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Hríd and Laegjarn did not speak to each other, which was bad.

 

What was worse was that they refused to be in the same room as each other.

 

What was absolutely terrible was that they hated each other.

 

The resistance was mainly from Hríd at first, when Laegjarn had first been summoned into the Order. The prince was still rightfully upset over Gunnthrá’s death by Surtr’s hands, and no amount of apologies or attempts by the Summoner to materialize the wayward spirit of his sister would change that. Still, many encouraged Hríd to grow from the situation and welcome the Muspell princess proper, even Fjorm, who would speak to her on occasion.

 

However, when he let a colorful comment slip about how angry he really was with the Order for just accepting her as one of their own, a comment that he would never let anyone hear, that he said out of pure frustration without noticing people were around, Laegjarn decided to return the favor by sending her own hostility back at him.

 

It was quite the awkward scenario. For a while, the Summoner put them on different squads and sent them out at different times to keep them as far away as possible, but, even then, that didn’t help the situation at all. If anything, it made it worse— Mist showing Hríd the new basket Laegjarn had helped her weave the day prior, Quan casually mentioning that Hríd made for an excellent sparring partner to Laegjarn; little instances of the other person sneaked into their missions, and it got under their skin fast. Whenever they passed each other in the Askrian base, it was like a battle was waging just with their eye contact, and neither would admit to the injuries that would follow, such as “accidental” tripping or “accidentally” letting go of the heaviest door so it would hit the other in the face at full force. There were plenty of attempts at “accidental” stabbings, the majority stopped by either the Summoner or a passerby. The ones that weren’t resulted in needing a cleaned carpet and a medic to patch up the (typically shallow) wounds.

 

Eventually, after a month of this type of bitter, semi-contact, Hríd was about ready to throw Mia off a cliff when she kept going on and on about how she wished Laegjarn wore all white so she could be her sworn rival.

 

He left his mission early that day, fuming, to tell the Summoner that either he goes, or she goes.

 

“They’re out,” Soren said, not looking up from the paperwork he had in his arms front of the Summoner’s quarters, which were currently locked. It seemed the tactician had something to give them, as he sighed in frustration while he thumbed through the sheets. “I swear, this damned…” He let his sentence trail off, and Hríd was grateful for it. Soren was the type of person who was overly-critical, and, ironically, Hríd wasn’t too much of a fan. Outside of Mist and Ike, it seemed most people agreed with him on that.

 

“Do you know when they’ll return?” Hríd asked.

 

Soren shrugged, his eyebrows furrowed as he shifted the bundle of papers in his arms. “No idea. Honestly, I was just going to shove these under the door if they didn’t show up in a few.” He squat down, seemingly ready to do that now.

 

Hríd’s mouth drew into a line, and he resigned. The Summoner was a busy person, he knew, so their schedule was never something anyone could predict. They could be back in one minute, they could be back in seven hours. The only certain thing about them was that they assigned Hríd to missions in the early morning— and he decided that would be the optimal time to discuss his issue.

 

If the Summoner agreed to his terms, he could go on about his day easily. If not, he would be back in Nifl by nightfall.

 

Wishing Soren well with whatever business he had, Hríd retreated to his own quarters across the castle and decided he would rest early. He had no appetite for dinner, and the exhaustion of how much he was on edge lately had been nipping away at his energy. He removed his armor and shoes, and, without thinking much about it, unceremoniously flopped down onto his bed and fell asleep, not even bothering to change into sleep clothes.

 

***

 

What woke him up was the sound of coughing.

 

He ignored it at first, as his bed was rather comfortable, and he wanted to sleep so desperately.

 

But when the coughing only became more violent and loud, the prince begrudgingly rose from his mattress, put on his shoes, and decided he would go take whatever person starting the ruckus to a medic so he could get his possibly last sleep in peace. As he left his quarters, he took mental note of how he was the only person who stayed in this particular wing of the castle, so the person coughing would not be in a room, as they lacked the means to get in one. They would be outside, where he saw it was now late night.

 

When Hríd opened the entrance to the wing he stayed in and found bloodstains in a path heading around the building, he knew he was on the right track. Whoever was sick was most likely in danger, judging by how much fresh blood soaked the dirt, so Hríd quickened his pace and followed its direction. The path wrapped around the building, sticking close to its walls, until a large, overwhelming splattering of blood was on the dirt and wall of a corner. Hríd knew whoever was afflicted had to be here.

 

He quickly approached, ready to assist whoever was behind the corner.

 

And that readiness vanished instantly when he saw that the person in question was Laegjarn, sitting against the wall, illuminated by the moon above to look a sickly pale.

 

The princess was in absolute disarray. Her head was hung slightly, her hair unkept, her armor slightly crooked and covered with blood, whose source seemed to be, judging by the way she was panting and sputtering, her mouth. Of course, this type of gruesome sight was normal on a battlefield, and though this was not one, it was something Hríd was used to… if not for her face.

 

Laegjarn glanced up at him, and he froze.

 

She looked vacant. Her eyes were so tired and her body so uncharacteristically limp that, compared to how uppity she got when they passed each other in the halls, it was as if she didn’t even register he was there in front of her.

 

She was like dying animal waiting to be put to sleep.

 

Still, though, she spoke, not even bothering to wipe the blood dripping from her lips as she did so. “Prince of Nifl,” she regarded him with as much spite as she could muster in the moment, breathing labored and eyes fluttering. “What is it… that you want?” Her eyebrows furrowed as she spoke, like raising her voice to his hearing level was a strenuous task.

 

Hríd didn’t know why, but he couldn’t say anything back. He hated Laegjarn, yes, but seeing her reduced to this— a near-dead mess of a woman, one that actually spoke to him after a month of silence— made his chest tighten with a feeling he couldn’t place.

 

For a brief moment, he said nothing, and only stared. Then he looked away from her face and down to the puddle of blood on the dirt bellow. “I do not want anything. I simply woke because I heard coughing outside and decided to check into it.” He said simply. After a pause, he added in, “Judging by the blood on the ground and how dazed you look, I would assume this is rather painful for you.”

 

He didn’t know why he said something like that. He didn’t want to sympathize with her. Why would he care about how much pain she was or wasn’t in? He should be laughing in her face with glee for how much he hated her, but he couldn’t. He could only clench his fists and have his words tumble timidly from his lips, speaking softly so as not to startle her.

 

He didn't want to sympathize with her, and yet the feeling in his chest grew.

 

Laegjarn closed her eyes, a small smirk spreading on her face like she had snatched a prize from his hands. “I thought this section of the castle was unpopulated, so I came here. And this little cough…? This is nothing...” She breathed, her voice low. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

 

Without even thinking, Hríd raised an eyebrow and challenged her. “I doubt that. You’ve lost more blood than any normal human being should at once, and you’re somehow still conscious.”

 

“Are you taunting me, prince…?” She asked, her smirk still evident on her face.

 

For a second, they were back to normal.

 

Then, Laegjarn’s whole body lurched forward, and she began to cough and spit vehemently, curling in on herself as she did so. Her entire body shook with such force that it was almost frightening, like something would snap in her and she would fall over and die. When Hríd leaned down to try to do something— he had absolutely no idea what, but his body was on autopilot as he began to come toward her— Laegjarn put up a blood covered hand to stop him. “D-Don’t,” she wheezed. “Don’t bother...”

 

After the princess had coughed plenty enough and seemed to calm down, though she looked worse, she was still approachable. Hríd leaned forward slightly. “What happened to you?”

 

Laegjarn’s head rolled as she looked off to the side. “The Rite of Flames. I suppose not even summoned can I escape it.” She smiled in a teasing way that Hríd couldn’t understand. “Of course, I’m fine for use when the Summoner asks of me, but I’ve still had plenty of moments where I’ve had to excuse myself on missions to go throw up my own organs somewhere no one could see. You would think that the spirit of a woman like me would be able to gain some semblance of peace, and yet…”

 

Her voice trailed off. Her eyes were looking up at Hríd, but it was the same as before, where it was as if she wasn’t acknowledging he was there, looking through him. The feeling in his chest returned briefly. It seemed it came up whenever she was suffering, so he darted his eyes away, off to the dirt.

 

“Have you… Have you sent for a medic?” He asked.

 

Laegjarn made a noise in her throat that sounded like an attempt at a laugh. “No, no. These effects are not reversible by something as simple as that... Though I enjoy their presences very much. Mist is quite a gifted basket weaver, isn’t she...? I only helped her a little bit, but she insists I did the work.” she began rambling, and the one-sided conversation Mist had with Hríd about Laegjarn resurfaced in his mind for a second before the princess continued. “I enjoy spending time with those types of girls, the little sisters of the Order... You may think that odd of me, but they make me feel at home, and I so desperately want to return to those days…”

 

A hero summoned could not leave Askr without the Summoner coming along with them. Laegjarn had gone her entire time with the Order not seeing her sister Laevatein, only maintaining contact with her through letters that Sharena would send off and give in secret. Hríd knew these things because he had caught Sharena in the act one time, and she begged him not to tell the Commander or she would get in trouble (Why did he not tell Commander Anna? Surely he hated Laegjarn enough, so why not cut off what made her happy? He would have to think on this later).

 

At least the sister she missed was alive. Hríd’s face fell as he thought of Gunnthrá, and he went to really give Laegjarn a piece of his mind, but before he spoke, she closed her eyes. “I know I can never return to the past and live a normal life with Laevatein ever again, or go home and stay home with her to help her rule…. That’s why I’m jealous of you, prince. Just a bit.”

 

Hríd grimaced. Why was she jealous of him? It sounded like she was mocking him, and it got under his skin faster than he expected. “You do know I could say the same about my eldest sibling, Gunnthrá.”

 

Laegjarn’s eyes remained closed. “I believe I’ve told you on countless occasions I did not wish for that to happen. It was my father’s doing…” Her voice faltered as she began to cough again, and she excused herself to do so. Once she gathered herself again a minute later, she continued, “I am jealous of you because you still have siblings left. Ylgr and Fjorm… The three of you are so unbelievably lucky. You faced hell from my father… and survived it. Laevatein and I had to deal with him our whole lives, and look at us now. I gave myself up in a mindless struggle for power, and Laevatein is just now discovering she’s human, all alone.”

 

She furrowed her eyebrows. “She has no one. I wish she had someone .”

 

“Why are you being so selfless?” Hríd asked curtly, his tone showing more annoyance than he actually felt. In reality, he was just confused. How much could she think about her sister when she was coughing up her own blood?

 

Laegjarn smirked up at him. “I know you would be the same in my situation. If Fjorm was all that was left of Nifl, why would you even care about an illness? Wouldn’t you spend every waking moment thinking about her, wishing you could be home with her?” She asked, and the prince said nothing in reply, though he was definitely mulling over the situation in his mind.

 

“I’m grateful, though, to at least be able to speak to her,” the princess murmured. “If I had never been summoned, I would just be a spirit in the afterlife, and she would never know of my presence. Here, I can talk with her, and she can respond. That joy outweighs anything this ridiculous Rite inflicts me with.”

 

She went silent. She was still breathing, but she went silent, and it was clear to Hríd that she considered their conversation to be done. If he walked away now, he could probably pretend that they were still normal, and that this night never happened, and he didn’t know that Laegjarn was stuck in some endless limbo of pain while she was here with the Summoner.

 

But too much had been said, and Hríd’s chest felt tight at the thought of just leaving her here. Shocking himself, he found he didn’t want to leave her alone. She had mentioned how Laevatein had no one, but the same could be said of herself. She was alone, a summoned princess who could never die unless the Summoner released her, yet she focused on her sister and could care less about her own wellbeing.

 

He didn’t like that. He didn’t know why, but it upset him.

 

“For me,” Hríd found himself saying as he sat down next to Laegjarn, not caring if he ruined his clothes with her blood, “I don’t get the same enjoyment from being in the company of ‘older sister’ types. Camilla has almost crushed me with her bosom on several occasions.”

 

Laegjarn made the same noise as before again, and a smile cracked on her face. “That image is hilarious. Thank you for that.”

 

“Minerva is another one of those types, but she gets close to no one but her own siblings. That, and we’re the same age…”

 

“Oh, but Maria is so adorable… She made me a little charm a week ago, I kept it by my bedside.”

 

“I’m actually older than Hinoka, and she treats everyone the same way, so I don’t think there’s any point in calling her an ‘older sister’ type.”

 

“You’re insulting a princess. That’s bold of you.”

 

Hríd looked over to Laegjarn, who was just inches away from him. Without thinking properly about it, he had carried out a nonthreatening, calm, lighthearted conversation with the woman he had hated more than anything for a straight month, and the result was the princess of Muspell genuinely smiling at him, however hazy that smile may be. “Haven’t I done that to you? It isn’t bold of me if it’s something I’ve come accustomed to, is it?” Hríd asked.

 

“...I suppose you're right.” The princess tilted her head.

 

When he turned his head forward so he could look up at the sky, he felt a weight against his shoulder.

 

Then, light breathing.

 

Laegjarn had fallen asleep on him. She must have exhausted herself with her illness, what with how hard she had been straining herself. In any other circumstance, Hríd would move her, but the small smile on her face anchored him in his spot.

 

For some reason, he didn’t want to ruin it.

Chapter Text

“Hríd, look out!”

 

A lance narrowly missed skewering the prince, its wielder appearing from his blind side and being knocked slightly off target only by a burst of wind— he had no time to look at its source, but he assumed it was from Lewyn, whose tome Forseti often made mincemeat of enemies. However, his attacker was not so easily defeated, and by the time Hríd had fallen back, they had already brought their weapon back up for a second attack.

 

Hríd cursed under his breath and rolled to his right as the lance was thrust forward again. Upon steadying himself, he brought his sword up along with his body to use as much force as he could, clashing against the weak point in enemy’s armor and hoping to break through. The power struggle between them was brief, as the prince was effective in his plan, and his sword pierced through the enemy’s side with little resistance once it had gone through the iron barrier.

 

Before he could remove his sword, however, Hríd was pushed back forcefully onto the ground, and the lance from seconds ago was brought over his head, ready to take his neck. With no weapon to defend himself, Hríd began to push himself out of the way to retreat...

 

Only for Minerva intercept the two, bringing her axe up and cutting through the opposition as if their armor was made of butter.

 

The clang of iron hitting the ground followed by the muted sound of a body meeting the same fate was all Hríd could use to tell if the enemy had been successfully dealt with— Minerva blocked his entire vision from the front. When he looked off to either side, what surprised him was that there was no other forces that either of his remaining teammates, Mia and Lewyn, were fighting. In fact, all focus seemed to have been on Hríd and his mixup.

 

The prince breathed out, “Thank you. I—“

 

Before he could continue, Minerva spun around and thrust her axe in his face, stopping just short of actually slicing him in two. “No, I do not need empty thanks. What I need are explanations,” she scowled. “If Lewyn had not paid attention, like you, you would now be dead, that lance straight through your stomach. Stop this childish behavior at once. If you continue to slack off, I will no longer tolerate you.”

 

Mia rushed forward and helped Hríd off the ground, pouting at Minerva. “Oh, come on. That guy was pretty strong, anyways. They moved around with his sword in ‘em!” She protested, moving her arms around sporadically as if she was trying to imitate the fight that had just happened. When she joined her fists and hit her stomach, she stuck her tongue out playfully.

 

“Everything alright, Hríd?” Lewyn called out. “You’ve been acting weird since you went home early yesterday.”

 

Hríd froze.

 

Yesterday.

 

Yesterday, when he wanted to meet with the Summoner to say Laegjarn should be kicked out of the army, and then proceeded to spend the night comforting her.

 

Yesterday, when she fell asleep on him, and he should have pushed her away, but he didn’t disturb her.

 

Yesterday, when he took legitimate pity on her.

 

That yesterday.

 

If not for the crick in his shoulder from how she slept, he would be able to chalk it up to a bizarre dream.

 

Still, when he saw the princess this morning, as she had eventually woken up and excused herself to return to her own quarters, it was like nothing had never happened. She ignored Hríd, badmouthed him in front of Maria (who warned her that “he’s right there”, but she continued on), and had her hand to her sword hilt as he passed by. He did the same of course, because why would he be any different? One night wouldn’t make him change how he felt— it certainly didn’t change her one bit.

 

...He told himself that, but he found himself replaying the events of the day prior over and over in his head, trying to figure out why he had suddenly had gone sweet on her. Why was it that it made him uncomfortable to see her in pain, and why did he stay by her side? He hated her, he was sure.

 

But still… He kept thinking about Laegjarn, and how her misery was something she had been facing alone.

 

“Hríd?”

 

He was getting caught up in his own head again.

 

It was best to lie about everything. Hríd didn’t want any rumors to start, nor did he want to answer any questions, so he smiled weakly at Lewyn. “...My apologies. I’ve been feeling under the weather lately, and thought I could strongarm through it.”

 

Suddenly, though she had not been invited to join the conversation, Mia joined the conversation.

 

“Yeah, that happens a lot, y’know!” She said, moving back to stand next to Minerva and placing her hand on her armored shoulder, like one would their best friend. The princess shook her off almost immediately, yet that didn’t do a thing to dampen Mia’s smile, as if this was a common occurrence between them. “When I first got here from Tellius with Soren and Oscar, the two of them were sick for a week! We aren’t used to Askr’s germs and stuff.”

 

Minerva raised an eyebrow. “He has been part of the Order for two months, and has been in Askr for nearly the same amount of time. Why would he just start to get sick now?”

 

“Well, the seasons are changing. Maybe their winter germs are different than Nifl’s!”

 

“Stop saying ‘germs’, it’s unsightly.”

 

As both Mia and Minerva bickered with each other, the former doing it for fun and the latter being 100% serious, Hríd looked over to Lewyn, who seemed to be observing the spectacle from a distance, having not stepped closer to the group since Minerva saved him from the enemy’s last attack. He was one of the less confrontational types, always carefree and as laid-back as he could be. Hríd often thought that he should try to be a little more relaxed like he was, but then he would quickly remember Lewyn was really shirking his duties as a prince, and he would regret even considering such things.

 

“Forgive me. Should I take a day’s leave to collect myself?” Hríd asked to the group, though Lewyn was the only one that was listening anymore.

 

The green-haired prince nodded, still keeping his distance. “That would be for the best. I’ll tell the Summoner what your deal is when we head out tomorrow morning. You can head off for now.”

 

With a sigh, Hríd retreated from his mission early.

 

***

 

When he arrived back at the Askrian castle and saw Laegjarn outside his wing once again, Hríd began to turn on his heel to leave. He stopped himself, though, once he saw what she was doing.

 

Laegjarn was crouching on the ground, a washbucket in front of her overflowing with suds, a cloth in her hand that she was desperately scrubbing against the dirtied wall in front of her. By now, the splashes on it were a light brown, but last night it had been pure crimson— it was the corner right before Hríd had run into her.

 

“I thought I should clean this. It would be rude if I didn’t.” Laegjarn explained, startling Hríd, since she hadn’t turned her head to look at him, instead only continuing her work. She sounded calm, like nothing ever happened at this spot, and she was just doing some mundane chore. “I don’t understand why you live in solitude here. It’s inconvenient to me— I had planned to use this place to spew my own blood in peace, but now I may have to go back to just rushing off into a nearby forest.”

 

If that was a joke, it was insanely dark. Laegjarn was in such a bad place last night, Hríd didn’t think she could comment about it so casually.

 

Perhaps that was her way to cope with the situation. He could understand that, then, and looked off to the side, at the high walls of the building they were outside of. “I prefer the quiet— I’ve been used to it for too long, what with how snowfall mutes outside noises.” He tapped his ear, though he remembered after that she wasn’t looking at him, so he continued, “Loud sounds don’t do well with me.”

 

Laegjarn seemed to think on what he said for a moment, scrubbing away at the wall in silence. The suds of the soap on the cloth trailed down her arm and dripped onto the ground below, making the dirt beneath her feet stick to her shoes. It was a strange sight, seeing a princess do work that should be left to a maid, and getting dirty because of it. Maybe things were different in Muspell, and they didn’t have people to do common work for them.

 

That sounded horrible.

 

When Laegjarn dunked the cloth back into the bucket, she tilted her head and mumbled, “I wouldn’t know anything about snowfall. I’ve never experienced such a thing for myself.”

 

“Never?”

 

“Do you believe Muspell would ever be cold enough for that?” She shook the cloth out before putting it back to the wall.

 

The prince recalled the heat that radiated from Muspell from their adventure a few months ago, when they had stopped Surtr. Even though he and the Order had entered Muspell during the time where it was winter in Nifl, the former was so disgustingly warm that it made Hríd’s armor feel like it would melt off.

 

It would probably be impossible for snow there, then. Hríd shrugged. “Fair point.”

 

Laegjarn continued to work in silence. Hríd watched her do so. He didn’t really know how to clean anything that wasn’t his own sword, and there was only one cloth to begin with, so he couldn’t help her. He had the feeling she would push him away if he did, anyways.

 

When a majority of the stain was cleaned away after a short moment, Laegjarn spoke again, “...Thank you for keeping me company last night. I couldn’t outright say it this morning, when I saw you, because…” She made a sound in her throat that sounded like a laugh again. “Well, outside of the fact that it’s quite amusing to watch you get worked up…”

 

Hríd was about to say something then, snap back at her that he didn’t “get worked up”, but she quickly continued. “You’re the only one who knows the true effects of my sickness. Up until now, I’ve hidden it from others, because I’m worried about what the consequences may be. So…” Her voice went low, and if the tonal shift wasn’t obvious before, it was now. “Do not tell the Summoner about this. I’ll do whatever you ask of me if it means you won’t tell a single soul—”

 

Now that made him more mad than the offhand comment from before. Hríd stepped forward, anger on his face plain as day. “If you think I would go as low as to try and get something out of you,” he hissed, “you’re wrong. I will not tell anyone what happened, so do not presume anything.”

 

The fact that she thought of him so lowly that she thought she had to tell him to keep a secret was an insult to not only his character, but also his pride.

 

A silence. Then, Laegjarn dropped the washcloth in the bucket, turned her body slightly to get a good look at Hríd, and narrowed her eyes. “...Prince of Nifl, I earnestly believed you hated me enough to spread this information like wildfire.” She said, suspiciously, like she still was waiting for him to run off and tell the nearest person the truth.

 

“That would be inhumane,” he scoffed.

 

Then paused.

 

Then scowled.

 

“I am still not fond of you, however. And I do not ‘get worked up’.” He mumbled the last part.

 

Laegjarn nodded in a way that showed acknowledgement, though he wondered much she actually took his word to heart. “I’m sure you don’t. And that’s understandable; I would never have expected you to suddenly change your whole stance on me.”

 

Of course it wouldn’t! It wouldn’t change one bit, Hríd told himself. He still hated her, she still hated him, and the world still spun. They simply had this one moment, and it was done now, over with. They never had to speak to each other again.

 

Yet, every time he remembered how much she was suffering, it made his chest hurt. Alone, unbearably sick, with no one to call family by her side. When he put himself in her shoes like she had told him to do, it was a truly miserable existence.

 

It was a terrible thing to sympathize with the enemy. It opened you up to all sorts of problems.

 

But right now, in the order, Laegjarn was technically his ally. Whether he liked it or not, he had to look out for her.

 

And he did feel bad for her, even if it felt awful to admit.

 

“...T-Though…” He started under his breath, and when Laegjarn showed no sign of receptiveness, he spoke a bit louder. “If you have need of me…”

 

Laegjarn stared at him blankly, like she was waiting for him to say something important.

 

Or to get to the point.

 

Hríd looked away from her, shifting in his spot. He couldn’t believe what he was going to say, but he made himself say it anyways. “During your time of illness, and no other… I am available.”

 

When Laegjarn didn’t say anything, he felt his face begin to burn hot with embarrassment.

 

“Since I am the only one that knows of your condition! I-In case you need something while you’re unwell! And because this is a secluded area! Those are the reasons why I say that, and nothing else!” He clarified, stumbling over his words, the excuses for himself that he kept on the backburner. “I-I would not be so petty as to deny you asylum here!”

 

Laegjarn’s face remained neutral for another moment. Then, she stood from the ground and straightened herself.

 

As she met eyes with the shorter prince, a devilish smile spread across her face. “Of course.” She nodded, but this time, with her expression, her confirmation took on a whole new meaning.

 

She looked like she had just decided to do something sinister in her head, like Hríd had just made a fatal mistake that she would manipulate for the rest of his days.

 

Oh, he was probably going to regret this.

 

Hríd glared back at her as best as he could, but it was hard to match up to someone who towered over him, especially when backed into a metaphorical corner.

 

He narrowed his eyes. “I will take back my offer if you grin like that.”

 

“My apologies, prince.” Laegjarn’s grin didn’t fade as she picked up the bucket from the ground, and Hríd just now noticed that the wall was spotless. He had been too busy focusing on her… The way that sounded made him shake his head in disgust.

 

She didn’t wave him goodbye as she left, but as she walked, she began humming to herself in a way that was so over the top and sweet that it was clear she was doing it to tease him.

 

Hríd stood anchored, fed up, red faced, watching her leave. Before she was completely out of his sight, he cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “I will not accept an apology that is not genuine, either!”

Chapter Text

Weeks passed, and Laegjarn had only come to rely on Hríd twice since his proposal. The first time was a few days after he had offered help, where she limped to his quarters and asked if he could fetch her some water. The second was a three weeks later, when her coughing had gotten so loud that Hríd rushed her inside his wing to muffle her somewhat. Other than that, Laegjarn simply used the area Hríd stayed in as a hiding place for herself, and didn’t disturb him when she didn’t have to.

 

Since that night, she seemed better. There were a few mornings where she looked pale, a few where she was cranky, and a few where it seemed all she wanted to do was take things slow, but they were spaced out so well that no one caught onto her. While others were around, she was the perfect picture of health.

 

Hríd watched from a distance when the opportunity was available. He never sought Laegjarn out or visited her quarters, instead resuming his life like usual. The two still acted coldly to each other when there were people present, but when the rare occasion came by that they were alone together, they would exchange meaningless words briefly, when Laegjarn could speak. She liked to ramble on about Laevatein when the opportunity presented itself, or talk about the mission she had gone on that day, but she never spoke of her own being, or Hríd’s, for that matter. He couldn’t tell if she didn’t just because she would badmouth him or because she just didn’t know what to say. Either way, he was silently grateful.

 

As a result of the “resolved” conflict between the two, the prince’s mind was cleared, and he was back on track to how he was before Laegjarn had even arrived in the Order. He was calm once more, at peace with himself. Minerva never had to confront him about his lack of focus again— in fact, she offhandedly mentioned she was quite pleased with how he got his act together soon after he returned to his daily missions.

 

All was well for both parties.

 

Until about a full two months after their agreement.

 

Hríd had come home late that day, the evening sun already setting as he had walked in the castle with the rest of his team. He said his goodbyes, took the youngest of the group back to her room to make sure she didn’t get lost, and then decided he would retire without dinner. He was fairly certain he still had leftover snacks in his room tucked away that Mist had baked a few days prior, so if he really got hungry, he could eat that.

 

He exited the main hub of the castle and headed to his wing, which was only a short distance away, the two buildings separated by an open area.

 

It was at that point he noticed that the door leading into his wing was slightly ajar. With a nod to himself, he acknowledged that Laegjarn was probably inside, so he hurried in.

 

What was odd was that the building was quiet. Not to imply Laegjarn was noisy, but rather that the hallway carried noise well. It was narrow, but it was tall and slightly curved, so sounds that came from the farthest end would bounce off the walls and be audible from the entrance. Hríd would admit he didn’t like that aspect of living in this area, but it was the only place that he could find in the castle that was separate and deserted at the same time. Apparently, Alfonse had said, the building was used to house guests, but most didn’t like how cold it would get, so they never really used it, at least not in his lifetime.

 

That’s right, it was cold in here. Laegjarn would often complain about that, too. She wasn’t good with the cold. Her coughs would get more pronounced with the chill that would come over her.

 

So why was it so quiet?

 

Hríd quickened his pace and ran past rows of empty rooms until he saw the door to his quarters at the end of the hallway, and his stomach sank.

 

Laegjarn was laying on the floor, and there was blood everywhere. On his door, on the tile beneath her, on her armor, on her cloak, on her lips, on her hands, everywhere he looked was a burning red. It was so dramatic that it looked almost staged; like any second now, she would get up and laugh at him for getting so worried. But her eyes were closed, her brows knit together in pain, and he knew that even if she was crude toward him, she would never joke like this.

 

Hríd felt the breath in his throat catch as knelt—  fell, really— to the ground. He didn’t care about the fact that he was ruining his clothes, he could easily get replacements. Feeling the blood beneath him soak in, he quickly put his fingers to Laegjarn’s neck and waited for a sign of life. (Could she die again when she was already dead? He didn’t want to know. He refused to find out.)

 

After few seconds of silence that felt like an eternity, the faintest thump of a heartbeat surfaced underneath his fingertips, and Hríd let out the biggest sigh he had ever had in his life. Thankfully, he wouldn’t be figuring out her mortality today.

 

He stood up from the ground, unlocked the door to his room, then stared at Laegjarn at his feet. He would definitely have to carry her inside.

 

After debating in his head how he would accomplish this task, he decided that it would be best if he first took off his armor and his sword, so he could carry more weight than what he was used to. Hríd practically flung the pieces off of him, tossing them into the corner of the hallway not caring about the noise it made, and when he was just in his plain clothing, he scooped the princess up. One arm was wrapped right under her shoulders, while the other wrapped under her knees.

 

Briefly, he remembered that Fjorm had told him that the position he had Laegjarn in now was called the “princess carry”, which she then demonstrated by carrying Sharena in her arms with ease. For a second, he thought about how applicable it was for the situation, but then he shook the thought away. Why was he thinking of something so unneeded now—

 

A hand clasped his shirt.

 

Laegjarn was conscious. Her eyes were barely open, and her mouth was contorted in pain, but she was conscious.

 

“P-Prince of Nifl…” she breathed, her voice hoarse. It was so small that if he was listening to anyone 30 feet away talking at normal level, they would still be louder than her. “I-It’s about time you… returned…”

 

Hríd glared at her. “I was out late. How long were you there for?”

 

“I… I don’t know. Is the sun still out right now?”

 

“It’s just about set.”

 

Laegjarn smiled for a moment before coughing into her free hand. “Hmn… Well, I came here right before dinner…” She sputtered. “B-But I cannot remember much else.”

 

Hríd’s chest ached, and he rushed forward, his shoes in her blood leaving tracks in the carpet of his room. “Oh, gods. You were out there for that long?”

 

She moved her head forward just a little bit, as if to nod. “Y-You’re terrible.”

 

“Quiet.” He huffed, because if she went on any further, he knew he would really start to feel like what she was saying he was. Closing his door with a kick from the back of his foot, the prince overlooked everything in his room to determine what he could do next.

 

The most pressing matter was to set her down somewhere, but there wasn’t much furniture in his room that he could use to help himself. A chair would be fine for a moment, but it might not be comfortable for her in the long term, and she would definitely track blood on his bed  (that he still needed to sleep in) if she was set there… Now that he thought about it more, maybe the first matter was to get her out of her dirited armor. At least that way, she could rest comfortably, and he could control where most of the blood went. In his head, he made a note that when she was better, he would have to ask her to teach him how to clean.

 

Hríd put her down on his chair, grabbed his wastepaper bin to leave at her side in case things got as ugly as they did outside, and crouched down in front of her legs.

 

One would think that in dire times like this, Laegjarn would know to conserve her energy, but she was not that simple. Instead, she used all of her strength to grin. “Oh, my. Y-You haven’t even taken me out yet, prince. I-I didn’t know men of Nifl… were so bold.”

 

“I hate you,” Hríd said immediately, his hands going to her cloak and undoing its clasp. “I truly hate you so much.”

 

Nothing was said between the two for a while, the only noise in the room being Laegjarn’s heavy breathing, her occasional coughing, and the sound of armor unclasping and falling to the ground. Admittedly, Muspell’s armor was, quite literally, other-worldly, and so Hríd struggled with taking some parts of it off. Her crown, elbow pads, gauntlets were easy, but he had a hard time with everything under her cuisses. It also went without saying that he did not have the courage to remove her breastplate, much less go near it, which made her attempt to laugh.

 

“I-I can do that myself.” Laegjarn insisted, feebly reaching for the clasp on her back once it was the only thing left on her.

 

While she did so, Hríd turned away and went up to his armoire, trying to see if he had any clothes she could use. Obviously, she wouldn’t be taking off any of her own, but her weakness to the cold made him sure she wouldn’t be warm enough in due time. He held up one of his shirts and studied it. “Would you be alright with this?” He asked, not looking at Laegjarn. “It’s made specifically to protect the wearer from the cold.”

 

“...Probably...” She mumbled, sounding neither happy nor upset about the situation. Hríd waited until he heard her armor fall to the floor before turning around and thrusting the outfit into her hands, his eyes closed.

 

“I-I’m not in the nude, y-you know.” She said, her hands brushing over his as she took it from him. He didn’t respond until she eventually sighed and said, “Done…”

 

Opening his eyes, he had to admit that it was odd.

 

Used to the darker colors of her armor, seeing Laegjarn in a pure white shirt (that was long on him, and therefore even longer on her) was a strange sight, to say the least. It seemed she didn’t know how she felt about it either, pulling at the sleeves weakly as she tried to figure out whether she liked the look or not.

 

Still, it wasn’t entirely bad.

 

She looked nice, the prince found himself thinking without warning.

 

His eyebrows raised at that. An intrusive thought of that caliber was entirely unnecessary, and when the princess’s eyes met with his, he looked off to the side. “W-We’re done here. Can you stand at all?”

 

“I-If I can be honest? ...I can’t feel my legs.”

 

“Oh, good.” He went to pick her up.

 

***

 

For the next hour or so, Laegjarn laid on Hríd’s bed, her top half of her body propped up by a few pillows. When she wasn’t coughing up a storm, she was completely silent.

 

It was beyond unnerving. The prince was standing nearby, attempting to read a book that he had kept in his room to look at in his free time, but he hadn’t turned a single page yet. Usually, she would speak, and with how late in the night it was now, he should have at least 40 new facts about Laevatein underneath his belt. Why was it different now? Was she really in so much pain that she couldn’t even muster up the strength to talk about the one thing that kept her happy in this world?

 

Eventually, Hríd found himself closing the book and tossing it on the top of his armoire, frustrated. “If you’re going to suffer this much, perhaps we really should send for a medic.” He huffed.

 

Laegjarn shook her head, but didn’t say anything. She fiddled with the sleeves of her (really his) shirt for what was probably the twentieth time that hour, making sure that her palms were enveloped in the warmth of the fabric.

 

He continued, “I know they cannot cure you, but surely they could at least get rid of some of the effects of the Rite temporarily. I could call Mist to help.”

 

Still, she shook her head.

 

“But—!”

 

“Prince of Nifl.” She choked out in a warning tone— a final warning that he should drop the conversation now, lest he wanted to get into an altercation with a sick woman. “You told m-me you would not tell anyone.”

 

Hríd clenched his teeth. He realized he was stepping over the boundaries she had with him, but there was a part of him that just didn’t care anymore. “I did, yes, but telling someone who could help you would be better than having you suffer so complacently!” He found himself yelling; an extremely unusual occurrence, and while it should have been a clear sign that he needed to regain a level head, he was too upset to care. “How selfish can you possibly be?!”

 

If Laegjarn was startled by this change in attitude, she didn’t show it. Instead, she only stared at him with half-lidded eyes.“Why do you care…?” She asked weakly.

 

“I…” He furrowed his brows.

 

That was a good question.

 

That was a really, really good question, and he had no idea what answer to give. If he really hated her, he would never have let her rely on him, no matter how much sympathy he may have felt. But he had let her inside his room, gave her his clothes, and put her on his bed all of his own free will. That wasn’t hate, and it was far too strong to be sympathy. What that feeling was, though, he had no idea, no matter how much his mind raced to name it.

 

So Hríd shook his head. “I… I don’t know…! I don’t know, but…!” He was scrambling now, trying to explain himself, but it was like trying to speak a foreign language he had only heard once before; he just couldn’t do it.

 

Laegjarn put a hand to her head, covering her eyes, and fell silent. After realizing he wouldn’t be able to figure out what he wanted to say, Hríd did the same, turning away from her.

 

Then, a whisper.

 

“...You’re right.”

 

A pause.

 

“Y-You’re right. I’m being selfish.”

 

Laegjarn’s voice was weak, so much so that it seemed like she was deliberately trying to make it so Hríd couldn’t hear. When he turned around, he saw she had brought up both of her hands to cover her face, and propped her legs up so her knees pushed into her chest. “I came here… knowing that it would be hard to be accepted b-by the enemy so easily… and that I would be suffering outside of battle. But still, I sprung at the o-opportunity to be part of the Order, because…”

 

Her voice broke. “I-It’s so lonely, otherwise…”

 

The entire world tilted at that second, like they had just slipped into an alternate dimension.

 

Never in all the time that Hríd knew Laegjarn had he heard her sound so distraught. Now would be the time to try to make amends, but when he tried to say something, all that came out was a choked garble of noise. Like trying to scream while being drowned.

 

Laegjarn didn’t acknowledge him, and just kept talking, her voice wavering. “I missed Laevatein more than… anything in the world. I’d withstand all the things that any god could throw at me i-if it meant I could speak with her just one time, that’s how far I would go for her... But it’s not only that,” she breathed out, taking a moment to muffle her sudden onslaught of coughing before she continued. “I wanted to… Have a normal life. Here, I c-can do what I wish, say and act as I wish, and befriend who I wish. It was never like that back home. It could never be like that… Not while he was around.”

 

The name of the king didn’t have to be brought up for her point to get across— it was said with enough contempt. Hríd knew Surtr was a ruthless king, and surely he didn’t treat his daughters well, but he hadn’t expected that he would have controlled their lives as much as Laegjarn was saying. He thought back to when they met outside a while back, when she had said she envied Hríd’s family.

 

The three of you are so unbelievably lucky. You faced hell from my father… and survived it. Laevatein and I had to deal with him our whole lives, and look at us now.

 

The “look at us now” line echoed in his head, seeing Laegjarn’s curled up figure.

 

“But of course,” she continued on, “I’m here, and still all I c-can do is… Cause problems for others. Because I’m being selfish by wanting to stay, and hiding what the Rite has done to me… because I know I’ll be sent away when the Summoner sees how worn I am.”

 

That was why she was so insistent about not telling anyone.

 

Hríd had seen heroes being sent home before from the sidelines, just a passing glance at the occurrence as he went about his own business, but he had never learned of why any of them left. The thought of her being sent home because of her condition never once crossed his mind. Now that he realized it was a legitimate problem, he was grateful he wasn’t so headstrong before.

 

Laegjarn removed her hands from her face after a pause, but, confusing Hríd, she wasn’t crying. There were no tears in her eyes like her voice led him to believe; rather, her entire face was devoid of any emotion, like she had just turned it off.  

 

A chill ran down the prince’s back. When she mentioned that she could “act as she wished” in the Order, did that mean she had to do the opposite in Muspell— bury all semblance of feeling, like she was doing now?

 

“A grown woman... on behavioral par with a toddler.” She mumbled. Then she looked up to Hríd from where he stood, and, rather than comment on how utterly shocked he looked, she simply said, “I apologize for inconveniencing you.”

 

Hríd stepped forward to protest, but he could hardly figure out what to say other than a broken-up, nervous, “N-No, I…”

 

She closed her eyes in defeat. It was almost mechanical, like how a maid knew exactly when her master had no need of her anymore and excused herself from the room. In this case, it was her coming to drown out everything she had just said because she knew she had said more than what she should have.

 

Something about her easy resignation, despite the fact she had just poured her heart out to him, was just too much.

 

“You were right. I shouldn’t be so—”

 

He hated it.

 

Without even thinking, Hríd rushed to her bedside and wrapped her in his arms, silencing her before she could continue any further. It would kill him if he kept listening to her go on like this. She shouldn’t have to apologize, or try to pretend like she was fine. It wasn’t right, and he knew it; it was his fault in the first place.

 

“Please. Just… Just stop,” he breathed, his voice a whisper. “I didn’t know any better and I spoke out of line. You don’t need to say you’re sorry for anything.”

 

She went silent like he had wanted, but slowly, her hands reached up to where he held her, holding him back gently. “...You know, your ridiculous kindness is part of the reason I’m like this.” She mumbled, and smugness returned to her voice. Whether it was real or fake, he couldn’t tell.

 

He shook his head. “That’s fine, then. You can be selfish.”

 

Laegjarn seemed to think on that statement for a second, then squeezed his arms slightly. “...Thank you.”



Chapter Text

Felicia looked over the blood-covered room in absolute horror. “O-Oh my goodness… What happened in here, Prince Hríd?!”

 

Anyone would agree that the prince’s quarters were in absolute disarray. The bloodied tracks on the floor, blooming stains on his chair, dirited entrance, disheveled bed, the messy heap of clothes thrown into a corner… Really, the only thing still clean about the place was his window, which remained as spotless as ever, since he hadn’t touched it upon moving in. Everything else, though, was so unkempt that it would probably be embarrassing to him had all of this been done freely, by his own will.

 

Instead of getting worked up, however, Hríd turned to the maid by his side and recited the lie he had mulled over in his head prior to fetching her. “I was injured terribly yesterday,” he explained. “I didn’t want to alarm anyone, so I kept to myself, but upon getting here, well…” He let his voice trail off to make it seem like the rest was obvious, but he was really just doing it because he didn’t know what else to say.

 

Lately, it seemed he was lying a lot more than he was used to, but since every lie he had told was for covering up Laegjarn’s condition, he thought the good (protecting someone’s secret) and bad (lying) canceled each other out to create a completely neutral statement. It was justification that was beyond stupid, he knew deep down, but he didn’t care.

 

Felicia bent down to examine the carpet up close, a frown on her face. “You didn’t go to get help at all…? B-Because this is… Wow. This is kind of… a-a lot.”

 

He paused. That was a good point...

 

He fell quiet for a moment, trying to muster up some kind of feasible excuse, and his eyes landed on his desk, where his sword lay resting atop of it. “I…” he started, pointing over to his weapon. “I heal automatically over time by being near my legendary sword. I’ve recovered fully, now that it’s morning.” It was the best he could up with under the time limit, and it was ridiculously impractical.

 

He stared at Felicia seriously, feeling like a complete idiot, if not a complete fraud. There was no way she wouldn’t question him now.

 

...But by the gods, either she was just that much of a dreamer, or he was just that good at lying. She marveled at his tale, stars in her eyes. “Amazing! I had no idea!”

 

Stunned by her utter cluelessness, Hríd rolled with it.

 

All he needed to do now was make sure his teammates knew nothing about this, so none of them would be able to say that he was actually perfectly fine coming home. Sure, he could have been secretly wounded, but this was far to big of a scene to be something someone could successfully hide. They’d call him out immediately if they knew.

 

“If possible,” Heíd looked her in the eye, thinking for a second to word his next sentence right, “I’d prefer if you didn’t tell anyone about this. If word got out that I was so gravely wounded... It would cause my teammates to feel bad that they couldn’t protect me proper.”

 

When she was silent, Hríd decided he should try to rope her in with someone close to her who also happened to be on his mission, “It breaks Lady Elise’s heart, really.”

 

It was the right move. Felicia quickly shot up from the carpet, shaking her head vehemently. “N-No, no, I’m sure she won’t be like that!” She insisted, her voice cracking, and she began to push the Prince out of his room so she could get to work. Had she been more flustered, she almost wouldn’t have noticed him nearly knocked into her cleaning supplies as she tried to get him out. “I-I’ll have this cleaned up by the end of the day, and I won’t let out a p-peep, I promise you that, Prince Hríd! Leave it to me!”

 

The doors slammed shut behind him.

 

With that, Hríd left, confident.

 

Once Felicia was done cleaning up all tracks of the previous night, or at the very least, obscuring them somewhat thanks to her lack of actual maid skills, he could be at peace. He had worried all night about how he would fix his living space, but he was lucky enough to stumble across Felicia in her free time this morning. It came as a huge relief, since just cleaning his door sounded like an impossibly frustrating task. He would never understand how Laegjarn could do such common work.

 

Now that his mind was on her…

 

“...How is the princess holding up?” He found himself asking to no one as he walked into the main hub of the castle.

 

After their moment the previous night, Laegjarn had fallen asleep, and Hríd, out of respect for her, took to his chair and nodded off similarly. When he awoke, however, she was gone, as was her armor and accessories, and all that remained was the (slightly bloodied) shirt he had lent her, folded neatly on his pillow. If she had enough strength to leave, he assumed that meant she felt somewhat better. But was she well enough to go into battle? He wasn’t scheduled for any mission today, but he couldn’t say the same for her. It would be best for her not to push herself.

 

A pang of hunger deterred his thoughts for a moment, and Hríd realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch the day prior; by now, a full 24 hours since his last meal. He was so caught up worrying about Laegjarn he hadn’t even remembered to take care of himself.

 

He weighed the decisions; should he do what he needed to do first, or try to figure out the princess’s whereabouts?

 

If he put her before his own wellbeing even when she may be fine, she would probably never let him hear the end of it. With a tired sigh, Hríd decided it would be best to get food first, and figure out the rest later.

 

***

 

Entering the dining hall to grab something to eat, Hríd noticed there was a distinct the lack of heroes present. Normally, there were at least a decent amount of them either eating or chatting, but the tables now were mostly vacant, and those present were spread far out from each other, quiet.

 

“Everyone’s out at a big raid, apparently,” Mist explained from the kitchen nearby the entrance as Hríd walked in. She wiped her hands on her apron, then came forward and handed him an assorted plate of food over the counter that separated the hall from her workspace.

 

Askr’s agriculture was much different than Nifl’s, so Hríd couldn’t name anything on the plate, but he noted that there was a large amount of green plants on it— usually, they tasted bland, but with Mist’s eye, they would probably be exploding with flavor. When he looked up at her to thank her, she was already far back inside, busy chopping up something purple on a cutting board, “I guess the Summoner’s got something big planned!”

 

It was then that Hríd noticed Gray, who had the expression of a man that got stuck with kitchen duties against his will, which was probably the case. It seemed he was currently trying to do the least difficult task possible— he looked up from the dough he was kneading on the table next to Mist with a defeated frown. “Wait, really?! Aw, man, I could have been doing something fun today.” He huffed.

 

Hríd would probably agree that going out to battle beat cooking any day, especially since he’d never cooked before and was confident in his fighting skills. “It seems like the majority of heroes are missing.” He commented, looking off to the side to take a glance at the few left behind. There didn’t seem to be a commonality among any of them; Ayra, Innes, Lilina, and Roderick, to name a few, were all completely different people, and talented ones at that, so the situation was puzzling.

 

He wondered about Laegjarn again. He was doing that a lot, recently. “Do you know who exactly was sent out?”

 

“Well, let’s see…” Mist began to recite a list as she cut away, looking down at her work. “Ike, Soren, Nephenee, Oscar, and Princess Elincia, too… And Miciah, and Sothe… And Mia, too, and Oliver, and the apostle, plus Titania, and Zelgius, and…” When her sentence trailed off, he realized she had named everyone she knew from her own realm, sans herself.

 

It seemed that so did she, and she slammed her knife down, pouting. “Wait. Am I the only one from Tellius that they left behind?! That’s not fair!”

 

When Hríd looked over to Gray for his input, he simply shrugged. “I dunno about anyone from where I’m from, ‘cept Tobin. He left pretty early, so I just said goodbye to him and fell back asleep.” He began to knead the dough in his hands harder, frustrated now. “Damn, he should have invited me!”

 

It seemed that he would need to ask them to be more specific if he wanted to get anywhere. Swallowing some of his pride, he asked them, “Do either of you know if the princess of Muspell was sent out today?”

 

A silence. Both of them froze, like someone just died in the other room.

 

After a beat, Mist looked up at him, disappointed. “I know you don’t like Laeg, but you don’t have to go looking to get a fight out of her.”

 

On one hand, Hríd was grateful that his inquiry was not seen as suspicious. On the other, he felt strange about her presuming he had wanted to start a fight. It was rather rude of her to think he would be so low. To begin with, their public relationship was always ‘avoiding each other and only attacking on the off chance that they came in contact’, and he was never one to go out of his way to cause problems, anyways.

 

(Also, calling her “Laeg”...? What a childish nickname.)

 

It was probably Hríd’s pride as a knight speaking when he tried to deny that a petty fight with her was his purpose. “No, that’s not it—“

 

“Oh, so she issued a challenge to you, then!” Gray grinned, cutting him off. He seemed excited, like he was itching to see a fight. “I’ll put some gold down on her kicking you around. Mist?”

 

The young girl put a finger to her lips for a second, then looked over to Gray with a pointed finger. “Well, I’ve healed him a lot more than I’ve healed her, so…”

 

Enough was enough. “I’m not looking to fight!” Hríd stopped the two of them, his voice a bit louder than usual so they would pipe down and listen to him. This was getting ridiculous now— He had just asked a simple question, and now he was being insulted without any restraint, right in front of him! His eyes went cold as he finally completed his thought, “...I’d just like to know where she is.”

 

Gray raised an eyebrow. “...Why? Not my place to ask, I know, but I’m curious. More entertaining than makin’ bread, at least.”

 

The prince froze.

 

Oh.

 

Hríd hadn’t prepared for that.

 

One would think he would have, but he was so focused on getting them to stop disparaging his name that he’d put himself in a corner.

 

The prince’s eyes began to wander. “T-That’s because… I…”

 

He was definitely done for. No lie in the world would be able to explain this one. In everyone else’s eyes, he and the princess were at odds with each other. He shouldn’t be seeking her out, much less bringing her up to begin with. He couldn’t come up with an excuse that would actually work, and by now, Mist and Gray were staring at him long enough to make it clear they were getting suspicious.

 

A familiar armored hand placed itself on his shoulder, and Hríd’s blood ran cold.

 

“It’s because I really did issue a challenge to the little prince of Nifl.”

 

There was no need to look over to who it belonged to to confirm her identity; the teasing tone of her voice was plenty enough.

 

Laegjarn.

 

Sure enough, the green-haired leaned forward from his right side to smile at him, a closed-mouth, tight smile that could not be any more hostile than it already was. “I suppose he got too scared, though, and wanted to back down. Am I correct?” She asked, squeezing his shoulder tightly in a play along or I will not hesitate to kill you way.

 

Before he could say anything back, Mist rushed forward with a plate full of food (that Hríd couldn’t recognize either, it was something red and yellow and steaming, and almost reminded him of Muspell’s lava), a smile on her face. Hríd recalled the two had a friendly relationship, but seeing her bubble with joy at Laegjarn’s appearance almost made him feel a little jealous. Ylgr was an exception; other than her, most children tended not to get to close to him. “Laeg! Today’s menu is your favorite!”

 

Laegjarn let go of him to accept her food graciously, and he rubbed his shoulder subconsciously. He was lucky she didn’t break anything— she definitely had enough power to. “Thank you, Mist,” she beamed. Then she turned to look at Hríd, smile still holding him hostage. “I think I’ll go have this now. Prince, how about you join me so we can discuss your lack of a spine?”

 

He had to play along for the sake of appearances, so he agreed to eat with her under his breath, but now he was actually ready to fight her over that little comment.

 

The two walked to an empty table in the corner of the hall, a location both far away from others present and out of their earshot. For now, those that were present paid attention to themselves only, but Hríd was sure that would change if Laegjarn willed it to. She was far more mischievous than he was comfortable with, and she seemed to know he hated that. Being around her in private was a trip, but being around her in public was like toting around a ticking time bomb.

 

But still, he sat across from Laegjarn, stone faced as ever, opting to not touch his food to first address the metaphorical manakete in the room. “...Judging by how you’re talking and walking on your own, I’m going to assume you’re feeling better.” He gestured to her.

 

She nodded. “Have you ever had a time where you had a terrible stomach ache, so you vomit, and you feel better after? Last night’s large episode seemed to be the equivalent. I’m still in a bit of pain, mind you, but it’s nothing, really.” The princess waved her hand dismissively. It was true that she did look better; color had returned to her cheeks, her eyes were brighter, and she was sitting perfectly straight rather than being hunched over in pain. But before relief could wash over Hríd, however, she leaned forward, her voice a whisper. “About last night… You should probably forget most of what I said.”

 

Almost immediately, he shook his head. There was no way he could forget— every word she had said was etched into his mind now. She had shown just a crack of her true self, and to pretend like nothing happened would be insulting, even if she hated to acknowledge that part of her. To deny that he knew of her feelings, and to ignore her hardship...

 

It would be like being her father. He didn’t want that.

 

But he wasn’t good at admitting any of that, nonetheless putting those thoughts into words. So he simply said, “I can’t do that so easily.”

 

Laegjarn leaned back in her seat with the same smugness as the night before— the type where it was hard to tell if it was genuine, or a façade. Some part of him knew she was only being that way to make it seem like she had the upper hand in the conversation, and if that was really what she wanted, he wasn’t going to stop her. “Prince, you’re being firm with your opinions today.” She remarked.

 

His eyes went back down to his plate, and he stabbed the nearest piece of food with his fork. “Can you blame me?” He asked, voice low as he ate.

 

She didn’t respond to that. Instead, she pointed a finger to his arm. “You know, I rather liked that shirt you let me use. You should bring me an extra one some time.”

 

The switch of topics could not have been more obvious, but Hríd didn’t say anything about it. It was clear she was uncomfortable, and he didn’t want to push.

 

Not now, at least. There would be a better time to talk about such things.

 

So he shook his head, pointing his fork at her in retaliation. “It’s not happening. ‘That shirt’ is sacred garb, meant only for the royals of Nifl.” He had broken many, many rules of Nifl’s royal traditions by even letting her hold it, much less putting it on, and while part of him regretted it, he knew it was the right thing to do at the time. It shocked him that she liked it so much, though; with the way she fiddled with the puffed sleeves, he thought that she found it annoying.

 

Thinking about her in his shirt again made his face feel warm, so he continued to speak to focus on anything that wasn’t that specific memory. “Not to mention it would look suspicious, you wearing clothes that belong to me. Silvia has told me she shares a room with you— you know she would spread gossip like the wind.”

 

Laegjarn nodded with understanding, “True.” There were probably hundreds of stories she had about the dancer by now, and considering her reputation, there was a good chance the majority were scandalous.

 

For a few minutes, there was silence. Hríd practically inhaled the food on his plate now that he didn’t have to speak, and Laegjarn slowly ate her smaller dish in pace with him. There was a tension in the air that he couldn’t put his finger on exactly— it was almost like she was waiting for him to stop eating so she could do something sinister.

 

Sure enough, after the two of them had finished their food, Laegjarn closed her eyes as if to think, and then spoke. “There’s only one thing to do, I suppose.”

 

Hríd watched as she got up from her spot, confused. Was she planning to take a shirt from his room now, while he was eating? She would walk in on Felicia cleaning, and that would only make things worse.

 

Though, surprisingly, she didn’t walk to the exit behind her. In fact, she rounded the table they were using, drawing closer to him with every step, until she stopped just short of pressing against him. With her standing and him sitting, their height difference was jarring, and he had to tilt his head up high to look her in the eyes, confused. “Wha—“

 

Then, she reached out and pulled him up into an embrace, his head resting gently on her breastplate.

 

Briefly, he noted how warm she was, and how she smelled like cinnamon, and how, just for a second, the embrace felt protective and safe, and maybe that was fine.

 

And then his entire face bloomed bright red, because he had no idea what was going on and they were in the middle of the dining hall and he had never gotten this close to her before.

 

“W-WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” He hissed, his voice breaking. Frantic, his eyes darted over to the kitchen, where he saw both Mist and Gray watching them intently, both of them having abandoned their stations. He then looked over to the tables he could see from his position, which held heroes that were watching in similar shock.

 

All eyes were on them in the corner of the room. A part of him wished he could die on command, because he would have done it then.

 

But he was stuck in reality, and stuck in her arms— both of them wrapped around him tightly like snakes, with her higher arm bringing its hand through his hair to tenderly stoke his head. When he tried to pull himself from the hold he was caught in, he discovered it was virtually impossible— she had an iron grip, and she was going to keep him there no matter how much he squirmed.

 

This was beyond embarrassing— it was downright humiliating. There was a time and a place for these things, and, to begin with, this was coming out of absolutely nowhere. Why was this happening to him? Was it payback for yesterday? He held her in the moment because he wanted to comfort her, not because he wanted to do anything nefarious, but yet…!

 

It seemed that Laegjarn read his racing mind then. Though he couldn’t see her face due to the fact she was literally smothering him into her, he could feel an absolutely evil grin radiating from above. “What? This was fine when you did it last night.”

 

She said the second part, specifically “when you did it last night”, louder than the rest, and Hríd thought he would pass out. From the kitchen, he saw Mist’s mouth gape, and he could swear that if he wasn’t being (literally) held hostage now, he’d run over and insist that there was nothing between the two of them. However, after his initial outburst, he lost his voice entirely, too embarrassed to even speak.

 

After a couple more seconds. Laegjarn let go. Hríd shot back a few feet as soon as she did, nearly falling out of chair to get away from her. But rather than be offended by this, she leaned forward and smiled. “Now it’s not suspicious, since people have seen us together without conflict.” She rounded the table to grab her empty plate, then gave him a wave goodbye, like she hadn’t just made a complete fool of him. “I’ll be waiting for the shirt later.”

 

Absolutely stunned, the prince watched her leave, watched Mist and Gray rush back into the kitchen, watched everyone’s eyes revert back to their meals, and watched everything they had built up as their public relationship crumble down.

 

Helpless, he put a hand to his head and groaned.

Chapter Text

“I heard they’ve been dating for years now, but kept it secret because of Surtr.”

 

“You know why Hríd lives all by himself? It’s because when they go at it, she totally dominates him and he gets really loud.”

 

“It figures that Laegjarn would fall in love with a guy shorter than her. Though apparently he has a thing for taller women, too…”

 

An entire week of this.

 

An entire week of nonstop rumors, whisperings, and all sorts of comments.

 

Hríd’s initial plan was to just isolate himself until all of it blew over, so it went without saying that didn’t feed into any suspicions people had by going to give Laegjarn the shirt like she wanted. Instead, he spent most of his time in his (now cleaned) room with the door locked, or he was off on solo missions where no one would bother him. Of course, even that was a challenge, though, because when he would have his meals brought to him, Felicia would always try to say, “Uhm, about Princess Laegjarn…” and he would always have to cut her off.

 

It might have been possible that the princess didn’t think that this would be taken so strongly by others, and just wanted them to be a quick thing that faded from attention after, as many other things did in the castle over time. He would give her the benefit of the doubt for that, but it wasn’t like it changed anything. They were all anyone talked about— it seemed that a romantic scandal apparently really got people going.

 

A romantic scandal… Hríd felt his face get warm every time he thought of such things.

 

First and foremost, he was a prince and a knight. He was trained in the sword and trained in ruling Nifl when he came of age, but that was all he had, all he thought he needed. He wasn’t like his siblings, who had once or twice engaged feelings of attraction or romance; Fjorm mentioning she thought a villager was quite handsome, or Gunnthrá secretly meeting with a maid on late evenings. He was too busy with his duties to even think about such a thing. So, of course, he knew nothing about love, and he didn’t know how to handle anything that could be considered or even contain an inkling of it. He would become flustered, overwhelmed, frantic; he didn’t, couldn’t, and for now, wouldn’t understand such feelings.

 

Of course, no one else, except perhaps Laegjarn, knew that. In fact, judging from the rumors that were running rampant, he was quite the passionate lover, who often proclaimed his love for her underneath her window, took her to the most extravagant places to dine late at night, and was very hands-on when the two were alone...

 

These days, he found himself wishing he could disappear quite often…

 

***

 

When it had been an entire week since Hríd had seen Laegjarn, Silvia stopped him as he returned from a solo mission. Exhausted, all the prince wanted to do was go back to his quarters and sleep, but the second he stepped foot into the castle, the dancer latched onto his arm and refused to let go.

 

“Finally! Gods, you are so hard to find!” She exclaimed.

 

He looked down at her, confused for only a moment. Then he had remembered; Silvia shared a room with Laegjarn.

 

Immediately, he tried to rip his arm out of her grasp, but the dancer only clenched onto him tighter, pouting. She may be scrawnier than most heroes, but it seemed that even she had some secret strength of her own. “Hey, hey!” She protested, “I’m not here to patronize you or anything, so don’t try and get away!”

 

“Somehow, I doubt that strongly,” he scowled down at her. “What do you want?”

 

His quip didn’t faze her. “You need to go talk to Laeg. Ever since you two had your falling out, she’s been all sad,” Silvia explained, pouting. “She’s all, ‘oh, what have I done?’, y’know? Moping and stuff. You really broke her heart!”

 

It was as if she had just said something in a foreign language.

 

Laegjarn, upset about him?

 

Hríd stared her down, hesitant. “...Really?”

 

The dancer nodded feverently, letting go of his arm then to gesture as she talked. “She won’t smile, or go out, or do anything! Even when Maria came by with cookies, she didn’t take any, that’s how sad she is!” She moved her arms to go along with her explanation, miming a scenario where she was giving something, and then crossing her arms over each other to make a large X. “She’s a mess because of you!”

 

His heart sank.

 

Oh, he had messed up.

 

This whole time, he had been focusing on himself, and how the rumors had been affecting him. He hadn’t, for one second, thought about how his absence would be affecting her. And after he had tried to reassure her that it was okay for her to prioritize herself! He had pushed her and any notion of their relationship away so strongly for the past week that she was, rightfully, upset, and he couldn’t blame her.

 

Now who was being the selfish one?

 

Silvia glared at him, waiting for a response to this dilemma. He had two options, really. Either he could refuse to do anything about it, or he could make things right between them.

 

The him of three months ago would have chosen not to do anything about it. He would have turned on his heel and walked away, and that would most likely put an end to all of the rumors and speculation, and the two of them would go back to how they used to be, both publicly and privately. Kill two birds with one stone. End of story.

 

But the him of right now?

 

There was no way he could turn his back on her. She needed someone to rely on, and so far, he was shaping up to be that someone. It wouldn’t be right of him to abandon her, especially since he was the one who technically said she could do as she pleased. The last thing his pride would let him do would be to go back on his word— and not even his pride, but his conscience, as well. After all, it wasn’t her fault she was being extreme; she had never gotten her way before, how would she know what was too much or too little?

 

It was strange to admit, but he cared about Laegjarn.

 

Maybe even liked her.

 

(As a comrade. Not anything else.)

 

So he took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll meet you back here in five minutes.”

 

Silvia put her hands on her hips, satisfied, and watched him run off.

 

***

 

When he came back, Silvia guided Hríd, who held the same (now cleaned) shirt he had loaned her a week prior, all the way to her and Laegjarn’s shared space without a word. It seemed that she knew how serious he was taking this, and that for his benefit and sanity, she should stay quiet.

 

The trip led to Hríd learning much more about the main castle; she took him through door after door, corridor after corridor, and, while the high ceilings and golden arches of the castle halls were beautiful, he couldn’t help but feel lost, maybe even overwhelmed. He had been trying to exactly determine how they had gone into one particular hallway when she suddenly stopped in front of a dark wooden door, heavily decorated with carvings of things Hríd couldn’t recognize. When he raised his eyebrow at their location, the dancer nodded to him to confirm this was where he should be.

 

For a second, he wondered what he should say. It wasn’t as if he was particularly great with words when speaking with her. First and foremost, he decided he would apologize for his stubbornness, and tell her that she needed to tone down her acts in public a bit. Then, to ensure she didn’t feel too awful, he would give her the shirt as truce. Simple, straight to the point. He liked that.

 

Silvia opened the door for him then, and he stepped forward into the room. “Princess, I wanted to apologize for—“

 

Hríd paused the second he noticed Laegjarn sitting on her bed, happily helping herself to a box of homemade cookies.

 

Time stopped.

 

Hadn’t Silvia said that she didn’t accept cookies from Maria before?

 

“...Wha—”

 

The door behind him slammed shut, and he heard its lock click.

 

It wasn’t his imagination, Laegjarn perked up at the sound, as well.

 

“Oh.”

 

If Hríd was going to say anything more than that, roaring laughter from the other side cut him short. “Hahaha! Gods, I can’t believed that worked!” He could hear Silvia laughing so hard that she was beginning to have trouble breathing. She took a moment to recompose herself, stifling herself and eventually having her voice fade to mere giggles. Then she hit the door and walked off, saying, “Have fun in there, you two!”

 

Hearing her footsteps get farther and farther, Hríd couldn’t tear his eyes away from Laegjarn, who was now staring at him as she sat a few feet away on her bed, wide eyed. She didn’t look sad, or depressed, or like she had been moping, or that she was heartbroken, or anything Silvia had said. In fact, she looked just like how she did the last time he saw her— hair neatly done, armor still on, face still full of life. Sure, she looked a little confused now, but that was because Hríd wasn’t saying anything and just staring at her, dumbfoundedly.

 

“...Prince?” She called out, waving her hand to snap him out of his focus. She put the box of cookies she was eating from on the side. “Are you alright?”

 

“Y-You’re fine?” Hríd said, meant as half-observation, half-question.

 

When Laegjarn hesitantly nodded her head yes, Hríd crumpled to the ground, putting his head in his hands. “Please just ignore me until Silvia comes back, then.”

 

He had been tricked.

 

Of course, only a woman as cunning as her would take advantage of him in such a dirty way, but what was the point?  Laegjarn looked as lost as he did, so surely she hadn’t put her up to this; it must have been of Silvia’s own will, then. Was it because she wanted to see something happen between them? Did that mean people who thrived off the relationships of others actually existed in reality, and not just in the ridiculous romance novels Gunnthrá would flip through?

 

The princess’s voice brought him out of his thoughts. “Did she say I needed you for something? I only just returned from my mission, so…”

 

He shook his head, shutting his eyes. “She told me that you were… ‘heart broken’, ever since I stopped seeing you, apparently.” His voice came out as a mere mumble, and sunk even lower in volume when he began to ramble on to explain himself. “I came here to make amends, because, well… Even if these rumors about us are embarrassing, they started because you wanted something from me, and I told you it was fine to be selfish, so part of it was my own doing, and…”

 

Laegjarn remained silent, and Hríd stared at the ground beneath him, trying to will a hole to materialize in the floor that would swallow him whole.

 

Then, he heard a giggle. “Pfft.”

 

He turned his head up to glare at Laegjarn for making fun of his plight, but stopped himself when he saw the genuine joy on her face.

 

She had smiled before, sure, in her teasing or mischievous ways that filled Hríd with dread for his future. However, the one she had now was much different than the others— her eyes shined at him as she giggled with a wide, toothy smile.

 

It was pure joy. And it was the first time he had heard her laugh any louder than a muffled noise.

 

His heart felt lighter.

 

But before he could dwell on it any longer, Laegjarn crossed her legs so there would be more space on the mattress and pat the spot in front of her, as if she were trying to call a dog over to join her. “Come, sit with me.” She beckoned him.

 

Now, her room was something she shared with Silvia, and it was of decent size, about the same size as Hríd’s own. However, they were two people, whereas Hríd was one. This meant that the room they were in had to have smaller pieces of furniture to properly accommodate them, which also meant that for a guest count of two people, the room would have to have two smaller sets of furniture.

 

It was an extremely roundabout way of analyzing that Laegjarn did not have a large bed like he did, but rather a twin-sized bed that was shoved up against one wall, and if he were to sit in front of her like she wanted, they would be rather close.

 

He looked to Laegjarn and decided he should point this out. “Your bed is smaller than mine.”

 

The princess nodded. “I know.” That fact did not seem to faze her.

 

So Hríd continued, “I would have to sit very close to you.”

 

Narrowing her eyes, Laegjarn impatiently pat the spot of her bed once more. “Stop being so prudent and sit with me.” She demanded.

 

This was not going to be a fight he would win, Hríd knew. Resigning, he got to his feet, walked over to her bedside, and then sat himself down on its edge. When she continued to glare at him, he let out an exasperated sigh and brought himself onto the bed properly, mimicking the princess and crossing his legs like she did. “Happy now?”

 

“Yes, very much so,” Laegjarn grinned. It wasn’t the same as the smile from before, and he got the feeling he wouldn’t see it for a while now.

 

She brought a hand through her hair. “...I apologize. I suppose I hadn’t really gave thought to things like rumors when I pulled that stunt a week ago.” She looked him in the eye. “I just thought it would be something that people would see and move on. We became quite famous, didn’t we?”

 

He was right; she had no idea of any extremes. “Maybe so. I figured that might have been the case, anyways,” he  shrugged, then pointed a finger to her. “Surely, though, you had to realize that it would cause people to believe we were something more than enemies.”

 

Laegjarn raised an eyebrow. “Are we not? Call me out if I’m wrong, Prince, but you haven’t shown me any treatment that someone who hates me would do.”

 

A silence, then. She had him by the horns, and both of them knew it.

 

She continued, not breaking eye contact with him. “I liked making you someone I was hostile with because it was fun to watch you get worked up, and there were times when you deserved a good stabbing or two…” She put up her hand and balled it into a fist, making a quick jabbing motion that implied she was about to hurt him with her pretend-sword, then opened her hand. “But then you were kind to me that night, and I realized that was even more fun. I don’t think I want to hide that anymore.”

 

As if she hadn’t just said some of her most genuine and touching words that he had ever heard, Laegjarn didn’t stop to let her confession sink in. Instead, she tilted her head and pointed a finger at Hríd, “What about you? How do you feel about me?”

 

Hríd didn’t have to keep going over this situation in his head; by now, he understood himself well enough, and there was a reason why he was here in the first place. There was nothing more to be said.

 

“I… care about you.” He nodded to himself. Saying it outloud solidified it for himself.

 

The princess leaned in closely. “And?”

 

Hesitantly, Hríd leaned back, away from her. “And… It would not be bad to befriend you.”

 

She leaned in more. “And?”

 

He couldn’t lean back any further without hitting his head on Laegjarn’s bedpost. Quickly, he averted his eyes from her face, which was just inches away from him now. “What else is there to say?” He grumbled, embarrassed.

 

She grinned. “Everything. You don’t know how to put it into words, I can tell, but don’t let that stop you. I want to know how you feel, truly.” So even she could tell he had no idea what he was doing around her.

 

Hríd took a deep breath, bringing himself forward to his original spot on the bed and having Laegjarn move back to her own with him. “...I used to hate you because of the things your father did,” he started. “But then, when I saw you defenseless and alone, a part of me realized that it wasn’t right. It didn’t sit well with me, having you hurting so badly. And then when you told me more about you, whether you liked it or not… I found that I wanted to be there for you.”

 

By now, he would usually look off to the side and continue his talk; that was just the way he was with Laegjarn. But, rather than avoid her stare, Hríd looked her right in the eyes now. “But it’s not out of pity, you know. You have become… someone I genuinely care about. And even if spending time with you is hectic…”

 

He smiled. “It is also fun, like you say.”

 

For a moment, Laegjarn said nothing, and it really sunk in that Hríd had said some incredible things just now. He prayed that Silvia hadn’t snuck back to listen in on them, because she would probably blow it out of proportion and run off to tell every person she could find about it. All he wanted was a normal, personal conversation with her, like they would have in his wing.

 

Laegjarn’s grin made up for his worries, though. She pat him on the head as if she were greeting a child. “You’re sweet. I like that.” Then, she reached down and grabbed the shirt that he had been holding in his arms, yanking it away with ease. “I suppose you brought this for me?”

 

Hríd hadn’t even remembered he was holding it, but now that it was out of his arms, he felt how hard his hands were clenched around the shirt he brought with him— their truce item, in the situation where Laegjarn was upset with him.

 

“No, no,” Hríd reached over to grab it from her. “I was only going to give that to you because I thought you were heartbroken. You look fine.”

 

But she wouldn’t let him have it so easily; she raised her arm up over her head, and Hríd was too far away (and too short) to snatch the shirt away from her. “No, I was heartbroken. An absolute wreck, really. I need this shirt more than anything,” She snickered, waving her arm tauntingly above him, knowing he couldn’t reach.

 

Hríd looked to her, expression mixed. “You weren’t… really upset, were you? I apologize, I only thought of myself, but…”

 

Laegjarn froze for a second.

 

Then she brought the shirt down to her face, muffling herself slightly as she pressed herself into it. “Perhaps I was… A little bit upset. Though nowhere near what Silvia’s most likely told you.” The shirt was moved down so he could see above her nose, and he could see her scowl at him, “Don’t pull something like that again. I rely on you, now, prince of Nifl.”

 

So what he had been told was only somewhat of the truth.

 

Even if it was only a bit of it, he still felt guilty.

 

Hríd nodded. “I won’t let it happen again, princess.”

Chapter Text

Laegjarn and Hríd went on their first ever mission together.

 

And they were amazing.

 

“Please, stop trying to show off and just do your damned jobs,” Soren huffed under his breath as he shot a burst of magic at an enemy on the sidelines, watching the prince and princess brawl back-to-back, showing off the extent of their power through seemingly over the top moves and grunts. Truthfully, they hadn’t meant to seem so flashy, but it just naturally came to them as they gave it their all; they complimented each other greatly both on-foot and on their mounts.

 

“Let them have their fun,” Ike chided from nearby, lunging to finish off the enemy Soren had weakened. Once his sword had sunk into the chink in the enemy’s armor, Ike brought it out and watched them fall over, defeated. Then he looked over to Soren. “We could make it into a contest— us versus them, who takes out more enemy forces?”

 

The tactician glared at him for being so nonchalant. “Why are you making this into a game?”

 

“Are you saying you’re taking these guys seriously? Come on, Soren. We could take them blindfolded.”

 

Throughout the rest of the mission, Soren mumbled under his breath that he always got stuck with people that didn’t use their head. At the same time, however, he did keep track of the score between Ike and himself against Laegjarn and Hríd, finding that the former had just a bit more fights under their belt once they had returned.

 

(“Of course we won,” Soren grinned at Ike, who had put an arm around him now. “As if we could ever lose.” No one said anything about his sudden shift in stance now that he was on the winning side. Instead, they all nodded and continued about their own schedules that evening.)

 

Once word got around that Laegjarn and Hríd worked well together, the Summoner put them to work together more often, often complimented by heroes that could support them properly, such as a healer who could work long distance or a gifted mage. Whoever they were, neither prince nor princess cared; they were too busy in the heat of battle to acknowledge them proper. It was a bad look, they both knew, but it was also the first time they had really felt alive since arriving in Askr. Who knew that all they needed to get into the spirit of fighting was a complimentary partner?

 

“Let’s take a break here,” Ethlyn said one mission out on the edge of Askr’s borders, in a sprawling forest scape that was home to all sorts of rogues of the Emblian army. She healed Hríd before pointing over to her husband Quan, who had unveiled a large package from some unknown location. “I made lunch for all of us. You two can take your portion and do what you will.”

 

Hríd stared at Ethlyn, eyebrow raised. “‘Do what you will’? You just said we would take a break. Why continue on ahead?”

 

The healer paused for a moment before smiling ear to ear, giggling. “Oh, you know…” Was all she said before hurrying over to Quan, grabbing a paper bag of food from him, and riding back to shove it into Hríd’s arms. “Have fun! That’s for both of you. Don’t make a mess!”

 

Confused, and feeling a bit disrespected, Hríd made his way back over to Laegjarn, who was tending to her wyvern farther up ahead from the rest of the group. “She must think we’re children, waving us off like that.” He grumbled as his horse stopped a few feet away from her. Curious, he looked into the bag he had received to see if there was anything he could do without. When his eye landed on an apple, he took it out and gave it to his steed before hopping off.

 

“What are you complaining about now?” Laegjarn asked, patting her wyvern on the head one more time before sliding down its side to meet with Hríd. He handed her a wooden box of unrecognizable food, then took out another for himself. Honestly, he didn’t care that he couldn’t name anything he was eating as long as it tasted good. Once they had emptied out the rest of the bag (another apple, a small container of water, and a bag of sweets), the prince crumpled it up and shoved it in his pocket.

 

“Nothing,” Hríd replied, taking a seat on the dirt beneath them and cracking open his container of food. “Ethlyn seemed to imply we would be up to something no good.”

 

“It’s her motherly instincts. She may look young, but she’s definitely much more mature than us,” Laegjarn took a seat next to him and began to eat.

 

For a while, there was no sound but the two of them tearing through their meals— they hadn’t known they were hungry until they were actually sitting down with food, and they quickly scarfed down their lunch like it was their last. Laegjarn’s body didn’t seem to like that, though, and she held back a few coughs and muffled the bigger ones into her elbow. They had been on enough missions now where the Rite of Flame’s effects had pestered her, but thankfully, this mission’s coughing didn’t seem out of the usual so far. If it got any worse, though, they would probably have to find a way to lie to their partners so Laegjarn could alleviate herself proper.

 

When Laegjarn finished her meal first, she closed the container and fell backwards, letting out a sigh. “Ethlyn’s fretting isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. It’s sweet.”

 

Hríd looked at her, annoyed. “It’s overbearing. My mother never did that to me.”

 

“...That’s the first time I ever heard you mention your mother since I got here.”

 

“You’ve never mentioned yours, either.”

 

The second he said it, Hríd realized that there was a chance Laegjarn just didn’t have a mother, and he immediately tensed up. Before he could apologize for any offense he might have caused, Laegjarn kicked up a leg and put it over the other, still laying on the ground. “You always mentioned your sister, but you never held it over my head that my father killed your mother as well. It’s odd.” She remarked bluntly. “Why is that?”

 

This conversation took an oddly serious turn, the prince noted. He wondered if he should respond or try to blow her off— but ignoring her earnest question would probably be rude, so he powered ahead.

 

“Well…” Hríd looked up at the sky. “My mother was queen for a long time. She knew the risks of her position; we all did. If any war were to break out, or if anyone was to assassinate someone from the royal family, it would be her head they were after. When you live with that knowledge every single day…” He tilted his head just slightly to avoid having the sun in his vision. “The stress is tremendous, and you’re always on your toes, terrified for her. So when she was killed, I knew that I shouldn’t be surprised by it, and I wasn’t. It was painful, learning it happened, but I… I couldn’t be shocked.”

 

Then he fell back onto the ground with Laegjarn, dirt ruining his bright uniform. He turned his head to face Laegjarn, who was staring at him with a neutral face, like she was trying to listen to him. “Gunnthrá was different. I had never been prepared for her to be killed. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, but not in reality. Not to mention she was still young, too, especially compared to our mother— she did not get a chance to live a full life. I was hung up much more on that than anything else.” He then realized the weight of his words and looked away from her, eventually turning his head back up to face the sky. “I suppose that makes me seem heartless, in a way, to not react so strongly about my mother.”

 

But instead of rejecting him, Laegjarn shook her head and sat up, turning her torso to look down at him from above. “No, I don’t think so. Considering your circumstances, I probably would have reacted similarly if she were mine.”

 

A pause, then.

 

“...What about yours, then?” Hríd asked in a quiet voice.

 

The princess grinned. “What, you think I’ll just be as bold as you and spill my heart out like that? No thank you.”

 

Hríd felt his face flush. Was he really that embarrassing just then? The last time he had been like that was a few weeks ago when he had to confess how he felt about Laegjarn— saying how he felt wasn’t exactly something he did often. He narrowed his eyes and looked away. “My apologies. I won’t speak out about myself like that again.”

 

Laegjarn grabbed his shoulders and brought him up with her. “No, no. Keep doing that. Do you realize how little I know about you outside of what’s already general knowledge?” Then a grin. “I need more dirt on you. Perhaps I should ask Fjorm.”

 

Hríd removed her hands hurriedly. Fjorm and Laegjarn were on neutral terms that neither seemed to improve nor decline, with the two speaking occasionally, but it had never involved Hríd before. He wanted to make sure it stayed that way. “Do not bring my sister into this.”

 

“Maybe Ylgr, then.” She had been trying to appeal to her after she was summoned recently, and Ylgr trusted her somewhat after seeing Hríd’s attitude toward her.

 

Though this was still unacceptable. He shook his head. “Or my other sister! Bring no family member into this!”

 

Laegjarn made her small laughing noise again, giving up control and snatching the water container and bag of sweets between them. “I won’t, I won’t. They like me, but not as much as you do. I doubt they would give me the information I wanted so easily.” She opened the bag and popped a pink, circular sweet into her mouth, then held out the open bag to Hríd and shook it, like she was trying to get a cat to pay attention to a bag of treats.

 

He took the bag from her and ate whatever candy made it into his palm first. It was a lemon-tasting one, a flavor he wasn’t too much of a fan of, but could deal with. As he sucked on it, Laegjarn looked to him and then to the ground. “I apologize. On behalf of my father… I’ve said it for your sister, but not your mother.”

 

He stared at her.

 

Then shook his head firmly, “No. It was not your fault. Do not take the blame for it.”

 

For the rest of the break period, the two of them ate sweets in silence on the dirt, as if they had no cares in the world.

 

***

 

Laegjarn brought out a piece of paper at the dining hall the next evening. It was a medium sized parchment with words pre-scrawled onto it that had blank spaces next to them. These words all followed a specific theme; favorite food, favorite color, favorite weather, favorite instrument , etc..

 

“...’Favorite instrument’?” Hríd echoed as he read.

 

She shrugged. “What if you really like the flute, and I didn’t know?

 

He was about to say it was obvious that he wasn’t a diehard flute fan, but she continued speaking, “Going off of that mission yesterday, where I said I needed more information about you… This is what I’m talking about. By now, I know exactly how you work in battle, and how you live in your wing, down to the finest detail. However, I don’t know really basic things. I think that should change, if we are to be friends.”

 

On the occasions Laegjarn would call them friends or comrades, she would do it in an almost alien way, like she had no idea if what she was saying was right. While amusing at first, it made Hríd worry that she really had no friends before him.

 

Recalling what she comments she had made about her father controlling her life, he realized that was probably the case.

 

So he accepted this odd paper, looking over all the categories he would have to fill in once he got back to his room. “Will you be doing this as well?” He asked. “Even if you don’t want to tell me everything, I should at least know some things about you, too.” It was true that outside her rare self-dubbed ‘slipups’ where she told Hríd too much, he only knew the same things she did. Truthfully, he could be content with that, since, as a knight, he felt that battle was the best way to understand someone. However, if she was going to ask him to be personal, the least she could do was reciprocate that.

 

Laegjarn produced another paper from her pocket and handed it to him. When he unfolded it, he saw it was a carbon copy of the blank sheet she gave him, filled in with her own answers in dark red ink. It gave the friendly questionnaire an oddly threatening aura. Hríd folded it back up quietly and decided he would read it on his own time, then focused on his blank page.

 

“Silvia told me that this is something girls do,” Laegjarn pointed to the paper he held, “But I’m sure boys can use this, as well.”

 

Hríd raised an eyebrow at her. “Are you calling me a boy?”

 

“Are you insinuating you’re a man?”

 

She said that bit just a tad louder so those in the surrounding tables could hear. It was met with a few snickers, which made Hríd hang his head. As it had been a few weeks since the rumors about them originally spread, the whisperings of their relationship had long died by now, and only occasionally did someone ever talk about the two of them seeing each other romantically. Admittedly, he’d prefer if people would stop such talk altogether, but it probably wouldn’t happen for another couple of months at this rate.

 

“...I’ll get this done, then.” Hríd sighed. “When do you need this by?”

 

Laegjarn scoffed at him. “It’s not a report, prince. I don’t need it by a specific time, just when you get it done.”

 

Then, she put her finger to her lips, going silent for a second before looking to him, “Oh, and how about we meet for breakfast, tomorrow? The Summoner is going to do another raid, and the same people as last time are being left behind.”

 

“Another? Why?” Hríd asked.

 

She shrugged, standing from the table and taking her empty dinner plate with her. “I suppose there’s some distant land to be conquered, or some goal they’re trying to get to. Either way, it’s a free day. So?”

 

The prince looked over his paper one last time, counting 25 different questions on the page, the majority of the “favorite ______” type, and the rest being random, short questions.

 

Then, he reached over and handed it back to Laegjarn, who took it back, confused. “Why don’t I just answer these for you over breakfast?” He asked, figuring it would probably be more personal that way, and more convenient— he didn’t want her to see he had terrible handwriting.

 

Her face lit up, like he had just told her she had won the lottery, and she nodded. “Okay. It’s a date. I’ll see you then.”

 

He was about to yell at her not to call it a date, but she had already walked off and left him alone with the remnants of his dinner. Grumbling, he shoved spoonfuls of food in his mouth hastily and kept his head down to not bring attention to the blush on his face. Laegjarn’s paper from before rest next to his plate, so he decided he would pick it up and read it while he ate.

 

“‘Favorite food: anything Laevatein makes. Favorite color: pink, like Laevatein’s hair. Favorite weather: Muspell only has sunny days. N/A.’” Hríd read aloud under his breath, then raised an eyebrow.

 

“Oh, so the princess is the one that’s the diehard flute fan…”

Chapter Text

Ayra threw a stack of pre-made pancakes onto Hríd’s plate at the kitchen and sent him off without a word. It seemed that she was the one stuck with cooking duties for the morning now that everyone had left, and she clearly wasn’t happy about it. Even her kitchen partner, Seth, looked disappointed he was left behind, only half-heartedly preparing a pot of coffee on the counter next to her.

 

In the back of his mind, Hríd wondered what these raids were for. The Emblian Empire had been quiet for some time, and it wasn’t as if Muspell was bustling with power after Sutr had been killed— its army followed Laevatein’s lead and had not attacked anyone else since. Those who didn’t listen to her were the few extremists who were devastated by the loss of their king, and had gone rogue some while ago.

 

None of said armymen had made it to Nifl, to Hríd’s knowledge, which he was eternally grateful for. Protection of his weakened kingdom was the whole reason he decided to join the Order for the time being. Once he made sure that opposing forces were taken care of, he planned on returning home.

 

He would have to think about how he would see Laegjarn again after he left, though…

 

Excusing himself, Hríd steered away from the kitchen window and looked for an empty table. It turns out he didn’t have to, however, as Laegjarn had gotten there before him, and was waving him over across the hall.

 

Now, as Hríd wasn’t going out on any mission, he lacked his armor and instead only wore his usual royal outfit. Laegjarn was similar on the no-armor front, but this time she had worn his shirt, with the sleeves covering her hands completely and her head sunk low as if she was trying to bury herself in the neckline.

 

Was it cold in the dining hall? Hríd couldn’t tell. Thankfully, she answered that question for him when he dawned closer, face temporarily perking up when she saw him only to revert back to a frown once he had come within earshot. “It is FREEZING in here.” She groaned, covered hands reaching out to a steaming, oversized mug she had in front of her. “I can’t believe Askr gets so chilly in the wintertime.”

 

Hríd raised an eyebrow, taking a seat across from her and beginning to eat his breakfast. “I didn’t even know we were in winter now. This is tepid for me.”

 

Laegjarn shivered as she brought the mug to her lips, then, when she was done, she slammed it down and glared at him. “I hate you.”

 

“Likewise. So, the paper?”

 

She rolled up one of her sleeves to reveal she was holding it the whole time, let it fall onto the table, and re-covered her hand. Then, she picked it up and unfolded it, seeming like she was ready to read. But instead of her doing so, she quickly gave him the sheet and picked up her mug again. “Forgive me,” she breathed. “Drowning myself in this tea the Order has helps my throat not feel like it’s being cut up into pieces, somewhat. I don’t want to hack up blood all over the page and make it unreadable.”

 

Worriedly, Hríd leaned forward and whispered, “Will you be alright?” For the time being, there weren’t many other people in the dining hall, and as long as Laegjarn didn’t show extreme symptoms of her illness, she wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary— since it was apparently winter now, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to get sick, especially if said someone had lived in a boiling climate their whole life. Ironically, the following months would probably prove easier for her to get on by than any other.

 

The princess casually shook off Hríd’s concerns as if she wasn’t a woman who was always in a constant state of death. “As alright as I can be. Read off everything for me.”

 

That bothered Hríd somewhat, but he continued on like she wished. In any case, if she got worse, he would definitely take her out of the dining hall and away from prying eyes. He stared down at the sheet and began.

 

“Firstly… ‘Favorite food’. I think mine would be roasted sea otter.” Hríd pointed to the pancakes in front of him, now quarterly finished. “Askr has a lot of food I don’t know about, and I’m not a particularly huge fan of any of them.”

 

Hearing his response, Laegjarn stuck out her tongue in disgust. “Otter? That sounds disgusting.”

 

“Quite the contrary,” Hríd shook his head. “But I’m sure you don’t want me to go on all day explaining how an otter can be made to perfection by one of the royal family’s maids.”

 

She seemed grossed out, and she shook her head feverently. It gave him the hint that maybe, like Askr, the cuisine and what was seen as good eating in Muspell was much different from Nifl’s own. He began to wonder what food they could possibly have in common before the princess’s words cut through his thoughts. “No, I don’t!”

 

For the next hour, Hríd told her more about himself, and the information was met by more than a few comments from Laegjarn’s end.

 

“‘Favorite holiday’... Any of my sibling’s birthdays, if that counts? We have a large banquet to celebrate it.”

 

“Oh, I agree! I loved throwing a two-man party for Laevatein! The most exciting part of the year!”

 

“‘Favorite season’... I prefer Nifl’s summers. It doesn’t get much warmer, mind you, but the snow stops falling as much so we can see the night sky fairly well— I’ve seen so many things in the past couple of months now that I’m not in my own kingdom, but nothing could compare to the aurora.”

 

“I’ve read about that before. Honestly, if I saw the sky light up like that, I think I’d be terrified. I suppose something like that only happens when you live in a place so far up north.”

 

“‘Favorite position’...? What is this? Favorite position of what? Government?”

 

“Oh, oh, skip that one. I didn’t answer it either. Silvia gave us the more… adult form to fill out.”

 

As time passed, it began to show that Laegjarn wasn’t going to be able to last for their whole meetup. The two of them got three quarters down the list before her cough really started acting up, and she began to shift in her seat uncomfortably when she thought Hríd wasn’t looking.

 

When he finally caught her doing so out of the corner of his eye, he knew it was time to leave. Without even a word, Hríd took his (now empty) plate, shoved the paper he had been reading off of into his pocket, and grabbed her hand, lifting her from her spot without any real protest. Once she had her mug in her free hand, he made a break for the exit.

 

“Is something wrong?” Seth asked as Hríd hurriedly handed back his plate through the kitchen window. The knight pointed at Laegjarn, who stood silently next to him, staring at the counter rather than make eye contact.

 

Hríd knew he had to play it naturally. “She’s feeling under the weather because of the cold. Her body isn’t familiar with it like everyone else is.” He smiled. “I’ll make sure to escort her to her room.” Then he crossed his fingers, hoping the conversation would end there.

 

Luck was on his side for only this moment— Seth nodded, then rushed to the back of the kitchen. When he reappeared, he held a white teapot in his hands, and Laegjarn instantly perked up, thrusting her near-empty mug forward. At her hurriedness, Seth smiled softly, as if he were caring for a child. “I hope you feel better soon, lady Laegjarn.” He said, pouring tea for her.

 

She lifted her eyes to smile back. “...Thank you.”

 

And the two quickly left, not going to Laegjarn’s room, but instead making a beeline to Hríd’s wing.

 

“Should I hold that for you?” He asked, pointing to her mug, and she nodded. Her mood had become saddened, all of a sudden, and she kept her head down for most of the walk over after handing it over. The only sound between the two of them for the most part was her muffled coughing, which was odd in its own way. Rather than cough into her elbow to muffle it like she would do normally, Laegjarn tightened her lips and refused let even the smallest of her coughs escape.

 

“That’s only going to hurt you more,” Hríd chided after she had done it a few more times. “Cough into your sleeve.”

 

She shook her head defiantly. “N-No…” She fiddled with her shirt sleeves again. “If I do that, then… I-I’ll ruin this. And I don’t want to ruin it, since…”

 

She let her voice trail off, and she looked away from Hríd like she had been doing the entire walk over.

 

He decided not to push her on it for now. There was no point in arguing with a sick woman, he knew. He could do that later, when she was back in good health.

 

When the two of them reached the exit of the main castle to his wing, Hríd stopped in front of it and took Laegjarn into his arm, pressing her close to his right side. She immediately began to squirm as if something slimy was crawling up her back— a stark contrast to when he had first held her some time ago.

 

It surprised him. “It’s cold outside. I need to make sure you don’t lose any body heat on the walk over.” Hríd explained. The distance from where they were now to the entrance of his wing wasn’t very long, but it was still a moment that Laegjarn would have to spend in the cold. Without even a jacket, she would probably freeze over, or, at the very least, she could feel even worse than she already was. People of Nifl naturally retained their body heat well— he was sure he could keep her warm enough for the time being.

 

But she seemed set on not being cared for past these doors. “I’ll c-cough on you.” She said in a warning tone, as if it were supposed to deter him. If anything, she was only confusing him. Considering he had been around plenty of times before when her condition worsened, why would he suddenly care about any potential germs today? He needed to make sure she was cared for before anything else.

 

He scowled at her and tried to tighten his grip so she wouldn’t be able to separate from him. “And? It isn’t like your sickness is contagious.”

 

The princess shook her head. “No, but… I s-shouldn’t burden you.”

 

Hríd’s heart sank. If only he had never called her selfish back then.

 

“I’ve told you before that you could,” he said lightly. “And you should, especially now. You said you would rely on me, yes?”

 

“I did, however…” She looked off to the side. “I’ve done e-enough already. Look, I’ve ruined our date. I don’t want to make it worse by… dirtying this sweater or you. I-I can walk by myself...” She mumbled. In the back of his mind, Hríd realized that must have been why she was holding back earlier, and why she kept her distance from him on their walk. She was being overly cautious and self-aware— something she seemed to only do in her most dire moments.

 

Ignoring her comment about their supposed date, Hríd tried to twist the situation into a positive one. “You haven’t ruined anything, just changed our plans slightly. Us leaving early just means we can have our discussion in my room, rather than the dining hall.”

 

A pause.

 

Then, Laegjarn grinned. “You have to realize how unbelievably suggestive that sounds, d-don’t you…?”

 

Leave it to her to continue to joke in deteriorating health. Was she like this with other people? It made him feel sympathetic for Laevatein. If he ever saw her again, he would probably just give her a sad, knowing nod.

 

In the present, however, Hríd’s face flushed red. “Please be quiet and allow me to walk you over,” he said through clenched teeth.

 

Laegjarn turned her head down at him, hesitant, stopping her squirming to really stare at him. “...You won’t be mad a-at me… if I get blood on your shoulder?” Sure, she may be towering over him at the moment, but she looked at him with the confidence of a preschooler.

 

“No,” Hríd firmly shook his head.

 

“Or o-on this shirt...?” Laegjarn held up her arm.

 

“I won’t.”

 

A bout of silence.

 

She rolled her eyes. “...You’re too damned nice...” But she put an arm around his back to give him the signal that he could begin walking.

 

***

 

After they had made it into Hríd’s room, Laegjarn had been laid in his bed to relax. By the time he had brought his comforter over her, she was already fast asleep.

 

He supposed that she was more tired than she let on, but he didn’t mind it. While he waited for her to wake up, he filled out the sheet on his own like she had originally asked him to do the day before. In a way, he felt guilty. If Hríd hadn’t decided to take part in her questionnaire over breakfast, maybe she wouldn’t have strained herself so much, as their meetup would have ended much sooner. Still, she looked over the moon when he had suggested it yesterday, so maybe she didn’t blame him at all. He would have to ask her about it when she woke up, maybe.

 

Once the prince had finished writing down all of his answers, even the ones he had already told her face to face, he folded it and placed it near her mug.

 

Then waited.

 

After the first hour, Hríd got up to get non-perishable food that she could eat upon waking up, and a couple of blankets from storage when no one was looking. The sky had darkened since that morning— a storm was probably brewing, and with the apparent chill outside, it would most likely result in snow. He could only imagine how much colder his wing would get for the princess in those conditions, so he made sure that the blankets he chose were of high quality before laying them gently on top of her.

 

After the second hour, Hríd was engaged in a book when a thunder shook the room. Confused, he glanced outside to see that not only was it now snowing, but the storm had brought along lightning with it. Just his luck. He hoped that the nasty components of the storm would pass quickly, in case they happened to wake Laegjarn when she didn’t need to be. He looked over to the food he had gotten for Laegjarn on his desk, decided he should definitely save it for her, and began rummaging through his own possessions to see what kind of snacks he had laying around.

 

After the third hour, Hríd had just finished eating a bag of potato crisps that Oscar had made the other day at lunch when he noticed it was night out. The winter season meant shorter days and earlier nights, but he certainly hadn’t expected such darkness yet. He supposed the falling snow had something to do with the severity of the situation. In the meantime, he got up and searched for a coat in his armoire— he would have to walk Laegjarn over with her in one, no doubt, so it would be better to make sure he had something to offer. Once he had found something suitable— a long, blue jacket, he laid it on the back of his desk chair and resumed his reading.

 

After the fourth hour, Laegjarn woke up.

 

It could have been earlier. Hríd was looking down at his book when he heard her groan,  “I feel like garbage.”

 

When his eyes darted up to his bed, the princess’s arm was outstretched, as if she were trying to grab the ceiling that was far above her.

 

“No better?” Hríd asked. It was concerning, but at least she was being vocal. The last time they had been in here together, it had gone much differently.

 

Laegjarn made a muted noise— it could have been a chuckle. “Well, my throat doesn’t hurt that much. But my limbs feel like the pasta Felicia makes.”

 

Briefly, Hríd recalled Felicia’s first and last day on kitchen duty, where she had made a side dish of pasta that was so undercooked and stiff, no one had eaten it. Sometimes he wondered why she was even a maid considering she was so awful at performing her duties most of the time, but he could never possibly say that to her face. Besides, she had helped him out before.

 

“Hmn… Well, you can rest for longer if you wish,” Hríd mused. “It’s snowing outside, so there’s no rush—“

 

It was like she was an entirely different person with just that one sentence.

 

Despite her claims seconds ago, Laegjarn shot up from his spot on his bed, eyes wide. “Really?!” She asked, stars in her eyes.

 

Confused, Hríd nodded once more, and she quickly scrambled to get out from underneath the layers of blankets he had put her under (which took longer than one would expect, since he had piled them on fairly high). He could see her wince as her feet touched the floor, but she seemed to shoulder the pain and ran around the bed to get to where the window was.

 

“What’s the rush?” He asked, a bit concerned as he watched her from his chair.

 

“I haven’t seen snowfall, remember?” She reminded him, annoyed. Vaguely, Hríd remembered her saying so, a long while ago— back when they barely spoke to each other. Was it really that exciting for her to be able to see it now? Maybe he couldn’t understand her excitement because he had grown up in a country where it snowed nearly all year, whereas she had never experienced cold until just a few months ago. He’d never seen someone so worked up about weather before, but it was understandable.

 

She put both hands to the window and stared out, watching the snowflakes come down.

 

Then, she forced it open and stuck almost her whole torso out.

 

Fear overtook the prince in less than a second. He jumped up from his seat and rushed over to the window, his heart racing. “Princess!” They were on the ground floor of the wing, but she could still fall out and potentially hurt herself, and it wasn’t really the best thing to go out into the cold after recovering from a lapse in health. Especially when she was never good with the cold to begin with. But Hríd had no idea how to support her without angering her, so he merely had his arms out to grab her in case she fell.

 

“Wow, it’s freezing!” She yelled. Instead of being annoyed at the temperature drop, however, she was marveling at it, one hand digging into the window pane to support herself as she leaned out more, with the other outstretched toward the sky.

 

“It’s so much softer than I thought it would be.” She explained, voice loud so Hríd could hear her clearly.  “When we were in Nifl for that short while, it was only overcast, and the snow was hard to tread through. I’ve been curious about it for a while, now.”

 

She pulled herself in and stuck out her palm to the worried prince waiting inside, beaming with joy at the snowflakes that were sticking to it. “Look, it’s melting in my hand! That’s so cute!”

 

He peered closer and, sure enough, there was mostly droplets of water covering her hand now. The flakes decorating her hair and shirt, however, were still unmelted and far more abundant. She began laughing to herself as she stuck a hand out the window to get more snow, a wholehearted laugh. When she popped back in with more a few seconds later, she tried to throw what she had gathered in the air, but to no avail— there was too little, and it stuck to her hand. So she tried again, waiting longer this time, and when she threw her hand up in the air, the small icy bits went everywhere. She watched them fall, amazed.

 

“How strange,” she whispered to herself, staring back outside with an intensity that nearly rivaled her eyes during battle. “I hate the cold, but this is so interesting.”

 

Then she turned to look at Hríd, a smug grin on her face.  “I guess not all things from cold places are bad.”

 

The prince was taken aback. “Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

And she burst out laughing— her genuine laugh, not the usual muted noise in the back of her throat.

 

Hríd found himself smiling at her despite the comment. He could ignore it for now— what mattered was that her mood was definitely lifted, and she wasn’t holding herself back. It was nice.

 

She looked nice, like this.

 

Without thinking, he put a hand to her cheek.

 

And then something odd happened.

 

Laegjarn pressed herself into his hold, eyes closing.

 

“Your hand is warm.” She murmured, reaching up to hold it with her own.

 

His chest suddenly felt very tight.

 

“Is it, now?” He asked.

 

She opened both eyes and smiled, her rare, toothy smile that he had only seen once before. “Even with this glove on you.”

 

Her fingertips pressed into the back of his hand.

 

Oh.

 

Hríd’s heart began to pound.

 

She looked so nice when she smiled earnestly.

 

Of course, she looked that way all of the time. No matter what she wore or what she did or what expression was on her face, she was stunning through and through.

 

Hríd knew that. He had thought she looked nice when he had first loaned her his shirt, and while the thought was intrusive in that moment, he didn’t disagree with it.

 

And with the way she was now, still in his shirt, with melting snow in her hair and a smile that was brighter than any light he had ever seen, he began to think she looked more than just that.

 

She looked beautiful.

 

And he had a strange feeling come over him the more he truly realized this.

 

This whole time, he had been working toward making Laegjarn feel safe, like she wasn’t alone.

 

He wanted to make sure she knew that.

 

All it would take is just him pulling her in.

 

Pulling her in, and then some.











He couldn’t.

 

He couldn’t be so bold as to do something like that.

 

Hríd quickly tore away his hand away, starling Laegjarn, and walked back to his desk.

 

“Prince…?” She called after him, confused.

 

An excuse. He needed an excuse.

 

“I… I just realized you haven’t eaten much of anything today,” Hríd muttered hastily, grabbing a plate of lukewarm food with trembling hands. Making sure his grip would be secure before he turned back around to face her, he presented the dish in an unceremonious manner, with his gaze off to her side rather than looking her in the eyes. “I have food for you here. After that, why don’t we head outside? So you can get a better look at the snow.”

 

For a second, she looked befuddled, and he was worried she would ask him if he was alright.

 

But then she nodded. “Okay. Let’s go do that.”

Chapter Text

“I need counsel.”

 

“What for?”

 

“I believe I have feelings for the princess of Muspell.”

 

Fjorm dropped her lance, and it landed in the snow, silent. Meanwhile, Ylgr looked up at her brother’s blushing face in utter disbelief.

 

The three siblings met up that afternoon in one of the outdoor training grounds of the castle, the winter chill fierce despite the sun’s shine overhead. This was one of many spaces that surrounded the premises, and was used fairly often by other heroes; broken bits of daggers and the chipped paint of cheap lances mixed in with the dirt of the ground thanks to long periods of fighting.

 

Under normal circumstances, these grounds would be bustling with people. However, the recent snowfall a few days ago was far more than Askr was used to, and so not only was everyone back at base— the majority returning from their raid the day after it started, where they had to trudge home in two feet of snow— there was no method of clearing of paths other than waiting for everything to melt. Since the snow was so piled up, and the melting process was taking quite a while, Hríd figured that outside was the best place to meet in secret— Laegjarn couldn’t handle the cold.

 

Laegjarn...

 

Ugh. Just thinking about her made Hríd’s head hurt.

 

Ever since then night he had let the princess stay in his room, the dam holding back the intrusive thoughts in Hríd’s mind broke. Instead of suddenly thinking something nice about her every once in a while, it was now multiple things at least once a few hours, and it startled him. When the two were together, she could be doing anything; explaining pig farming, threatening to kill him, cleaning snow and mud off her wyvern, whatever it may be, and Hríd would still stare at her thinking, Her eyes look nice when she smiles like that.

 

It was embarrassing. He had absolutely no idea that he could possibly dwell on something this much in his entire life— his position as knight and prince demanded a level head from him, which he always had, up until now, at least. So, while most saw the current days off as time to relax, Hríd wanted to get his head back on straight in time for work again. He had left a message with Clair that morning, who neighbored to Ylgr and Fjorm’s room, that the two of them should meet with him outside after lunch.

 

He arrived first out of nervousness, and waited not-so-patiently for his siblings to arrive. The training ground he had picked as their meeting place was in a sunspot, so a good portion of snow had melted away, only having him sink ankles-deep into the soft remainder, but he wondered if he should try to kick away some of the snow for maximum talking space.

 

While Hríd mulled over this pointless thought briefly, Ylgr and Fjorm popped out of the castle around noon, calling out to him from afar to grab his attention from the ground. Watching them approach, the prince decided he shouldn’t beat around the bush, like he was used to doing for anything he wasn’t a fan of confronting. He would be straightforward with why he had called them out from the start. And that meant looking both of his beloved, dearest siblings in the eyes and saying what he never thought (maybe he did think that, in the back of his mind, he’d say this one day, but he didn’t have time to get into that now); he believed he had a crush on Laegjarn.

 

Or, to phrase it more professionally, he believed he had feelings for her. He liked that much better than a childish crush.

 

Their shock was as he expected. They didn’t seem to be angry or upset like Hríd had feared (thankfully, as Laegjarn did use to be the enemy, after all), instead, they just looked utterly stunned, maybe even confused. Like they expected the Summoner to pop out and say, “April Fools!” in the dead of winter.

 

It took a moment for the two of them to gather their bearings. Ylgr was still gaping by the time Fjorm had knelt down gently, picked up her lance from the snow beneath them, and shook her head. “Brother, do not make me cancel plans just so you can tell a joke.” She sighed. “I was supposed to meet with Lady Sharena…”

 

“This is no joke, Fjorm,” Hríd insisted, his voice a little louder than intended. Noticing that, he paused to take a quick breath to steady himself, then continued. “I know shouldn’t expect you to believe me, considering my track record in romance, but I am not playing either of you for fools. I would appreciate if you could help me.”

 

A cold wind blew, but it didn’t shake any of the three; they just stood in silence, the two sisters trying to read their suddenly-more-emotionally-attuned brother.

 

Ylgr was the one who broke the momentary quiet, putting her gloves hands together and staring up at Fjorm. “I never thought Hríd would ask us for help for things.” The smile on her face gave away the fact that she was extremely pleased. Ylgr loved any opportunities to assist her siblings, both because she wanted to prove herself whenever the opportunity struck, and because, being the youngest with the least responsibilities, she rarely got to spend time with her older, busier family back in Nifl.

 

“I ask you all for help whenever it is necessary. I just do it far less with you, Ylgr, since you’re too young for some things.” Hríd teased. The youngest sibling stuck her tongue out in response and sat down in the snow with a hmph , narrowing her eyes at the cold sensation underneath her for a split second.

 

“But not young enough for this?” Fjorm raised an eyebrow and gestured outward at Hríd, then down to Ylgr on the ground. “Surely, you can speak to someone else more versed on the subject of love.” It seemed Fjorm wasn’t fully onboard for the discussion, though it wasn’t like there were many options for Hríd to turn to at a time like this. “Name them, then, those people I can speak to” Hríd mirrored her, his palm up as if to say go ahead. Flakes of snow that blew onto him before rose up from his gloves and flew off as if by magic.

 

Fjorm paused to think for a moment, a hand to her chin as she ran over a list of names in her head that Hríd would be comfortable speaking to. Both siblings watched her, expectantly.

 

Then, she looked up at her brother, agast. “Goodness. You really don’t have any friends outside of Lady Laegjarn.”

 

“On good terms with most, friends with none.” Hríd nodded, ignoring how extremely rude that previous sentence could sound if it was said by anyone but his sister. It was true, though, that he lacked friends. Being a prince from a secluded kingdom meant that outside of the royal family, it wasn’t like he was used to meeting new people left and right, which affected how he held relationships and started dialogue. The only other person that wasn’t related to him that he spoke to on a daily basis was Laegjarn, and, to be fair, she was initiating most of the conversations.

 

“Which is why,” Hríd looked to his sisters, “I was hoping that you two could help me sort my own thoughts. I trust you both the most, after all.”

 

Fjorm twirled her lance in her hands, something she did when she let her mind wander, and she walked around the small area they had available to them. Likewise, Ylgr fiddled with the holstiers that kept her daggers in place.

 

A couple paces later, and an answer was given. “Well, fine,” Fjorm said, keeping an eye on her weapon to make sure it didn’t hit anything. “We’re nothing like Gunnthrá, but we’ll do our best to help you whatever way we can.”

 

(Not many people would guess it from her professional mannerisms and her sense of duty, Gunnthrá was the type of person who was thrilled by the prospect of romance in the air. She had her own personal collection of romance novels, with some of them being of the more mature variety, and even some with her own notes scribbled in the margins. Back when the four of them lived together, Hríd never paid this hobby any mind out of disinterest, and he still didn’t find himself interested now. He admired his older sister, but he had no desire for there to be more of that running about among his siblings.)

 

Fjorm stopped her twirling to point her lance toward her brother, as if she were challenging him to battle, but her voice was still soft. “What can we do, exactly?”

 

Calmly, Hríd grabbed the midsection of Fjorm’s lance to put it down, nearly sticking the tip of it in the snow. “Don’t be serious, firstly. I think this should be an unprofessional environment.” Unprofessionalism was a lot to ask for from royals, especially someone like Fjorm or himself, but it would be best to remain relaxed while talking about something so emotionally-important.

 

Ylgr, still on the ground cross-legged, raised her hand as if she were in a classroom, for some bizarre reason.

 

Hríd decided to go along with it and pointed to her. “Yes, Ylgr?”

 

“Can I say bad words, if we’re being unprofessional? Like ‘damn’?”

 

The prince thought long and hard about her question, then gave a nod. “...I will permit two ‘damn’s.”

 

Ylgr mouthed two to herself, accepting this new information. Then, she put her hand down, satisfied. “Alright! So, where do we start?”

 

Fjorm took to raising her hand next. Why this was becoming a thing, Hríd didn’t know, considering this act of “speaking when spoken to” was probably very professional, but he didn’t feel like correcting it yet— he called on Fjorm, who took a seat in the snow next to Ylgr, sticking her lance in the ground beside her.

 

“First things first; why did your feelings on her change so suddenly to begin with? You’ve never told me,” she opened. She stuck her finger in the snow and made two circles, and, as she spoke, added a line between them that connected the two. “You hated each other so long, and then one day, you reveal yourselves as friends. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

 

There was a pause. Hríd didn’t know how to explain their relationship. He wasn’t sure when their co-existence had turned into friendship, it had just… happened.

 

“She was in pain and alone, some time ago…” He murmured after a moment, his words punctuated and deliberate. “I wanted to be there for her.”

 

Fjorm leaned forward in the snow, like she was trying to see something clearer. Her hand that she had put down to support herself sunk into the mini-diagram she had just made in the process. “In pain? Had she been wounded?”

 

“Well…” Hríd looked off to the side, thinking. Then, he cursed himself.

 

He couldn’t answer her truthfully, and now he had put himself in a terrible position.

 

The two of them had to have been in the castle in the moment Hríd was describing, as they had never gone on a mission together due to their mutual hatred, but there was practically no way to injure yourself in this realm without someone noticing. Not to mention, half of Laegjarn’s favorite people were healers, so it made no sense that, in the hypothetical situation where Laegjarn was wounded, she would be alone, rather than rushing to find Mist or Elise.

 

The only explanation was something outlandish like the Rite of Flames, but he couldn’t just say that. And he wasn’t creative enough to come up with anything new at such short notice.

 

After mulling over what lies he could tell, and, realizing there would be no suitable one, Hríd shook his head, defeated. “...I can’t say.”

 

Ylgr pouted, disappointed. “What do you mean you can’t say?”

 

“I can’t,” he repeated, staring Ylgr in the eyes with an intensity that said not to push him any further. Then, he, too, finally took a seat on the ground, a foot away from his siblings across from him. “I swore to her that I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

 

As Ylgr lamented over Hríd keeping secrets from her, Fjorm sat with her hand to her chin, earnestly appearing to try to figure out what Hríd could possibly be referring to. But he doubted she could. After all, only he and Laegjarn knew of the reason why—

 

“It was the Rite of Flames, wasn’t it?” Fjorm looked up at Hríd, expectantly, silencing both of her siblings.

 

His blood ran as cold as the snow.

 

Nevermind, then.

 

Fjorm acknowledged his non-answer as a confirmation, and continued speaking. “She had told me that she had given herself up to the flames of Muspell before she died, in her last battle. Everyone else was busy attending to other means at that point,” she explained. “I doubt you remember… Perhaps even the Summoner or Lord Alfonse have forgotten, as well.”

 

Hríd paused to flip through his mind. The memory of the end of the war was vague— it was a hectic time, where battles blended together to the point where he couldn’t pull two completely apart anymore. He definitely recalled fighting Laegjarn’s army for the final time, but for the most part, he was helping get the wounded away from the battlefield on his horse— he didn’t care about the enemy’s fate in the slightest. It stood to reason he probably didn’t hear what she said, or even notice when Laegjarn died.

 

...Gods, he was the worst.

 

The prince came back from his own thoughts in time to hear Fjorm mumble, “I had thought that its effects had gone away once she passed away, or at least when she joined the Order, but I suppose not…” She narrowed her eyes, like she was trying to see something from far away up close.

 

“She’s not like you?” Ylgr asked, peering up at Fjorm, who shook her head. That made Ylgr frown. “That’s sad.”

 

Fjorm was another person who took part in a Rite that would lead to eventual death, under normal circumstances. The three of them knew she was just buying time, but that in of itself was the magic of the Order. There was never anyone who died in the castle while the Summoner was around— in fact, the concept of someone legitimately passing away was never something any of them had to worry about.

 

It had to do with what the heroes were summoned with. The legendary artifact the Summoner carried imprinted on heroes that joined the Order, and altered them just slightly— instead of letting them exist normally, the heroes would be in a frozen state, akin to stopped time. This was why heroes could back from fatal blows, and pre-existing conditions never got worse in exchange for their service. For example, Wrys arrived with a bad back, but it never got worse. Fjorm joined the Order while suffering from the effects of her own Rite, but she never progressed in her illness.

 

In Laegjarn’s case, where she had already died and the Rite of Flames had already had the worst possible effect on her, one might think she would be similar to other heroes that had been summoned from beyond the grave, such as Quan or Ethlyn, who were perfectly fine.

 

But something was different. Laegjarn could never get worse to the point where she would die, but she it seemed she could never get better, either. She had a permanent scar on her person.

 

Hríd figured that since the cat was out of the bag now, it was best to explain everything, from the moment he took pity on the princess to where he was now, in as much detail as he could muster. He told his sisters how he cared for Laegjarn on days when her condition was unbearable, how the two of them found they enjoyed battle together, even how he had broken Nifl’s rules against sharing sacred garb (though the two almost immediately admitted they broke that rule as well with their own friends in the Order during the winter months). It went without saying that all of the information he revealed to them was to be kept a secret, especially once Hríd peppered in the fact that the princess had a fear of being sent home if she was found out.

 

He was breaking the promise he kept with Laegjarn, but some of his conscience found ease in the fact that at least the secret was only known by his family.

 

By the end of the lecture, Ylgr raised her arms and fell backwards into the snow, exhausted. “Poor Laeg. She must be sad, being here hurting.” She sighed, looking up at the sky.

 

Hríd agreed solemnly. “Which is why I wanted to help her. I was the only one who knew of her secret here. It wasn’t right of me to not to do something. So I began to care for her, and about her…” He leaned back a bit, straightening his back. Now came to the difficult part— describing the heart of the problem in detail. “Which brings me to earlier this week, when the snow was still falling. The princess was staying in my room, because she had fallen ill, but when she woke up, I suddenly… wanted to be closer to her. Though I pushed away the urge in that moment, since then, I’ve....”

 

He looked down at his hands buried in the snow at either side of him, too embarrassed to actually look at his siblings. “I’ve had… strange thoughts, consistently.”

 

The air of silence was so heavy it was crushing. He didn’t realize how depraved he sounded until Fjorm began to blush, her eyes widening and her mouth straightening into a line. “...Thoughts strange enough that Ylgr shouldn’t be within range if you are to say them aloud?” She asked, reaching over and covering Ylgr’s ears on the ground. The younger sister perked up and shot up straight from her laid out position on the ground, interested, like she wanted to hear said thoughts anyways.

 

In that moment, Hríd wished he was dead, because there was nothing worse than having your own sister look at you as if you were a pervert.

 

“No, nothing that disgusting!” He insisted, face burning, and he swatted Fjorm’s hands away from Ylgr. She backed off reluctantly, the kind of reluctance a shopkeep shows to a former thief in their store, which certainly didn’t make Hríd feel any less judged. Frantically, he tried to save himself by choking out, “It’s not anything mature in nature, just… I can’t help thinking about every little thing she does… She has these little quirks, and they’re all so lovely, and…”

 

Both siblings stared at him in silence, and the prince buried his head in his hands, the shame piling on him harder with every millisecond that went by. “Actually, please don’t make me say these things out loud.” This was a definitely a mistake. How did people deal with emotions like this normally, without collapsing in on themselves? He should have just been happy with the inner torment going on in his mind forever.

 

Ylgr kicked her legs up and down on the ground in a huff. “Say one! We need an example. To make sure you actually like her.” (They really didn’t need an example, but she was just curious.)

 

Hesitantly, he peeked through his fingers at his sisters, who waited with bated breath. In particular, Fjorm stared at Hríd with such a strong intensity that he thought she was trying to commit the moment to memory. Either that, or she was silently trying to tell him not to be too strange with whatever he was going to say. He thought for a moment, partially about an example he could give, and partially about his own mortality.

 

“...When we were speaking yesterday,” the prince mumbled, looking down at the ground while he recalled the events of the day prior. As he spoke, his voice got quieter and quieter. “The princess was telling me something she had done with Laevatein a few years ago, and I thought that…T-That her smile was beautiful, when she was talking, and she had this way of moving her hands while she told the story that I thought was charming, a-and...”

 

Ylgr shot up from the ground, eyes sparkling, while Hríd himself sunk low and groaned in embarrassment. “Damn!” She marveled. Fjorm shot her a disapproving glare, but she quickly retorted by gesturing to Hríd to remind her of the agreement the two had come to beforehand. Then, she put both hands to her hips triumphantly. “You like her!”

 

Fjorm looked to her brother. “But these thoughts came out of nowhere, didn’t they? It might be stress telling you to feel some way.”

 

This was an extremely nice way of saying in front of Ylgr that Hríd might just be pent up.

 

He appreciated the crude thinking for once, but that wasn’t the answer, either. “I’d like if it was that simple, but… I’ve had plenty of passing thoughts before all of this, here and there, that I would brush off as something odd…” Hríd sighed.

 

Ylgr leaned down and pat her brother’s head, which was almost touching the snow now with how far he had slumped himself over. “He definitely likes her. Hríd is like… Like Soren, when Ike does anything. He gets these big hearts in his eyes. You’ve seen that, right? He’s doing that right now, but with Laeg.” She said with the certainty of a scholar, though what she said wasn’t so much highly-educated observations as it was common knowledge.

 

“You can’t even see his eyes. He has them shut.” Fjorm quipped, but then put her hand to Hríd’s head in a pitying way along with her sister. It was like Hríd was an old animal at a petting zoo. “But I don’t disagree, either. You care for Lady Laegjarn deeply, you spend much time thinking about her, you’re physically attracted to her, and you’re so desperate to sort out your own head that you’ve come to us for guidance, two of the people probably least suited for this task in the long run. You probably… Or, rather, you definitely like her.”

 

In the prince’s head, he repeated that last sentence like it was a holy prayer.

 

He likes her…

 

Hearing all of those things said aloud by someone as calm and logical as Fjorm really made Hríd face the music. She was right, wasn’t she? He had tried to convince himself that maybe he was just overthinking things, but there was only so much “overthinking” he could do under the guise of it being platonic.

 

His whole life, he had never experienced romantic interest, but in just under a few months at the Order, said feeling had blossomed with Laegjarn. What a strange realization, but at the same time, what a refreshing one. He was secretly glad he hadn’t wasted this on someone else, because whoever it would have been, he was sure they would have paled in comparison.

 

Hríd wondered if he was blushing.

 

Although she was satisfied just a moment ago, Ylgr’s eyes suddenly narrowed with apprehension, as if she had just put two pieces together and solved a puzzle to something she never wanted to know. She removed her hand from Hríd’s head and put it to her cheek. “But… Hríd’s never kissed anyone. Laeg’s going to be disappointed.” She sighed.

 

Immediately, the peaceful moment between the three was ruined.

 

There were no words to describe the embarrassment that tore through Hríd at that moment, ripping him out of his own thoughts. He shot up from his hunched position on ground like a firework, sunk his knees in the snow, and reached over to put a hand in front of his sister’s mouth, who was now giggling at his plight. “There is no reason why you should be thinking of things like that at such a young age!” He chided her, eyebrows furrowed.

 

A gentle hand was placed on Hríd’s shoulder. “No, she is right,” Fjorm’s voice came from his side, solemn. She looked at him with sad, tired eyes, as if to tell him to resign while he had the chance. “You’re in a bind, brother. If only I had Gunnthrá’s collection of books with me so you could learn how…”

 

A memory flickered by Hríd’s head, one where he was helping Gunnthrá clean out her quarters, when he happened to come across a book called Lovers of the Sunrise: Kisses of the Eternal , to which Gunnthrá claimed the novel was educational. Perhaps that was one of the many prized literary works Fjorm was referring to here… The prince reminded himself that when he was to return home to Nifl, Gunnthrá’s possessions should be placed where no one else could find them, for her image’s sake. He would most definitely not flip through any of them.

 

”I am not in any bind,” he huffed, standing up.

 

Fjorm broke out into a smile and began to get up from the ground herself, then put a hand over her mouth to hide a bit of laughter. “You know we only say these things because we love you.”

 

Ylgr nodded, bouncing up from the snow and pointing to herself. “And because we like Laeg, too. She’s nice to me. She helps me polish my daggers sometimes.” She began trotting back in the direction of one of the castle’s entrances.

 

“It’s true.” Fjorm agreed, keeping her pace. “She’s a kind woman. Had Surtr not had Laevatein under his thumb, I’m certain she would have fought a very different fight back then.”

 

Their praises struck a chord in Hríd. Briefly, he recalled how neither Ylgr nor Fjorm had ever rejected Laegjarn quite like him. Perhaps she had apologized to them, like she had tried to do with Hríd at first, but he was the only one who flat-out rejected her. The thought that he had less maturity than his two younger sisters was a sad one.

 

Without even thinking twice, Hríd asked, “Why did none of you try to stop me, when I would hate the princess in such a way before?”

 

The second the words left his lips, he regretted it. How could he be so spineless as to try to blame others for his wrongdoings? It was his responsibility to open his own eyes, not theirs.

 

But rather than the two of them getting upset with him asking, they were more upset by their answer. Both sisters looked off in different directions, scowling, and Ylgr began to mumble. “We did. We told you to stop being mean, but you never listened to us. It’s not our fault you were stubborn.”

 

The apology he was about to give for asking something so ridiculous got caught in his throat.

 

Hríd blinked. “You did…?”

 

He couldn’t recall any confrontation of the sort, no matter how much he racked his brain. Did his mind completely block out those protests from his younger siblings in his memory? A sinking feeling grew in his stomach.

 

Fjorm spread her hands. “That, and it was also the first time you… really acted out. We had no idea what to do besides tell you to stop.” She shrugged, looking away. “Usually you were always composed, but Laegjarn being accepted by everyone so easily really set you off, and we didn’t know how to handle it…”

 

Both sisters looked to each other for support, then looked back to Hríd sadly, as if to confirm to him with their stares that he really had done such things.

 

He wanted nothing more but to stop, sink back into the snow, and hang his head miserably. Gods, he was a horrible person! If he were to die right now, he would be suffering in hell, no doubts about it.

 

The three had been walking back into the castle for only a moment now, with Hríd behind them and the two siblings in front, and Ylgr halted them briefly as she spun around and kicked Hríd in the shin. The point of her shoe delivered more impact than she probably intended, but the gesture’s message was definitely understood. “If she doesn’t want to date you because you were mean back then, that’s your fault!” She shouted.

 

Hríd deserved that, so he wasn’t going to complain about the sudden act of violence, though the unbelievable pain detracted from what Ylgr had actually said to him. While he rubbed at his (most likely now bruising) leg as they began their walk once more, he narrowed his eyes at his sister. “Date me? I doubt she feels the same way about me. This meeting was to understand how I feel, not a planning party for how to woo the princess.”

 

When he looked up from his leg, he saw neither sister was listening. Now that Ylgr had sewn the seed for the idea of dating, the entire air of the conversation changed from the sweet feeling of first love to the strategic coldness of war. Fjorm had a hand to her chin, speaking in a low, serious voice that she only used when planning out tactics in the field. “What would Lady Laegjarn like…? I think she’s a fan of flowers. I’ve seen some of the books she’s taken out of the studies around the castle, and they were flower-related.” She spoke, as if in a trance, taking large strides.

 

Ylgr mimicked her sister, closing her eyes and taking in everything she was saying. “She likes anything small. Because they make her think of Laevatein.” She chimed in at one point, the same seriousness about her.

 

Fjorm noted that. “Small flowers, then?” She looked back at Hríd, who knew that once either of them got excited about something, it was hard to make their minds stop racing about it. “Brother, you should get Lady Laegjarn bouquet of small flowers and tell her how you feel.” She told him, an aura of confidence about her, since she wasn’t the one doing the confessing.

 

Under the stares of the princesses, Hríd put up a hand in weak protest. “Please listen to me when I speak… I have no intention of telling her how I feel.” The last thing he wanted was Laegjarn becoming aware of his feelings. Just admitting them to his siblings was a struggle, he couldn’t imagine telling them to the actual person of interest.

 

But neither sister saw what Hríd was saying. “I don’t think it would be a bad idea. At the very least, even if she doesn’t feel the same way, it might put her at ease, somewhat.” Fjorm raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you think she’s probably found your blushing and general scatterbrained-edness a bit concerning by now?”

 

Hríd wanted to tell Fjorm that wasn’t an actual word, but stopped himself once he realized that she was probably right. Surely after a few days of this behavior, Laegjarn would have noticed there was something wrong with him, what with how much they were around each other.

 

Still… “I don’t want to impose,” Hríd said.

 

“You’ll only be doing that if you force change on the relationship.”

 

“Even so…”

 

“It doesn’t hurt to try.”

 

“Yes, but…”

 

Ylgr suddenly grabbed onto Hríd’s side and hugged him. “Come on, you need confidence!” She squeezed him, as if she could transfer some of her own into him. If she could, he would probably need a lot more than she could provide, which was just as embarrassing as the mental maturity he previously lacked. The prince sighed, patting his sister on the head with a weak smile. “I have confidence, just not with things like this—“

 

The sound of shifting snow from behind the group made everyone freeze.

 

There was someone else nearby.

 

All joking and fun times were now over, that much was guaranteed. Immediately, the prince’s hand was to his sword, and he spun around on the defensive, causing Ylgr to let go of him and stumble backwards a few paces. It surprised him to see there was no one standing in the direction of the sound, a far edge of the castle, some 50 feet away, but that didn’t exactly necessarily put him at ease— the culprit could have easily just ducked behind the corner which the sound came from.

 

However, when seeing nothing was there, both siblings were perplexed by the fact that Hríd was still on edge. “That was probably one of the tree branches falling,” Ylgr pointed upwards, towards some of the snow-covered branches of the trees that hugged the castle’s perimeter. “They can’t handle all the weight on them for so long, so they snap and fall. Or, sometimes they dip enough where the snow just slides off.”

 

But Hríd didn’t feel comfortable enough with that answer just to let the matter go, especially since the supposed snapping of a tree branch should be much louder than what he heard. Already, his mind was racing with possibilities as he began to stalk toward the corner; mainly, he was convinced there was a person behind it. And if anyone was spying on them, it would mean big trouble. He couldn’t care less if the entire world knew about how he felt about Laegjarn (so long as it wasn’t her herself), but that would mean that they also could have potentially heard about the princess’s secret. If word got out about that, it could be all over for Laegjarn, and that would be his fault. That was the last thing he wanted.

 

So he shook his head and his sister’s explanation. “Let me go check. I can’t risk the princess’s safety.” He said, drawing his blade and rushing forward.

 

“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t attack someone out of the blue like some brigand!” Fjorm called after him.

 

“I can at least give them a stern talking-to!” Hríd yelled. He was half-hoping that with his voice, he would startle the culprit into coming forward, or maybe making some kind of foolish escape, but there was no such sign as he ripped through the snow in front of him. There was no movement he could hear, so he was sure that if there was someone there, he would see them the second he turned the corner.

 

So Hríd did just that— he gripped the corner once he had ran up to it (which maybe only took 15 seconds, with how fast he was going) then flung himself around it. As he planted his feet back down on the ground, he pointed his sword out, ready to either negociate or threaten whoever was there…










 

 

 

 

But of course, around the corner a few feet inward in a patch of cleared snow, with her hands up, was Laegjarn.

 

She was dressed completely in winter clothes, with a long, thick scarf wrapped around her neck, wool mittens, an overcoat that reached down to her knees, and snow boots with a furry lining, but there was still a visible shiver crawling up her back. Both of her mittens were covered in snow, as were some parts of her forearms and what was visible of her lower legs, with the snow clinging to her armor. The culprit behind her collection of snow on her clothes seemed to be the mound behind her, which looked like a snowman made by someone who just figured out how to use their arms and hands.

 

What was worse than her shoddy excuse of a snowman and the fact that she had scared him half to death (regarding her safety, mind you), however, was her expression. She look on her face was that of a criminal who had already broken out of jail once— no remorse, and a smug smile that let whoever apprehended her know that she would find her way out again.

 

“Prince of Nifl,” she regarded him. “Nice to see you. We seem to meet around corners in a dramatic fashion quite a bit.”

 

To say Hríd was surprised would be an understatement, but it wasn’t only surprise that kept him frozen in place.

 

Every ounce of confusion and fear he had ever experienced in his life couldn’t compare to how he felt now, staring the woman he had just talked about for upwards of 25 minutes and realizing, Oh, Gods, she must have heard me say all of that.

 

He stared at her blankly.

 

Then, he quietly put his sword away, face red with embarrassment, eyes glued to the ground over the fact he had almost readily stabbed her.

 

“Hello,” he murmured, glancing up at her for a second. “...I suppose I should ask how long you were here for.”

 

Laegjarn tilted her head with a smile that told Hríd everything he needed to know, and he physically cringed. “Would you be surprised if I said I heard all of your dialogue, from start to finish?” She pointed to her right hand with her left. “I received these mittens from Flora, along and thought I should try them out, so I came out early this morning and tried to build a snowman.” She gestured back to the glorified pile of snow. “I didn’t notice you were here until you started talking.”

 

The shifting of snow behind Hríd caught his attention, and the familiar faces of his sisters popped up next to him, peeking around the corner. Neither sibling even bothered to try and mask their shock at the scene, Fjorm especially, as she choked out a slightly worried greeting. “Oh! Goodness. Hello, Lady Laegjarn.”

 

“Fjorm,” she nodded in her direction. She did the same to the younger sibling under her, “Ylgr.”

 

An awkward silence followed. Fjorm couldn’t decide whether to look at her brother, or the Muspellian princess, and, abruptly, she put hands on Ylgr’s shoulders and nodded. “We… We should get going. Come, Ylgr.”

 

Yet the younger sister was reluctant. “What? But it’s about to get good.” She pointed, making Laegjarn stifle a laugh.

 

Fjorm narrowed her eyes. “Ylgr!”

 

“But I didn’t get to say my second ‘damn’!” She protested. Then, she put her hands to her mouth, wide-eyed. “Oh, no, did that count?”

 

“Yes, it did,” Hríd said sternly, regretting making the swearing-deal with her now, “Go.”

 

With a huff, Ylgr allowed herself to be pulled away by Fjorm, who gave Hríd a wink of motivation before disappearing around the bend. It was the kind of wink that said, You got this, and even if you don’t and mess up terribly, only your sister and I will know! , which was not the greatest thing to receive, but it meant something, at least.

 

When Hríd looked back to Laegjarn, she was crouched down in front of her snowman, sculpting its sides with both hands. It seemed she didn’t want to talk face-to-face like usual, or, at the very least, she wanted to focus on her work.

 

Cautiously, Hríd approached until he was standing nearly above her. “I… I suppose I should firstly apologize for breaking my promise to you.”

 

He expected hell for breaking his word, but instead of any retribution, Laegjarn shrugged. “Oh, that? I was honestly surprised you hadn’t told either of them the truth since then. You were more sensitive than I had previously given you credit for.” She looked back to Hríd and grinned at him, like she had just made a great point, but he wasn’t laughing. In fact, he was expression was stone-cold— mouth drawn into a straight line and eyebrows furrowed.

 

The princess huffed and flicked some of the snow on her mittens up at him. “Don’t be so high strung, prince. It’s just us here. I don’t like it when you’re upset like this.”

 

He crossed his arms. “You heard every detail I shared with my siblings regarding you. I don’t think it’s physically possible for me not to be ‘high strung’.”

 

She turned back to continue her work, which was actually making the snowman look worse, but it would be rude to just point that out. So, instead, Hríd shifted over to her side, crouched down with her, and handed her more snow to pack on and pointing where to put it. Laegjarn accepted the offering without saying anything, and the two let the silence of the snow wash over them for a good moment. The occasional cough from Laegjarn was the only thing that grounded them.

 

Once the body of the snowman was looking a bit better, Laegjarn spoke again, her voice soft. “I didn’t mind that you told them about what ails me. You dug yourself into a hole back there, and Fjorm already knew to an extent, so it isn’t like I blame you… And everything you said about how you felt about me wasn’t bad, either. I thought it was rather sweet, actually.”

 

(If he wasn’t too busy reeling over the fact that this discussion was actually happening, Hríd might have thought of that last comment especially as a relief.)

 

She then continued, “Fjorm was right. About me being worried about you— you were a lot sweatier these past couple days than you usually are.”

 

Hríd twitched. “W-Was I?”

 

Laegjarn turned her head to look at him, serious for a second, before giving him one of her usual smirks. A covered hand was put to his head, ruffling his already messy hair slightly. Her hand was covered by a cold, icey mitten, and yet, it was a welcome feeling.

 

“...No, just another joke,” she admitted. “But you’d avoid eye contact with me like that, and kind of squirm around when I got close. I thought maybe you were getting sick. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

 

Hríd smiled back at her to reciprocate the kindness of the gesture, though it was painfully obvious how nervous he was. “I see. I apologize for making you worry. That was never my intention.” He responded.

 

Silence.

 

Then, Laegjarn stifled a laugh. “Gods, you look so pitiful right now.”

 

“I-I do not!” Hríd removed her hand in a huff, then flicked some of the snow on his gloves at her face.

 

“Are you going to get like this every time I’m near you? I mean, you had moments before, but not like this.” She chuckled.

 

“Of course not! I’m…” The prince searched for the proper words, looking off to the side for a second. “I’m sure I will be a bit out of sorts in the coming future, but I will learn how to control these emotions over time…”

 

Laegjarn turned her head down to the ground and scooped up some more snow, packing it in her hands. “Controlling your emotions, huh. Is that hard for you?” She asked, lifting the clump of snow up for examination for a second before putting it on top of the snowman. It would make sense for this small piece to be its head, but it was so misshapen that it looked more like the poor thing had been a victim of an incident.

 

Hríd reached over with more snow to try and rectify the situation, sculpting the head to make it more head-shaped. “Apparently so. I’ve never really tried to, before. For the most part, that was fine.” He had to say ‘for the most part’, because his actions from the past were now fresh in his mind after his discussion with Fjorm and Ylgr.

 

Before he could try to re-apologize to her, Laegjarn began to speak again. “For me…” The princess breathed out, a puff of warm air leaving her mouth, “that kind of thing is easy.”

 

That wasn’t necessarily something to brag about, the two of them both knew, but it wasn’t like either of them were professionals in conversation, either.

 

“...Because you had to do it?” Hríd probed, the thought of the former king Surtr flickering into his mind.

 

She nodded. “That’s right.”

 

“Do you still do it?”

 

“All the time.” Laegjarn was so calm when she spoke, like she had just described the weather.

 

Her comment lingered in the air between them for a moment, before Hríd leaned a little bit closer and asked, his voice a whisper, “...Why?”

 

He was met with silence, and he knew he should give up. There was always so much Laegjarn was comfortable with saying about herself, and there was no doubt in his mind that this was something she wouldn’t elaborate on.

 

But today, something was different. Instead of switching the topic, Laegjarn simply shrugged in response. “Habit, I suppose.” She ripped a half-exposed twig up from the ground and stuck it in the snowman’s side. It was the only conventionally-snowman-appearing thing about the snowman now. Once she made sure the twig’s position was secure, she turned to look at Hríd, blank-faced as always. “I mean, it isn’t like I’m some radically different person whether or not I show how I feel or not. I just keep most things right here.”

 

She pointed to her head, rather than her heart.

 

The prince couldn’t figure out why that bothered him.

 

“You don’t have to do that, you know. Your father isn’t here,” Hríd doubted that the Summoner would let it happen, but if Surtr ever somehow managed to slip into The Order, Hríd would, without a doubt, lose it. Forget everything he had done to wrong Laegjarn while he was of foggy judgement— it wouldn’t even come close to what he would do to the former king while his mind was clear.

 

The rage that overtook Hríd’s thoughts stopped once he saw Laegjarn’s expression soften, like she was looking at something pitiful. “True. But when you do something for a long time, it feels strange to just stop,” she said simply.

 

“I don’t want to force you to, if you’re not comfortable,” the prince shook his head. Then, he blurted out, “But I will say, those times I see you smiling genuinely are one of many reasons why I fell for you.”

 

Saying something as bold as that took a lot of courage on Hríd’s end, but the small, genuine smile that came from Laegjarn in response was worth the mad thumping of his heart. “The prince of Nifl is getting brave, for once.” She teased. Then, after studying the snowman in front of her, noticing how well Hríd had worked on her little arts and crafts project with her, she nodded sagely to herself, as if she had come to a huge realization.

 

She pointed to Hríd, a gleam in her eye. “You know, dressed the way you are, and caring the way you do, you’re like my own white knight, aren’t you? Decked out in beautiful clothes, kind, putting my needs first, that kind of thing.”

 

Rather than feel honored by the comment and her acknowledging how much he did for her, it stirred a bittersweet feeling in Hríd. “...Is that so? After being reminded earlier of how much I used to hate you, I feel like you’ve picked a poor knight.” He admitted, not looking her in the eyes and instead leaning back to stare at the clear sky overhead. The last thing he felt like at this point was any sort of hero for Laegjarn— maybe “pretty okay sidekick” was a better descriptor.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Laegjarn mimic him— eyes turned up to the sky, chin pointed up, now with a slight grin on her face, like she knew something he didn’t. “If you were truly a bad choice, we wouldn’t be here speaking. You changed your ways and helped me in my times of need. Those things are what’s important to me. Hell, even when I wanted to just play in the snow, you’ve come to my aid…” In that moment, her hand brushed over Hríd’s, then gripped it firmly so he wouldn’t pull away. Her mitten was still cold, but somehow, the tight grasp of her fingers around his began to radiate a warmth he couldn’t properly describe.

 

“You may not believe it, but you have helped me in ways I could never convey to you with words alone.” She whispered under her breath, the sound as light as a stray leaf falling onto a pile of snow.

 

It probably wasn’t intended to make Hríd’s heart race, but it certainly did, anyways. He was grateful her face was still pointed up to the sky, or else she would see how his lips were quivering, how red his cheeks were, and how he was very close to just bolting up from the ground and dunking his head in the nearest large snowpile.

 

Common sense told him to say something in response, something that conveyed just as much trust and care as what Laegjarn had just said, but the prince’s mind drew a complete blank under the pressure. And, sadly, the opportunity window was too short for him to think for more than a few seconds. His time to conjure up a response came to a close at the signal of Laegjarn’s smug voice. “Plus, another good point about having you around… is seeing you all flustered and frustrated and cute.”

 

Any semblance of genuine feelings were now overrode by her comment. Hríd shook his head feverently. “I am not cute!”

 

She leaned over to him and smiled, squeezing his hand tighter. “I disagree. I think you’re adorable .”

 

When she pulled back, hand and all, Laegjarn looked away and began to laugh, the quiet kind of laugh that barely made any noise, so it seemed almost redundant to try to hide it, but she did nevertheless. Even though Hríd couldn’t see her face, he thought she looked beautiful— mind you, she looked beautiful all the time, but now was especially true, in Hríd’s own opinion. It was so rare to see the barriers around Laegjarn come down, and when they did, he found that that was when he felt his heart swell the most. In the back of Hríd’s mind, a part of him said he was fine with just being able to make her smile, if nothing else. As if that was all he needed, ever.

 

Wow, if he didn’t sound like a protagonist straight out of one of Gunnthrá’s books. This was an probably an odd look for him.

 

He didn’t notice Laegjarn was looking him in the eyes again until her laughter died down, and her face was brought up just a few inches from his. “What is it? You’re staring…” She asked.

 

Too close for comfort. Hríd scooted away just enough and kept facing the opposite direction so he wouldn’t have to look at her. “You’ve heard enough embarrassing nonsense from me today,” he reassured her, trying to pull off one of her signature subject changers.

 

But his reluctance only made her curious, and her eyes widened slightly, as if she had stumbled upon a secret treasure chest without having the key to unlock it. “What? Tell me!” She insisted.

 

The prince paused, like he was contemplating really telling her or not… but he knew he’d be forced to cough up what he was thinking sooner or later, so there was no point in hesitating any longer. Defeated without even the semblance of a fight, Hríd lolled his head to the side, the one in the opposite direction of Laegjarn.

 

“...You look very beautiful right now, that’s all. So much so, I can’t look at you.” He mumbled. He was probably bright red, what with how warm his face felt.

 

Laegjarn seemed to take that comment in, not following up his confession with any of her usual quips, and instead remaining silent for just a beat. Though he couldn’t see it, she gestured to him with an open hand, as if she were sweeping over his entire figure. “You don’t look so bad, yourself.” She said simply.

 

Again with this. “Your teasing is insufferable,” he sighed.

 

But she shook her head, her voice a bit more quiet this time. “...It’s not teasing. I truly think that.”

 

“I’m sure you do.”

 

“You don’t believe me?”

 

“Not at all. I’m betting this is just a setup for yet another brilliant joke. That’s how it always is with you—“

 

A mitten was put under Hríd’s chin, and before he could comment, the grip tightened and yanked his head 45 degrees to face the Muspellian princess, who was as stone-faced as her father used to be when he was alive.

 

The entire mood between them did a 180 in that instant.

 

As far as Hríd knew, this sudden change came out of nowhere, but Laegjarn didn’t seem to think so at all, as when Hríd stared at her in confusion, she only tightened her lips and brought his head up slightly to her level— which hurt a bit, as he was much shorter than her, so he had to strain the entire time.

 

“I wouldn’t be the type to joke after everything you had just said back there,” Laegjarn said. She looked more cross than the times where the two would actively be out for each other’s throat— her lips were tightened, eyes narrowed, and her nose was scrunched up just slightly. If you removed him from the picture, Hríd would have thought she was staring at the enemy. “I really want you to think for more than your goldfish brain allows you to, if that’s possible.”

 

“G-Goldfish brain…” He echoed, awed. An insult to his intelligence would normally not stand, but Hríd didn’t have the time to be contesting such a thing when his life rested in Laegjarn’s hand, literally. The prince had a feeling he would be able to meet his sister in the afterlife in a moment if Laegjarn didn’t loosen her hold on him, for fear she would break his skull through the chin alone, like a domino effect throughout his bones. She definitely had the power to do something of that caliber.

 

“And what exactly am I supposed to be thinking about with my ‘goldfish brain’…?”

 

Laegjarn smirked for a second at the fact he was using her comment in an unrelated sentence— he most likely looked pretty stupid to her now— before going back to her colder expression. “How I feel.”

 

For a second, Hríd wanted to retort that it was hard for him to even remotely understand what she was feeling 99% of the time, but he decided he wanted to live, so he paused to think seriously on what she had said.

 

In his mind, he tried to recall any moment in which Laegjarn had expressed something that Hríd didn’t think hard enough about, like perhaps her opinions on wyvern scale cleaning solution, which was a conversation he easily got lost in a few weeks ago. But that wouldn’t make her so angry she would be almost crushing his skull, would it? After all, he didn’t control the prices Anna had… Ultimately, he drew a blank on what she could possibly be referring to, so he was going to need to own up to his mistake in the nicest way possible.

 

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand… Did I do something to offend you?” Hríd asked, hoping his sincerity was the right answer.

 

Wrong answer. Her hold only tightened, and Hríd silently said a prayer to whatever deity was listening above for him to come out of this encounter unscathed.

 

“Come on, I’ve given you so many signs already— are you seriously that daft?” She scowled, shaking his head around a little bit as if there were a present inside of his skull and she was trying to guess what it was.

 

He winced at the pain. “I suppose I am, because I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

 

“For the Gods’ sake! I like you just as much as you like me!
















There are times where someone can get so confused, they legitimately lose all train of thought, or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, think far too much all at once. For Hríd, who was a simple man but had spent the past couple days overthinking every aspect of his social life, the latter seemed like it would happen to him, rather than the former.

 

However, his mind was very collected in this moment, contrary to popular belief, neither scatterbrained nor overwhelmed. In fact, he only thought one thing, which he decided to say aloud to Laegjarn.

 

“...Whaaaaaaaaa…?”

 

Granted, it wasn’t a well articulated thought, but it was the fact that he had one that counted.

 

Laegjarn let go of his head— actually, she threw it back, and Hríd almost fell into the snow with the force— and then she began to speak so quickly it was actually hard for Hríd to keep up.

 

“Do you really think I’d ask for your clothing, sleep in your bed, have you come along on my missions, eat dinner with you, want to know everything about you, and so on and so on, if I hadn’t the feeling of love for you in me?” She asked, putting a hand to her chest dramatically. “I know how friendship works, and I know there’s a limit before something becomes clearly romantic, and we passed that, what, a month ago, maybe longer? Not to mention, I was so shocked back there when you didn’t press me 15 minutes ago after I said what you had told your siblings was sweet, and again when I called you cute before, and even when I held your hand— you completely just blew past all of it!”

 

Her anger with him hadn’t gone away once she had revealed the way she felt, not even in the slightest— actually, it seemed the more she spoke, the angrier she got. This might not have been so bad if he had actually seen Laegjarn angry before, as all her pouting and general antics when she would tease him seemed like child’s play now.

 

A voice told Hríd it would be best to diffuse the argument. He put his hands up in defense. “I, well—“

 

But if he was going to say anything, Laegjarn was on a roll now, and she wasn’t going to stop just because Hríd wanted to say something that could help his case— especially when he could barely raise his voice against her to be heard to begin with. “If anyone else had said what you had, I would have turned them down outright!” She huffed, throwing her hands up in the air. “Well, except maybe Ayra, but she’s married, so there’s no shot there to begin with, so don’t worry about that. The point is, I would have clarified with a ‘thank you, but I don’t like you,’ right away if I didn’t feel the same.” Again, she exasperatedly threw her hands up, but this time she had her eyes squeezed shut. “So I didn’t, but the whole time, you never even asked how I felt! You were always under this preconceived notion that I didn’t like you, so you kept dismissing all the clear signs that I did like a dolt!”

 

“That’s—“

 

She shot up from the ground now, bringing her left foot up to the top of the snowman in front of them, as if she was about to reel back and kick the head off of it. “And this snowman doesn’t even look good! It only has one arm. I couldn’t even find another arm for it, much less a face!” She complained, and actually began to bring her foot back to prepare for the hardest kick she could muster.

 

Before she could do so, however, Hríd scrambled up off the snow and put a hand to her shoulder, trying to pull away the taller princess from the snowman. “Let’s not do that, okay? I really don’t think this is the best thing to do…” He tried to persuade her. “If you’re really upset, you can just continue to take it out on me!”

 

He had said it in the heat of the moment, but when he did, he felt himself regret his outburst immediately— the last thing Hríd wanted was to be on the other end of a kick from Laegjarn, even if the boots she was wearing were soft and fuzzy looking. However, it felt wrong to just let her destroy the thing they had made together, even if it looked as ugly as she said it did…

 

Laegjarn looked down at Hríd with a scowl, like she was going to make good on that suggestion.

 

But instead she paused, took a deep breath, and hung her head.

 

Then, in a surprising development, she turned inward to Hríd and held him in a hug, which almost made him shoot out of his skin.

 

“Sometimes, you can be so frustrating,” she mumbled, her lips right next to Hríd’s ear. Her tone of voice was like that of a child complaining. “I shouldn’t have yelled, but you made me so upset that I…”

 

Hríd clumsily scrambled to reciprocate the hug after realizing he was standing as stiff as a board, gently putting both of his arms around her. In the back of his mind, he told himself he shouldn’t be freaking out so much, considering the other times they had hugged, but the circumstances were so different now that Hríd could just barely muster any strength in his hold. “I… I understand. I apologize,” he murmured.

 

“...Even when you apologize, you’re still frustrating me…”

 

Hríd paused. “S-Should I not, then?”

 

She shook her head. “Absolutely not. Keep telling me how sorry you are.”

 

Figures.

 

Hríd took a deep breath, then began, “I’m sorry for not realizing how you felt, and not asking how you felt, and for not thinking about how you felt, and instead thinking only about myself.” He stopped, collecting his thoughts, then added in, “I’m also very sorry that I could not find another twig or pieces of a face for the snowman. If I could be forgiven by you, I would greatly appreciate it.”

 

A pause. He was hoping she would say yes before she thought too long on whether or not she should kick him.

 

Then, a groan, and a weight was lifted.  “...Fine.” Laegjarn had raised her head and moved back from being slumped over Hríd, but she still had both her arms wrapped around him, however loose they may be. “I guess I couldn’t expect everything from someone with a goldfish brain, could I? Your words.” She smirked.

 

Hríd made note to never quote anything Laegjarn said ever again.

 

She then narrowed her eyes. “I’m surprised you aren’t freaking out. You do realize I’ve said I liked you, yes?”

 

He certainly did realize that, yes.

 

It was such a strange thing for Laegjarn to tell him that he was still having a hard time processing it— almost like the information just wouldn’t sink in. He heard what she said, and definitely recognized what she felt, and his body definitely reacted to her, but his brain was completely disconnected from all of it. It was like waiting for an ice cube to melt during 40 degree weather; eventually, it would happen, but it would take a very long time for the whole thing to melt. He was kind of glad for that, though, because if all of him was in sync right now, he would have fainted the second she said she liked him.

 

“The second you let go of me, I’m going to fall, most likely.” Hríd laughed nervously. It wasn’t hyperbole. To say that Laegjarn was supporting most of his weight right now wouldn’t be a lie, because he had honestly lost feeling in his body the second she latched onto him. He would probably fall to the ground any second now if she had loosened her grip even a smidge.

 

His little comment seemed to resonate with her, though, as Laegjarn tightened her arms around him, now pushing against him in a more tender embrace. “Ah, we don’t want that. I guess I’ll just keep holding onto you,” she said casually, bringing her own head down so her lips were just a few inches away from his forehead.

 

Too close.

 

Laegjarn grinned. “Oh, you’re doing the thing where you squirm around, like I mentioned before.”

 

“You don’t have to tell me…” he grumbled.

 

Then, without warning, she kissed the top of his head.

 

The noise Hríd made was definitely not human in origin. It sounded like an animal just had its tail stepped on.

 

“You c-can’t just… You can’t just do that! I-I needed to get myself ready for that…!” He squeaked. Now he was definitely more aware of his squirming than ever. The top half of his body flailed like a fish out of water. Where her lips had touched felt like it was smoldering, and the scent of her somehow stuck, even though she had only pecked him. Whether or not she had some kind of super effects on the human body or whether or not he was being hyperaware at the moment, Hríd had the teeling it was the latter, but it certainly didn’t make things easier.

 

“I can’t help it if you’re right in front of me like this.” Laegjarn rolled her eyes.

 

“I mean, that kind of thing is…” Hríd squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s for people who are… are we…?”

 

Now it was Laegjarn’s turn to be confused. “Are we…? Are we what?”

 

“A-ARE YOU TWO DATING?!”

 

Laegjarn immediately dropped Hríd to the ground at the sound of the exclamation that belonged to neither of their voices.

 

The prince couldn’t blame her for doing so in the shock, because he had let go of Laegjarn as well. He rubbed his back, feeling yet another part of his body begin to bruise, and looked up to see who it was.

 

In front of them stood their beloved maid Felicia, face bright red as the teaset she held on the tray in front of her. Her hands were trembling far more than they usually did, so much so that the teapot and matching cups seemed to be jumping up every couple of seconds— Hríd made a note internally that if she were to fumble what she was holding, he and Laegjarn would definitely be in the splashzone. So, when he stood up, he took two steps back, and motioned for the princess to do the same.

 

“Felicia! What incredible timing for you to swing by!” Laegjarn marveled, and it was hard to tell if she was being sarcastic or not because of how much emotion she lacked. “Of all places you could be, you chose to come outside in the freezing cold, where only the two of us are.”

 

That was sarcasm, he realized.

 

But either Felicia was too naive to notice, or she was too caught up in what she had just witnessed to even address the manner in which Laegjarn had just spoke. She looked to Hríd, then Laegjarn, then back to Hríd, and tried to do her best to do a formal bow while holding her tray steady. “O-Oh my goodness… Flora told me Laegjarn was out here alone, so s-she wanted me to get tea for her… I-I didn’t know you both were on a date, I…” The tray began to rock again, and Felicia shot up straight, face now almost the same color as her hair with how embarrassed she was. “Ahhh, I’m so sorry…!”

 

Her calling it a date made Hríd’s ears perk up. It was like a domino effect of thoughts. Felicia saw them together, which meant more people would see them together, and he was hoping that wouldn’t mean they would become the center of attention, but that seemed unlikely after their first rumor scare a few weeks ago, because even though everyone was a hero everyone seemed to love workplace drama in whatever form that manifested in, romance especially, and…

 

Well, first, it would be best to clear things up.

 

Hríd shook his head and took a step forward, ready to take the risk of getting drenched. “You don’t have to apologize, Felicia. We weren’t—“

 

Laegjarn pushed Hríd back with a free hand and took his place, silencing him. “Going to yell at you for interrupting our date. You couldn’t have known!”

 

Oh.

 

She called it a date, so that meant...

 

Felicia sighed with relief, shoulders untensing. “T-Thank goodness…” she mumbled. Then, a small, nervous smile spread on her face. “Pardon me for asking, but how long have you two been…? I-It’s just, Forrest never tells me anything about his love life, so I really like hearing this stuff when I can… I j-just think it’s cute, that’s all!”

 

Sometimes Hríd forgot that even though Felicia was only a year or two older than him, the world she came from enabled her to have a son that grew at an extremely fast rate. Though he hadn’t arrived in the Order yet, Felicia spoke about him enough for Hríd to know he was 17 years old, around Fjorm’s age. (“He has such a cute babyface though. Leo will get mad if he heard me say that, but it’s true!” Felicia said one time while folding Hríd’s clothes.)

 

Hríd was pulled from his thinking about how awkward it must be to have a son only a few years younger than you by Laegjarn, who now was standing back at his side with an arm draped over his shoulder, pulling him into a side hug. “Oh, we only got together recently. Very recently. I’m sure we’ll become common knowledge around the castle soon enough!” She said cheerfully, clearly pushing the relationship as hard as she could. For what purpose, Hríd had no clue.

 

Felicia nodded. “I see! W-Well, congratulations…! I’ll get out of your hair, so…”

 

She began to turn around, but then she turned back to the two very quickly, with a small voice, “D-Do you still want the tea, or—“

 

Hríd held up a hand. “We’re good, thank you.”

 

The two watched Felicia trot away in silence, making sure to keep their quiet even when she fumbled and dropped her tea set in the snow a few meters away.

 

Once she was out of earshot, Hríd turned to stare up at Laegjarn. “So we are dating.” He had wanted to comment before that physical affection was something he believed to be restricted to those in relationships with each other, but when the princess had basically already decided they were together...

 

A firm hand was brought down on Hríd’s head with terrifying speed. While the prince saw stars dancing in front of his eyes as he held his now bruising cranium, Laegjarn calmly shook her hand out with an annoyed sigh. “No, I only kissed you and told you I liked you to make small talk,” she hissed. “Of course we are! I know you have no complaints with that, Sir ‘I wasn’t going to tell Laegjarn how I felt because she might not want to date me’.”

 

Under her breath, she mumbled, “I mean, if you hadn’t said something soon, I would have just put you against a wall and gone to town, but this was a nice way of going about it, too…” She sounded completely neutral on that, which terrified Hríd, on account of he only had an inkling of an idea regarding what “going to town” meant to Laegjarn.

 

But more importantly than that; they were dating.

 

Hríd stared quietly at Laegjarn and felt a blush crawl accross his face.

 

So they were dating…

 

Oh, now Hríd’s brain was finally beginning to catch up with the situation. That ice had completely melted now.

 

This was actually happening.

 

“Also, before you go pass out on me… Call me by my actual name,” Laegjarn suddenly said, putting her hand back down where she had just hit him, but in a soft, caring way (if that was possible after the pain she just caused).

 

Hríd blinked a couple of times to reorient himself in reality. “...Huh?”

 

The princess seemed completely unphased by how out of his mind Hríd was being. “We’ve always skirted around our names, for some reason. Shouldn’t we be able to say them now, Hríd ?” She ruffled his hair once she had said Hríd, and, in a surprising note, he found he actually liked the way she said it.

 

It was true that neither of them had ever said their names before— whether they were talking to each other or not, they either said prince or princess . Originally, this stemmed from their feuding days, and not using either’s names was a show of resistance and disrespect. However, by the time they had become friends, they had used their titles for so long that neither were able to make the switch over to their actual names…

 

It would be awkward if they continued to carry this out, wouldn’t it…?

 

So Hríd nodded. “You’re right… Lady Laegjarn .” (It felt wrong to refer to her without the honorific, whether they were dating or not, so he wasn’t going to drop that.)

 

Immediately, Laegjarn’s eyes lit up like New Year’s fireworks in Nifl. It was both a beautiful thing, and something that told Hríd he might be in over his head.

 

“Ah, ‘Lady Laegjarn’, he says!” She echoed in amazement. “You know, everyone calls me Laeg, so you can call me that, too. I should make a cute nickname for you, also...”

 

Hríd began to walk away with the princess in tow, leaving their snowman behind in the cool shade of the castle’s exterior. “I’m not going to call you such a childish nickname, ever. You can count on that.”

 

“I won’t bet money on that.”

 

“I would.”

Chapter Text

“Laeg, I got your tea.”

 

It was safe to say Hríd crumbled quite easily when it came to Laegjarn’s nickname.

 

The princess reached her hand out and took the mug Hríd held out to her, and, despite the fact that what she held was boiling maybe only a minute ago, took a long sip. When she was done, she put the mug down on the dining hall table gently, and Hríd, who had gently slid back into his seat across from her, began to eat the rest of his lunch.

 

“I appreciate it, love ,” Laegjarn cooed, and the prince almost choked on his vegetables.

 

“Hríd is fine.” He chided her.

 

“Oh, I know it’s fine , but my little names for you are so much cuter. Don’t you think so, honey ?”

 

“Not at all.”

 

It had been two weeks since Laegjarn decided they were dating. Aside from the small physical shows of affection and the general “Oooo”ing and “Ahhh”ing from a few other heroes, their days together were more or less the same. Not that Hríd minded that— they were plenty close before they became a couple, so it wasn’t surprising to him that there wasn’t much that changed about their dynamic.

 

Admittedly, though, there were some things that Hríd wanted a bit more of, but he wasn’t sure how to go about requesting it. For example, in the rare moments they kissed, it was always Laegjarn kissing him on the top of the head, like she was sending him off to take a nap. Hríd was too short to reach Laegjarn normally, and he felt too embarrassed to ask her to bend down so he could kiss her, and the only time the two were at equal height were either when they were in public sitting in the dining hall or when Laegjarn would ask Hríd to lay next to her when she was sick— both extremely inappropriate times to ask for or initiate such a thing, so he dodged the matter completely.

 

The second thing he wanted her to not do as much was, well…

 

Sweetie , are you paying attention?” Laegjarn pointed to Hríd, who was definitely not paying attention.

 

...was her constantly giving him pet names in an attempt to find what stuck best. It wasn’t like he hated it or anything, but it was kind of embarrassing to have her rush over to cover him on missions while asking, “Are you okay, sweetheart ?” It was true he had broken down and began to use Laegjarn’s nickname, but that was a whole different beast than this. Eventually, he’d have to tell her to at least restrain herself while in public...

 

“Sorry, what were you saying? My mind has been wandering this morning…” Hríd mumbled, sticking a fork in the assorted cut-up fruits that were left on his plate.

 

Rather than be upset with him, she simply sighed with a tired smile. “Let me guess. You’re thinking about the mission for tomorrow?”

 

Hríd nodded. The mission they would be going on tomorrow would be the first mission that took place on the borders of Muspell, and the first time either of them had been back to the kingdom since the war. Apparently, the Summoner had deliberately chosen not to let them be part of other missions which were done to establish a path to said border— these were the two large raids that had taken place before which left most of the castle empty. However, now that they were going to be taking a step inside Muspell for a bit, the Summoner suddenly had use for the two of them. As princess, Laegjarn knew the ins and outs of any area of Muspell, and as someone who had fended for himself all around Muspell while separated from his main forces during the war, Hríd was familiar was the terrain to the point where he could definitely help.

 

That didn’t change the fact that the Summoner hadn’t told them before of their plans, though. When Hríd found out, it actually made him angry. Maybe it didn’t mean much to Hríd, but Laegjarn should have been first to know that the Order was going to be making its way into Muspell. Not only that, but when he asked, the Summoner kept their reasoning for entry confidential, the level of confidential that was basically I’m only ever going to tell Alfonse what’s going on.

 

It wasn’t like the Summoner was planning on invading Muspell and conquering it, so why go through all of this effort to not say anything to them? On top of that, they seemed to be making them go on the mission begrudgingly, as if they hardly wanted them there to begin with— as if, without their knowledge, they would have continued to leave Laegjarn and Hríd in the dark. It all felt wrong.

 

Judging from the tensing in Laegjarn’s shoulders, she probably felt the same way, but she kept that to herself. Despite how independent she may have seemed, once an order was given, she obeyed it without asking any questions.

 

“I just can’t believe no one ever told you that that was where they were trying to get into,” Hríd narrowed his eyes. “I mean, you have the right to know. It’s your kingdom. Why didn’t they tell you?”

 

Laegjarn remained silent, bringing her mug back up to her lips for a moment, but not actually drinking from it. Then, she grinned. “You’re kind of handsome when you get angry, you know?”

 

Hríd hung his head. “Please, take this matter more seriously. This is extremely wrong.”

 

Laegjarn pointed her mug at him. “I am. I don’t think the Summoner trusts me, or us, very much, that’s all.”

 

A pause.

 

They didn’t trust them…? That made no sense. Neither of them had ever done anything to arouse suspicion, so…

 

“...What makes you say that?” Hríd asked.

 

“This is just my theory, but…” Laegjarn put her mug down and leaned over on the table, so she was close to Hríd and could speak lower— that way, the few people who were in the dining hall couldn’t overhear them. “I think that there’s probably been resistance from the broken up army in Muspell, and the Order’s been going out and defeating them. They’re probably suspicious of Laevatein, because she probably hasn’t done anything to stop them. Not like she could, anyways, since there’s no way she’s learned to properly upkeep a kingdom yet, much less take care of a rogue army.”

 

As she spoke, Hríd leaned forward to hear her better, until eventually their foreheads came together. In the back of his mind, Hríd thought that this apparent display of public affection was a great disguise for what they were actually speaking about. Laegjarn seemed to think so, too, because she didn’t pull away, either.

 

“So, if they’re suspicious of Laevatein, they wouldn’t want me to know that, perhaps because they’ll think I’ll throw a temper tantrum or something similar, maybe they even suspect that I have something to do with it,” she whispered. “And they wouldn’t want you to know, because they know you would tell me their suspicions. Probably at first just to spite me, but now that our relationship is like this…” Laegjarn spread her hands. “You’d tell me out of concern.”

 

Hríd stared at Laegjarn, awestruck. “...That’s incredibly an incredibly well thought-out theory when we were told we were going to Muspell only a few hours ago.”

 

Laegjarn responded by bringing her head up and kissing Hríd on the forehead, then leaning back in her seat. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it. But honestly, I’m fine. If what I've said is the case, I know Laevatein’s done nothing wrong, and I’ve done nothing wrong, and once the Summoner sees that, things will be alright.” She said simply.

 

The prince brought a hand up to his forehead and touched the spot where Laegjarn had kissed him. “I wonder what will happen after the army is defeated, though…”

 

The two of them mulled over that thought for a moment.

 

But they didn’t have any particular answers to that, especially when everything Laegjarn had said was just a hunch they couldn’t base anything off of, so they both remained silent. Hríd wasn’t very hungry anymore, so he pushed his plate away, and Laegjarn immediately began helping herself to his leftovers.

 

“Sometimes, I think you have a bottomless pit in place of a stomach,” Hríd said, looking over Laegjarn’s two polished off plates of food and then his now quickly-emptying plate.

 

“Being sick all the time can really work up an appetite, believe it or not,” Laegjarn replied, inhaling an orange slice— one second it was in her hand, the next, it was like it had never existed to begin with. “I appreciate the fact that you barely eat even more, darling .”

 

Hríd raised his eyebrows.

 

...He actually liked the sound of that one.

 

***

 

There was actually something else about Hríd and Laegjarn’s relationship that had changed once they began dating, and that was Laegjarn’s secretivity— or, rather, the slowly increasing lack of. This change wasn’t by Laegjarn’s own doing, however, and was more of a request from Hríd.

 

“You don’t have to tell me anything that makes you uncomfortable, or anything you don’t want to tell me to begin with,” he said the day after their encounter outside, passing Laegjarn a napkin to cough into, “but I want to know more about you.”

 

After Laegjarn hadn’t shied away from talking about herself while they built their snowman like Hríd thought she would, the prince saw that moment as a sign that she trusted him more, as well as a window of opportunity. Most of the things he knew about Laegjarn’s past were factoids about Laevatein, or stories revolving around the younger princess that Laegjarn told willingly (and usually unpromptedly). While he was more than ready to listen to Laegjarn prattle on about her sister, since it made her happy, he also wanted to know more about the princess outside of the little factoid sheet she had given him some time ago.

 

So, it was quite the relief when Laegjarn agreed to Hríd’s wishes. Of course, she didn’t say she would be giving out a tidbit of her past every number of days, but instead, if she felt so inclined to speak about something, she would. For example, when Laegjarn stopped by Hríd’s room a week later, she began to speak about how in Muspell, she and her sister did most of the upkeep in the castle. “Not like there was much to clean, since the castle was only inhabited by Laevatein, my father, myself, and a few advisors and cooks,” Laegjarn said, showing Hríd how to properly fold a shirt. “My father didn’t believe in leaving that kind of thing up to anyone outside of our family. Not just because keeping things tidy by yourself builds character and teaches you to be cleaner, but because he was always concerned that if he let his guard down, a simple maid would end up being a spy.” She then told Hríd about how she used to make cleaning solution herself while teaching him to make it himself.

 

It was a slow process, but Laegjarn started to really open up to Hríd, little by little. And he really appreciated the effort on Laegjarn’s part, so he would often give her information on himself, as well (though she knew him so well already that she had heard most of his stories before).

 

After they had left the dining hall, the two split up to go about their own business for the day— Laegjarn had made plans with Mist and Mordecai to help them discuss better strategies when the two were out on the field together, but she said she would meet with him once he was done. In the meantime, Hríd had decided to try to do this “cleaning” thing on his own, without help from anyone else.

 

Admittedly, it was a tough task. You couldn’t use the same solution to clean glass and wood, and you had to make sure the room had proper ventilation, and you had to make sure you even cleaned up hard-to-reach areas and not just things that were only visible to the eye, and so on and so on. However, the accompanying silence that came with cleaning was welcome, as it gave Hríd time to think while he scrubbed away at various areas in his room.

 

In his head he decided that, although the situation regarding Muspell was confusing and he wanted more answers, he would let the matter go for now, or at least until their mission was finished tomorrow. He wasn’t the one mainly affected by it, so he wondered if he was overstepping his boundaries by caring so much about the Order’s involvement in Muspell. Though, if he was, Laegjarn probably would have said something.

 

Hríd overstepping any boundaries was probably the least of her concerns now, in any case. She may have said she was fine with the possible suspicion of Laevatein, but the slight clench of Laegjarn’s jaw and the way her voice hardened was proof enough to Hríd that if the Summoner didn’t have control whether or not she existed on this plane, she would have beat them senseless...

 

Hríd had been working around his room for a while now and stopped in front of his desk, moved his chair out slightly to have a better stance over it, only to discover a blood splatter on the side of the armrest he had grabbed. With a sigh, he quickly grabbed the cloth he needed to clean wood with and began to try to wipe it up.

 

Nothing major changed when it came to treatment of Laegjarn’s sickness, though now that Ylgr and Fjorm knew, the two apparently stopped by Laegjarn’s room often to check in on her. The princess seemed to appreciate the visits, as she had mentioned them to Hríd with a small smile. However, that didn’t stop her from barging into Hríd’s room, whether he was there or not.

 

Apparently, the joke she had told to him the night after their first encounter was actually the truth— she recently confessed that before she knew of the existence of the area Hríd slept in, she would often just break off and run into the wilderness around the castle to cough up blood in peace, under the guise of “needing fresh air”. There had been a time where she had passed out there, and came back in the middle of the night with twigs and leaves in her hair.

 

Tidbits like that concerned him. She hadn’t had a large episode in some time, to his knowledge. Bad moments, sure, but nothing extreme for at least a month now.

 

“With our luck, she’ll have one during the mission tomorrow…” Hríd said aloud to no one, getting up from the floor. The chair had been cleaned, along with the desk, and he was pleased with his own work. He continued moving around the room, tidying up various spaces after that. “Ah, saying things like that might make them actually happen, though…”

 

Maybe, if they did their mission correctly in Muspell, they could try to investigate into if there was any way to undo the Rite of Flames while they were there. It was a longshot, but Hríd wanted to try. And, if she got better, neither of them would have to worry anymore. He hadn’t kissed Laegjarn on the lips yet, but he felt a pang of worry hit his chest at the thought of the two of them having to break off a kiss because Laegjarn suddenly started coughing up blood.

 

A spell of time had gone by, and Hríd had done most of the dirty work by now, and decided next to just make his bed. The prince stared at one of the several pillows on his bed and picked it up, fluffing it. “How do I tell her I want to kiss her in the first place…?” He mumbled, squeezing the pillow now. He was probably blushing, which annoyed him, considering Laegjarn wasn’t even there, so why was he all flustered?

 

He put the pillow down, pulled up his covers properly, and folded the extra blankets that were littered around the floor, placing them at the foot of his bed. That looked pretty neat, so he was satisfied, but now he was busy thinking about all the opportunities he was missing out on with Laegjarn on account of his own nervousness.

 

He needed something to spur some action in him. He stared down at his bed, “Maybe I should go back home and flip through Gunnthrá’s books…”

 

A hand was placed to Hríd’s shoulder.

 

“What kind of books did she have?”

 

Hríd screamed .

 

The prince tried to turn around to face whoever was behind them, but ended up bashing his knee against the bedframe in front of him, tumbling onto his bed with the speed that he was supposed to use to turn around. He quickly scrambled to get upright, but the laugh that emitted from behind him already identified who was in his room with him.

 

“H-Hello, Laeg. I didn’t expect you to be back so early,” Hríd coughed, tilting his head to see the princess standing behind him. She told him that she would be back later , which he took as the evening, not two hours after they split up.

 

In her hand, she carried a small basket covered by a handkerchief, and she waved it in front of him. “Yeah, they let me off the hook pretty quick. I would have come back sooner, but Mist made me come to her room so I could take some of this,” she said. “It’s some baked goods and other things I haven’t checked yet. As much as I’d agree I have a bottomless stomach, I probably shouldn’t eat everything in this by myself, so I’m here to share.”

 

She walked around the bed, up to Hríd’s desk, and placed the basket down. “But enough about that. You’re cleaning on your own! I’m proud of you.”

 

Hríd got off of the bed. “Really, now…”

 

“Well, for a sheltered, bumbling prince I expected you to do much worse,” Laegjarn nodded, giving a once over to the room. Then, there was a gleam in her eyes, and Hríd immediately honed in on whatever she was about to say. When she had that look on, it was about to be good. “One time,” she began. “My mother and I were cleaning dishes together, but it was my first time, and I had no idea how much strength to exert, so I scrubbed with all my might, and… Bam! I’d broken the plate in two!”

 

She smiled to herself, chuckling at the memory. “I was worried I’d get yelled at, but my father was pleased a six year old could break a plate by accident with sheer strength, so he dropped it completely. My mother, however… She was so shocked, she made sure I never got near the finer dishes ever again.”

 

Yet another thing learned— Laegjarn extremely strong as a child. And another thing…

 

“That’s the first time you’ve ever told me something about your mother,” Hríd moved closer, stopping next to her to peek at the contents of the basket. The last time they had spoken about her mother, it was Laegjarn refusing to reveal anything about her to Hríd, so the sudden information was surprising, but welcome.

 

Admittedly, it was a bad move to point that out, because Laegjarn froze. “Oh, I guess it was.” She mumbled.

 

Then, she leaned down to snatch a scone from the top of the basket and shove it in her mouth. “We probably shouldn’t keep talking about her if we want to keep this mood up. Can’t be gloomy before our big day tomorrow,” she said as she chewed.

 

And just like that, Hríd was locked out again. But he wasn’t about to push her, so he began to unpack whatever else was in the basket without any other comment. When all was said and done, there were a number of baked goods and small appetizers on Hríd’s desk, laying on the handkerchief so no crumbs would ruin his hard work from before. What was interesting was when the two of them looked over the amount of food…

 

“...It’s exactly enough for two people,” Hríd pointed. “Did you tell Mist you were coming here after?”

 

Laegjarn grinned her usual teasing grin. “I might have.”

 

They mulled over what to do for a bit, but ended up deciding that, since they were going to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow, they might as well eat dinner early and sleep early, too. Hríd took his desk chair and began eating, while Laegjarn sat on his bed and did the same (and made sure not to get it dirty, as she promised him).

 

“So, what kind of books did Gunnthrá have? You never answered me,” Laegjarn asked, pointing at Hríd as she ate.

 

Hríd looked away, mouth straightened into a line. He was really banking on her forgetting about what he had said, since he thought he had changed the topic well enough for her to not try to embarrass him, but to no avail. “O-Oh. Nothing much. T-Tactics books?”

 

“Are you asking me?”

 

“I mean… Tactics books. That’s it. A whole lot of them. And I just wanted to read one for… the mission tomorrow.” If it wasn’t obvious, Hríd  was very bad at lying to the person he liked.

 

Laegjarn was aware of this, and could see through him clear as day. She didn’t call him a liar to his face, but it was clear in the look in her eyes that she wasn’t falling for whatever he was saying. “I’m going to guess she had the polar opposite of whatever you’ve just said. Let me know when I’ve hit jackpot—“ she held up her fist, and began to raise one finger for every genre she sounded off. “She collected dark poetry, children’s fables, ancient Nifl hexes, romance novels—“

 

Hríd twitched at the mention of romance novels, and Laegjarn immediately knew she had gotten her answer. “What would you need one of those for? Looking for a way to spice things up?” Then, she closed her eyes and nodded sagely. “Ah, Fjorm and Ylgr did say back then you had never kissed someone before. They even mentioned Gunnthrá’s collection back then, too. I had forgotten.”

 

Even though Laegjarn had said before that she didn’t want to bring the mood down, with how many jabs she was throwing at Hríd, he felt like he was sinking into a pit of gloominess, regardless. So much so, that instead of responding to her, he just began shoveling food into his mouth so he wouldn’t have to speak (though his blushing spoke for itself). Luckily for him, instead of continuing on her teasing, Laegjarn noticed the frustration on his face and let out a sigh.

 

“Well, I haven’t kissed you because of that.” She took a bite out of the triangle-shaped fried finger food she had in her hands, then waved it at Hríd while making sure not to get crumbs anywhere as she did. “I don’t want to overwhelm you, so—“

 

“You won’t,” Hríd replied meekly. Inwardly, he felt himself shudder over how pathetic he sounded.

 

“...You say that, but you have a hard time looking me in the eyes after I smile, sometimes…” Laegjarn mused, looking off to the side. It wasn’t meant to make fun of him, and was just an honest observation, but it was the truth. He hated that she was right.

 

Laegjarn popped the rest of what she was eating in her mouth with a shrug, then got up from the bed to take something else from the desk to eat. When she walked over, she put her clean hand to Hríd’s head and ruffled his hair while overlooking whatever they had left to eat. “If you want to do something like that, that’s fine,” she said casually, like she was telling him the time. “But you should do that when you think you’re ready. I won’t make that choice for you.”

 

In other words, Hríd would have to make the first move. It was great he was receiving her permission, but now he would have to actually take matters into his own hands, which sounded nightmarish.

 

Then, she grinned and held up her fist, squeezing tightly. “Because if it were up to me, things would be off to a whole different start. Once I get in there, I’m like a python! I’d never let go of you.”

 

“Once you get in where? ” Hríd raised his eyebrows.

 

Actually, the more he thought about it, the more he didn’t want to know.

 

***

 

“Huh…? Stay the night?”

 

By now, the two had finished eating, put away the basket and what little food remained, and had been discussing their mission for the next day. Both were familiar with the terrain of Muspell, Laegjarn even moreso, so she knew what to do around the borders— watch around your feet for crumbling land, don’t wear too many layers, keep your cape at least two feet off the ground to avoid it being caught on any scraggly bits of plantlife or lava, so on and so on. Before they knew it, the sun had set, and it was about time for them to go to sleep.

 

That was when Laegjarn announced she wasn’t going anywhere.

 

“That’s fine, isn’t it?” She was across Hríd’s room, peeking out at the night sky. “Silvia mentioned she was going to bring someone back to our room, and I don’t want to walk in on them going at it. I’ve done that enough times by now...” The way she sighed at the mention of Silvia implied this may have been a common occurrence, and Hríd took pity on her for a moment. He had to say it only lasted a moment, because then Laegjarn held out an arm expectantly, “Just pass me one of your shirts. I’ve left some things of mine in your bathroom a while ago, so I can use that to get ready for bed and freshen up tomorrow.”

 

The prince, who was standing on the other side of his room, in front of his dresser, merely stared at her. “You don’t understand how ridiculous it is that you’ve told me you worry about overwhelming me, and then you go on to say you’ll sleep in the same room with me,” he grumbled, but, knowing he couldn’t refuse her, began to fumble through his drawers to find where he had kept some of his extra shirts.

 

It seemed like she really didn’t understand the big deal, because Laegjarn just cocked her head at Hríd with a blank expression. “We’ve done this before, you know.”

 

“When you were coughing up your own blood and half-conscious, a few times, yes.”

 

“Oh, dear, coughing up blood and half-conscious? How shameful.” She put a hand to her mouth in fake-embarrassment, mask cracking when she accidentally let out a snicker.

 

Hríd practically threw a shirt at her, the garment flying faster than he had seen any dragon go before. “Just go change.”

 

The princess gave a small salute and headed over to his bathroom, locking the door behind her.

 

It became a race for Hríd, then, because he knew that the last thing he wanted to do was have Laegjarn walk out and find him changing for bed, himself. He found that the princess had a habit of making herself appear during compromising moments, and this was the one time he definitely did not want her to do so. As he tore off what he was wearing and quickly put on his sleepwear, which was nothing more than a button up shirt and flannel pants, he was counting the seconds he had approximated for how long it would take for Laegjarn to unclasp all of her armor and slip on his shirt.

 

Admittedly, he was cutting it quite close, and the second he had just taken his crown off, Laegjarn emerged from the bathroom. She had kept her leggings on (to his relief), put the shirt on, and had tied her hair into a small side ponytail, which almost looked like a sprig of a vegetable with how small it was. Anything she was wearing before that he couldn’t see now was probably in the bundle she carried in her arms now, which was wrapped in her cape. She put said bundle on top of Hríd’s desk, decided that wasn’t good enough, then put it on his desk chair and turned the chair inward so the bundle wouldn’t fall out.

 

Hríd didn’t notice he was staring until Laegjarn turned to look at him, and he quickly darted past her to get ready for bed himself, locking himself in the bathroom.

 

“You know, considering how much you wear on a daily basis, seeing you with only a shirt on feels scandalous,” Laegjarn called out to him from the other side of the door, and Hríd just turned on the water at the sink as loud as he could so he wouldn’t have to respond. When all was said and done, no matter how pretty Laegjarn looked— yes, pretty— she was always going to be a handful.

 

Not only with her words, but with her actions, too. When Hríd finished brushing his teeth and washing his face and came outside to see Laegjarn had already ruined his nicely made bed, he groaned. She was already sitting under the covers at one end of the mattress, picking at the sleeves of his shirt, and had also taken every pillow for her side except the smallest one, which was now on the floor.

 

“Isn’t it strange how you have the coldest room of the castle, but the bed is always warm?” Laegjarn asked as he walked out.

 

“Insulated covers,” Hríd replied, walking over to his doorway and standing on his tiptoes to blow out the candles in his room, leaving them in partial darkness. There was still enough light outside from the moon to navigate around his bed to get to the other side, so Hríd did so. “I brought them here from Nifl.”

 

It was important to note Hríd’s bed, like most other beds in the castle, was of decent size. When he sat down on the other side of the bed, there were a few inches between him and Laegjarn, so it wasn’t like they looked intimate. Still, Hríd found his heart beating fast— there was a stark difference between now and all the other times Laegjarn had paid a visit to his room, and it was clear he was nervous.

 

Instead of teasing him like she usually would, however, Laegjarn laid down in her pile of pillows and brought the covers up to her chin, staring at Hríd as he did the same. Maybe she felt bad about earlier, and was being a bit easier on him— that was something he could get used to. “Do you have any extras I could steal? It gets cold in my room, sometimes,” she asked.

 

“I do not,” he replied, picking up his single pillow from the floor. He fluffed it for a second before putting it under his head. “And I’m not going back to Nifl to get more any time soon.”

 

“Boo. You’re just going to leave me out there to freeze?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“You’re mean.”

 

Hríd smirked to himself. “Get to sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

 

The princess put her hand up and waved Hríd away dismissively. “Yes, yes. I’m already sleeping...” She sighed.

 

Then there was silence, save for the beating of Hríd’s heart in his ears. How was he supposed to sleep like this, actually…? He laid in bed for a while, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for tiredness to take him over. But after a few minutes, he realized he was too nervous to sleep.

 

Hríd silently sat up, as quiet as he could be, and looked over to the princess that laid just a few inches away from him. Laegjarn’s eyes were closed, the blanket over her rising and falling slowly, and it was probable that she had fallen asleep.

 

She looked peaceful, morseo than she did when she was awake. It was a beautiful sight.

 

For a second, Hríd’s eyes darted around the room, as if someone was watching in the shadows. Of course, no one was— he had locked his door some time earlier so the two wouldn’t have been disturbed while they planned out what they would do the next day— so he directed his attention back down to Laegjarn.

 

There was no time like the present. The opportunity was there for him to get over his nervousness.

 

Very quickly, and as quietly as possible, Hríd leaned down and kissed Laegjarn.

 

It wasn’t some magical moment, like all of a sudden a thousand sparks flowed through him, or he was now invigorated enough to run a mile. It was just a simple kiss that lasted only two seconds, a little peck that was rather insignificant.  

 

But in those two seconds, Hríd felt like his heart was going to burst with affection. Everything about Laegjarn was so soft, so great, it was almost unreal. Describing how nice Laegjarn was was impossible to do with words— for Hríd, kissing Laegjarn was like the first snow of summer in Nifl, with the cold and warmth mixing together and the sun peeking out of the clouds like it rarely did. A surprising thing to see, and a lovely thing to experience.

 

That was exactly it. Laegjarn was like his sun.

 

“...Goodnight, Laeg.” He whispered. His heart was still thumping like mad, he could imagine it, though he heard nothing. Every sense he had was focused on the princess that lay before him.

 

Of course, when he pulled away and saw Laegjarn was wide awake and grinning from ear to ear, that’s when Hríd froze.

 

“That was like a good luck kiss for tomorrow,” she marveled. “A classic move in the romance world. Have you already begun reading Gunnthrá’s books?”

 

The entire world tilted with Laegjarn’s questioning.

 

Hríd’s face began to feel like it was on fire.

 

“...Goodnight…” he mumbled, moving back to his side of the bed and throwing the covers over his head in embarrassment. He had earnestly not expected her to be awake— she was the type of person to fall asleep once their head hit the pillow, he had learned over the last few months. Not like he was some creep who went after women that were asleep, either, he just didn’t… He didn’t expect so much vigor in her? Or something? The more he thought about the situation, the more he realized he was digging himself into a hole. He wanted a do-over.

 

Thankfully, Laegjarn did go silent. But instead of going to sleep like she said she was before, she grabbed Hríd and put him right under her chin.

 

And, immediately after she had Hríd trapped within her vice grip, she began to snore.

 

It took a moment for the prince to register what had just happened, and what was happening, and once he did, he became immediately aware of what parts of her were resting against him and how tender Laegjarn’s hold was and how her left hand had her fingers gently running through his hair. Many things, all at once.

 

And while he would usually be overwhelmed, the feeling of not being alone was extremely calming, and it wasn’t like he was uncomfortable, either. He actually felt himself relaxing in Laegjarn’s grasp, and that was when he decided he could freak about this in the morning, rather than right now.

 

“This was probably some part of her ‘never letting go’ from before…” he mumbled, then closed his eyes.