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Chosen Paths

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Lorenz Hellman Gloucester was eagerly anticipating his upcoming eighteenth birthday and had already set plans in motion to ensure that the celebration would become legendary within the history of the Academy.  His father - someone that Lorenz often clashed with - had come up trumps in this particular endeavour, providing the coin to cover the cost of the extravagant catering that would be the centrepiece to the festivities as well as providing the birthday boy with the means to be fitted for a new and individually tailored uniform - as befitted his exalted rank.

Lorenz's good friend Ferdinand had been an absolute rock during the planning phase.  His excellent taste and consummate knowledge regarding the more exceptional gastronomic delights available had been invaluable, and they had spent a number of delightful afternoons plotting together over some fine tea-blends.  The one thing that Ferdinand did lack, however, was any useful help or advice when it came to the dire problem of women.

'Thing is Lorenz, I just don't see the point in bothering myself with the intricacies of courtship when my own bride will be chosen for me for the benefit of the Empire.'  Ferdinand admitted, sipping his Serios tea.

'Surely you will have some say in proceedings.'  Lorenz raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow in consternation.

'I think that there is a fundamental difference between your family and mine.'  Ferdinand admitted.  'As you are aware, the von Aegir's hold the highest political office as Prime Minister to the Emporer.  As such, much of my time will be spent carrying the burden of state secrets that may not be spoken, even to a most loving spouse.'  He put his cup down and steepled his hands thoughtfully.  'It is unadvisable to marry myself to someone I know well, and I might feel deep companionship to - lest my tongue becomes dangerously free in their company.  A stranger to whom I can instead provide a comfortable life and a distanced affection to is a far better and safer option.'

'Different directives indeed.'  Lorenz murmured.  'It is my duty to find a spouse whose nobility, grace, and sparkling wit will compliment my own and enhance the House of Gloucester's reputation and standing.  A dazzling partnership for want of a better description.'

'That must be tiring.'  Ferdinand commented.  'Although I can see how it might be nice to achieve such closeness as well.'

'The path to my fulfillment is turning out to be quite the chore.'  Lorenz sighed.  'Discovering if a person has the aptitude to be that special someone is a process I am finding rather challenging.  Nevertheless, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.'  Lorenz raised his teacup to Ferdinand in salute.  'May we both find what we seek, my friend!'

Lorenz was eager to procure himself a date to accompany him to his party - after all, the splendor that he was arranging would be a good testing ground for a partner's social skills.  To that end, he spent a fair bit of time in the weeks leading up to his big day, canvassing a few of his preferred potential maidens.

 So far, Lorenz felt that his approaches were not going particularly well, and with time of the essence, he was a little put out when he received a letter from Professor Byleth asking him to take tea with her one evening after classes had finished.  It was time he really did not feel he could waste.  Nonetheless, he had a level of respect for the Professor and did not wish to turn her down unduly, so he turned himself out at the allotted time and met with her in the garden gazebo as she requested.

'Lorenz.'  Byleth greeted him as he bowed politely and then sat down at her table.  He was pleased to see the rose-petal blend being steeped as he arrived.  One of his favorites.

'Thank you for your kind invitation, Professor.' Lorenz smiled kindly.  'You really should not have gone to so much trouble.'

'I would not dare offer you sub-par tea.'  Byleth replied wryly - offering him a plate of cake.

'How very thoughtful.  I admit I am rather particular with my tea.'  Lorenz nodded.  'I would never be impolite and criticise another's tastes, however.  Tea preference is a very personal choice, after all.'

'I have yet to try one that I can say I actually dislike.'  Byleth mused.  'I am not fond of the bitterness of coffee, however.'

'Oh, coffee...'  Lorenz waved a hand dismissively.  'A barbaric drink.  Certainly not fit for noble consumption in my own opinion.'

'Hubert is certainly fond of it.'  Byleth pointed out. 

Lorenz replied with a dismissive hum, then he smiled again at the Professor.  'Will you be attending my little party, Professor?'  He asked.  'I assume that you received your invitation?'

'Well, since you actually handed it to me after class, yes - I did.'  Byleth looked amused.  'Of course, I will come along Lorenz.  It was nice of you to ask me.'

Lorenz nodded happily.

'Ferdinand has spoken of little else.'  Byleth continued.  'I requested that he make me a list of what all of the little bite things you are providing actually are.  It sounds like it will be an informative culinary evening.'

'Oh!  That's a wonderful idea!'  Lorenz beamed.  'Perhaps we could put a card beside each plate of trifles, of what it is and what region it is a specialty from!'

'Although I did sort of consider that maybe a few heartier dishes might be applicable as well.'  Byleth suggested gently.  'After all, this is a military academy and not a castle.  Most of your guests will arrive with a big appetite after training and physical activities.  Like Raphael, for example...'

Lorenz's face had gone red.  'How remiss of me!'  He exclaimed.  'You are quite correct, of course.  The entire point of a successful event is to ensure that all of your guests are adequately catered for.'

'You could always approach Ashe for some suggestions.  His parents were restaurateurs, you know.  I am sure that he might be able to provide a few good ideas.'

Lorenz sighed dramatically.  'I am afraid I am messing this whole affair up with my woeful incompetence.'  He moaned.

'Now, now.  You have done a wonderful job so far.'  Byleth smiled at him encouragingly.  'I couldn’t do it.  I'd just slam a few hunks of meat in a stew and be done!'

'I try my best.'  Lorenz nodded sincerely.  'If you ever require my help with such matters in the future, I would, of course, be honored to assist you in any way that I can.'

Byleth nodded solemnly.  'I know that you always try your best, Lorenz.'  She agreed.  'That brings me around to what I need to speak to you about actually.' 

'Oh?'  He blinked at her sudden seriousness.  'Is there a problem, Professor?'

'I believe so.'  She replied.  'It's about the female students...'

Lorenz looked stunned for a moment.  'The ladies?'  He asked, breathlessly.  Byleth nodded at him again.  'Have they... complained?  About... me?'

'They have spoken to me.'  Byleth explained carefully.  'They didn't go to Manuela as she is your house Professor, and they didn't want to make an official complaint - so instead, they approached me to have a word with you about your conduct.  In a more informal manner.'

'My conduct?'  Lorenz spluttered.  'Preposterous!  There must be some mistake.  After all, I am the heir to the noble House Gloucester.  It is bred into me to treat all people with the deepest respect.'

'Of course.'  Byleth agreed quietly.  'But the fact remains that a number of the female students...'

'A number?'  Lorenz's face was red now, but he took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.  'I suppose that the issue here is that the splendor of my noble presence is driving the ladies to distraction.  Yes...I must be troubling their hearts unduly...'

'Actually, that's not the issue.'  Byleth replied firmly.  'It's your advances that are causing consternation.'

'Outrageous!'  Lorenz exclaimed.  'Obviously, I am obliged to make an advance to a Lady in whom I see the potential to become a partner since such decisions cannot be based on looks and reputation alone.  As a man of impeccable breeding, undeniable wit, and outstanding looks, I am interested in getting to know a person before I make any critical decisions.  A request to be accompanied to dinner is hardly something that should be seen as a negative experience - now should it?'

'It should not.'  Byleth agreed, struggling to keep her mouth set in a straight line and amusement from her voice.  'However, I think it's the fact that you seem to refuse to accept 'no' as an answer...'

'Is that so.'  Lorenz suddenly looked distraught.  'I admit that I have not altogether had the amount of success I was expecting.'  He huffed.  'For some reason, my advances have all been met with restraint, so it has been required that I have needed to repeat my offer more than once.'

'Once is usually enough, Lorenz.'  Byleth advised.

'I must disagree, Professor.  It is obvious that these poor ladies are overwhelmed by my presence and request, and it is my job to ensure that they are aware that I am serious in my intent to get to know them better and reassure them that they are not dreaming.'

'One lady mentioned that she felt like a broodmare and wondered if you were going to ask to inspect her teeth.'  Byleth murmured.

'Ahh!'  Lorenz's face lit up.  'You are being teased, Professor!'  He chuckled and patted her hand kindly.  'It is unkind of them to pull you into a joke like this - I shall make sure I advise them that you should not be bothered in such a fashion in the future!'

'Um...'  Byleth realised that the conversation was somehow slipping away from her.

'Obviously, it is some plot or mischief.  Never fear, my dear Professor.  I will ensure that I get to the bottom of it, and you are no longer troubled.'

'I really don't think...'  Byleth tried again.

'If you will excuse me now, I do have a lot that I need to get on top of.'  Lorenz stood and bowed deeply.  'I thank you for a thoroughly pleasant tea Professor.  I do hope we can do it again soon!'  He made his way off out of the garden chuckling happily to himself.

'What just happened?'  Byleth shook her head in confused amazement.

'I believe that someone has a rather inflated sense of self Professor.'  Hubert made his way around the hedge with an unusually broad smirk on his face.  'You look like you could use another cup of tea.'  He added, taking the seat that Lorenz had vacated and pouring the tepid liquid from the pot into her cup.

'Were you spying Hubert?'  Byleth asked severely.

'Obviously.'  Hubert agreed easily.  'I must admit, it's rare that my sneakier pursuits lead to such enjoyable results.'

'Well, I am so pleased that you had a good time.'  Byleth grouched.  'Stupid to think I was the right person to talk to anyone about relationships anyway.'

'Don't feel bad, Professor.  I seriously doubt that anyone could crack through Gloucester's thick skull when it comes to his opinion about himself.'  Hubert's eyes gleamed.  'You probably did better than most.'

Byleth shook her head and stared back at the man watching her.  'Why are you being so nice?'  She asked grumpily.  'And why were you spying on me anyway?'

'I always have eyes on you.  You know that.'  Hubert pushed back the hair that covered one side of his face.  'In your case, in fact - I employ two eyes.'

Byleth sighed.  'I meant, are you skulking for a reason, or are you just looking to add to my misery?'

'Actually, I was wondering about your mission this month.'  Hubert admitted, letting his hair fall back over his eye.  'Something about the situation doesn't feel right.  Why on earth would a minor Lord raise an army against a foe he cannot possibly hope to defeat?'

Byleth looked surprised.  'Hubert, are you concerned about my wellbeing?'  She teased.

His lips raised in a small smile.  'Of course, Professor.  I would be aggrieved if someone other than myself were allowed to kill you.'

'How very romantic!'  Byleth smirked in return.  'Be-still my non-beating heart.'

Hubert chuckled.  'I think I may even feel a moment's regret if I do have to kill you.'  He added softly.  'It has been very few people who have managed to amuse me quite as completely as you do.'

'Okay you are worrying me now.  Are you ill?'  Byleth asked.

'I am not.  Let's get back to the point.'  Hubert suggested.

'I'm assuming that you know the history surrounding the execution of Lord Lonato's son.'  Byleth said, looking thoughtfully at her companion.

'Of course.'  Hubert nodded.

'Excellent.  I don't know much apart from the basic's so you can fill me in, and that will also set things straight in our minds.'  Byleth reached into the bag she had sat at her feet and brought out a wooden box from inside.  'Look!'  She extracted a wrapped parcel from the box and set it on the table. 'I have coffee!'  She explained.  'Just for you!'

Hubert's eyes widened suspiciously, and his entire stance became rigid.  'How clever of you to take a note of my preferences.  It will, of course, get you nowhere!' He said stiffly.

'It's a gift, Hubert, given out of respect.  Just run and get some hot water, there's a good lad.'  Byleth sat back in her chair, pleased with chinking his armor after his own teasing.  'Don't expect me to drink that muck, though!'  She added as he trotted off to do as he was bid.