Dorothea was bursting with the energy of having finished a truly inspired performance, complete with demands of not one, but three encores, when the letter arrived. The paper itself was elegant, but there were little etchings in the corner that likely meant it was reused bits of other papers ground down and re-set. It was so very Ingrid, that Dorothea smiled and tore her letter open.
There were specifics, and a small personal touch of real signatures, but the meat of the letter, or rather invitation, was in one line.
‘You are cordially invited to the wedding of Elim Matveev Lunin and Ingrid Brandl Galatea.’
Dorothea held the invitation to her chest and stared at her reflection in the mirror. “My Ingrid getting married?” The other Dorothea in the mirror looked as incensed as she felt. “Has she already forgotten about our engagement?”
The mirror Dorothea did not seem to appreciate the joke, perhaps because on some level it didn’t feel like one. After all, she had never actually taken the ring off once she put it on.
“Dahlia?” Dorothea called out to her understudy, who was sadly passing her fingers over the absurd amount of bouquets decorating the dressing rooms. “How would you like to fill in for a few weeks?”
“Uh, ah, yes?” Dahlia responded.
Dorothea appreciated the brevity, but the girl needed to work on the confidence. “Good,” she said. “Because I’m going to visit an old friend.”
The waste of it all was starting to become a physical ache for Ingrid. She understood the unique opportunity a wedding could bring to House Galatea and a needed celebratory excuse for Faerghus, but the extent was absurd. The flowers, the banners for the flowers, the linens, the attendants for the linens, carefully arranged table settings that were imported from Dagda for some reason she could not fathom, the seven piece musical assortment to play and charge for each hour of the event… it was an excess she truly did not see the point of.
But, Ingrid sighed to herself, it was making her father very happy.
Reconstruction after the war had been difficult for most Houses, but Galatea, suffered more than most. Ingrid put her plans on hold to continue to serve as a knight and was doing her best to help. She was pretty sure her latest endeavor might actually bear fruit (literally) come spring.
It was hard to choose between the brightness her father had every time Elim came to visit, learn about the land and future duties, and the excess extravagance on this wedding that really could have gone to so many better places.
Her future husband insisted that there was enough for this and for Galatea’s future and considering how well off his family was, somehow finding a way to service goods to several sides of the war, she had to believe his expertise.
It still felt… wasteful.
“Do we really need that many flowers?” Ingrid finally said, unable to hold back any longer. “They’re out of season.”
The planner they’d hired (another expense Ingrid could have done without) looked scandalized. “They are the first blooms, they represent the newly opened union and the newly unified Fódlan.”
“Couldn’t we at least do one for each table, an entire bouquet seems excessive.”
The planner made the face that meant Ingrid was paining her, which considering how often she made it, wasn’t endearing Ingrid to the woman.
“The King will be here, we cannot cut corners.”
They didn’t often visit when they were younger, she usually traveled to Glenn, Sylvain, and Dimitri’s homes, but Ingrid still had vivid memories of mud soaked boys running through the halls and her trailing behind them. She didn’t really think an extra flower or two would truly matter.
She also did not want to deal with another argument that she would invariable lose, so even though Ingrid hated dishonesty, she lied. “King Dimitri is allergic.”
The horror she inflicted on the poor woman’s face almost made Ingrid regret it, but the planner was immediately recalculating a different, also expensive option for table settings and Ingrid couldn’t stand to listen to it.
She needed to do something useful to get her mind off of it, but she was sure that if she tried to groom the horses one more time they would start kicking her when she approached. Ingrid made way to the large list of responses to invitations that were later than she would have liked… planning this would be a lot easier if she knew exactly how much gold they were wasting.
Sylvain had finally responded, after a second, more personal letter. His write-in about turning his plus one into a plus two made her roll her eyes and immediately shred the paper. She wrote him down on the coming list. A few dozen more and she made her way through the pile of mostly yeses. Ingrid supposed that it was a good thing so many people wanted to come, but she still wished the crowd was a little smaller.
After that, she still needed something to do, and so she went to balance the books in her father’s study and go through the results of the land runs. One of them looked hopeful. If Ingrid could turn the barren lands around and make Galatea right again she would feel less regret about giving her dreams up of knighthood.
It was around the time Elim, his cousins, and her father were supposed to be back from hunting, so Ingrid went to greet them, hoping that they’d caught something good for dinner. If there was one thing she didn’t mind about the wedding it was planning the food.
However, when she went to the front of the estate to greet them, it was someone else that had been gone from her for a very long time.
“Dorothea?” Ingrid asked.
Her school friend turned towards her, hair as always perfectly curled, landed politely on her shoulders after it swung in the air from her turn. “Ingrid!” Dorothea made towards her with open arms.
Ingrid tried to shove the embarrassment at the open affection down, but Dorothea was always a little much. She still returned the hug. “It’s good to see you,” Ingrid said. “We didn’t get a response, so I thought maybe you weren’t coming.”
“Oh no,” Dorothea said, “I had to come. My Ingrid getting married?” She pulled out the invitation. “See, I just decided to bring it myself.”
Ingrid couldn’t help but smile, even if that was inefficient and a little thoughtless. It was so nice to see her again and it was such a Dorothea thing to do, that she didn’t mind at all. “You’re a little early,” Ingrid said to her. “It’s not for another week, but we should be able to clear out a room if you need somewhere to stay.”
“If not you can just tuck me away in a corner somewhere,” Dorothea said brightly, “Theatre demands adaptability.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ingrid said. “We might be struggling, but we aren’t destitute.”
“Oh I know, I read your last letter. The idea of mixing magic and new techniques to invigorate the soil? Wonderful.”
Ingrid felt her face flush and she waved her friend off. “It’s not even confirmed it’ll work yet.”
“You don’t sell yourself short,” Dorothea said. “It is a fantastic idea and doesn’t rely on leaning on any neighboring territories.” The surprise must have shown on Ingrid’s face, because Dorothea smirked and replied. “I picked up a thing or two at school… and by a Baronet who spent the last leg˚ of the tour courting me.”
Clearly that hadn’t lead to marriage or Dorothea would have mentioned it, so Ingrid didn’t press. She knew how much that was a goal for her. It was shameful that class seemed to factor into everything so heavily that someone like Dorothea would have trouble finding a suitable match. “How was the tour? I’m sorry I couldn’t make it out yet.”
“Wonderful,” Dorothea said. “It’s been amazing writing my own pieces and then performing them. I have you to thank for that.”
“Yes, of course, you’re the one that encouraged me in school to do it.”
“I don’t think that’s exactly what I said.”
Dorothea waved her off. “Anyway, we’re performing Mittelfrank for the rest of the year, so you have plenty of time to come out.” She smiled even more brightly. “With your new husband, who you never once mentioned, in any letter.”
Dorothea looked down at Ingrid’s stomach. “Tell me, is this a quick wedding?”
“No!” Ingrid huffed out and really thought perhaps her face would burn off from embarrassment. She hadn’t missed Dorothea’s teasing.
“Well, it either happened so quickly that you weren’t able to tell me, or you didn’t think it important enough to share.”
“Those are both horrible options,” Ingrid said.
“So you see how I feel.”
They stared at each other for a long moment and then Dorothea laughed and her smile seemed softer and more genuine. “Oh, I missed getting that expression from you, Ingrid.”
“I cannot say the same,” Ingrid said, but walked to assist Dorothea with a very reasonable luggage set.
“So did your father set this up, or is it true love?” Dorothea asked in a way that somehow was both nonchalant and sympathetic.
“Neither,” Ingrid answered. She never felt the need to lie to her friend and it was a little bit of a relief to get to talk frankly about these matters. “Elim’s family was looking for a way to increase their status and they have a substantial fortune and he wanted to find a place he actually liked, so he skipped the traditional process.”
“Truly a romantic.”
“He’s…” Ingrid failed to find the right word, which might have been why she didn’t write about him often. Mercedes and Sylvain, and more subtly Felix and Dimitri, had also mentioned being a little surprised by the lack of build up. “He’s very kind. He’s good with managing his business and he’s been really enthusiastic about learning about my family and the land itself.”
She really liked him. She couldn’t have asked for a better choice. She hadn’t expected one. If they’d also be able to have crest bearing children, her family’s legacy would be set.
“It’s not an opera romance,” Ingrid said. “But I don’t mind. I think you’ll like him.”
“Well,” Dorothea said, pursing her lips. “I’m not sure I like the idea of you settling, but I understand it.”
“What about you?” Ingrid asked, Dorothea’s bag still in her hand. It was surprisingly heavy for how small it was. “Any big romances recently?”
“Only on stage,” Dorothea said with a melodic sigh. “But it’s all right, I’ve been taking your advice and investing a bit of my salary from the tour into buying a slice of ownership in the Opera House.”
“That’s great, Dorothea.”
“Yes, well, girls have to take care of themselves. It would be nice to be swept off my feet and loved completely, but at least I’ve got a back up plan.”
“It’ll happen,” Ingrid said, she was sure of it. “Anyone would have to be a fool to not think you weren’t the most beautiful, funny, smart wife someone could have.”
“Ingrid,” Dorothea said, and she’d actually made her blush. It rose up from Dorothea’s cheeks to the tips of her ears. “You big flirt.”
And naturally, Dorothea felt the need to make Ingrid blush in response. “Why don’t I take this to your room and get you settled?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Dorothea said, taking Ingrid’s arm as they walked towards the entrance hall. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll find my true love while I’m here.”
Dorothea hated Ingrid’s betrothed the second she laid eyes on him. Ingrid deserved someone who would shower her with attention, not occasionally glance her way and ask her opinion on the guest list.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of any good reason to hate him, something she could cling to and actually feel wasn’t a bias stabbing at her heart.
Elim was a practical man. He wasn’t very handsome or tall, but he was fit, had all his hair and teeth, and did seem to be very polite. He definitely wasn’t nobility, as he hadn’t given Dorothea that second glance they all seemed to when they found out about her lack of title. But he also wanted to be nobility, she could feel that, but couldn’t rationally judge it. After all wanting a place in the world wasn’t a bad goal.
It just shouldn’t have been a goal that revolved around Dorothea’s friend.
They had lost so much in this war, couldn’t they at least have epic romance?
Guests other than herself had started to arrive, it was difficult to approximate how long travel would take, so those farther away cropped up early. That mostly consisted of former Alliance nobles, though Claude and Lorenz were missing. One who she hadn’t heard word of in the Riegan territory for ages, the other that she hoped not to hear word of at all if it could be helped.
They hadn’t arrived yet, but luckily the nobles closer would be people Dorothea wouldn’t mind seeing again. The gathering of guests as of yet, had become a crowd, and so House Galatea threw together lovely, elegant dinners and gatherings, that had not even a hint of Ingrid about them.
Dorothea sipped at her wine, giving random “oh really?” and “ahh” noises at the right opportunities to the very dull speaking partner she was currently saddled with, who didn’t seem to notice.
Ingrid was working the crowd. She looked stunning. Finally after years of tutoring by multiple friends, Ingrid seemed to know how to carry herself in an elegant fashion. She was wearing a jewel toned brocade that was fairly simple, but sat well against her skin and brought out the green in her eyes. And her hair which was usually tied up and practical, flowed down her back in lovely waves.
Dorothea would have to ask to see her wedding dress before she walked the aisle. She absentmindedly twisted the ring on her finger with that thought.
Eventually, soon after the stunning personality she was engaged with left, Ingrid made her way over. “There’s so many people,” she said.
“You’re handling it beautifully,” Dorothea assured her. “Born to the part. Literally, I suppose.”
Ingrid laughed a little and her gaze drifted towards a plate of appetizers being taking in the other direction. “I think I could eat twenty of those tiny breaded things.”
“You’ll ruin your makeup,” Dorothea chided, but honestly it was nice to see some things hadn’t changed.
“Oh you noticed,” Ingrid said, smiling.
“It’s very well done, brings out the best side of you.” Dorothea made her blush again, which felt like a win, so she took another sip of her wine.
“It’s not terrible to do sometimes and considering how much of a show the wedding is going to be, I figured I should ease myself into it.” She sighed. “It was much easier to do when Annette helped.”
“I’m here,” Dorothea said. “Not that you seem to need the help. But the offer stands.”
Ingrid smiled brightly at her. How could she, with a smile like that and a title, settle for Elim?
“Thank you, Dorothea. I really appreciate that. I might take you up on it, I…” She gestured a little with her fingers, making the sleeves of her dress slide down and reveal the delicate, yet strong curve of the area below her wrist. “I’m not a fan of our planner, so I wasn’t really thrilled at the idea of getting her involved in the final decisions about the dress.”
“It’s not done yet?” Dorothea almost dropped her wine.
“No, I mean, it is, but I don’t know how I’m going to wear it?” Ingrid looked hopeless. “I’ve kind of been trying to focus on anything else, but I guess it’s too late for that.”
“Well, show it to me,” Dorothea said.
“Now?” Ingrid asked.
“You’ve worked the room, you’re entitled to leave it.” That wasn’t any sort of rule Dorothea followed or had heard, but she put enough confidence into it that she almost convinced even herself that it was true.
“I suppose…” Ingrid said, glancing back of her shoulder. Elim was speaking with several merchants, a couple from their class, and seemed very occupied. “I can spare a little time.”
“Excellent,” Dorothea finished her wine off and caught the eye of the nearest attendant. She handed him the glass, while Ingrid pilfered three more breaded appetizers off his plate.
They both stifled their laughs at the expression he made and very casually snuck out of the party.
Ingrid’s room was very Ingrid. There were no extra fusses or pretty details, it was just a comfortable bed, a wardrobe, and other various sundries. It was more than likely that she spent most of her time in the stables and out of this room and so only used it for sleep.
Dorothea itched to put something pretty in it, a vase of flowers, a nice throw, a better candle.
“Um,” Ingrid said, from behind where she had been dressing. “Okay, here it is.”
Dorothea’s breath caught in her throat. “You’re stunning,” she said, but it seemed so much less than what she actually was. Ingrid could be the princess of her latest show in that dress. “I love it,” she said. “You look fantastic.”
Ingrid was blushing again. She moved a little awkwardly, her lace gloved hands smoothing down the edges of fabric near her waist. “Are you sure it’s not too much?”
“No, you’re still shining out of it,” Dorothea said and walked closer to examine every inch. “I’d marry you,” she said. “Let’s go elope.”
“Dorothea,” Ingrid chided, but also laughed. “Stop teasing me.”
Dorothea didn’t answer and instead circled around her again, feeling the fabric and running her fingers up the bodice to touch the details in the silk. “This is exquisitely made.”
“Thank you, it was my grandmother’s.”
“Of course you wouldn’t make a new dress,” Dorothea said, unbearably fond.
“This one has history and … I think it looks nice.” The confidence of the last part was slightly forced, as if Ingrid was convincing herself she was allowed to have that opinion.
“You look stunning,” Dorothea said again. “You could marry anyone in that dress. A fairy prince, the goddess, a famous—”
“Stop,” Ingrid said, and covered her face with her lace gloved hands. “You’re overdoing it. It’s… only a dress.”
“It’s who’s in the dress,” Dorothea pointed out.
Apparently that compliment was unbearable because Ingrid made a noise of distress and disappeared behind her changing wall again. Dorothea hummed to herself while she waited, but after a few moments, Ingrid called out. “Um, can you help with this, the back seems to be stuck.”
Dorothea made her way around the wall over to Ingrid. The dress seemed to be caught, ties in the wrong place, likely from doing it herself. “One moment,” Dorothea said and softly brushed her fingers against the fabric again, and a bit of bare skin, as she tried to find the right loop to untangle.
Ingrid shivered a little at Dorothea’s touch, so naturally, Dorothea did it again. There was no complaint, but Ingrid did make a little noise that was almost a squeak. “Almost got it,” Dorothea said and untwisted the knot, then started loosening the other ties and ribbons. “You’ll… have help day of, of course.”
“Mercedes is having some difficultly and may not make it, but Annette said she’d attend me,” Ingrid said, softly.
“That’s a shame, that Mercie can’t come.”
“Yes,” Ingrid said. “But she’s doing very important work I wouldn’t want to take her away from. It’s nice that the boys are coming.”
The boys was a very interesting way of putting the current Duke of Fraldarius, future Margrave of Gautier, and Savior King of the country. Having known them, it was an accurate way to put it as well.
“Have they… met Elim yet?” Dorothea asked, casually, as she continued to unravel the backing of Ingrid’s beautiful dress.
“Sylvain has, Felix has been busy acting as the King’s right hand, so I haven’t seen much of either of them.”
“Shame,” Dorothea said, and fingered the fabric of the last bit of dress to untie, hesitant to let it go.
“I probably would’ve seen more of them if I’d taken up Dimitri’s offer of service,” Ingrid said with a painfully morose sigh.
Dorothea was quiet, as she helped Ingrid out of the dress, careful to hang it up and not smush any of the fabric. Ingrid turned to slip her dress back on, the scars of the war, so much more prominent on someone always in the front of battle than someone in the back. She still looked beautiful.
“Ingrid,” Dorothea asked, making sure there was no tease in her voice.
“Hm?” Ingrid asked as she finished straightening her gown.
“Why… didn’t you take him up on it? Wasn’t that your dream?”
Ingrid looked away, her eyes downcast. “There was a time where I thought maybe I could do both… help my house and serve as a knight, but since the war, it’s been clear to me that I had to choose.” She sighed. “This is the right choice.”
“Dorothea,” Ingrid said, a little angry now and she stared at her. “I don’t question your life, you don’t have to question mine.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” Ingrid said and shook her head, blowing a frustrated breath out of her nose. “I’m simply stressed that’s all. I didn’t mean anything. I… the wedding is in a few days, I’m sure it’ll settle after that.”
“Giving up your dream will settle?” Dorothea asked.
“Please,” Ingrid said to her, pushing past to make her way to the door. “Stop teasing.”
Dorothea sighed at Ingrid’s retreating back. “I never was.”
The day before the wedding, Ingrid developed hives up her neck, and there was a raid on a nearby village by some of the brigands that formed out of leftovers from the war (on both sides), who had the worst possible timing.
For them. Ingrid was relieved. Nearly all the guests had arrived, including a majority of the surviving members of their Officer’s Academy class. She didn’t even need to ask for volunteers, if anything, there was a scuffle to see who got to help, and who had to stay.
Elim and her father asked her to let someone else handle it, considering the timing, but Ingrid wasn’t going to let something in her territory not be handled by the person taking guardianship of it. What kind of leader would that make her?
She also very much wanted to stretch her fighting muscles again. It had been ages, so long that her Pegasi no longer stabled at the estate and she had to take one of the horses. She didn’t mind most of those that offered to help and had fought with them before, but she ended up asking Felix (who had already somehow armed himself and was walking towards the door), Sylvain, and Dorothea to help. Annette and Dimitri still hadn’t arrived and honestly she wasn’t sure they needed the help.
“I knew I should’ve brought an extra jacket,” Sylvain said, on horseback next to her. “This is going to rip and get blood on it.”
“Already such a dandy and haven’t even taken up the title,” Dorothea tittered behind Ingrid. She and Felix rarely fought mounted, so it made sense to ride out as quickly as possible with only two horses.
“Hey, my needing to look good, doesn’t have anything to do with nobility. It’s just me. Being devastatingly attractive.”
“Would you focus on the road,” Felix snapped from behind Sylvain. Ingrid couldn't blame him, as Sylvain had somehow made his position on horseback look like when he casually straddled a chair. It was amazing they were still keeping pace.
“Can you ever be nice to me?” Sylvain asked. “I mean, honestly Felix, it’s been months. Where has the tenderness gone?”
“Your head, as it’s always been,” Felix replied, not missing a beat.
It wasn’t as if she’d missed the bickering, but… maybe she did a little.
“Some things never change, I see,” Dorothea said, her breath cool on Ingrid’s neck, as she leaned in to quietly, but still audibly comment.
“Unfortunately,” Ingrid said. She tried not to think about Dorothea egging her on about knighthood. It had been a sore that had festered for the last two days and Ingrid wanted to forget about it.
At the moment she wanted to forget about everything, but protecting those villagers in her territory.
It was a large group, they outnumbered Ingrid and the others three to one from only the first group they ran into. Ingrid had never, for a second, thought Felix wasn’t still sharp on his skills, but the way Dorothea quickly tumbled off the horseback and circled her hands into spell position was as smooth as during the war.
For all Sylvain’s talk about the jacket, he didn't pay attention to how it scuffed and ripped in the process of riding eastward, where there were innocents held up, it had already gotten. Ingrid trusted that her friends were capable, but out of habit kept them in her sights. She hoisted her lance up to shoulder height and threw it, bodily at the first brigand she saw. It nailed him in the shoulder and he stumbled backwards. Ingrid followed up by riding directly into the center of them, retrieving it from his groaning body, and then readying for the next one.
Two of them ran off. The three that stayed attempted to overwhelm her, but one caught fire (Dorothea) and the other was kicked down by her horse. Ingrid knocked the last one down next to his friend and held the lance at his throat. “Where’s your leader?”
The brigand swallowed.
“You heard the lady,” Dorothea said from her behind her.
The brigand looked at Dorothea, that with a quick glance back, Ingrid saw had fire dancing on her fingers. “Uh… uhh.. the granary.”
Ingrid huffed a breath out to center herself and resisted the urge to knock his teeth loose. “Get out of here. You have two seconds and if you ever come back, you won’t be leaving.”
The brigand nodded and he and his friends made their way quickly out of her sight. Ingrid put her hand out for Dorothea, “We need to get to the granary, if they ruin the supplies, these people won’t survive the winter.”
Dorothea nodded and took Ingrid’s hand. She re-mounted quickly and they made their way to the granary. One of the villagers was already there, holding up a rusted farming tool as a weapon. They didn’t have a chance as the brigands’ leader cut them down.
Ingrid felt the righteous anger surge in her and clipped faster towards them. She didn’t notice when Dorothea got off, but the horse was lighter and she was better able to maneuver her way around the leader and slashed at him.
He was more experienced than his lackeys and caught her lance with his sword. Ingrid grunted and swung around, utilizing control of her horse to get onto the other side of him, but played with him and brought the lance from the opposite side. It worked. He barely was able to attempt a block, preventing the lance from injuring him, but it knocked him into the mud all the same.
Ingrid was angry and her fingers gripped her lance so tightly it was almost painful, but she held—not willing to slaughter a defenseless man, especially not during peacetime.
And then he tried to cut her horse’s legs. Luckily the horse was well trained and skipped back, he didn’t get a second swing as Ingrid threw her lance hard and true and it impaled him through the chest.
The death noise he made was familiar, not exactly satisfying, but a signal to her brain that it was time to focus on something else in the battle. There were always more threats.
“I’ve got it,” Dorothea said to her, from where she was kneeling by the villager who had been felled, they were older than Ingrid assumed, and twitched underneath the healing magic Dorothea attempted to administer. “Go. Help the boys.”
Ingrid nodded and joined Sylvain and Felix, who were in the process of driving (or taking) the rest of the brigands out.
“We still got it,” Sylvain said, later when they were catching their breath and making sure the villagers were able to put back their fences and care for their injured.
“That was pathetic,” Felix said, wiping his blade against the side of his pants.
“Thank you,” Ingrid said, to both of them. “I appreciate the help.”
“Like you needed it,” Sylvain scoffed. “One woman army, as per usual. Just warp you to the other side of the field and let it go.”
“Don’t exaggerate,” Ingrid said.
“He’s not,” Felix, never a giver of false praise, said. “You’re still skilled considering you’ve been wasting it.”
“I’m not wasting it,” Ingrid said. “I’m taking care of my territory. You should get that, Duke Fraldarius.”
Felix frowned at her and at himself and then sheathed his sword. “Your soon to be husband tried to talk you out of it.”
“He isn’t… familiar with battle. His family stayed out of the war.”
“How’d they accomplish that?” Sylvain hadn’t meant to put an accusation in, he was barely glancing up at her, completely focused on the rips in his jacket.
“Carefully,” Ingrid said. She tried not to think of the details. They weren’t bad people, but she knew to make the money they had, they would have had to overlook things she didn’t care to know.
“Hoo!” Dorothea exclaimed, coming back towards them. She was dirtied with mud and her hair was tossed in every direction, but she looked elated. “We didn’t lose a single villager. Also, I need a drink. Several.”
“Done and done, milady,” Sylvain said, and nodded towards her in an impressed fashion. “It’s on me.”
“With your lack of patronage when we toured the Gautier territory, it better be.”
Ingrid sighed, as she realized they’d have to get back once they were sure the village was settled. She’d need to send a few more people out into this area. There weren’t knights, really, but there was enough protection to make them feel secure.
The urge to skip the entire wedding ceremony and stay in the village to help, get a drink here, with her friends, and the people they’d saved, almost overtook her… but as usual reality quickly landed back into place.
“I should get back,” Ingrid said. “Elim is probably worried.”
Dorothea sighed at that and Felix muttered something under his breath that was likely ‘pathetic’ — Sylvain looked at her with an almost … disappointed expression, which Ingrid thought hurt the most.
“Dorothea?” Ingrid asked.
Her friend shook her head. “I’ll ride back with the boys. We should make sure everyone is settled and I’d like to keep an eye on some of the more injured until we can get some healers here.”
“I’ll send them,” Ingrid said. She waited another moment, but then couldn’t stand looking at them or the village and turned around, galloping back towards home.
“So we hate him, right?” Sylvain said, deep in his third cup of what Dorothea thought started as wine.
“We don’t…exactly… he’s…” Dimitri, King Dimitri, on his second cup of maybe-wine, started, then stopped. “It’s Ingrid’s decision.”
“It’s a stupid decision,” Felix, who hadn’t had even a drop to drink added.
Sylvain sighed, took another swig and gestured with his cup to Dorothea. “You hate him, right?”
“I barely know him,” Dorothea said. “He seems… amiable.”
“Why are you asking her?” Felix said, as if Dorothea wasn’t right in front of him. He was always infuriating that way. Dismissive. “She wants to marry her way into boredom too.”
“She can speak for herself,” Dorothea said, firmly. “And it is Ingrid’s decision.” Even if he was a stupid one, but especially now she refused to agree out loud with Felix.
“But,” Sylvain said, gesturing with his cup behind him, it sloshed a little onto his shoulder. “That guy?”
“She can’t marry a corpse,” Felix said, with a shrug.
Sylvain looked at him and then shoved his drink into his hand. “Loosen up.”
It was surprising with how dirty of a look Felix gave Sylvain for the gesture, that he did actually take a drink. Sylvain gestured to the attendant for another one.
It was too early to be drunk. They couldn’t be drunk for the ceremony. What if Ingrid walked down the aisle and one of them objected and told her to run off with them?
What if? “Are either of you in love with her?” Dorothea asked.
Felix satisfyingly choked on his drink, with the timing of her question, Sylvain seemed to think about it. “She’d never buy it even if I did try to get her to run off with me.”
“What does that have to do with…” Dimitri started, “her choice of husband.”
“I was just thinking,” Dorothea said. “That Ingrid wouldn’t trade out for anything less than what she’s getting.” She was practical that way. “What would be the point. And if she wants to be married and take on the Countess Galatea role, then she should have someone who loves her and isn’t…” She let out a sharp breath. “So incredibly boring.”
“See!” Sylvain said. “We hate him.”
“He’s fine, he’s acceptable,” Dorothea said. He was the kind of man she would have settled for back in school. Someone to take care of her, grow old with, have children, and never really any true affection for, but at least never disgust. “But doesn’t Ingrid, our Ingrid, deserve more than that?” She took a sip of her drink. “I was just saying it would be convenient if one of you was in love with her.”
“Sounds like you’re in love with her,” Sylvain said.
She laughed at him, because obviously it was a joke, but something stuck deep into her throat with it. “I don’t have a fortune or title to save her house, so it wouldn’t matter.”
She had found, in her search for stability that had ended with the familiar feel of the Opera House, that she rarely was enough for any of them. She was still beautiful, still desirable, but none of that mattered in the face of her status or lack of gold.
“She’s wasting her talent,” Felix said, recovered finally from choking. “We could replace ten knights if she’d just stop being…”
“Responsible for her people?” Dimitri asked.
“Ugh, you would say that,” Felix said to him, though it had less of the bite to it, that it did in their school days.
“I would think, I should say that given the circumstances,” Dimitri said. And then added, as if he felt compelled to remind them. “That we’re at her wedding.”
Sylvain sighed. “Guess we gotta… accept that she’s marrying the equivalent of a fart in a satchel.”
All three of them looked at him blankly. “What?” Sylvain said. “I’m not wrong.”
“It would be nice if she could marry someone who would support all her ambitions, but it isn’t our place to decide that,” Dimitri said. “And I’d really love to talk about anything else. This doesn’t seem like the time or place for this.”
“Yeah,” Sylvain scoffed, “when is, after she’s shackled to that airbag?”
“No,” Dorothea said, but not loud enough for them to notice. It wasn’t the time to do it, but after the wedding certainly wouldn’t be the time, when it was too late. She swigged the last of her drink for courage, and left them arguing, likely not even noticing her absence.
And after all, Ingrid had proposed to her first.
Ingrid needed to put her dress on. She had been staring at it for almost an hour, sitting in the corseted underclothes it required for at least a half hour. She needed to put it on and have someone tie it up for her. And then she would walk out of the door and down the aisle. She would marry Elim and Galatea would have more stability. She would have the money to set up a better protection at the border, the funds to reinforce the granaries, maybe turn them into silos to help with the winter. She could really push for reforms in the way they did their handled their agriculture.
Ingrid put her head in her hands and tried very hard not to cry. She never let herself actually picture this. Only with Glenn, and then it had been a childish fantasy of marriage, nothing close to the actual truth of sharing her life with someone. And Elim was kind, but he was no Glenn. No one ever would be.
But did that mean she had to settle for this?
Ingrid shook her head and wiped her face. No, she was doing the right thing. She had already made the decision. She stood, ready to put her dress on, when there was a knock at her door.
“Ingrid?” Dorothea’s voice lilted even through the door. “Darling, can I come in?”
“Yes, Dorothea,” Ingrid said, even though she realized she shouldn’t have.
The moment Dorothea entered the room, she looked at Ingrid’s face and concern flooded her own. “Oh Ingrid,” she said and tried to hug her.
“Don’t,” Ingrid said, holding her hand out. “I’m fine; it’s perfectly normal to be nervous.”
“You’re not nervous, you’re miserable,” Dorothea said.
“Stop telling me what I am or how I feel,” Ingrid said. “You don’t get it. I’m not like you.”
“Of course you aren’t,” Dorothea said. “You’re different as can be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell when you’re upset.” She paused and looked down, licking her lips before glancing up at Ingrid through her eyelashes.
“And I didn’t come here to tell you how you feel,” she said. “I came here to tell you how I do. I know that I’m not rich and I don’t have a title, but I don’t think anything has ever felt as good as when you gave me this.” Dorothea held up her hand, strung around her finger was the ring Ingrid had gifted, years ago, even before the war.
“You still have that?” Ingrid asked.
“Of course, I would never abandon such a lovely trinket, especially when it came to our engagement.”
Ingrid felt a heavy weight in her chest. Why must her friends always pick the worst times to needle at her? “Dorothea, stop teasing me.”
“When will you get that I never have been?” Dorothea said, exasperated, but earnest, staring straight at her.
“I love you, Ingrid,” Dorothea said. “Who wouldn’t? You’re like a knight out of a book, beautiful, daring, loyal to a fault, and so frustratingly stubborn about your duty. I can’t watch you throw your dreams out the window. I don’t care if you want to be with me,” she said. “But you need to be with someone who loves you and who is smart enough to know that you are Ingrid Brandl Galatea, and if you want to save your House and be a Knight, there is no one but yourself stopping you from doing both.”
Dorothea looked away from her, earnestness still there, but fraught, in a vulnerable way Ingrid had never seen before. “I think you should be happy and I don’t think that conflicts with you following your heart instead of your head.”
Ingrid felt like she’d been shoved into the wall and had the breath knocked out of her. Like she’d been kicked off her horse and landed on the frozen sod. She never… “You… really never took that off?”
Dorothea laughed, but it sounded forced, and Ingrid could see that her eyes were starting to water. “Never.”
Ingrid walked toward her, gently as she still felt like there was not enough air in her lungs to properly move. She took Dorothea’s wrist and turned her, so they were facing each other. “I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t know,” Dorothea said, scornfully, and refused to look at her. “It’s all right,” she said. “This is just the type of tragic tale of love I live to play out… not in life generally, but its poetic in its own sense. So I have some sense of appreciation…”
Ingrid put her hands on Dorothea’s face, and watched as her eyelids fluttered open and closed. In what Ingrid thought, might be the bravest thing she ever accomplished, Ingrid leaned in and kissed her. It felt like the right thing to do.
And once Ingrid did it, a lock opened, and everything fell into place. It felt like the first time she climbed onto the back of a Pegasi, or held a lance. It felt like reading Legends of Chivalry for the first time and truly understanding what knighthood was. It felt… right and natural and what she had been wanting all along without even knowing.
Dorothea was crying when they pulled apart, softly, she said, “My Ingrid,” and stroked her fingers down Ingrid’s cheek.
Ingrid laughed, it was light and stretched like she hadn’t spoken in days, “I suppose… yeah.”
They kissed again and it was even better than before, because there was a sense of certainty. Ingrid didn’t know how she’d ever gone without it.
It was so wonderful, it took Ingrid far too long to remember exactly where she was and when it was. “Um,” Ingrid said, glancing down at her current outfit and then at the wedding dress. “I think, I should probably call this off.”
“Yes,” Dorothea said, nodding. Her entire face was flushed pink and her usually perfect hair was mussed on one side. “Very responsible. Wouldn’t want to miss your own wedding before getting to cancel it.”
Ingrid started to the door and Dorothea grabbed her hand and laughed, it sounded musical. “Ingrid, clothes might help… or?” She said thoughtfully.
Ingrid blushed and turned back around. She grabbed the things that felt more like herself, trousers, and a loose shirt that worked well under armor.
“That’s my girl,” Dorothea said, smiling. There were still tears in her eyes, they made them sparkle.
Ingrid smiled back. “Yes, I am.”
Ingrid agreed to rule House Galatea, but only if she could also serve House Blaiddyd as a knight. She gave her all to ensure that the people of Galatea lived peaceful lives and put in years of hard work to reform its farming practices. Her efforts bore fruit, to the people's delight, and Galatea became a land of plenty. She never took a husband.
Dorothea returned to the Mittelfrank Opera as soon as the war was over. Thanks to her talent, the company enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that lasted well beyond the end of her own career. Once she gave up her position as a songstress, she settled down to a private life of peace and quiet. It is said that she was very happily married.