okumen: Red Riding Hood | Dictatorial Grimoire (13)
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Ginyuu Mokushiroku Meine Liebe
Eduard/Ludwig, Camus, Naoji, Orphe

Chapter title is Thanks For the Memory by Bob Hope & Shirley Ross.

---

The minister’s voice was loud in the big church, but it was compassionate. He didn’t really listen to the words though, they passed right through him and didn’t actually register. His eyes was on the casket, a delicate work painted a glossy black, and the absurd thought of it being a monster that, if only defeated, would spit his mother back out again, alive and well, passed through his mind.

Despite how he knew that it was a ridiculous thought, and despite that it wasn’t like him to let such thoughts linger, the darkness seemed to spread from the casket, dark thoughts coming with it. He squeezed his eyes shut, closing out the overwhelming feelings that threatened to wash over him. He had been suppressing darkness before. It had been worse when he was younger, when he was still confused by his own feelings, but once he understood and learned to not think about them, the darkness kept away, or at most stayed at the corner of his eye, where he couldn’t touch it and it couldn’t touch him. Seeing the casket in front of him, surrounded by flowers, knowing what was inside despite the sealed lid, made the darkness grow.

When he felt something bump against his arm, he opened his eyes again, glancing to his left. “Brother,” Kilian whispered quietly, trying to follow the instruction to be as quiet as possible inside the church, but unsurprisingly he seemed to have trouble sitting completely still or staying completely quiet. Ludwig silently hushed him; the eulogy was almost over. From the tone of the minister’s voice, he could tell. The service would be over after only a few more hymns, and they would go outside to the cemetery. It would only be a little while longer, so if Kilian could manage to keep quiet during that time, that would be good. People were watching them closely, so remaining in control was of great importance. With a subtle movement, he grasped his brother’s hand in his, in an attempt to appease him for at least a little while longer. Kilian pressed against his arm, clutching it tight in his grip. Ludwig could feel his fingertips tingle as time passed, but he said nothing.

Eventually, the service itself ended, and they proceeded out of the church, following the casket bearers as they carried it to the funeral carriage. The procession was slow, the horses walked at the front, pulling the carriage, and even as they reached the graveyard and the open pit in the ground, Ludwig kept his face expressionless. Beside him, Elise was mimicking his expression, although not with complete success, and Kilian was clinging to their father’s side.

His gaze was locked on the hole in the ground, a dark pit that seemed to go right into the deepest depths of the earth. Even though the day was lovely, the sun shining with the only clouds in the distance, it was freezing.

*****


“Brother,” Kilian had whispered as they headed down the road, and Ludwig had finally been able to ask what it was that he wanted. “Mother can’t come out if it’s shut.”
The cold had settled inside him then. While he had always been susceptible to the cold weather, the day itself wasn’t a cold one, and he shouldn’t be either. But it felt as if he had a big rock of ice in his stomach. “You know she isn’t coming out, ever,” he murmured. Kilian had stared up at him for several moments, then he had moved ahead to bury his face in father’s sleeve when his eyes watered. Ludwig glanced to the side when he felt a gaze on him, and Elise looked back up at him. He had sighed and his voice had been quiet. “I know.” It had been unnecessary. He could have phrased it differently. He could have softened his voice. It felt as if the ice spread through his blood. Her accusatory look had not faded while they walked.

*****


The warmth of the sun refused to seep in through his skin. The hole in the ground had small mounds of dirt around it, and one big above it, where the gravestone would later be placed. He put his teeth in the front of his tongue, so nobody could tell, and barely blinked as the coffin was lowered into the ground, disappeared past the edges of the dark pit. Elise stepped up to the hole. Ludwig bit a little harder into his tongue. She dropped the bouquet on top of the coffin, mother’s favorite flowers falling out of sight. Ludwig followed, and watched his bouquet drop down beside his sister’s. The darkness seemed to grasp at the coffin, licking its edges, whispering words he couldn’t understand. The first shovel of dirt was dropped, and his throat felt as if it was closing up as he watched the symbolic gesture, heard the sound of it hitting the many flower bouquets covering the casket below.

This really was unbearable to be part of.

*****


Some ways from the church was an old parish house that could be used for events such as the memorial, and the big room had long tables lined up with comestibles on it to accommodate the funeral guests.

As people entered the room, they greeted the family and offered their condolences. Eduard had already offered his moments ago, and had, together with Naoji and Orpherus, moved to the side where they were out of the way. They barely knew anyone at all at out of those who were present. He watched his friend over by his family as he accepted the guest’s words. There was nothing out of the ordinary about Ludwig’s expression, but he had been unable to shake a feeling of unease that had settled over him when he had looked into his friend’s eyes.

He spotted Lord Lüneburg, his wife, and then their three children. The count palatine greeted his brother, clasping hands and for a while, the relatives stayed to exchange quiet words. Camus spoke to Ludwig, but he seemed just as quiet as he had with the rest of them, sticking to the appropriate lines people expected him to. Even though it was Camus he was faced with. When Camus followed his family further into the room, there was a look of concern on his face.

Camus could sense Eduard’s gaze on him, and likely Naoji’s and Orpherus’ as well, and he looked over. Then he said some words, it seemed as if he excused himself to his family, and he headed over to them. “Camus,” Naoji murmured. He seemed to be watching Ludwig as well, and had clearly noticed the look in his eyes. “Can you tell what is wrong?”

Camus shook his head.

“His eyes seemed...vacant…” Orpherus remarked. Even he had noticed that Ludwig had changed.

“He’s worse off than before,” Eduard agreed quietly. There was something incredibly jarring about it. But hopefully, nobody but those who knew him well would be able to tell.

“I’m worried,” Camus said, so quietly that they barely could hear him. His gaze flickered up toward Eduard. “Ed… Please take care of him this coming week.” Eduard nodded, not taking his eyes off of Ludwig. “I’ll do what I can,” he said, trying to assure him. He didn’t look any reassured, but it was not at all weird that he wasn’t.

*****


It was a surprise, though it shouldn’t have been, to see his uncle. Not Camus’ father, nor his majesty, there had been no surprise in seeing them. His mother’s second older brother, though, that was the surprise. Mostly because he was supposed to be locked up ever since his arrest, but it seemed as if he had been permitted to attend. Ludwig had not known that, and surely father would have mentioned it. But his mind had slipped on occasion, losing track of conversations for brief moments, and he must have done so at one of those occasions.

The pleasantries came automatically, the same as it had since the guests started arriving, like a record with only one single track on it, playing over and over again. The air between father and uncle seemed strained, even through the numb mist he had felt surrounding him since the ceremony. His brother seemed unable to read the atmosphere however, because he attached himself to uncle’s leg almost instantly. They had tried to explain the situation surrounding uncle to Kilian, but he had never really grasped it entirely. All he knew was that it was the first time in around a year since he had last seen this uncle, and he had always liked all his uncles equally.

The situation became uncomfortable very quickly.

Kilian was still upset with Ludwig, and because he had not seen his uncle since before his last birthday, he wanted to talk to him more, and didn’t want to listen when they said that there still were people who had yet to arrive, so they needed to wait by the door.

“I can take care of him for a while,” uncle offered. “We’ll stay close by.”

Ludwig watched both his uncle and his father, carefully reading their expressions. Uncle was sincere, for once. As far as Ludwig knew, he liked Kilian the most out of them, because he was the only one who was honest and not attuned to the politics of the aristocracy. Uncle also had a few guards with him, though they were dressed in formals for the occasion. It would likely be fine, and he would not try anything while he was with Kilian. Probably.

After a few moments, father accepted the offer, that for a while, Kilian would get to talk to his uncle. So they retreated, while Ludwig followed them with his gaze.

*****


The evening air was cold, unlike how it had been in the day. The temperature had quickly fallen with the sun. Orpherus had found his coat as he made his way outside. He had said his goodbyes to Ludwig’s family, but he had not managed to find his classmate inside. Marin had informed him that she had seen him step outside a little while ago, and as he couldn’t very well leave without a proper parting to him, he went searching in the garden.

He soon found him sit on a stone bench by a fountain, gaze turned toward the never-ending flow of water.

“Ludwig,” he said, to make his presence known. Ludwig turned his gaze from the fountain. “Orpherus.”

“I was intending to return home, so I wished to offer my condolences once more before I left,” Orpherus explained. The strange look in Ludwig’s eyes was still present, highly unsettling, and Orpherus offered forward his hand with hidden hesitation. It was unnatural, seeing Ludwig with an unidentifiable look like the one he currently had in his eyes. Ludwig rose to his feet, and grasped it. Orpherus managed to not flinch when he felt how cold it was.

“Thank you for coming, I am grateful.”

“Of course I would be here.” And not only to be polite, either. He looked down at their joined hands. “Ludwig, it is unusual for you to not wear your gloves.”

Ludwig’s gaze flickered downward as well, and silently, he only looked at their hands. He eventually retracted his hand, and let it rest limp at his side. He wasn’t wearing a coat either. Orpherus reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out a pair of gloves that he offered the other Strahl candidate. “You can use these, simply return them to Ed later.”

Ludwig frowned just slightly, but accepted the gloves. “Why do you have them?” he asked.

“Because Ed has a tendency to forget to bring a pair, so I always have one ready just in case.” His best friend could be forgetful at times, and not think of everything. He wasn’t the most fond of gloves either, so they tended to be one of the things that remained forgotten, even in cold weather. That was something that Orpherus had learned about Eduard very early on in their friendship, even before they became best friends.

He watched Ludwig put them on, but the fingers seemed to be a little too short. Eduard apparently had a little shorter fingers than Ludwig did. But it was better than no gloves at all.

“Well then, Ludwig. I will take my leave. Do take care of Ed while he is with you.” Ludwig nodded, and with a few more words Orpherus left the garden, headed for the gate.

*****


“Hi Elise,” Eduard said, as he sat down beside the girl. The crowd had thinned out, leaving only a few stragglers who were finding their outer garments and giving their last partings. Ludwig had returned inside to help his father to send them off. He had returned just a while after Orpherus had left.

Kilian had been brought to a room on the side by one of the housekeepers from the Liechtenstein mansion, but Elise was sitting on a couch beside a set of stairs. “Hi Ed,” she said. She looked tired.

“There’s not a lot of people left, you’ll be able to go home soon.” He adjusted the ribbon at the end of the long braid that rested on her shoulder. It had almost come undone. She moved her gaze through the room, and nodded. Then she looked up at him, and back down at the hands resting in her lap. “Ed?”

“Yeah?”

She was silent a long while, as if debating whether or not saying what she had on her mind. Once she finally did speak, he had a feeling there was something else on har mind as well. “The minister doesn’t know anything about mother,” Elise said, fingers tightly grasping at her skirt. After a few moments of silence, Eduard reached out to run a hand over her hair, and she leaned against him. “Yeah… He doesn’t. But you do, right?” She glanced up at him with an unspoken question in her eyes. “What matters is that you know. You, Kilian, Lui, your dad. That’s what’s important. Not what some stranger knows.”

She was quiet, then nodded. She leaned more heavily against him, and a while later he noticed her breaths evening out and realized that she had fallen asleep.

He stayed beside her, letting her use him as a pillow, while the last guests disappeared, and he looked up when Ludwig approached. “We’re leaving,” was the short comment that he had. He still had a look in his eyes that was very off.

Eduard nodded, then reached out. “Hey, give me your hand for a bit, Lui?”

Ludwig frowned. But then he did as asked, grasping Eduard’s hand with his. “You doing alright?” Ludwig’s frown deepened. “I am fine.” It was a lie, they both knew that, but they both already knew that Ludwig would lie. Eduard grasped Ludwig’s hand a little tighter, and his expression grew even more concerned. “Right. Just, you don’t need to push it, alright? Or force it.” He squeezed his hand again, eyes locked on Ludwigs. “Okay?”

Ludwig closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath. His face was closed off when he opened them again, but despite that, his eyes still seemed a little bit clearer. “Okay.”

*****


It was not the first time that Eduard had thought that the Liechtenstein’s country property was more like a castle than a mansion. It was bigger than simply big, and it was a place where one could easily get lost in. In fact, he had gotten lost in it a few times in the past. He didn’t get the chance to get lost right away, though, since a housekeeper had showed him the way to the guest room that had been set up for him. That room was big, too. Everything was so big and so fancy in this mansion.

He had barely finished changing to night clothes before he heard a knock on the door. Had it not been so silent there, he might not have heard it, because it was a quiet, timid knock. It didn’t sound like any of the occupants of the mansion, to be honest. None of them were very timid.

When he opened the door, he found Elise outside. “Hey,” he smiled at her softly, and brushed a hand over her head when she buried her face in his stomach. “Can’t sleep?” She shook her head. She had been sleeping until it was time to leave the parish house, and on the ride to the mansion she had been staring out the window with a frustrated but blank expression. “I want to talk to brother, but I’m still angry with him.”

Eduard blinked quietly, then freed himself of her arms and crouched down to her level. She must have been thinking about whatever had made her upset with Ludwig back when they talked a little earlier, he realized. “How come you’re angry with him? Would you mind telling me?” She bit her lip, gaze falling to the floor. “He was really cold to Kilian. I know he didn’t mean to be, but… I got angry with him and I can’t stop thinking about it… Can you come with me?”

That Ludwig could be cold was nothing new, but he must have said something really cold, to make her so upset with him that she put it in words, and actually got angry with him. “Of course I can. You’ll have to show the way though, or I’ll get us lost.” She smiled weakly up at him, and chuckled a little, a small, small chuckle. “You get lost every time you’re here.” Eduard nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.” He let her take hold of his hand, and followed her toward Ludwig’s room. In front of the door she stopped, silent, staring up at it. “Want me to knock?” She nodded.

When, a few moments later, Ludwig opened the door, Elise had hid behind him. Not that she wasn’t visible, but she was less visible than if she had been standing beside him rather than behind him. “I’m assuming that you are not simply lost,” he said, gaze moving from Eduard to Elise. Eduard nodded, arm slightly awkwardly bent because Elise was still holding on to his hand. “Can we come in?”

*****


Ludwig hesitated. To be honest, he simply wished to go to sleep, and hide from the world where nobody would see him or judge him, for at least a few hours. The cold that had lodged in his chest remained, the darkness threatened at the edge of his vision, more vicious than it usually was. Maybe sleep would make it go away. He doubted it, but even he could hope sometimes.

But instead of turning them away, he stepped away from the door, leaving it open as he went further into the room. The brush he had been about to use, and the ribbons meant to tie the braids in place, lay where he had left them on a shelf, but he didn’t touch them. He heard the door close, and turned back toward them. Elise was still holding on to Eduard’s hand, but she was not hiding as much as she previously had.

“Brother, do you miss mother?”

Though her voice was quiet, in the silence, in his ears, it was louder than the cry of a train whistle. “Yes,” he managed after some moments of silence that was so loud that he could hear his blood rushing in his ears. The darkness flickered in the corners. He wasn’t looking at either of them, not his sister, nor his friend.

“Why did you say...why did you say that?”

The way she intonated the word told him exactly what ‘that’ was meant to mean. “Because it’s the truth.”

“You could have phrased it differently.”

“I could have.”

“Why didn’t you?”

The tone in her voice was accusatory. Heavily so, in his ears. Was her voice really that full of accusation, or was it his own guilt that made it sound like it was? His voice come out quieter than he had intended it to, once he finally replied. “I couldn’t.” Even though he just said that he could have...he knew that he couldn’t have. Not in that moment, not in that state of mind.

He could feel their gazes on him, they burned his skin with their force. But he didn’t hear them move, didn’t realize that they must have moved across the space separating them until he had an armful of younger sister pressed up against him. He caught her only on reflex, but Eduard had not let her go until he was certain that Ludwig had proper hold of her. Her hand was in his hair, her child hand patting it in a way that told how unused she was to such an action, but also of how it was nothing but well-meaning. “What are you doing?” he asked her, and her face was buried in his shoulder and neck. His gaze moved to Eduard, confused. Eduard didn’t seem as if he was about to save him from the embrace. “You’re hurting too,” she said. He frowned, gaze falling away from Eduard so he couldn’t see what expressions he might make. He didn’t know what to say in reply, so he said nothing. Neither did she, she simply continued to pat his hair.

Until she finally stopped. He realized why when he heard a light snoring close to his ear.

“Eduard, could you get the door?” he asked. Eduard stepped closer, over to the both of them. “No, I can’t. Come on, you should sleep too.” He put a hand against Ludwig’s back, and Ludwig turned his gaze back to him as he was gently pushed. “She should be in her room.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to sleep with your siblings,” Eduard ushered him toward the bed, and Ludwig saw him pick up the brush and ribbons as they passed. “I think she’ll be happy if you let her stay in here for the night. You know, she was upset that she was angry with you. She didn’t want to be.” He looked down at the girl in his arms, and sighed. “You are saying it would be as if we both forgive each other?”

“Lui, she already forgave you. I think, though it’s just a guess, that she’s worried that you haven’t.”

“She doesn’t need my forgiveness,” he said. Why would she? The one who had been upset with the other was her, not the other way around. And he had been upset with himself for it, too. He saw Eduard shake his head and sigh. “Maybe it’s a younger sibling thing,” he said. Ludwig sat down on the bed, and untangled himself from his sister's arms and legs. She curled up on the bedsheets, grasping at them with her hands. “A younger sibling thing?” Eduard nodded as he handed Ludwig the brush and ribbons. “Yeah. You don’t have any older siblings, so it makes it a bit different.” He patted Ludwig’s shoulder. “I’ll go back to my room now, I’ll see you in the morning.”

“So you’re saying that you remember the way back?” Ludwig asked just as Eduard was about to head for the door. The other froze, and laughed a little awkwardly. “I’ll get there eventually, right?” He turned back toward Ludwig. “Good night, Lui.”

Ludwig sighed, feeling as if he was likely to regret his next words. He moved his hands to brush through his hair to seem less uncertain about the decision. “You may spend the night here, I will show you the way in the morning. You need to memorize the location of the room, though.” There was a look of surprise on Eduard’s face. “Are you sure?”

Usually, he would not braid his hair as quickly as he did, he liked taking some time with it when he did it for himself. But he tied one ribbon around the end of a braid as he nodded. “Yes.” No. No, he was not at all sure. But on the other hand, he didn’t know what words Elise might have for him in the morning, and he didn’t want to deal with that on his own. He felt Eduard’s gaze on him as he took care of the second braid. “Alright.”

He had intended to tell him to use the couch, but once they tucked in Elise, she refused to let go of the tail of Ludwig’s braid and of Eduard’s shirt. As a result, Eduard ended up in the bed as well. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t fit, or have room to spare, but to Ludwig, it was very awkward to share a bed with Eduard, even with Elise between them.

At least those awkward, uncertain feelings kept the darkness at bay, so perhaps it would be worth it. Still, while Eduard quickly go to sleep, it took long over an hour for Ludwig to fall asleep.
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