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Written on March 9, 2019 (♓)

Author's Notes: Dycedarg is, in fact, looking at the page of the book of hours for his birth month. Larg is singing a snippet of the real world English folk song "The Cuckoo", which should be appropriate for obvious reasons. The starling is not actually symbolic of anything, although it is one of the birds that sing in autumn.


The war was not over. Even when Dycedarg stood in the midst of a Lesalia about to celebrate six months of peace, no part of him would countenance that absurdity. Trees did not die in winter. Bears did not die in their torpor. If the war was at an end, it had ended in the way that caterpillars end with their confinement, dissolving to jelly and re-arising into new forms.

It was nonetheless surreal to wait for it--to wait for a metamorphosed war in the future and to wait for this abominable party in the present. His surroundings no doubt added to his unease. Larg’s offices at the capital were garishly over-decorated, and it had long irritated him that he should be the one to spend the most time in them. Dust formed around the coral-inlaid icons nobody ever prayed on; a pearl studded inkpot was forever bereft of ink; the light sconces were dripping with fat cherubs and the gold-laced tapestries with battles that never happened. Everything here was so conspicuous in its complete inutility, and Dycedarg--a perpetually useful man--did not like it.

“You should make a show of selling it off--donate to the war orphans out in Fovoham or some such thing--perhaps, set a monastery out west praying for the souls of the martyred dead.”

He’d told him as much before. Bestrald had nodded politely and returned to eating the sweet bun that was occupying his attention. Dycedarg had made a point thereafter not to discuss politics over lunch.

Looking sullenly into the mirror athwart the door, he wondered how he’d make do managing around meals when there was a new war to plan. 

It was with a measured breath and a still heart that he took in the scrambling thud of footfalls approaching the chamber. He did not turn when he saw behind him the image of his youngest brother swing open the chamber door, a pair of giggling maidens fluttering about in the hall somewhere behind him. Ramza very narrowly avoided collision with the marble bust Bestrald had no doubt commissioned lest he wander into the palace one day and forget what he looked like.

“Dycedarg! There’s players in town, and if we don’t have to be here until--”

“What’s the play?” he asked abruptly, still looking into the mirror. Ramza grimaced a little but continued. 

“Mameko’s Juravis Lovers--there’s a double suicide at the end, and they say there’s a wizard in the company to set up the ghosts!” 

Ramza grinned as Dycedarg turned to face him. Alma and Tietra, eyes twinkling like cats, leaned over the door frame imploringly. Somewhere farther back, the former stablemaster’s son stood silent against a wall. All still in sables, the quartet seemed as if they cut a hole into the white labyrinth of the palace behind them.

“It’s in the south plaza, and it’s all going to be done well before vespers. If things are only starting here at sunset, we’ll have plenty of time to make it back. I thought it would be good to actually see a little bit of the city anyway. I haven’t been here since...”

“Aren’t we supposed to be in mourning?” Dycedarg asked flatly, cutting him off again.

Ramza’s face fell, and the girls went silent. It was a supremely terrible thing to say, and Dycedarg knew it. He half-hoped, as soon as the words were spoken, that the boy would make some petulant challenge to him: that he would point out how hypocritical it was to wear black and be solemn until sunset, at which point they must forego outward appearances of grief and make merry with a twelve month old and the assembly of over-gilt and under-perfumed old men surrounding him.

“I’m sorry,” Ramza said meekly instead of making any of the useful points Dycedarg mentally outlined. “I hadn’t forgotten.”

Dycedarg sighed to see his brother grieve himself over what was--after all--quite a minor point of filial impiety on his part. Seeing as how he was amidst Bestrald’s things, he made a very Bestrald decision and opted not to take responsibility for it.

“Ask Zalbag,” he said after a long pause and in as warm a tone as he could muster. “He’s a far better arbiter of day-to-day morality than I.”

The four children sprinted down the hall, scattering like birds as it became apparent there were better fields in which to roost. Dycedarg was once more alone, free to sit or pace or do whatever one did in the cold autumn sunlight while waiting for events one couldn’t hasten.

~~~

By the time somebody else intruded on him, he was at Bestrald’s desk, thumbing through an ornate book of hours--something from a decade or two back when artists drew women thin as weasels and every man, babe, and beast was ensnared by a halo or three.

“Our father had that made, you know,” Ruvelia said by way of making her presence known, interrupting him just as he’d glanced over the prayers for October--bright with red lead vines and foil scorpions. He realized he hadn’t noticed her approach. Looking up, she seemed very different than he recalled her last--although that was to be expected. They hadn’t seen one another in well over a year.

“Your father was a discerning man, keeping his indulgences clapped between vellum sheets,” he said, gesturing about the room. She blinked at him silently, and he remembered himself enough to stand if not to bow.

“I meant no offense, Your Majesty.”

She smiled.

“I will forgive it, Lord Beoulve.” There was a long quiet between them for a moment, and setting down the book, Dycedarg moved over to where she stood. Somewhere in the distance a starling trilled. 

“My condolences, by the way,” she said, looking over both him and the mess of black velvet into which he’d been stuffed.

“My congratulations,” he replied.

She breathed deep, as though she were about to sigh.

“Thank you.”

He supposed this was the way of Lesalia: to let everything be said in silences. Ajora in heaven only knew the senate had boys skulking about every corner lest she speak too freely to the moon and air. He did not, therefore, ask her where the heir apparent was, or how he fared, or what the state of His Majesty, king of the seven realms, might be. He looked at her, and waited for her to speak, trying to stifle even the faintest thought as to how warm she had been in the chill of a Gallione spring some twenty months past.

“I came, by the way, to look for my brother, as these are, after all, his offices,” she said at last. “I presume you have some appointment with him or can direct me to where he might have gone?”

Dycedarg laughed. “I can barely stay on the track of my own brothers, Your Majesty. His Grace has quite eluded me this day.” He frowned a little. “There was much I wished to speak to him about.”

The long suppressed sigh finally came. “There is much I would speak of too, Lord Beoulve.”

He took another dangerous step closer, looking at her with an intensity not at all befitting to either of their stations. He knew that she meant “I would speak of the war or of the senate or of the princess or of the king or of that bitch of a queen mother, and I would speak about them to my empty-headed brother who will doubtlessly speak about them to you.”

She turned her head. The flash of her diadem caught the light. He wanted, much more than he ought, for her to compact that all to a simple “I would speak to you.”

“Rue…”

It was a nickname he ought not have used, and it naturally followed that as he spoke the door should open once again. As though thoughts of empty-headed brothers had some magical sympathy to them, Zalbag appeared suddenly before them in full regalia.

~~~

“Your Majesty.”

Zalbag, of course, bowed almost automatically, much to the Ruvelia’s apparent approval.

He made no commentary as to the circumstances of finding his brother alone in an office that wasn’t his with a woman to whom he wasn’t married who was also the queen. He merely looked at them, almost sheepishly, as though he were waiting for permission from one or the other to speak.

Ruvelia looked at Zalbag for a moment as if there were something she knew better than to say: another pregnant Lesalian silence. When she did speak, it was only to take her leave: “If my brother isn’t here, Lord Beoulve, I suppose I shall leave the two of you to speak.”

There was an acknowledgement that they’d all see one another again shortly--more bowing and titles and all manner of ritual that should be strange for three people who had once ran about the same fields under Igros together. When Zalbag and Dycedarg were finally alone, it almost seemed almost as though they should act as strangers as well.

“Were you looking for Bestrald?” Dycedarg asked laconically. “Everyone seems to be after him this morning.”

Zalbag furrowed his brow. “I was looking for you.”

“In his chambers?”

“Where else would I find you?”

Dycedarg sighed himself now, but it came with a smile.
 
“What do you need, General?”

“Nothing pressing, I suppose,” Zalbag said, ignoring his brother’s ribbing about his title. “I wanted to talk-- to ask if you knew how long we were supposed to put in an appearance.”

“I imagine the only one anybody really cares about appearing is you, and for once you’re not the center of attention. You should really take the opportunity to spend a fête actually enjoying yourself.”

The sigh about the room seemed to be catching, and it was Zalbag’s turn for it.

“Aren’t we supposed to be in mourning?” he asked quietly.

Dycedarg, for the third time that day, felt himself seized with uncharacteristic sentiment. He looked to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” he said to his brother in a quiet but not particularly apologetic tone. “I hadn’t forgotten.”

“I didn’t think you had, although I’m not sure what your thought was letting Ramza go running off to gawk at some players.”

Dycedarg met Zalbag’s gaze--it became apparent that there had been some miscommunications between his conversation with his brother of an hour ago and his conversation with his brother now.  

I let him, then?”

“That’s what Alma said at any rate.”

“I see,” Dycedarg said tersely. He decided almost immediately that the matter could be dropped. Both he and Zalbag had done their moral duty, charitably expecting no treason at the time from their father’s bastards. 

“In any event,” he continued after a moment, “if you’re intent on escaping, I can think of any number of excuses I can give as to why the Savior of Ivalice has better places to be than a child’s birthday celebration. Just stand next to Orlandu and look imposing when somebody gives a speech; after that, drink a glass, eat something, say a polite hello to whomever it is that Bestrald inflicts upon us, and I’ll come up with something before anyone notices you’re gone.”

“I didn’t really think of this as necessitating an ‘escape,’ Dycedarg. It’s merely the sort of situation where you have a better head for protocol than me, and as we don’t have much to do right now other than wait, I thought...”

“What makes you think I have a better head for it than you?” he retorted. “We’re in a world at peace, Zalbag--God only knows how one does anything now--if there’s any protocol to life anymore, you’ve more than earned an exemption from it.”

Zalbag raised an eyebrow as Dycedarg sat back down at Bestrald’s desk. “There are some things nobody’s exempt from.”
 
“Oh, for Ajora’s sake…”

Before he could continue, Dycedarg was cut off yet again. This time, however, it was by a high-pitched shriek that set both brothers on edge before it dissolved into infantine laughter.

~~~

Bestrald Larg, who had been evading his adviser, his sister, and quite possibly anybody else who might require something of him, strode triumphantly into the room holding the heir apparent. Orinus was apparently engaged in a rather vicious assault upon his uncle’s face, and Bestrald subserviently allowed the young princeling to tear at his beard and prod his features for spots where his sharp-nailed hands might find purchase. Zalbag seemed to be doing his utmost to respectfully ignore that when their liege lord turned to them, it was with a baby’s fingers hooked into his smile. Dycedarg made no such effort.

“Do you need assistance, Your Grace?”

He laughed. He then looked idiotically delighted as Orinus laughed himself, loosened his grip on him, and proceeded to slap excitedly at his hair. 

“I think His Majesty has things well under control,” he said in exaggerated tones to the child. 

Dycedarg, who had never actually seen the most recent and longest lived Atkascha prince, stood up once again--slowly this time--and walked over to where they stood. He realized as he did so, that it was with that same measured trepidation of however many minutes prior, when he wondered just how close he might come into Ruvelia’s orbit before it was considered a trespass.

“He’s just come from a trial run of things this morning before we set him to sleep again. He’s been a remarkably patient boy--hasn’t he?” He blew a raspberry in the child’s direction, drawing a new flurry of giggles. “Hasn’t he?”

Zalbag coughed awkwardly. Dycedarg took a deep breath and another step.   

“Is there a reason you brought him to your office, Your Grace?” he asked firmly. “Not that I would begrudge 'His Majesty' in going wherever he sees fit, but this hardly seems a place well suited to his interests.” He nodded his head towards the marble bust near the door, watching as Ornius made a lunge in its direction. He told himself he would eventually have it moved.
 
“We came here looking for you, Dycedarg,” Bestrald replied cheerfully.

“Everyone does.”

Bestrald’s eyes narrowed a little, and Dycedarg reminded himself that--however little he thought of his friend’s capacities as such--they were still co-conspirators. He continued to move forward until both the Duke and Prince were within an easy arm’s reach of him.

“It occurred to me that the two of you hadn’t been introduced,” Bestrald continued. 

The Duke turned the child around and pushed him into Dycedarg’s arms, offering no warning or explanation as to the fact he was doing so. Zalbag took a step back, apparently on the defense lest any babies should be handed to him.

Dycedarg deftly moved the child away from his hair as he grabbed for it, and the prince looked up at him with the shock of a creature receiving its first denial of something it wanted. As Dycedarg bounced him very slightly in his gloved hands, their eyes met. 

As babies are wont to do, Ornius smiled to see a new face looking back at him. Dycedarg reflexively smiled back. The boy writhed but little underneath the weight of the gown into which he’d been fitted--its medallions and layered brocade no doubt being to a practical benefit in keeping a him immobile as he was fawned on by various men of state.

“This is Lord Beoulve,” Bestrald said cooingly to the child after a while. “He’s long been a friend to your mother’s family.”

Dycedarg let every impulsive quip he might make at that die in his brain. He already had ample proofs as to what a weak and artificial thing the paternal bond was, and he could not pretend bitterness that House Larg should not sooner show him the heir with which he'd furnished them. There had been wars to win; there had been successions to manage. It was honestly a strange piece of foolery on Bestrald’s part to feel obligated to let him handle so important a child.

Ornius gave a little exclamatory peep as he tried to tangle his fingers in Dycedarg’s beard. This time, he did not withdraw him. As the blonde, fat-faced toddler made an exploratory scratch at his chin, Dycedarg craned his head to get a better look at him. Realizing that this moment would soon be a forgotten footnote to the day, he tried to take down what details of it he could--to remember the face of a child he may not see again until many years of long work brought them once more together.

Orinus was not, he thought, very much like his mother at all, for all he had her grey eyes. The rest--the sandy hair, the soft angled face, the slightly arched brows--was all something else quite altogether, something immediate and startling.

Dycedarg closed his eyes a moment, wondering if it was as obvious to everyone else as it was to him. 

He recovered himself shortly.

Orinus babbled but a little as Dycedarg gently shook him away from his face and turned to hand him back to Bestrald. Zalbag seemed to tense in apprehension, but was spared the burden of carrying about this king before his time.   

“Well met, Your Highness,” Dycedarg said with a calm joviality as Orinus continued to flail in his direction. The resemblance was unmistakable now. Perhaps, he thought to himself, there was some quality of the blood that only ripened when adulterated. Bestrald, who had likely never seen the youngest heir of House Beoulve, certainly never commented on it.
 
“Well met, Dycedarg,” Bestrald said playfully, making his befuddled nephew wave a farewell. He turned to the boy. “And you may meet him again tonight, if you wish!”

Dycedarg just managed to indicate that Ruvelia was looking for him and that they really should speak later, but such things were difficult to relay to a man dandling a baby. Bestrald merely bowed--perhaps a little imperiously--and turned to leave. He had evidently decided that the only pressing business he and Dycedarg were to have that morning was to pass Orinus about. As he disappeared down the hall, he sang something like a song to the child--humming through the parts where he forgot the words. 

This good bird comes in April
She sings her song in May
In June she changes tune
In July she flies away….

~~~

Dycedarg barely caught anything more before it faded, lost behind the laughter of a child upon whom he had no claim. When he turned to Zalbag, he was taken aback to see his brother’s face near as pale as the marble duke beside which he stood.

“Zalbag…” he began hesitantly, worried that despite his ill aptitude for such things, his brother had somehow pieced everything together. “Are you well?”

The Savior of Ivalice, the fury of the Northern Sky, and the bearer of any number of other doubtlessly unwanted titles, leaned in what seemed a half collapse against the wall.

“You're a skeptic, Dycedarg, aren’t you?” Zalbag said uneasily, eyes turned towards the painted ceiling. 

“I probably am,” Dycedarg replied. “Pray tell what do you think I'm skeptical of.”

“I’ve heard it carried before that ghosts are only borne of morbid thoughts--that a haunted man trains himself up to see the image of the dead in every face he can. Is that so?”

“Zalbag…”

“It’s six months out, Dycedarg,” he said with a melancholy quiet. “I should not see our father in the visage of a child.”

Dycedarg said nothing. He doubtlessly would discover some heartening reassurance later. In the moment, however, he leaned against another wall, doubtlessly turning quite pale himself.


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