There was an art to sneaking off to the emperor’s tent and Dorothea had perfected it.
She waited until an hour past nightfall and moved through the camp by magelight, which she clutched tight in her trembling, gloveless fist. Freshly fallen snow lent everything an unnatural hush. She pulled her coat tighter as a gust of icy wind rattled through the air. Dorothea did not like Faerghus. It was cold, it was wet and people kept trying to kill her. Though to be fair, she had come to invade on the orders of her emperor.
She searched for a shadow in the dark. Hubert was no doubt lurking, but she wasn’t always sharp enough to spot him. At the tent’s entrance, she cleared her throat, readying it to hold the simplest of tunes: “Myrrdin Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. Myrddin Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”
“Enter.” Edelgard waited for her inside, seated on the edge of her bunk. She didn’t smile, but Dorothea could see light in her eyes. “Pitch perfect, as always.”
“Password this, security that. You just want a free tune from the best songstress in Enbarr.”
“You have seen right through me. I am sure Hubert appreciates it as well.”
“If you say so. Does he have to sing a little song every time he comes in too?”
“Naturally. ‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head.’”
“Apologies. My sense of humour is too dark, I know.”
“I suppose we all develop coping strategies.”
Dorothea sat next to Edelgard on the bed. She didn't ask permission. Maybe she should? Then again, Edelgard wasn't the type to hold back her words. She'd surely turn Dorothea out if she were dissatisfied.
“Cold?” asked Edelgard.
"I can't remember what warm feels like."
"Let me help."
Edelgard closed her eyes and Dorothea saw the barest flash of the Crest of Flames. As soon as the light dissipated, the tent heated. Edelgard cradled Dorothea's frozen fingers, gently rubbing the life back into them.
"I should commission a new dancer uniform, one that would actually keep you warm."
"I appreciate the thought Edie, but I doubt we have the resources."
"Nonsense. I am sure I can persuade Petra to go hunting with me. What furs do you like?"
Dorothea looked at their intertwined hands. Edelgard wore gloves to heft her weapon and used cream to keep her palms smooth. They did not look like the hands of a warrior.
"Or perhaps you do not approve of hunting?"
"I wish there was another way." A bitter chuckle. "All I seem to do these days is spill blood."
"I know," said Edelgard. But Dorothea knew she didn’t. In battle, Edelgard never hesitated. She was perfectly comfortable, pushing ever onward to her goal. “We’re close now, Dorothea. Just a little further.”
“I can’t imagine the war ever ending.”
“It will. Believe me, it will. We’re going to win Fodlan and set its people free.”
The temperature rose enough that Dorothea began to sweat inside her coat. “Edie,” she said. And reached up for an embrace. Edelgard seemed too small, too fragile to be the woman she’d seen hacking through scores of men. And yet.
If she can be strong, so can I.
In Edelgard’s arms, Dorothea’s body thawed. She rubbed a hand over Edelgard’s shoulder blades.
“I’ll still be able to sneak into your room after we win, right?”
Edelgard laughed. “Why should you sneak anywhere? I’ll give you a key.”
“Are you sure you trust me, Edie? I might take all your silverware and run off with a handsome butler.”
Edelgard turned and kissed her fiercely, banishing the last of the chill. “Is that so? I shall have to keep a close eye on my butlers then and make sure none are handsome enough to tempt you.”
“Hmm. I’ve already gone off the idea. I bet none would kiss me as well as you do.”
“It would be quite the challenge.”
Dorothea was surprised Edelgard kissed so confidently. Especially when Edelgard confided, after a glass of wine, she’d only practiced on her hand before her dalliance with Dorothea.
“Your cheeks are still cold,” said Edelgard, testing them with the back of her hand. “Let’s get you under the blankets.”
“You’re such a smooth talker, Edie, getting me into bed like this. I see how it is.”
Edelgard’s cheeks flushed and made her cute in a way only Dorothea got to see. “I can assure you it is the quickest way to warm up.”
Naturally, the emperor had access to the best furs and wools they could carry. And Edelgard put out more heat than the average person thanks to her crest so it only took a few scant minutes to get cosy. Edelgard’s bed didn’t smell soggy, like everything else in the camp. It smelt like the floral cream she used on her hands and the Brigidan coconut oil for her hair, courtesy of Petra. Dorothea sometimes wished her hair was as sleek, shiny and well-behaved. Edelgard seemed to enjoy working out tangles with her fingers, but it always left Dorothea vaguely embarrassed. It was odd to remember her younger days, where she preened in front of every mirror and put her hair in rollers at night.
“Mm, so warm. I must be the luckiest girl in the camp. I bet the other generals are all shivering the night away.”
“Indeed. Finding volunteers to oversee Faerghus after our victory will be quite the challenge. The climate is extremely unfavourable.”
“No politics in bed. Now you have to pay a forfeit.”
Edelgard kissed her gently on the lips. “Sufficient?”
“Hmm. Perhaps we should come up with a different forfeit. At the moment, it’s more of an incentive. Would you like to hear Ferdinand’s proposals for a new education system?”
“No. Another kiss. Now.”
Edelgard obeyed. “About the independence of Brigid-”
“Three strikes!” crowed Dorothea. “Now you’re in for it! You have to sing for me.”
“I agreed to no such terms! Besides, any singing is best left to you.”
“I’ve written you so many songs,” said Dorothea through a yawn. “Would you like to hear?”
“You’re really not giving up on this opera idea, are you?”
“No. And I want our opera to buck the trend and have a happy ending. So you’d better not die, ok?”
“Of course not. I told you, we’re going to win.”
Dorothea pressed against Edelgard and let her eyes drift close. Edelgard tenderly stroked a hand through her hair. Dorothea couldn’t remember anyone loving her like this. Her nights in the emperor’s tent were what made each day worth getting through. As she drifted to sleep, she began to compose Emperor Edelgard’s victory song.