds. Severa's got the combined brains of both Pyrrhus and Cordelia, so she'd figure out a way to hide in plain sight and maintain a luxurious lifestyle in the meantime. As to why she was trying to stop the proposal, well... I'm not sure if it's clear just yet, but it will be better explained later regardless. As for Morgan, she's a different story. Her introduction will be a little more... abrupt.
This is a minor bit, but some of you might be wondering how Tharja can be so adept at stalking the Avatar and so poor at stalking Gaius here. I contend that Gaius is considerably more sneaky than most versions of the Avatar, and furthermore the Avatar was never really trying to evade Tharja. Pyrrhus in particular, being the awful subtlety bomb that he is, stands out so much that he couldn't avoid Tharja if his life depended on it.
As the title suggests, this is a substory, and it's two chapters long. It's all still "canon" with the Potentia Amoris story, I just like this chapter and the next as a sort of self-contained story all its own, even if some bits and pieces wouldn't make any sense if it were read separately. But also, the next chapter departs significantly from my traditional storytelling style, and this one serves both to set up that chapter, and to anchor it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself! I normally give you a hint of what's coming next chapter, but instead I'm just going to tell you the subtitle.
Tune in next time for Act Two: The Aftermath!