Huh. The library’s copy of Loog and the Maiden of Wind is missing. And Just when he actually needs it because of something Catherine mentioned in her last letter. He looks through the rest of the library, around his own study, and asks the maids if they’ve seen it anywhere, all to no avail.
Maybe Father borrowed it, to the surprise of the entire Kingdom.
“Father? Have you seen Loog and the Maiden of Wind around?” Christophe says, opening the door to Father’s study.
“Father? Have you seen Loog and the Maiden of Wind around?” Christophe says, opening the door to Father’s study.
Lonato glances up at him, only to return to his work. “Oh, yes. I gave it away.”
“Gave it away? To who?” Christophe steps into the room, closing the door behind him.
“A young thief, I believe. I came across him in the library and he was enraptured by it, so I said he could have it.”
Christophe opens his mouth, before closing it again. He’s not sure if he should ask about the thief part.
“ I see.”
At that, Father chuckles. “Don’t sound so forlorn, you might get the chance to borrow it yet.”
Christophe tilts his head. “Come again?”
“He doesn’t know how to read, so I offered to teach him.”
Well, his father is nothing if not generous.
The following weeks are busy, in that Christophe spends more time skimping off to visit Catherine than actually getting work down. So when he does eventually make it back to his desk, it’s piled so high with documents and letters that he can’t even see beyond them.
After making his way through the most pressing issues, Christophe slips out of his study for a breather. He strolls around the garden, mulling over how many ways he can politely decline engagements before he starts repeating himself. He knows that since he graduated from the Officer’s Academy, most people expected him to marry soon after, or at the very least begin courting someone, but two years later he still can’t see much appeal in marrying a woman. Though that doesn’t change the fact that a proposal from Lord Rowe on behalf of his daughter is sitting on his desk, unanswered.
Christophe’s so lost in thought he almost misses a small figure, scampering by. Out of reflex, he grabs the figure’s clothing, thinking it’s a thief or someone worse.
“Alright, the Hell you think you’re doing tres-”
Christophe cuts himself short when he yanks the thief back, only to realise it’s a mere child.
A child clutching a very familiar book.
The kid looks up at him with wide, watery eyes and even though Christophe’s only holding his shirt, he can still feel how tense he is. Christophe feels himself heat up with shame as he lets go of the child’s shirt.
“I- uhm. Apologies. Are you okay?” Christophe asks, praying he didn’t startle the child so bad that he never came back.
The child takes a few steps back and nods, staring down at his grubby boots.
“Good! Good, good”, Christophe says, nodding to himself more than the child. It takes another moment or two for him to realise he should probably introduce himself.
“Oh, uhm, I’m Christophe. I believe my father is teaching you how to read.”
Impossibly, the child’s eyes grow wider and he nods again. His grip on the book is so tight his knuckles have turned white. Christophe feels as though a knife wouldn’t be enough to hack through the tension in the air.
He’s about to try again when the kid’s head snaps up and “I-I have to go now”, comes tumbling out of his mouth before he’s turning on his heels and scampering out of the castle grounds.
When he’s gone, Christophe groans and puts his head in his hands. He could’ve handled that a lot better. Well there’s always next time, hopefully.
The morning after, Christophe brings his chance encounter up at breakfast, omitting a few details.
“Ran into that child you mentioned before. Quite skittish.”
Christophe almost chokes on his tea when he sees how Father’s entire face lights up, eyes shining in the same way they did during Christophe’s graduation.
“Oh Ashe? He is quite shy, but terribly bright. He latched onto reading fast. Faster than you did in fact.”
“Really?” Christophe replies, prepared to humour his father.
“Really! I expect in a month or two he’ll be leagues ahead of you.”
Christophe smirks, unable to tell just how serious Father is.
The next time Christophe runs into Ashe is a few weeks later. He’s sitting at his desk, a look of disdain on his face as he gazes at the pile of work on his desk. A few loose pages flutter in the summer breeze coming from the open window. Faerghus is cold all year round, even in the summer, but the season brings up memories of the Academy and the sweltering heat they endured at the monastery. The days he spent with his feet dangling in the lake, Catherine beside him as they convinced themselves that fishing was a better use of their time than sitting through another of Hanneman's lectures.
His trip down memory lane is interrupted by the sound of running just outside his door, followed by the door swinging open and Ashe running into the room, closing the door behind him and leaning against it.
Ashe practically jumps out of his skin and stares at Christophe, the familiar sight of Loog and the Maiden of Wind in his hand.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were in here I’m just-” Ashe stutters, to which Christophe raises his hand to stop him.
“You’re quite alright Ashe, really. Just, what were you running from?”
Ashe’s face heats up and he looks away. “Some of the maids, uhm. Some of them wanted to-”
Ashe is cut off again by a knock at the door. He staggers away from the door and looks between it and Christophe with utter disparity.
Christophe bites back a laugh and rises from his desk. He pats Ashe on the back, leans down, and whispers, “Go hide behind the desk.”
When he opens the door, two of the maids and their butler Maurice greets him. Maurice’s usual mask of indifference is nowhere to be seen, instead replaced by an odd mix of impatience and resignation.
“Ah, Maurice. How can I be of help?” Christophe smiles, hoping it’s as charming as people always say.
“So sorry to bother you when you’re so terribly busy Milord. But I must ask if you’ve seen that young boy Lord Lonato has taken a liking to?”
“You mean Ashe? No, I’m afraid I haven’t seen him at all as of late. May I ask why?”
“Oh well”, one of the housemaids begin, a smidge of colour flooding her face. “I just thought he could do with a good… bath.”
Christophe, to his credit, has no outward reaction. “A bath?”
“Well, Milord. It’s just that he’s always a bit grubby”, The other maid chimes in, face contorting into a scowl as if having a bit of dirt on your clothes was a sin of the highest order.
“I see. But as I said, I haven’t seen him, and I have quite a lot of work to get through today, so. If that is all”, Christophe says.
The three bow and say their goodbyes, and when Christophe closes the door and turns back to the desk, he sees Ashe peeking out over it.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe from the dreaded housemaids.”
Ashe huffs and scowls, but he looks more like a pouting puppy than anything to be frightened of.
Christophe chuckles as Ashe steps away from the desk, glad that he seems more comfortable around him this time around.
He kneels down beside Ashe, meeting him at eye level and dear Goddess above he never realised how small he is. What age is he? He can’t be older than seven, he’s much too small. Besides his height, Ashe is gaunt, face just a bit too thin to be healthy, clothes hanging a bit too loose. And maybe the maids had a point, Christophe wouldn’t mind giving his hair a bit of a scrub himself.
Christophe doesn’t know how to go about resolving these issues, but he knows he should probably take it one step at a time.
“Looking for my Father? I’m afraid he had some business to attend to at House Rowe this week.”
“Oh”, Ashe replies, looking back to the book in his hands.
Tentatively, Christophe places a hand of the copy of Loog, and says, “How about I help you along this time?”
Ashe looks up at him with those giant puppy-dog eyes. “But you said you were busy. I wouldn’t want to get in your way.”
Christophe shrugs. “I’m always busy. Chances are I’ll still be here tomorrow, and so will all that paperwork.”
He holds out a hand for Ashe, who stares at it before placing his hand in Christophe’s palm. Christophe does not tear up at how small Ashe’s hands are, thank you very much.
Christophe leads Ashe over to the couch, taking the book from him so he can pull himself up onto the cushions. The book takes up his whole lap, but Christophe declines to mention it.
Ashe reads for what feels like hours, sailing through each chapter. Father wasn’t lying when he said Ashe took to it quickly- he rarely struggled with pronunciation and definitions of words. Christophe can’t help but notice the way Ashe’s eyes light up whenever Loog does anything especially heroic or knightly, or whenever he’d give a long-winded speech about the duty he has to his people.
It’s only when Ashe’s stomach cuts him off that he stops. He blushes and presses a hand against his stomach.
Christophe chuckles. “Hungry? We can see what’s in the kitchen, if you like.”
Ashe thinks about it for a minute, biting at his bottom lip. “If you’re sure it’s okay…”
“‘Course it is.” Christophe takes the book from Ashe’s lap and places it to the side. He holds out a hand for Ashe, who takes it almost instantly this time around.
“So, I see you’re fond of all sorts of legends and stories about knights”, Christophe says as he leads Ashe through the halls.
“I love them! All those knights are so cool and, and so amazing! I wish I could be like them one day.”
“Maybe you could be, one day.”
Ashe looks taken aback, mouth hanging open. He looks down at the floor and asks in a small, meek voice, “You really think so?”
Christophe comes to a stop outside the kitchen door and smiles down at Ashe.
“I really do. Now, let’s see what the staff have been cooking up.”
It’s funny, how seamlessly Ashe squeezes his way into his and his father’s lives. Every few days he comes by, spends a few hours with Father or Christophe himself, before leaving with as little ceremony as his arrival. They’ve moved on from reading to writing, and Christophe is trying to get him to try a bit of maths, though he’s reluctant.
It’s almost disgusting how cute it is, when he runs over to Father with a new book he picked out from the library, Almost always about Loog or some other hero of legends.
Of course, that meant when Ashe didn’t appear for a while, they would worry. Christophe can still remember the exact feeling of the headache-inducing, gut clenching anxiety he felt when Ashe didn’t appear for eight days straight. The longest he’d stayed away before that was three.
Though, by now he was fretting about Ashe almost constantly, always in the back of his mind, curiosity gnawing at him and making is heart heavy with worry. Everything beyond reading and knights was strictly closed off, with Ashe clamming up at the simplest of questions. He once said he liked cooking and gave them such a look of horror, as though that fact alone would spell the end for all of Fódlan.
There’s so much Christophe doesn’t know about Ashe, and he doesn’t quite understand why he wants to- needs to know all this in the first place.
“Father? I know it’s late but would you care to join me for- oh.”
Christophe steps into his father’s study to see something rarer than a wyvern in water. Ashe is curled up on Father’s lap, sound asleep with Father’s arms wrapped around him.
Father gives him a practiced side-eye. “If you wake him…” he warns, voice barely a whisper.
Christophe raises his hands in mock surrender, strolling into the room to get a better look at Ashe. Though it should be impossible, he somehow looks even smaller now.
“I did most of the reading today, I had read through six chapter by the time I realised he was asleep.”
Christophe smirks, enraptured by how peaceful Ashe looks.
“I suppose letting him spend the night wouldn’t hurt, his parents must know by now”, he whispers, not liking the idea of waking him up and sending him home in the dark.
Father nods, moving a hand to comb it through Ashe’s hair. “You may be right.”
“‘Course I am, can’t recall a time where I was wrong.” Christophe makes his way back towards the door, opening it for Father and Ashe.
They put Ashe into one of the smaller guest rooms on the second floor, close to Christophe’s room. He doesn’t stir when Father tucks him in with the same care he did when Christophe was the same age, nor when Chrisophe trips over his own feet and bangs his knee on the dresser. He must be exhausted.
Ashe is gone by morning. When he arrives again a few days later, he doesn’t mention it, so Christophe and Father don’t either.
Ashe runs into him one day at the training grounds, and thus starts his fascination with fighting and dueling.
“I know it’s tradition to teach children the ways of the blade starting young, but I feel like you could do with waiting another year or two”, Christophe says, ruffling Ashe’s hair. Honestly, the idea of Ashe ever having to wield a sword is something that keeps him up at night. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he finally sees Ashe knighted.
“I think I’m old enough”, Ashe huffs.
“Oh? And how old is that?”
Ashe puffs out his chest, just slightly, and stands straighter. “I turn ten during the Wyvern Moon.”
Christophe balks. “You’re nine?”
Ashe blinks owlishly, tilting his head. “What about it?”
“Oh, uhm, well”, Christophe says, hoping his face isn’t red with embarrassment. “You just, look a lot younger.”
Ashe pouts and turns on his heels without another word.
Well, that’s one mystery solved.
The summer ends slowly, with the chill of autumn slowly creeping in and the Verdant Rain Moon brings, well, rain. And lots of it.
It’s not far into the month that storms begin raging at night, and continue throughout the day. Christophe can’t help the bitter taste in his mouth every time Ashe comes by soaked to his skin, only to leave with his wet clothes still on his back. Father doesn’t like it either. He would never voice his distaste for the situation, but Christophe can tell well enough from his furrowed brows and strong grip on Ashe’s shoulder.
But there’s nothing to be done, after all they’re not his family.
It all comes to a head one night, when Ashe stays longer than usual and a storm much too treacherous for anyone to be out in, let alone a nine year old on the skinny side of things, begins raging.
Ashe looks out the window, chewing at his bottom lip and forest green eyes clouded over.
A loud peal of thunder is followed by a flash lightning so bright it blinds Christophe for a moment.
Ashe stands then, looking down at the floor.
“I have to go”, he says before making his way to the door and scampering out before anyone can have a say in it.
Christophe meets Father’s wide eyes with his own, before they’re both out of their own seats and following after Ashe.
“Ashe you can’t possible go out in that, you’ll catch your death”, Father says, catching Ashe by his shoulder. He turns Ashe around and kneels down, Christophe at his side.
Ashe shakes his head. “Have to go home.”
He’s agitated, Christophe notes, clutching at the bottom of his tunic with shaking hands.
“Ashe it’s much too dangerous to go out in that, I’m sure your parents will understand”, Christophe replies. At the mention of parents, Ashe’s face shutters and he draws back from them. Christophe feels sick as the horrid truth, right in front of him the whole time, reveals itself.
“Ashe”, Father begins, pulling Ashe back towards them and holds his arms with a gentle grip. “Is there… something you’d like to tell us? About your parents.”
Tears well up in Ashe’s eyes as he shakes his head, biting his quivering lip.
“Ashe, please. I want to help, in whatever way I can”, Father whispers. His voice is softer, gentler, and calmer than Christophe’s ever heard it.
Ashe, unable to bear Lonato’s gaze any longer, looks down at his boots and mutter, “It’s just me and my little brother and sister now.”
Guilt floods Christophe in giant waves. Images of Ashe, orphaned and alone on the streets come to mind, making him wish he had pushed just a little bit harder when Ashe refuse to talk to them about his family. All he wants to do is wrap him up in the warmest, fluffiest blanket he can find and promise that he’ll never be alone again.
Father meets his gaze.
“Well then, there’s nothing for it”, Father says, putting a finger on Ashe’s chin and directing him to look Father in the eyes. “Your siblings can stay here too.”
Ashe’s mouth opens in shock, before he’s scrunching up his whole face and big, fat tears begin rolling down his face.
Father pulls him into his arms, running a hand up and down Ashe’s back as he sobs into his shoulder, finally having someone to rely on again.
By the time they all make it home again they’re soaked through to their skin. Ashe’s siblings, the twins Abigail and Matthew, are mostly dry, with Christophe wrapping them in his cloak. They’re young, too young to understand what happened to their parents, or anything beyond it, really. The first thing they do once their in the Castle is to make a run for it, excited to explore a new place.
Christophe catches them, one wrapped in each arm, before giving them over to a few maids for a bath and a fresh set of clothes each.
Ashe has wrapped himself in Father’s cloak, clinging to his shirt. He’s shivering, from shock or cold Christophe doesn’t know but Father has the right idea when he picks him up and whisks him away to find some dry clothes for him.
Actually, Christophe could do with a change of clothes himself.
Later, when the new additions to the family are dry, fed, and watered, one of the servants lights a fire in the drawing room for them. Abigail and Matthew doze off in minutes, Abigail in Christophe’s lap and Matthew curled up at his side.
In his armchair, Father reads softly to Ashe, Loog and the Maiden of Wind making a comeback. Ashe’s eyes flutter closed, curling into Father’s chest. Father’s eyes flicker down to him, shining in the light from the fire.
It’s funny, how a chance encounter could lead to and three new additions to their family, to Christophe becoming a brother.