Garrett knew strength. He was the image of the strength and might of Dwyre blood. He was his father's pride and is grandfather's favorite, the heir apparent. And yet, Garrett just wanted to be a soldier.
I found more Dwyre family stories! My favorite characters from DoD are Nyle and Garrett. Here's a little story about them!
(This is an old sidestory to an unfinished old novel, first written: 08/30/2010)
Garrett knew strength. He had been hearing that word ever since he was a child.
"You're going to grow up strong, Garrett." his father used to say, hoisting him up on broad shoulders.
Gneo Dwyre was a knight to the King, one of the highest honors in their land. He was a formidable fighter, an excellent weaponsmith and a good man.
Little Garrett had looked up to him as any boy looked up to such a man as his father. It had always filled him with joy and wonder whenever the man clasped his young shoulders, looked at him with pride, and said, "You, my boy, are destined for greatness."
"My heir." his grandfather had called him, even back then. The Head of their House always made his preferences clear among the young men and women who were set to compete for the position of his Heir once they come of age. A grandfather shouldn't play favorites, so Ignatius settled to whispering, "I wish you'd have gotten my name. You look like the very image of the strength and might of Dwyre blood."
Young Garrett laughed, bashful. "Nate's a lot better than me in everything, grandfather." He meant it, even back then. His cousin and best friend was better than him, more deserving of being called the Dwyre's golden son than Garrett was. Nate was smart, polite and proper. He worked harder than anyone else - and it showed.
"He looks too Kavanagh. All fair and delicate-looking." Ignatius had huffed, although not without sympathy. He quite liked young Nate, just not as much as he did Garrett. "He only took my name because he was born first. You, however, are a Dwyre, through and through."
Garrett's skin was sun-kissed, sometimes his freckles showed, and he sported short unruly dark blond curls. His eyes were the green that most of their blood shared. He would never be mistaken as anyone else other than a Dwyre son. Many had even said he looked just like Ignatius in the man's younger years.
Garrett knew strength. His Dwyre blood gave him tremendous magic in his veins. His father's expectations and his privelege as the favored grandson gave him enough drive to prove over and over again that he was everything that everyone thought he would be.
And yet, Garrett just wanted to be a soldier.
"A soldier! I'll be strong and I'll fight for the King!"
His mother Aurora had nodded, tentative. It was any young boy's dream, to be a warrior.
His father was proud of his son's dream, however- "You can be more than that, Garrett. You are highly-esteemed. We are of the ranks of the highest royalty. By the time that you decide to join the soldiers of the royal family, they will easily set you in a higher rank. A Knight of a Prince and Princess, or even the King and the Queen. The King picked me, once, just like they picked your grandfather before me-"
"That's no fun, though." Garrett replied, his little voice talking back in full comprehension of his words. "I can always deny that, can't I, father? I can always stay as just a soldier. I just want to be a soldier."
His father had laughed, but let it go, perhaps passing it as a childish whim.
Nyle was the one who truly asked. "Why?"
Nyle was so young, then. He and his sister were only five and Garrett was ten. Garrett had only known about his distant twin cousins from his mother before. He had never really met them until they came to the months-long Dwyre family gathering that happened every few years - but Nyle's big eyes and shy smile demanded a soft spot in anyone.
Nyle had grown attached to him, right away. Perhaps it was because Garrett was easy-going, friendly, and didn't try to make him talk so much like the adults and the other children did.
Nyle shyly asked Garrett what he wanted to be when he grew up, and Garrett answered.
Nyle frowned, Garrett thought to see it as confusion. "Why do you want to be a soldier?"
Garrett pat the boy on the head. "Because I can."
Nyle pouted, and Garrett had never seen anything more adorable. "But I can, too. So why? Why you?"
"Why are you asking, Nyle? Is there something you find wrong?"
"It's dangerous, right? Being a soldier."
Garrett had only grinned. "I'll be fine, Nyle. I'm strong."
"When you become a soldier, would you come home less often?"
Garrett had not wanted to answer that question. He never did.
"That is many years to go, Nyle. We can worry about it then."
Nyle knew strength. He had been hearing that word ever since he was a child.
Strength was what Nyle doesn't have.
"Get up, Nyle! Aren't you a Dwyre?!" his sword master would often say, whenever he fell down during practice drills. "Look at your sister, don't you want to be strong like her?"
Strength was what Nyle needed to have.
"Don't cry, Nyle. You're a man, aren't you? You have to be strong." Garrett's father, his Uncle Gneo once told him, after a clumsy mistake while he was being taught how to forge his first weapons. "You've got Fairchild blood on you, boy. You must know a spell that can heal this burn. Can you do that for me?"
Strength was what everyone but Nyle seemed to have.
"I'm sorry for your loss. He was a brave man, he would not be forgotten." said the man who came into the Fairchild house years ago, to talk to Mother, when Nyle and Edlin were only four.
Mother had started crying. There were other men outside, with horses and flags. The man wore armor and a cape. It looked familiar. It was a bit like what Father wore-
"Argus was one of the strongest soldiers I have ever had the honor to fight alongside with."
Nyle knew strength. When Father died, Mother did not have time to mourn because so many people had told her to "be strong, now, for Nyle and Edlin" - like she hadn't been strong, even before.
Nyle knew strength. When Mother died in the fight against the Avents, Aunt Antonia told Nyle and Edlin that Mother deserved to rest now, because "Leila had been so strong for you both, until the very end. Her fight is over." And then Aunt Antonia said that she would look after them from that point on.
Nyle knew strength. When he was eleven, Aunt Antonia started suddenly crying for no reason. She screamed and threw things and tried to hurt them. Ardeth stood in front of Nyle and Edlin, catching the blows, asking for his mother to stop.
"It will end soon. She will get better." Ardeth had always whispered, after his mother had calmed down and gone to slumber. He always had a bruise or two, but then he'd ask Nyle to heal it quickly so they could all keep their secret. "It will be alright. We just need to be strong, now."
The day Aunt Antonia got ahold of a dagger, Ardeth had had enough. He fought back, struggled to cast a sleeping spell, called for the guards to take his mother away, and asked his father for help.
After that, Aunt Antonia had never left her room. Sometimes they heard her crying, sometimes she screamed and cursed. Ardeth appeared unshaken as he held Nyle and Edlin against him. He'd wipe Nyle's tears and give Edlin's shoulder a squeeze.
Blaisdale House was a house of pyromancy. However, unlike the fire they wielded, Fidelius Blaisdale and his wives and children were cold and steel-eyed, and they held everything in calculated regard. Ardeth may fight in his father's house because he shared the man's dark hair, golden eyes and fire magic, but his cousins were different. Blaisdale House was a fortress, it was no place for two Fairchilds.
But Nyle and Edlin stayed. For Ardeth. Because he swore he was close to the truth about what happened to Aunt Antonia. He gave them a choice, but they chose to stay.
Nyle chose to think that was some form of strength.
Nyle knew strength. He first killed at thirteen, not even knowing the man's name. An assassin was sent after Ardeth, and Nyle was not having anyone taken from him again. It was a clean shot, a dagger to the heart, because besides healing, throwing knives were what he was good at.
Afterwards, Edlin helped him wash his shaking hands, but Nyle didn't cry.
"I had to do it." he whispered.
"I know." his twin said, but she couldn't look him in the eye.
He didn't cry. Not until Ardeth came to them and wrapped Nyle in his arms and said, "Thank you."
"You said I should fight. You said I should be strong." Nyle sobbed against the other boy's shoulder. "Was I strong?"
"Yes." Ardeth said, firm, pressing a kiss to the side of his head. Because Ardeth was sixteen, and he shouldn't have to need his little brother to kill for him. "You were very strong back there, Nyle. Stronger than me."
"Even now?" Nyle asked. Because he was thirteen, and he took a life to protect his family. He should be proud, didn't his other cousins pride themselves on winning battles? Instead he was just shaking and crying.
Ardeth nodded. "Specially now." He had to be cold and stoic to survive his father's house, but he never once told Nyle not to cry.
Nyle met Garrett again when he was sixteen and the man was twenty-one. He blushed at the man's compliment about how he'd grown, about how he had pretty eyes. Nyle tried not to sound too flattered as he pointed out that they had the same eyes - green, Dwyre.
He didn't get his hopes up, because Garrett flirted with everyone else who came his way that night. Nyle was sixteen, practically a child, and Garrett had a beautiful lady in his arm. She had wings on her back - a Furnsworth daughter - and it would be foolish of Nyle to think he had any semblance of a chance.
No matter. Garrett was a friend, if he were to be anything.
To his side, Edlin was being complimented by Nate. She tried hard to appear stubborn and prideful, but Nyle knew his twin sister's moods. She was very, very flattered.
"So, Garrett. A Furnsworth, huh?" Ardeth said conversationally when Garrett joined their little crowd, this time without his muse. "They're as rare as they come, should get you in even better graces with grandfather. Have you proposed?"
Garrett laughed, good-natured. "Grieta? No, she's a good friend. We met in training. She's in the army. A very talented healer."
That caught Nyle's attention, and he looked up from his drink.
Ardeth raised an eyebrow. "You've joined the army, then?"
"I always said I'll be a soldier, Ardeth." Garrett grinned. "The race for Heir is starting to bore me. It's just Lucina and Nate trying to outdo each other for the old man."
"And yet, you're leading. Last I heard." Edlin pointed out. "Do you even try at all?"
"Don't be mean, Edlin." Nyle said, frowning softly.
He saw Garrett smile sheepishly, while Nate gave a well-meaning shrug. Their cousins seemed to know each other so well. Nyle envied how they all seem so free, while he, Edlin and Ardeth were practically prisoners in the fortress that was Blaisdale House in the other side of the land, all because Fidelius Blaisdale effectively held his own wife hostage.
"Anyways," Garrett continued, "Grieta is here because she's interested in our cousin Leander, who continues to be oblivious." he tilted his head, and they all turned to see the lady with fairy wings trying to charm a flustered but confused Dwyre son. "Lucky bastard." Garrett chuckled as he nudged Ardeth. "She has sisters, though, cousin - if you're so interested in women with fae blood on them."
Ardeth rolled his eyes, expression sour, and proceeded to pointely ignore his vulgar cousin in favor of the more polite one. "Nate, I will not be competing in the race for Dwyre Heir, would you please outrun this idiot for me?"
Nate laughed, prompting Edlin to grin in support. While the other three were busy, Nyle sidled up beside Garrett.
"So you're a soldier now?"
Garrett looked at him then, his pout for Ardeth turning into a smile for Nyle. A smile, always. "Not just yet. I'll be part of the squads, formally, in a few months. You?"
Nyle ignored the question and pushed through with his own. "Why?"
"Why do you want to be a soldier?"
Nyle knew he had already asked this. Once. He was young. He remembered not liking the answer.
Garrett looked sheepish. "Because I can."
Nyle did not like the answer, still.
Nyle knew strength. Garrett was strong. Even isolated in the Blaisdale mansion, Nyle had heard tell of the man being Dwyre family's golden son. Garrett was a prodigy, his talent exceptional. He cast spells with accuracy, knew strategy and tactics like the back of his hand, and wielded weapons like he was born to hold them in his hands. It was in his blood - he can make swords, knives and shields of all kinds, brand them with the proud Dwyre name, and guarantee the quality of his craft.
Nyle knew strength. Nyle knew that Garrett would probably just be one on his list of many people who were strong, brilliant, destined for greatness, and was taken from him too soon.
Garrett knew weakness. When he was twenty, leading a race to become the next Dwyre Heir, he told his father that he was going to join the army, because he can.
"Son, I know this is a noble cause, but the army has enough soldiers. You-… You're too-... I am not belittling our soldiers, but you are overqualified for this. Besides, with the race for Heir, don't you have enough on your plate? Lucina and Nate are formidable competition, pretty soon, there will be Tamara as well, your cousins Atlas and Feliks, even Edlin-"
Garrett did not say that he actually wanted to have more than enough on his plate. That he wanted to spill some, to fail some.
That this was his escape, because he did not know how to stop winning in a race he didn't want to run in the first place.
He looked at Nate and saw his cousin try hard to surpass him, but it was difficult when the judge was biased. He looked at Lucina and she had to try twice as hard just because she was a woman.
"You both deserve it more than I do." Garrett once told them.
"Then quit." Lucina had replied, brutal and practical, but not completely unkind. Traits of a leader.
And that was the problem, Garrett realized. "I'm too scared to. Quit, I mean. So what else could I do but keep going?"
Lucina's eyes held a flicker of understanding, even while her stance remained unflinching . "Make up your mind, Dwyre. Nate and I aren't running for second best against someone who doesn't even try."
He was strong. His father's pride. The image of the strength and might of Dwyre blood. His grandfather's favorite. He couldn't let them down by quiting the path of greatness they set before him.
He thought that maybe, if he couldn't refuse the call to walk down the so-called path, he could show them that he tried, but strayed, and got lost.
Nyle knew weakness. He knew for someone, it could take on the form of a person.
"You're leaving." Ardeth said, decisive. "You'll be staying in Dwyre house until all this blows over."
Nyle looked at his cousin, trying to hold back tears. "But Ardeth-"
The man's gold eyes always looked softer when he looked at Nyle. Nyle didn't intend to be selfish, but he always thought that look was his, only his. He tried not to flinch when warm hands stroked his hair. "They tried to get you, Nyle."
"But they didn't." Nyle insisted. "They were stupid. They used poisoned water against a Fairchild."
"That doesn't mean they don't have other ways." Ardeth said, and that was that. "So you'll be out of this house, until I find out who they are."
Nyle knew weakness, but when he packed his bags, he wasn't sure if this was his or Ardeth's.
"You make Ardeth soft. He doesn't need that to survive." Edlin once told him. He always admired his sister's brand of practicality. "He might have promised to protect us, but that doesn't mean we should rely on him."
Nyle knew weakness, and when he left for Dwyre house that day, he resolved not to have one, and not to be one.
Garrett met Nyle again when the boy was a month or two short of eighteen. Garrett had been dismissed from the army for the meantime. There were no wars or feuds to fight. Soldiers were free to stay home until duty called once more. He came home to Dwyre mansion to find his mother and his younger sister both excited, fussing over Nyle.
"Brother!" Astraea greeted joyfully. She was being as bubbly as fifteen year old young ladies who had a proclivity for insane chemical experimentation do. "You're home!"
His mother looked pleased to see him finally home. "Welcome back, sweetheart. Nyle here will be staying with us for a while."
Garrett blinked. "He is?" he sent Nyle a smile, because it was good to see his face, after all these years and-
Garrett knew weakness - he felt it right then and there when the boy smiled back, shy and wary.
'Oh.' he thought. 'Has he always looked this beautiful?'
Someone cleared their throat. "Lady Aurora agreed to give Nyle some lessons on her… particular area of expertise." Oh, Ardeth was there, huh. Garrett did not notice him there.
"Poisons!" Astraea provided happily.
Aurora chuckled, only laying a hand on her daughter's back to stop the girl from bouncing in her seat. "Nyle is a healer. He's here for antidotes."
"It goes both ways." Astraea said with a shrug.
In the end, they settled on how long Nyle would be staying in Dwyre mansion. Six months would be sufficient. The ladies excused themselves to make arrangements, while Garrett took it upon himself to accompany Nyle as they escorted Ardeth out.
"Send Edlin my love?" Nyle asked, before Ardeth could step inside his carriage. "I miss her already."
Ardeth regarded Nyle with a look that Garrett couldn't read. "I'm sure she misses you too, though she would die before admitting it."
Nyle laughed, and Garrett decided he'd like to hear that again. "I worry about the two of you. Try to get along without me?"
"No promises." Ardeth let out a smile. Garrett tried to hide his surprise, because it was a smile. Not an arrogant smirk, or an evil grin. A small, sweet smile. "Send letters, though. Keep us from going insane in that horrible house."
"I will." Nyle said, nodding. Garrett caught the boy's instant of hesitation before he stepped forward to wrap his arms around his cousin. "Take care of yourself?"
Garrett knew weakness. Some people did not seem to have any, and then they surprise him.
He had always thought that Ardeth was a bit too cold, too distant, too ambitious and ruthless and arrogant and… oh, he can go on forever. He didn't hate Ardeth, but they were simply very different people with different priorities and aspirations.
If they weren't technically family, he would not get along with Ardeth, in any way, shape or form. Truth be told, he only really tried to be friendly with the other man because he took good care of Nyle and Edlin. The twins deserved all the warmth a family can offer, because even though no one said it, they all knew that Blaisdale House was cold, frozen hell.
Garrett knew weakness. He saw it as Ardeth returned the embrace, something soft but conflicted in his eyes. Then the man sighed, pulled back, and leaned down to press a kiss to the boy's forehead.
"I'll do that for you, pet."
Garrett stood beside Nyle as they watched the carriage go. Nyle wrung his hands. Garrett couldn't have that - Nyle was family, however distant, and seeing the boy so unsure and nervous stirred something protective in him.
Finally, because Garrett was his best when he was being funny, he said, "I didn't know the great Ardeth Blaisdale had a heart."
Nyle laughed - a win, Garrett decided - but his trailing smile looked sad. "He forgets, sometimes."
'Does he keep you around to remind him?' Garrett wanted to ask, because he may not know Nyle too well, but he had a feeling that if anyone could remind someone of their heart, it would be Nyle.
Nyle knew weakness. It was something he didn't need. He had to take advantage of his freedom, of his stay in Dwyre house. He took chemistry lessons from Lady Aurora and Astraea for the better part of his days. He joined his cousin Tamara in the Dwyre forge to brush up on his weaponsmithing skills. He practiced his spellcasting with Lucina.
In the afternoons, he sat down with his grandmother over tea, telling her stories about Ardeth and Edlin. The woman was old, but her mind was still clear, and she had always hoped to be better acquainted with her daughters' children.
He decided to add sword practice to his schedule, wondering who he could ask to accompany him. Nate and his brothers did not stay in Dwyre house, so they were out of the question. Lucina had more important matters to attend to. Astraea didn't want to leave her laboratory. Tamara would be a very uneven match, and Nyle didn't want to embarrass himself, even though Nyle was sure that she would be nothing short of graceful and understanding about his shortcomings.
It left Garrett, and Garrett seemed surprised when he asked, but was all too happy to oblige.
"I was starting to wonder if perhaps you didn't like me, anymore." the man said with a teasing smile, lying lazily on a chaise. "You liked me when you were little."
"I still like you now." Nyle said, and he meant it. He liked Garrett. Garrett was very nice and he had shown Nyle nothing but kindness. "I was just busy."
Garrett hummed, getting up smoothly and motioning for Nyle to follow him to the training yard. "I was getting jealous. Everyone's been telling me what a pleasure you are to have around."
The reply slipped too easily. "Everyone's been telling me what a flirt you are."
Garrett paused. Nyle had to keep himself from laughing out loud at the terrified expression on the man's face. "They have?! What did they say about poor old me?"
"They told me you'd try to charm me, and if it bothers me, I am very welcome to stab you." Nyle answered, and it was the truth. At least, that was the gist of everything his cousins have told him these past few days. "It'll do us all good, I think, is how Lucina said it. I think she hates you."
"Oh, she does. I admire everything about her, but she thinks I'm a fool."
"Everyone calls you that, I've discovered."
"Even my own mother?!"
Nyle laughed. "No, not Lady Aurora. I don't think you asked her about me." And- oh. That slipped out, too. He realized what he said, and his voice turned small as he tried to explain. "Everyone else told me you were… asking…? About me? That's how… they ended up warning me off you…"
Nyle watched as a blush crept its way in the man's face. "Ah." Garrett let out a laugh, a sheepish one, and rubbed the back of his neck. "They all gave me away, huh. Just like that. I overestimate their affection for me, it seems."
"Garrett." Nyle stopped walking then, and Garrett turned around to look at him. He looked at the older man's green eyes. "Why… Why were you asking about me?"
Garrett looked away for a moment, his gaze finding the window and the empty training yard ahead. "I was… curious." he answered, after a while. "About what you were up to, maybe. Everyone's had a lot to say, and, well… You came to stay all of a sudden, all intent to learn all sorts of things-"
"That's what I came here for." Nyle snapped. "Ardeth sent me here to train. To expand my skills. I have to- I-… I mean, I want to."
Garrett raised an eyebrow. "Nyle?" He stepped forward, and Nyle took a step back. "Are you alright?"
"Yes." the young man said. Firm and stubborn. He and Edlin were twins, after all.
"Are you truly here because you want to?" Garrett asked, gentle. "What- You said Ardeth-… Has Ardeth been treating you right?"
"Ardeth will never hurt me." Nyle said, still firm, all honesty. "I'm here for my own good. I-… Look, please keep this between us?"
Garrett nodded, earnest.
"I had a… There was a misunderstanding, I might have displeased one of the Blaisdales- They- I- Ardeth's fixing it." he haltingly explained. "So for the meantime, I'm to stay here until his family's not so… angry at me."
Garrett knew there was more to it. It wasn't as simple as Nyle had said, but he also knew that he shouldn't push too hard, not right now. So, deciding to let it go, he only rolled his eyes and grumbled, "The Blaisdales are pricks."
"They are." Nyle said, with a resigned chuckle. Then his eyes widened in realization and he looked up, shaking his head. "Not Ardeth, though! I know you think he is. And maybe that's true, a bit. But he's not, really, not completely."
"I still don't understand." Garrett hummed, and this time when he stepped closer, Nyle just looked up at him expectantly. He raised a hand, cupping the younger's chin delicately. "How can anyone be mad at someone like you? Is that even possible? I think not."
Nyle let out a smile, and there was a blush on his cheeks now. He still hadn't stepped back. "I'm not a total angel, Garrett."
"Well, you've stayed here for a month, and everyone's very much completely charmed, so I think you are." Garrett said, leaning down with a grin.
Nyle knew weakness, and it was something he didn't want to give in to. He raised a hand, rested it on the man's shoulder and gave him a gentle push. He smiled softly. "I will have to stab you, if you continue. I am not above heeding advice from someone as smart as Lucina."
Garrett laughed as he stepped back. "I respect that."
"Thank you." Nyle said, letting out a relieved breath.
Garrett tilted his head curiously to the side, a boyish grin on his face. "May I keep trying?"
Nyle knew weakness, but this was also his first taste of freedom, and he found himself saying, "Just be subtle about it, please."
Garrett's grin showed teeth now, and he nodded. "I can do that." Then he turned around again and began to walk towards the grounds. "So, training, huh! Your weapon of choice?"
Nyle smiled as he followed eagerly. "Daggers and throwing knives."
"Ah. Small but lethal." Garrett quipped. "Like you."
Nyle rolled his eyes, laughing. "Garrett!"
Garrett blinked innocently. "No? More subtle, then? Let me think-"
"Just- Just spar with me, would you?"
"Any excuse to touch you, sweet thing."
Nyle blushed. "I meant a duel!"
"As you wish." Garrett said, turning and walking backwards so he can grin at his companion. "Does the winner get a reward?"
"The winner doesn't get stabbed." Nyle replied, planting his hands on the man's forearms and turning him around again.
"Oh, but I'd gladly die by your hands."
"Where are you getting all this? They're all very terrible!"
"Are they? Astraea said they'll be effective."
"Sisters live to torment us, Garrett. She wants you to embarrass yourself."
"I've been using it for years!"
"Well, come up with new ones for me, then."
They stopped, Nyle realizing that he just very explicitly encouraged these advances, and Garrett beaming at his little victory. "Gladly."
Nyle knew weakness. This is it, and he couldn't seem to care.
Nyle's lessons continued, and he found himself growing closer to his family as he re-acquainted himself with them. The Dwyre house was warm, inviting. It always felt like home, like safety.
His weaponsmithing and spellcasting have improved. He had gained a useful foundation in chemistry. He had quickly gotten attached to his grandmother, and he had gotten a few praises from his grandfather.
Garrett had proved to be a good fighting instructor. In no time, Nyle had honed his swordsmanship, and he could wield a few other weapons. When one of Nate's brothers, Atlas, came to visit, Nyle was able to best him in friendly combat.
He wrote to Ardeth and Edlin frequently. Their letters were often matter-of-fact, but there were personal bits, too, and Nyle could tell they both tried to slip in their affection for him in their own ways. They hadn't killed each other yet, which was really the best Nyle could hope for.
One month before his half-year reprieve in the Dwyre house was set to end, Nyle had his first heartbreak.
"Father has sent a letter, in behalf of the King." Garrett announced after dinner, catching the his mother's and sister's attention as well as Nyle's, who had joined them for the evening. "There's a concerning gathering of invaders in the south, all able soldiers are being summoned. We're to assemble as soon as possible."
Nyle watched with dread in his heart as Astraea launched herself to embrace her brother, and more slowly, Lady Aurora stepped forward to pull both of her children in her arms. He felt like an intruder to this moment, so he quietly excused himself to give them space.
No sooner after he had stepped out, the door behind him opened again, and Garrett was standing in front of him.
"Good luck." Nyle said, trying to keep up a smile. "This is... You always wanted this. To use your strength to fight for the crown. Good luck, out there."
"I-..." Garrett started, but trailed off, not sure what else he could say. "Thank you, Nyle. It's been… nice, helping you train-"
"I just meant that. I'm glad we were able to spend some time together, at least, before I- Well, we don't know what's out there, so-"
"Don't say it like you're so certain that you'll die!" Nyle snapped, and when he looked at Garrett, there were tears siding in his eyes, and his hands trembled at his side. "You said you'll be a soldier, because you can, and you'll be alright because you're strong. Well, act like it!"
Garrett's smile was sad, and he reached out to take the young man's shaking hands in his own. "You're right." he whispered. "I'm sorry."
Nyle looked down at their hands between them. "I have no right to ask anything of you, but I will, anyway. Come home, do you hear me? Live and come home. For Lady Aurora, for Astraea. And you're still to become Heir, right?"
"No-… That's… You know that's not what I really want-"
The younger shook his head. "If you- If you die, Lucina and Nate are going to hate you forever. You didn't give them the chance to outrun you fair and square."
Garrett laughed softly, shaking his head. "You're right." he said again, giving Nyle's hands an affectionate squeeze. "You're always right, my heart."
Nyle closed his eyes. The man's words were piercing and gentle, and he knew they will forever be stuck to his memory. Still, he looked up and met the man's eyes. "No. You don't get to call me yours while telling me you're about to die. I won't-… I won't do that to myself."
Nyle knew weakness and he knew strength, and sometimes it took both to protect himself.
"It's selfish, I know, but-"
"You have the right to it, Nyle." Garrett said, no judgement in his voice. Nyle was young, but he had been hurt before. Nyle was so painfully young, and Garrett knew the boy deserved so much better than an indecisive prodigy who tried to escape his family's expectations by throwing his life away in the guise of fighting for a noble cause. Nyle deserved a person who was brave and true.
But Garrett was selfish, too. At that moment, he wondered: was it also strength to never give up on oneself?
"Nyle." he whispered, finally, when it was clear that Nyle didn't know what else to say. "May I call you mine if I promise that I'd fight tooth and nail, with every last inch of my being, to come back to you?"
Tears fell down Nyle's cheek, and Garrett didn't hesitate to free one of the boy's hands so he could wipe them away. When the boy answered, he sounded breathless.
"Yes." Nyle said, nodding. He laughed shakily as he watched Garrett raise his hand to drop a tender kiss to his fingers. "Yes, you may."
Garrett knew strength. He sat in the barricades with his fellow foot soldiers, waiting for another enemy strike or for a cue from their squad leaders to prepare for a counter attack. This time, he felt it was a different kind of strength from what he had, before.
'When I come home,' he thought to himself, 'I'll embrace my mother and my sister. Together, we'll wait for father to come home together. I'll talk to Grandfather about the race. Tell him that there are much better candidates than me.' He thought about Nyle, who probably had returned to the Blaisdales by that time. 'I'll send him a letter. Or maybe I'll come visit. Ask for Edlin's approval. Piss Ardeth off in the process.'
He dozed off, it would be a few more hours of reprieve. 'I'll do that.' were his last thoughts as he drifted. 'Yes, I'll do all of that.'
Nyle knew weakness, that he shouldn't have it, or at least he should hide it well. But with his cousin- no, his big brother, he never seemed to need to hide.
"Ardeth?" he called in a whisper, staring at the flames dancing in the fireplace. He was lying on his side in the chaise with his head on the man's lap.
Ardeth's answer was a hum. He was engrossed in a thick scholarly book of old magic and enchantment.
Nyle took a deep breath before saying, "I'm in love."
It surprised him when Ardeth only said, "I know you are, pet."
"I haven't told anyone." he said.
Ardeth hummed again, turning a page. "But Garrett knows, I suppose?"
"I think so." Nyle shifted, his hands fisted on the soft fur blanket draped over Ardeth's lap. He didn't wonder how Ardeth knew. Ardeth always knew. "Is that okay?"
"Don't be foolish." came from Edlin. It was the first time that she spoke. She had been sitting in a comfortable chair near the fire, quiet as she did her needlework. She had always liked the peace and focus the activity brought her. "He'll be Head of House someday, he'll take a wife, maybe two, maybe three. They'll bear more Dwyres. Where will you be, then?"
"They'll be fine, Edlin." Ardeth said. Nyle didn't look to see if his cousin exchanged glares with his sister. He knew them well enough. "Garrett's not above a little rule-breaking. He can get away with anything, anyway. He's grandfather's favorite."
Edlin sighed. She sounded frustrated. "You indulge this?"
"I indulge you pining over Nate." Ardeth scoffed. "I can indulge Nyle with Garrett."
"I- I don't- I didn't try to act on it!" Edlin said. "Nyle came home with a forget-me-not in his pocket, like he's some maiden waiting for her intended to return from war. This is what happens when you spoil him, he thinks he's free-"
"He is free." Ardeth interrupted. "Both of you are."
Edlin let out an offended laugh. "Oh, yes, of course. We're not trapped in a house with everyone in it trying to kill us. This again, huh? You're telling us we're free to leave you. You know we won't. We owe Aunt Antonia too much."
"Please don't fight." Nyle said, sitting up. "Edlin, does it really bother you so? Do you not like Garrett?"
"I don't like you being reckless." Edlin gritted out, now her glare was directed at her twin. "I don't like you getting your heart broken someday-"
"That won't happen." Ardeth said, firm. "Would you like to spend a little time in Dwyre house too, Edlin? Remind yourself of the words written in our family banner? Do you remember it?"
"Of course I-" Edlin stopped, and closed his eyes as she sighed. "I do. 'Cor aut mors' - that's what our banner says."
"Love or death." Ardeth said in translation.
That was always what made Dwyre house different than the other families. They married for love, left and stayed, started and ended wars for it. Not that the others were loveless. It was just that they were driven by practicality and convenience first. Emotions come second, maybe third, and sometimes, with the Blaisdales, last.
Dwyres love fierce and love true, old stories say. Dwyres were both stronger and weaker for it.
"And the flower you're sewing into that handkerchief you're making for mother?" Ardeth asked.
"A primrose." Edlin said, thumb stroking her half-finished embroidery. The flower had a yellow center, white petals, and pink edges.
"We're Dwyres, Edlin." Ardeth continued, not taking his eyes off his book. "Say you're doing it for love, and our family will allow anything."
This time, he did look up, and he raised a hand to pat Nyle's head. Nyle was eighteen, but he still felt like a small child next to Ardeth.
"Even grandfather would let his favorite go." he said. "You'll be fine, Nyle."
"Though, tell me if he hurts you." Ardeth interjected, almost like an afterthought. "I'll gladly burn him into a crisp."
"Only after I make him an arrow cushion." Edlin added.
Nyle laughed. For the moment, he can forget that Garrett was fighting against invaders in the front lines. For the moment, he can look forward to the future, to welcoming the man home. With his fingers, he traced the primroses embroidered on the edges of the robes he wore, and recalled their known meaning.
'I can't live without you.'
Garrett knew weakness, but the word and the feeling might as well be a foreign one as the carriage approached the majestic sight that was the Dwyre mansion. His body was still bruised, he hadn't gotten enough sleep, and he was bone-tired after months of fighting, but he was bringing home a victory, and that is what mattered most.
He found more than enough strength in his limbs and his spirit as he opened the carriage door himself and hopped out, meeting his sister halfway when she ran to him.
"You look terrible, big brother." Astraea said tearily.
"And you're just plain terrible, little sister." he replied with a laugh.
Astraea pouted at him as she stepped back to give way to their mother. Lady Aurora was always patient and she never rushed. She cradled her son's face in her hands first before pulling him into a tender embrace.
"I'm so proud of you, Garrett." she said, soft and calm. "And I'm ever so happy that you're home."
"Me too, mother." Garrett said, relishing in the woman's solid warmth. He was smiling as he withdrew. "Father sends his love. He'll be home soon too, just finishing business with the King."
Aurora nodded, running a hand to her son's unruly hair. "Very well. Let's get you inside, shall we? You look like you need rest, badly."
He let his mother and sister usher him inside, where he was welcomed by excited servants peeking from corners and doorways. Lucina and Tamara kept their distance, but they nodded at him with small smiles. Other family were there, greeting him with congratulations. At the top of the staircase stood his grandfather, with Nate dutiful beside the old man.
Garrett stepped forward, withdrawing from his mother and sister to stand on his own. "Grandfather." he addressed, climbing the stairs and only stopping when he was a few steps away from Ignatius. He bowed.
"Welcome back, young hero." Ignatius said with a nod. "You've done a noble job."
"It's been my honor." Garrett replied. He shared a grin with Nate, and laughed when his cousin finally gave in and stepped forward to envelop him in a brotherly hug.
"You had us worried there, Garrett." Nate said.
"Oh, you're not going to get rid of me so easily." Garrett laughed again. When Nate let him go, he looked up at his grandfather again, who had been eyeing the two young men, quiet and observant. "Grandfather, I-..." he stopped, took a deep breath, cleared his throat and steeled himself.
He was battered, bruised, tired from a day's long travel and months of battle. Garrett knew weakness, and he didn't feel it at that moment.
"Will his grace Lord Dwyre allow this simple soldier a private audience?"
He felt Nate still beside him, but his eyes only met his grandfather's piercing one.
Finally, the old man nodded. "Very well. Rest first, prepare for dinner. Come find me afterwards."
News of the foreign invaders' defeat had reached the Blaisdale house. Nyle had been restless for the past few days, waiting incessantly for any news from the Dwyres. Ardeth was patient, but that wasn't new. Edlin, however, was being surprisingly lenient, which made Nyle think that perhaps he was being very pitiful, if his sister had been coddling him as well.
Nyle expected a messenger or a hawk. He did not expect a knock on the door from one of Ardeth's half-sisters.
"Ardeth." the woman called . She was built like a warrior and looked like blazing fire with her red hair, gold eyes and scarlet lips.
"Alecto." Ardeth acknowledged, clearly surprised. "Sister. I didn't know you've come home."
Alecto Blaisdale was perhaps the only Blaisdale that Ardeth, and subsequently Nyle and Edlin, could stand to trust and respect. Perhaps she was the only one Ardeth called 'sister' without hate or malice. Alecto was honorable. She had a code, and in the time she had chosen to stay in the Blaisdale manor, she had never resorted to any dirty tricks with fellow Heir candidates. She was a Knight, one of the few hand-picked by members of the royal family. Thus, for the past few months she had been closely involved in the defensive efforts in the south.
"I just arrived." Alecto replied with a small weary smile. "And not alone."
She stepped aside and made way for her companion. Another familiar face, one that had Nyle dropping the documents he had been sorting through to stride across the room and launch himself in the man's arms.
"Well, then." Garrett laughed. "It's nice to see you too."
"You're back." Nyle sniffed. He drew back to study the taller man's face, then to inspect him for injuries. "You're here."
"I am, my heart." Garrett said with a smile, taking Nyle's hands and kissing them, like he did before he left. "I promised, didn't I?'
Nyle nodded tearily, and this time Garrett pulled him in a tight embrace.
Alecto cleared her throat then said, "I'll leave you Dwyres to it then. I'll make sure you stay unbothered." The last part she addressed to her brother with a curt smile before stepping out, closing the door behind her.
"I said before that Blaisdales are pricks, but I quite like Alecto." Garrett announced to no one in particular when he and Nyle finally gathered themselves. He grinned at Ardeth. "Cousin." and then to Edlin, he said, "Sister?"
"No." Edlin said cuttingly, making both Nyle and Garrett laugh. "So. You're alive, huh?"
"At least look happy to see me!" Garrett pouted, approaching her, Nyle still tucked to his side.
Edlin rolled her eyes, but succumbed to a short hug. "I'm not as easily-charmed as Nyle. But it's nice that you didn't die out there, I suppose."
"She meant that." Ardeth said smoothly, stepping in and letting Garrett clasp his hand in a short, firm handshake. He pat the man's arm. "It is good that you made it, though, cousin."
Garrett chuckled. "It's good to see your arrogant mug too, Ardeth."
"Garrett!" Nyle scolded.
"I see you picked up some language from the front lines." Ardeth replied sourly. "Your mug, on one hand, is stupid. I don't know why Nyle likes it so much."
"Ardeth!" Nyle gaped, then looked up at Garrett. "Seriously. Did you just come here to pick a fight?"
"Oh, no. No, I actually came here to deliver a message." Garrett said, straightening his back to regain some authority.
"That you're alive?" Edlin raised an eyebrow. "Message received."
"That is the first part." Garrett continued, raising an appeasing hand. "The second part is actually for you, Lady Edlin Dwyre Fairchild."
Ardeth's eyes narrowed, while Edlin was caught off guard and just blinked. "For me?"
"Well, it is part of protocol that all Heir candidates be informed of any significant changes, or news about the selection..." Garrett started, gesturing towards the woman. "Seeing as you are one of those candidates, Edlin-"
Edlin sighed, crossing her arms across her chest. "Oh, good. Are you telling me you've won? Grandfather wanted to ground you to the house before you go off running into war again?" She huffed. "It should have been Nate-"
"He's leading now." Garrett interrupted. "The race is not over, Gods, no, it's too early- Lucina's second, by the way. Followed by Atlas, you, and Tamara-"
"What?" Edlin asked, exchanging a look with a confused Nyle. Ardeth looked at their cousin in scrutiny. "What happened to you?"
Garrett shrugged. "I withdrew."
"What?!" this time it was Nyle. "Why?!"
Garrett beamed. "Because I can."
Nyle stopped, looking up at him questioningly, trying to find words, and Garrett looked right back at him with soft eyes. Garrett tucked stray strands of hair behind the younger's ear, smiling affectionately.
Nyle knew weakness. He wanted to say this was one, giving up power and success, but he'd also never seen Garrett like this. He'd always been easygoing, carefree, but always with a hint of melancholy, that bit of weight on his shoulders. But who doesn't have those? At that moment, however, Garrett looked, above all else, relieved. Maybe this wasn't weakness, after all?
Then, Ardeth spoke. "Is that all?" he asked, startling his company from the trance.
"Uh- Well, yes-"
Ardeth didn't seem fazed at any of the news, instead he only took a short look at Nyle, before turning to Edlin. "Come, Edlin, I'm due to meet with Liam and I could use a guard for if my favorite brother has decided that today is the day he murders me."
Edlin only nodded stiffly, and followed Ardeth as he made his way to exit the room.
Garrett watched them awkwardly. "Umm... Good- Good luck? With not getting murdered?"
Ardeth waved him off as the door closed behind him.
Then there were two. Garrett looked down and saw Nyle just studying his face in silence. He took Nyle's hands in his own again. "I know it's sudden-"
"It is." Nyle nodded, conflicted. "You-... You've always fought for it, Garrett. You worked hard, and... and it's what you wanted, to make your father proud, and for grandfather-"
"Not really. I was doing it for them, yes. I was afraid of letting them down." Garrett nodded, his smile more wistful than sad. "My heart was never in it, not really."
"Oh." Nyle said, squeezing the man's hands back. "If that's your choice, I- I'll support you. No matter what, but-... What did grandfather say? I can't imagine him being happy with this."
"Well, he wasn't, at first." Garrett said, chuckling. "But I told him I wasn't totally throwing all of my future away."
"What do you mean?"
"You know I rode here with Alecto?" Garrett asked. Nyle nodded curiously. "You know she's Knight to the First Prince?"
"The Grand Prince." Nyle said. "Yes. It's a very impressive title, and I do think Alecto deserves it."
"Well, we kind of share that title, now."
Garrett grinned. "It's a long story, something about single-handedly forging a new set of weapons for a squad, which our royal friend Henrique is a member of- No, that's also another long story - that fool somehow decided to masquerade as a foot soldier, for fun - very novel, more details later, I promise, but the point is-" he stopped for breath and leaned down pressing their foreheads together. "I'm a Knight now."
"That's... quite a promotion." Nyle said disbelievingly, but he tilted his head so their noses were touching. "May I still call you mine? Sir Garrett Dwyre?"
"I quite like how that sounds." Garrett said in a whisper. "And I may have sworn fealty to our Prince, but my heart will always be yours."
Nyle didn't wait any further and closed the distance between them, pressing his lips against the other man's, trying to pour all the love and longing he had been keeping to himself for the past months. Garrett was only so glad to return the gesture, pulling the younger flush against him, conveying the very same longing and affection, hoping it was enough.
And it was, because when then pulled away, there was understanding there. That something had shifted between them for the better, and there was no turning back from it.
Garrett knew strength. It took many forms, and in Nyle's intent green eyes, he found that he could keep going like this. He was free, he had made the right choice, and he had never felt so content, just to be.
Nyle finally withdrew his gaze, not very used to this proximity and such intimacy, instead choosing to pick on the embroidered swords and primroses on Garrett's suit. "So... Grandfather let you get away with quitting the race because you got yourself a title?"
"Oh, not so easily. He made me swear to be an adviser to whoever wins." Garrett said, hugging his lover to his chest. "Not looking forward to that very much. They all hate my guts, why would they ever listen to me?"
Nyle laughed, cradled against the man he loved. "Root for Nate. He'll be nice about it, at least."
"I'll do that." Garrett sighed. "Hmm... I had to pull the 'I'm In Love' speech on the old man, too."
Nyle cringed, mortified. "No... with my name and all?"
Garrett cleared his throat and looked up, then dramatically declared, "But Grandfather, I'm in love with Nyle! Would you get in the way of that?"
Nyle hid his face in his hands. "Oh, no..."
The taller only sniggered. "Send Lady Laetitia a thank-you letter, by the way. She was all up on Grandfather's face after that." He hitched his voice, mimicking an infuriated old lady. "'Ignatius, don't you dare, you stubborn old fool!'"
"Oh, grandmother..." Nyle groaned in further embarrassment.
"We're Dwyres, Nyle." Garrett said, chuckling. "We're not above embarrassing declarations of love."
There was a sound that was an approximation of a snort.
"Well, I'm the golden son. I can do no wrong."
Nyle sighed, and when looked up at Garrett, his smile was resigned, but fond. "Don't make me regret this, you big fool."
Garrett grinned as he leaned down again, bumping their noses together. He could get used to that. "Whose fool?" he asked, pretending to sound heartbroken.
"Mine." Nyle said, and anything else he was about to say, he saved for later. His lips had other things to do.