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Chosen Paths

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The Black Eagles filed out of their classroom in silence, to meet an extremely anxious-looking Byleth loitering outside.

'Well?'  Byleth asked at Bernadetta, who was the first out, but the girl gave her an apologetic look and then took off as fast as she could towards her room.

'Crap.'  Byleth murmured.  Dorothea was next.

'Don't worry, Professor.'  The girl mumbled.  'There is always a resit available next week!'

'Ridiculous!  I could have written a better examination paper in my sleep...'  Linhardt bumped past Dorothea.

'Well, considering you spent over half the exam time actually asleep - you are probably right.'  Caspar groaned as he came outside next.

'I am thinking it was not too much difficultness?'  Petra added following behind Casper and shrugging.  She went to pat Byleth on the shoulder.  'I was understanding most things because of your helping, Professor.  Thank you.'

'Yeah, it was okay.'  Caspar agreed.

'You should have tried the mage exam.'  Dorothea grouched.

'Come now, Dorothea, I believe that our sessions together covering dark magic should have more than prepared you for that trifle of a test.'  Hubert smirked as he preceded a grinning Ferdinand and a worried-looking Edelgard into the sunlight.

'Oh dear... this is worse than if I had sat the exams myself!'  Byleth groaned as she followed her students to the dining hall.

'Please don't worry, my Teacher.'  Edelgard had fallen into step with her and put a warm hand on her arm.  'It was an experience, but you prepared us admirably.  I have no doubt that we will all have done you proud.'

'I know you will.'  Byleth agreed.

'Honestly, if it were not for you, I would have been unlikely to bother sitting a certification at all.'  Edelgard continued.  'After all, achieving a rank here is hardly ever going to eclipse the title of Emporer, which is my ultimate destiny.'

'Then why did you take it?'  Byleth asked in puzzlement.

'I suspect for the same reason Ferdinand and Hubert did.'  Edelgard smiled warmly.  'None of us will need any certification for the roles we will play in the future, and in truth, none of us required to attend the Academy in the first place since we have all received education from the best tutors available since we were children.'

'I don't understand...'  Byleth admitted.

'I didn’t come here expecting to learn anything from the course, really.'  Edelgard stopped walking and turned to face the Professor.  'I decided to attend only when I heard that both Dimitri and Claude would be here.  The chance to... observe the other future leaders before any of us took up our positions was too good an opportunity to miss.'

Byleth nodded thoughtfully.  'That makes sense, I suppose.'

'What I did not anticipate was actually becoming invested in the lessons or taking much of an interest.'  Edelgard continued.  'I certainly never expected to learn things that were actually of value.'

Byleth's look of concern grew, but Edelgard chuckled at her expression and took her hand.

'I believe I know you well enough to assume that right about now you are thinking that we would have been better off with a proper teacher.'  She teased.

Byleth nodded.  'It would have benefitted you more.'  She admitted.

'I don't agree.'  Edelgard replied firmly.  'It is, in fact, the unconventional way that you think and act that holds the most valuable lessons.  Nobody can question your battle experience or ability nor the dedication that you put into researching the academic syllabus.  You are not scared to call bullshit when it's required, though, and that is what is truly useful.'

'What I think her Highness is trying to say...'  Hubert cut in having come up behind them with a tray of covered food in his hands.  '... Is that the only reason we bothered taking that shockingly easy certification is because your hard work deserves all of the associated glory of being responsible for the House with absolutely the best results in over the year.  Which we will be.  Obviously.'

Edelgard nodded happily.

'Is that right?'  Byleth chuckled.  'Nothing to do with potentially being beaten in the ranking by The Kingdom or the Alliance if you didn’t step up then?'

'Just take the compliment, Professor.'  Hubert sighed dramatically.  'I must excuse myself for a moment.'  He added.  'I need to get this meal to Bernadetta.  I'm afraid that sitting in an exam for so long has appeared to frazzle any thoughts of feeding herself right out of her head.'

'Is this your new plot to take me out, Hubert?'  Byleth asked him seriously.  'Are you trying to shock me into a faint with your inexplicably kind consideration and then plunge in the knife while I am incapacitated?'  She swooned theatrically.

'As if I'd need to plot anything so subtle.'  He replied, then deliberately poked his tongue out at her before turning around gracefully and striding off in the direction of the dormitories.  Edelgard started to giggle, trying to hide it behind a gloved hand.

'Does anyone actually find him scary?'  Byleth wondered aloud, shaking her head.

'Pretty much everyone except for you and me!'  Edelgard nodded, still giggling as she took the Professor's arm and led her into the dining hall.




As soon as Ferdinand had taken enough time to get fed and ready, Byleth and Dedue met with him at the stables for their afternoon of riding instruction.  Byleth brought along with her the small vial of tonic that Manuela had whipped up for Dedue, to counter his motion sickness.  He still looked supremely unsure as Ferdinand led out a horse already saddled and ready into the yard and handed him the reins.

'Eestohal here is a steady mount Dedue.  A calm beast and more than large enough to accommodate your impressive frame.'  Ferdinand beamed.  'Let's get you seated first, then I will collect the Professor's mare.'

Dedue clambered gracelessly into the saddle and sat stiffly in place as Ferdinand talked through a few of the basics.  Once the large man was settled, Ferdinand led out a smaller and much livelier grey.

'This is Misty.'  Ferdinand grinned.  'She has been assigned to you for your trip based on her size.  Honestly, I was surprised, but I think I failed to realise just how small you are in actuality.  When you fight, you appear such a huge presence!'

'Thanks, I think.'  Byleth grimaced.  'She appears to have a bit of spirit in her.'  She noted blandly.

'She's merely young.'  Ferdinand stroked the mare's head lovingly.  'Her training is impeccable, though.  The stable-staff and the Knight's here really know what they're doing.'

'I'll take your word for it.'  Byleth climbed up into the saddle quickly and rubbed the horse between the ears.  'Go easy on me, okay?'  She told the animal.

Ferdinand put them through their paces.  Dedue appeared to be doing well, admitting that the tonic he had taken was making the process a lot easier, although he doubted that he would ever actually enjoy riding.

'I admit, I don’t understand that sentiment.'  Ferdinand exclaimed.  'There is very little that I find as exhilarating as a good gallop on horseback.'

'There was very little recreational riding in Duscar.'  Dedue explained.  'And there was certainly no cavalry units.  In the main, the only time I had seen a horse before attending on his highness was working in the fields.'

'Right.  You had those huge animals, with the shaggy coats.'  Ferdinand recalled. 

'You have been to Duscar?'  Byleth asked Ferdinand.  'I remember those horses too.  They were giants!'

'I traveled all over with my father when I was young.'  Ferdinand pulled his horse to a stop slightly ahead of the other two, so they could catch up to him.  'Unfortunately, my father is a man who insists that he carried the Empire with him, so wherever we went and whomever we met - it was always expected that he would be accommodated as if he had never left his estate.  I have heard tales of fantastic foods and bright and exciting cultural experiences from many that have traveled extensively - but I was never allowed to see it for myself.'

'A shame.'  Dedue mumbled.

'Yes.'  Ferdinand agreed.  'There are many issues that my father and I see differently on, but I admit that is one that is a particular difference of thought.'

'My own experiences are not dissimilar, you know.'  Byleth said.  'Although I have experienced many places, through necessity, my father and I most often lived in our tent wherever we ended up when the sun fell, and we had no option than to hunt, fish, and forage for our meals.  The main differences that I noted from place to place were the fighting styles of the local people.'

'Your family were warriors Dedue?'  Ferdinand asked politely.

'They were not.'  Dedue paused a moment as if he would leave the conversation at that, but then he smiled slightly at Ferdinand's bright, enthusiastic beam.  'My father was a blacksmith as was his mother before him and back as far as our village remembered.'

'Oh!'  Ferdinand looked a little puzzled.  'But if you did not ride horses and you were not warriors, what on earth did a blacksmith do?'

'Well, aside from military applications for smithing, you should also consider kettles and pots and pans.  Cutlery, grates, and all manner of ceremonial items.'  Dedue said gently.  'Although my father did often take custom commissions for armor and weaponry as well.'

'So are you saying that you only learned to fight once you had taken up with the Prince?'  Ferdinand asked thoughtfully.

'Indeed, before that, it was assumed I would join my father and eldest sister in the forge.'  Dedue nodded.

'But you are so skilled!'  Ferdinand exclaimed.  'I find it hard to comprehend that you have not been a fighter for longer.'

'It is mainly endurance.'  Dedue said quietly.  'Endurance and strength are most certainly required for a smith's work.  My original form has already been bettered tenfold by our Professor's tutelage, and now my riding skill is being attended thanks to your time and effort.  I have been fortunate to have met so many exceptional people.'

'Oh!'  Ferdinand blushed.  'I will make any excuse for an afternoon in the saddle, I can't lie!'

The training session went on much longer than was initially planned the three of them finally leaving the stables paddock and setting out for canter along the road leading from the Monastery.  Byleth's muscles were screaming for a hot bath by the time Ferdinand finally proclaimed he was satisfied with their progress, and they turned for home at a much more sedate pace.

The companions had almost reached the gates when they were overtaken by a fast-moving mount, expertly ridden by a woman dressed in white and with golden hair flowing behind her quite dramatically.  The woman glanced sideways as she passed and raised a hand in welcome, but was gone before anyone could properly respond.

Ferdinand pulled his horse to a stop and stared after the figure who was already indistinct in the distance.

'That was Thunder Catherine!'  He said reverently.  'I am sure of it!'

'The one who will be leading our mission.'  Byleth murmured.  'It may be that we will be setting off earlier than expected.'  She added.

'I am beyond jealous!'  Ferdinand admitted.  'Catharine is almost as much of a legend in the Knight's as your father is Professor, and of course she wields a relic.'  He shook his head in amazement.  'I do hope that the Eagles will get a chance to attend a mission with her too at some time in the future.'

'I believe that she teaches on occasion.'  Byleth told him as they began trotting forward again.  'At least that is what Manuela told me, although she is unable to take a regular teaching spot due to the amount of work she undertakes directly for Lady Rhea.'

'Yes, I'd say that she was holding Jeralt's office as much as anyone was before his return.'  Ferdinand grinned.  'I wonder what she thinks about him coming back.'

Byleth grimaced.  'I didn’t know that!'  She admitted.

'Well, I guess only time will tell.'  Ferdinand spurred his horse on and shot forward.  'The last one back to the stables is in charge of manure duty!'  He called back at them over his shoulder.'

Dedue and Byleth looked at each other.

'Share the burden rather than bounce up and down unnecessarily anymore?'  Dedue asked, leaping down from his mount and looking at her expectantly.

'I couldn’t agree more!'  Byleth nodded, taking his offered hand to dismount and gratefully feeling the earth underneath her feet again.