Actions

Work Header

Sarracenia

Chapter Text

Bernadetta von Varley had a song stuck in her head. The problem was that she had the melody of the song, but not of any lyrics. Perhaps she could try to write an instrumental piece for inspiration and try playing the song with one of her instruments, but her father was home this week. It would be best to remain as silent as possible and to maintain herself holed up in her room until he inevitably had some errand or duty to attend to. 

Then it would be safe to come out again. 

But even then. It was already what her family was used to from her. 

Bernadetta turned to the stuffed bear that sat by himself in a chair. “Captain Snufflekins, I can’t seem to come up with the lyrics to this song. Do you want to help me?”

Captain Snufflekins remained as silent as ever. However, he looked extra dapper in his officer’s coat today so that had to mean something, right?

“Aw, Bernie…”She shook her head and stared at the near empty notebook save for a doodle of Brigid’s pitcher-plant, one of her favorite flowers.

There were a lot of things she could have been doing right now. She could be drawing or making a hat for Captain Snufflekins or perhaps making a new animal crochet inspired by the sacred deer of the Leicester Alliance. 

Or she could have been cleaning.

Her room was a complete mess. 

But instead, she just wanted to write this silly song out. Nothing would please her more. Yet all she did was have a staring contest with her notebook.

She debated on cracking a window open to let out some air into the (most likely) musty room, but it was likely freezing outside and worse yet, it was entirely possible for one of her father’s servants to report that she could catch a cold. Bernadetta wouldn’t have minded catching a cold, actually. It would make for the perfect excuse to stay in her room.

“What to do…”

The sudden knock of her bedroom door made Bernadetta jump. She let out a small yelp and threw her notebook to the foot of her bed. 

“Y...Yes?”

“Bernadetta,” it was her mother’s voice.

“Yes, Mother?”

“You’re needed right this second.”

Bernadetta stared at Captain Snufflekins. He stared right back at her. “Oh, no,” she said to herself. She cleared her throat and raised her voice higher. “I am?”

“Yes. This is urgent.”

Bernadetta opened the door to meet her mother’s face. She noticed in recent times that she was finally the same height as her after years of Father saying she’d never grow. 

“Your room is a mess, Bernadetta. All that time you spend in there and you never bother to clean it.”

“I-I was just going to!” she said, hoping Mother wouldn’t catch her in the lie.

“It doesn’t matter. Your father needs you in his office right now.”

Oh no... There was no avoiding him now if he requested her presence.

“Also, you look like an entire mess right now. The least you can do is to go and brush your hair. I’ll give you thirty seconds to comb over that disheveled mop of yours.”

Bernadetta opened her drawer, but neither her comb or her brush were able to be found. 

“Forget it, I’ll do it myself.” Mother ran her fingers through Bernadetta’s hair. She pulled at her hair, her tangles breaking against her mother’s fingers. It hurt. Bernadetta’s mother ignored her yelps of pain. “We shouldn’t keep your father waiting.”

Bernadetta knew that if her father wanted something from her, then it was never good. As his only daughter, she was expected to follow his ideals and for a while she did, she honestly did, but things were better now that he considered her a failure.

Sort of.

Each step she took was heavier and heavier until she finally made it inside his office. He was currently penning something and caught in a moment of pure concentration when Mother announced their presence.

Bile rose up her throat when she saw the gleeful expression on his face. That was definitely not good.

“I have good news for you, my daughter.”

W-what is it? She tried to make eye contact with her father, but the second she made it past his smile, her eyes instead fell towards the floor.

“It seems we made an agreement with the von Aegir family. You will marry the Prime Minister’s son at the end of this month.”

Bernadetta felt her soul leaving her body. “Excuse me?” But her words went unnoticed. 

“It seems I was wrong. Perhaps you were marriageable after all.”

“She always was,” Mother said. “You only said that because Count Hevring outright said he would never marry his son into our house.”

“That doesn’t matter. And anyway, she’s only marriageable if only in part due to my efforts.” 

Bernadetta wanted to scream. Don’t I get a say in any of this?

“It seems you are finally of use to your family, Bernadetta,” her father said. 

Bernadetta could not reply. It was no use to say anything to her father. She knew what he was capable of. He could resume his Wife Drills and tie her to a chair again. What was she supposed to do?

Run away?

Her mother patted her shoulder, which brought Bernadetta back to life. Back inside her body. This felt achingly real. Her father had finally gotten his wish of arranging her marriage to a rich and powerful husband. “Bernadetta, don’t you have anything to say to your father?” 

“Oh. Right. T-thank you, Father.” The words taste vile as they escaped her lips and when she bowed she felt like a puppet on a string. Run away. She had to run away. 

But to where?

Brigid? To The Alliance? To Dagda?

She wouldn’t last thirty seconds in any of those places.

“Please alert the servants to keep watch over the girl. I’ve hired more guards to ensure that nothing happens to her in two week’s time.” It was as though he had read her mind. There really was no point in running away. Things would be worse. Besides, nothing would stand between her father and getting what he wanted. 

Bernadetta didn’t have the strength to even try to defy her father anymore. 

It was pointless. 

“You may go now. I have to start arranging preparations for the wedding.” Bernadetta was ready to scurry away and cry herself to sleep in her room. “Oh. And Bernadetta?” His tone sent chills down her spine.

Bernadetta’s back went completely straight, as though he were holding a rod against her back like he used to. It was a reflex nowadays but she knew her body would react viscerally to his tone of voice alone. “Yes, Father?” 

“Do remember to be on your best behavior. You wouldn’t want to do your Marriage Drills again, now would you? I know it’s been a while, but I wouldn’t want to see you step out of line, especially with such a powerful and influential family like the Prime Minister’s.”

“N-No Father! I will be the perfect and useful wife!”

What else could she say? Anything else would have set him off. 

And the last thing Bernadetta ever wanted to do was put her father in one of his moods. She knew that if that happened, she would be on the receiving end of his rage. 

Bernadetta would ensure that it would never, ever happen again.


“What can I tell you about your future spouse, Bernadetta von Varley?” Duke Aegir said to his son Ferdinand von Aegir. “Her father has described her as the perfect wife. She can cook, clean, embroider, she’s good with horses, likes to write music and plays several instruments. She also enjoys reading, writing, and she’s been known to make her own creations through crochet.”

Ferdinand felt his ears burn when he said that last part. “Father...You do not mean to say that this is the same girl from before...is it?”

“Which girl?”

“The frightening girl who never sets foot outside of her room and makes dolls of her perceived enemies.”

“I am certain those are just rumors, Ferdinand. Do you think a daughter of the Minister of Religion would actually do such a thing?”

Ferdinand was not dissuaded. “I am sorry, Father, but I must refuse.”

“There is no time to reverse that, Ferdinand. The deal was made a week ago.”

“Then why not consent to the deal until after you discussed it with me?”

“Because you were busy doing the campaign in the Hrym territory.” He didn’t understand what could have possibly made his father act so rashly with such a big step like this. “Ferdinand, you will be twenty-four in just a few short months. I have no other legitimate heirs and neither do you. Who will take the position of Prime Minister after I retire?”

“I will, of course!”

“Yes. And my time as Prime Minister is reaching its twilight years. While you are busy managing Adrestia’s affairs, you will need somebody to manage the affairs inside your own household.”

“But marrying me off to a recluse who makes dolls of her perceived enemies, Father? How will that look towards the other nobles? Even if they were proven to be untrue, they will surely hear the rumors and think less of the von Aegir family.”

“Then it will be your job to quell the rumors by getting to know the girl and to dissuade the other nobles from thinking precisely that.”

Ferdinand cupped his chin with his hands. “But why her? Why that girl again?”

“There are not very many eligible noble girls of the same age, especially in the major houses. Not to mention, she carries the Crest of Saint Indech. House Bergliez was all but ready to snatch her up before I made my case.”

It was the crests. It was always because of the crests. 

House Bergliez wasn’t a family known for passing down a crest. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if they were seeking such a person with a proven crest. Especially from another major family currently in power.

“I see.”

“I knew that you would come to understand, Ferdinand. This is the best decision for you.” Father smiled at him. “Now. We must prepare ourselves, as the von Varleys are hosting an intimate dinner party for us tonight.”

Ferdinand walked to his room, which was frankly kind of a mess. He still had books on foreign weaponry placed in random areas and he had tools scattered around the floor. He had intended to clean up, but he was blindsided with the news of his sudden and impending marriage to Count Varley’s daughter. How could his father do such a thing by greeting his return home with a marriage announcement?

Deep down, however, he knew this would be an eventuality. Arranged marriages were a common occurrence between the nobility. Fighting against it wasn’t a very noble thing to do, but Ferdinand was admittedly clinging to the idea of falling in love with the right noble girl and asking for her hand, but that was the sort of thing only seen in books and the opera shows he so enjoyed.

What could really help him think would be a soothing cup of tea, but his tea leaves collection was empty. Truly, today was not his day. 

He instead got ready for the occasion. 

If his father was so insistent on this girl to be his wife, then he would need to do the noble thing and see if she was his match. Surely, she had to be if she was part of the von Varley family. Maybe Father was right and those whispers did turn out to be rumors. It would still befall onto him to try and settle the dust.

After all, it was a noble’s duty to ensure the best for his family. Even when his family name was already such a disappointment. 


For the entire week after her father made the announcement of her wedding, Bernadetta’s mother was fluttering about, to and fro, up and down. To Bernadetta, her movements were like those of a butterfly. She had wished that a pitcher plant could snatch her up and eat her, but she knew that there was nothing that could stop her.. 

Her mother focused on her daughter’s physical appearance with more experimentation than ever before. She had bought many dresses and makeup of all shades and colors. It was as though everyone had been clueless on Bernadetta’s appearance and had to gather the facts now.

For tonight, Mother had her stick to a purple dress with gold patterns sewn into the bottom and sleeves. To the normal person, the dress seemed alarmingly simple in terms of its lack of pattern, but to someone who knew about clothes and fashion, this was a dress made out of expensive and elaborate materials. It also ensured that if Bernadetta proved herself worthless and spilled food or her drink on her dress, it would be easy to clean it right back up. 

In other words, her mother was setting up Bernadetta for success. Even though her mother was pushy and distant, to Bernadetta, these small gestures meant so much to her. At the end of the day, her mother wasn’t so bad.

Mother began to apply finishing powder. She had spent the last hour carefully applying makeup on Bernadetta’s face, the worst of it being everything that had to do with her eyes. They would always water and Mother would have to start over again. “Remember to mind your posture, Bernadetta. Chew small bites and as though you’re guarding a secret. And for the love of Seiros, do not talk about your obsession with those odd plants of yours or of those little animals you’ve made with your stitching...”

“But why? They’re so cute!”

“The Prime Minister won’t want to marry his son to a child! They want an intelligent, capable woman and you must prove yourself. Mind your conversation topics and choices.” Bernadetta felt her neck growing hot. Her stomach pooled with anxiety. “I’m saying this for your own good. You do not want to disappoint your father.”

“So you’re saying I can’t be myself?”

Mother frowned. She snapped the makeup applicator shut.

“Bernadetta. Listen to me.” Her mother’s index and middle fingers found Bernadetta’s chin. She lifted her face up so that their eyes could meet. Bernadetta had forgotten she had inherited her mother’s gray eyes. From their color, to their size and...And the sadness within. Was she always that sad? “The moment you are married, you will be relinquishing your life to that of your husband and his needs.”

“Like…?”

“Yes. All of his needs. You will be running his house and tending to his heirs. I also strongly recommend having three children at the minimum.”

“T-t-Three?! Oh no...I can’t possibly...” She didn’t even know what her betrothed looked like, but… The idea of doing... that hadn’t crossed Bernadetta’s mind.

“House Varley will need an heir of its own.”

“Oh.” Bernadetta forgot that she was the sole heir to House Varley. “Does that mean I’ll have to...manage two houses?”

“Not for a long time, at least.” Not unless someone kills him first. Maybe they’ll throw him in a fire or he’ll fall off a balcony. There’s plenty of ways someone can die.

Bernadetta didn’t like the direction her thoughts went. She immediately begged the goddess for forgiveness for her treacherous thoughts. 

“You get used to it,” Mother said. 

You get used to marrying someone as terrifying as Father? 

“How?”

“You’ll find something to keep you busy.” Realization dawned on Bernadetta. Mother was a person of action. She was always focused on one task, usually related to the management of her house’s affairs but she always accomplished everything she had set her mind to. Just as Bernadetta spent so much time indoors, her mother was always out and about and on the move. Not only that, she was a force to be reckoned with whenever she was stationed at the capital. People often called her a genius. 

They couldn’t be any more different.

As though reading her mind, her mother spoke. “We aren’t so different. Before I married your father, I was usually in my room. Much like you, I had an affinity for art.”

“Really?! What did you like to draw?”

“I didn’t draw, actually. I liked to play with my makeup. I would often invite the servants to my room and give them makeovers. When my father found out, he put his foot down for my behavior.”

She was reminded of all that time years ago when she befriended that boy and what her father did when he found out she had a friend. Bernadetta shoved that memory aside. 

“We should get going. I’m nearly certain the von Aegirs are waiting in the parlor. They’re known for being punctual.”

“Have you met them, Mother?”

“In passing and always in formal events. Your father has more familiarity with them.”

Bernadetta was too scared to ask about her betrothed. In fact, she had forgotten his name. It was something beginning with an F. Fernand? Franz? Frederick?

She believed it was Frederick. 

Either way, she was too scared to ask anything about him. The less she knew the better. 

It turned out Mother was right. She could hear voices in the parlor, one of them being Father’s. He let out a booming laugh, the sound both false and unfamiliar to her ears. This was not her father. Not her real father. 

“There she is!” said one of the men. He was a portly man, his belly thick and his chin thicker. What stood out to Bernadetta were his thick and bushy orange eyebrows, which were the same length and width of his mustache. Bernadetta thought they looked like quadruplets. Almost like an illustration she had seen in one of her books of a silly villain, but of the type one needed to take seriously. 

“Oh! Um...Hello there!” Her father’s smile grew wider and she could just tell he was cringing in disappointment at her lack of confidence. Even though, it was just the five of them, Bernadetta wanted to run away from the room. She hadn’t had this many pair of eyes on her since…

She didn’t want to look at his son. What if he was-

“This is my son,” he said, pointing to the man standing besides him.

Bernadetta felt every hair on her body stand on its end as the man, her betrothed, walked in her direction. She couldn’t breathe. He was tall, his hair long and glossy. His clothes were highly detailed and impeccable. He was a picture perfect Adrestian noble.

“Good evening, fair Bernadetta. I am Ferdinand von Aegir.” He bent over, his posture perfect each step of the way. It wasn’t rehearsed, either. 

While he was bending up, their eyes met. He had the same hair and eye color as his father, but other than that, there wasn’t much of a resemblance. It was also the exact moment Bernadetta also noticed he was kind of...handsome, actually?

Eek!

Bernadetta quickly moved her gaze towards a nearby bookshelf and concentrated on a book that focused on agriculture on the spine. It was better than making eye contact. 

This was going to be a long night. 


 

While they had dinner, Ferdinand made occasional observational glances at Bernadetta. She never once looked his way, except for that moment earlier in the evening when their eyes met. 

The impression she had on him so far was that she reminded him of a mouse. Since she was forced into this as well, he could only sympathize with her. Right now, the task at hand was that she didn’t know him and vice versa. He would have to fix that problem, but currently, that would be a difficult task to do while their fathers led the discussion. He would need to find the first opportunity he could and speak to her.

But…

She didn’t seem like the girl who would reasonably be the subject of those rumors about making dolls of her enemies. In fact, she didn’t strike him as the kind of girl who had enemies in the first place. 

If anything, Bernadetta... other than her more than understandable nerves, she was actually kind of cute. 

It was unfortunate she was making every effort to avoid even glancing in his direction. She would often stare down at her plate and whenever she’d look at the person speaking to her, it was as though she was looking past them or at something else. 

He was nervous, too, but once he had seen what she looked like, he felt a little calmer. 

Ferdinand still believed his father was acting in haste, yet once his father believed in his own plans, it proved difficult to dissuade him. In some ways, Ferdinand proved to be similar with his stubborn and determined attitude but he was determined to not falter in the very ways his father did. 

But right now, Ferdinand kept trying to calculate how he could possibly spend a minute alone with Bernadetta. 

“And what does Ferdinand like to do when he has free time?”

“Ferdinand’s favorite pastime is brewing tea. He’s been known for hosting tea parties for his friends,” his father said.

This was it! The perfect opportunity falling right into his lap. “If I may?” All eyes were on him. “Perhaps it would be beneficial if I could invite Bernadetta to tea time sometime before the wedding? I will provide an assortment of tea leaves for her choosing!” That was an untruth, as he had run out of his current supply and would need to restock, but he was more than willing to wake up first thing in the morning and buy the most popular blends. He wouldn’t have minded splurging on the Leicester Cortania, even.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Bernadetta’s mother said. “I’m afraid there’s so much to do before the wedding, we haven’t had a single moment to spare.”

“Sorry,” Bernadetta said. Ferdinand was near certain these were the first words she said since she introduced herself.

“That is a shame, but I most certainly understand,” he said. “Besides, we will have plenty of opportunities after the wedding, yes?”

“Of course,” Father said. “I would have personally allowed young Bernadetta if only an hour for tea, but-”

“We’re very, very busy. It’s regrettable.”

Ferdinand sipped on his wine glass. That idea may not have come to fruition. But I won’t give up yet!

Chapter Text

Dear Bernadetta, 

I hope this letter finds you well. I was hoping I could have a moment before our wedding to talk to you but alas, it seems it was not meant to be. I wanted to get to know you better, as I was informed that you are a woman with many interests and hobbies! What books do you enjoy reading? I much prefer works of nonfiction, especially of those where I can learn a great boon! Did you know that I often read books that originate from the Varley territory? I am very much interested in the weaponry and armor making techniques of Fódlan. Have you yourself visited the Oghma Mountains? I have always wanted to see how the weapons themselves are made! 

I realize as I write this that I am most likely talking my quill off on weaponry. It is a subject that is not well-liked by many. As you might recall from dinner, my father, Duke Aegir, said that I am quite the tea connoisseur. Is there a particular blend you enjoy? I have been restocking on my tea supply and I would love to serve you one of your favorites. As for me, I quite enjoy Almyran Pine Needles, Seiros Tea, and the Southern Fruit Blend. I simply cannot pick a favorite among the three! They are all healthy and invigorating and I would strongly suggest you try one!

I hope you can find a way to reply to this letter. I will eagerly await your letter. And if you cannot reply, then we shall have much to discuss after we are wed.

Yours Truly, 

Ferdinand von Aegir

 

The letter was screened by just about everyone in House Varley before it was given to her, but she was told she was not to reply to him. His questions were innocuous enough, even though he rambled a little bit on his interests in weapons, she didn’t feel threatened by him.

If anything, the letter gave her a small semblance of hope. When it came towards marrying this stranger, one silver lining was that she’d be away from her father. She would no longer have to rely on the temporary solace whenever he was away on business. She would be permanently rid of him. 

Bernadetta didn’t consider herself to be an overly religious or devoted person, but if the goddess could hear her plea on keeping her father away from her forever, she would be sincerely grateful.

Her parents had fibbed to the Duke and his son about them being busy. While it was true that her house had been occupied with the wedding for the past two weeks, she actually had plenty of free time. It was mostly due to her father’s fear that the von Aegirs could break the engagement if Bernadetta proved to be the worthless girl she was.

She was already told multiple times about this. Not to mention her every move was closely monitored by the servants.

However, today it would all end. 

For today was the wedding itself.

Her room had been cleared out, only her bed remaining. Her covers had been replaced with those she’d see laid out in the guest rooms. Her sanctuary had been torn apart and eviscerated, going to parts unknown as part of the arrangement.

Bernadetta sat at the edge of her bed. It certainly felt the same, but her room was now a husk of what it was. Worse yet, all of her creations, as well as Captain Snufflekins, were missing in action.

A servant entered the room “Miss Bernadetta? Your mother and father wish to speak with you in the office. They want you to evacuate your room immediately.”

Bernadetta nodded and the servant stepped out of the room. “Goodbye bedroom of sweet, cherished memories. My safe haven, my sanctuary of pillowforts, dolls, and blankets.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll miss you.”

She gave her room one last, lingering look before leaving. It wasn’t her room anymore, only a husk of it now. Much like how Bernadetta’s life would be from now on.


Ferdinand was not a person who regularly imagined what his dream wedding would look like, but this most definitely was not it. In operas, they were almost always a grand celebration with the entire cast witnessing the eternal union of two souls. The curtains would then close, signifying a happy end. 

Alternatively, if the play were a tragedy, the wedding would take place in the middle of the play, oftentimes it would be the final event before an intermission. Ferdinand didn’t believe his life was a tragedy, but this wedding felt as though it had fallen in that category. 

Only a select few nobles were invited to the event and neither party would share their celebration with commoners. It was a remarkably simple affair with the vows being very much to the point, with both him and Bernadetta signing a contract saying they were now husband and wife. 

The dowry would be sent to Duke Aegir’s estate by the morning.  

The worst part of this wedding was how there were no festivities planned. Ferdinand was not able to show off his superior dance moves and no cake would be shared. 

It did not make any sense to him. The von Varleys ignored his invitation to tea and his letters, citing how busy they were for their wedding preparations, but this was the most barebones wedding he had ever attended.

And the bride...she still avoided him as though he had been stricken by the plague. Ferdinand thought she looked quite cute in her simple white dress, but her avoidance of him still hurt.

Ferdinand understood this day would eventually happen but he had grossly underestimated this entire affair. 

Both bride and groom traveled to their new estate in Enbarr in separate carriages, much to Ferdinand’s chagrin. 

The sun had already set by the time Ferdinand’s carriage arrived. 

“Is Bernadetta inside?” he asked a servant. 

“She ought to be. Her carriage arrived earlier this evening.” 

He surveyed the living room, the kitchen, backyard area, and every corridor for Bernadetta until he saw a door next to the bedroom that was shut. 

“Captain Snufflekins I was so worried I lost you! It’s just you and me now from here on out-.” Captain...Snuffle...kins? Ferdinand was pretty certain that was Bernadetta speaking. He had barely heard her speak more than five words, but this had to be her. 

He knocked on the door. “Bernadetta? Is that you?”

“Ah!” Her scream was ear piercing. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

Ferdinand hadn’t a clue as to what or why Bernadetta was sorry about. Was it because their wedding was subpar?

“What are you apologizing for?”

“I’m s-s-sorry! I…”

“May I come in?”

“N-no! I’m-” Bernadetta didn’t speak. 

“Bernadetta?”

“I think...I think I’m coming down with something! I don’t want you to get sick!” She certainly didn’t sound sick. Was this because she was dreading what husbands and wives were supposed to do on their wedding night?

“I wanted to have a chat with you, but I certainly understand your reservations, Bernadetta. If I may, I would not force or impose anything you did not want to do.” It wasn’t something Ferdinand didn’t want to do, either. This entire marriage wasn’t something he wasn’t consenting to as well. 

“Oh? Um…Thank you.” 

“Goodnight, Bernadetta.”

“Night!”

Ferdinand walked over to his room next door, where he saw some of his belongings had been transferred. He didn’t see anything that didn’t belong to him, which made him assume that Bernadetta took her belongings and set up camp in the other room. Perhaps tomorrow she would finally give him that conversation he wanted to have. 

Perhaps then they could be friends.. 


“Oh no, Bernie, what did you do? You had one job!” Bernadetta made her first pivotal mistake in her marriage only just hours in. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! You’re so worthless and stupid!”

Her parent’s words rang back to her from earlier today. 

“Bernadetta, tonight you must attend to your matrimonial duties. It’s your job to ensure that you have your heirs lined into place,” her mother said. 

“This is the true test. Your mother failed our house by only giving birth to you . You cannot fail the von Aegir family. If they find any reason to cast you aside or you fail in your duties, then you will be forced to come back here I will chain you to your chair for the rest of your life.” Bernadetta nearly fainted on the spot. “Your mother was lucky she had you. I hope you can only do better.”

And still, Bernadetta failed. She totally and utterly failed in her duty as a daughter as House Varley.

There was no chance she’d be able to go through with it. She didn’t think she was capable of doing… It wasn’t just having children with this man, but managing the estate and...and…

It was too much for her. 

Worse yet, very few of her belongings were transferred over to Enbarr. All of her self-made plushies, her drawings, notebooks, and diaries were gone. All that remained were her unused knitting supplies, her trumpet, and a select few books. Twenty three years of achievements...all gone. She would have to start anew.

Her father had found one more way to destroy her. He always did. 

But at least Captain Snufflekins was here with her. If there was anything she could have saved, it was him, at the very least. He would be here with her until the end. 

“I’m so scared, Captain Snufflekins.”

She huddled her face into the bear’s belly. It smelled like home. Like her old room.

Not only that, she was too scared to know who Ferdinand was. 

He seemed friendly enough, but...What if that was a facade? What if he was only a pretender? What if...What if she was sent back home after giving birth to their first child, or boy if they von Aegirs preferred male heirs, as some families were apt to do.

She didn’t know what to do from here on out. Was she supposed to adhere to her father’s wishes and be the perfect wife? Or was she to give into her anxiety and her need for solitude and spend all her time in her new room?

This room wasn’t anything like her last one. 

For one, she had a good view of the city, with it’s picaresque skyline looming over the background below the twinkling sky. It was a dazzling sight, but Bernadetta missed the rustic countryside of her territory. She wished she had the proper painting supplies to paint it from memory, but that was taken from her, too. 

She would have to find makeshift supplies from this house and manage with what she could. It would do for now. 

Anything to distract her from her new, sad reality.

Chapter Text

Ferdinand was an early riser, but what woke him up was the small click of a door opening and closing. He quickly got dressed, hoping to catch Bernadetta outside her room, but it was as though she were a ghost. 

He didn’t know if Bernadetta was outside in the kitchen, or if she was back inside, but he knew she had come out of her room sometime in the interim. 

He chose to knock on her door. “Bernadetta?”

No response. “Are you feeling better? I know this was an overwhelming ordeal. I am concerned over how you are faring over this.” Still nothing. “Would you like to partake in breakfast with me?”

Ferdinand surmised she was either asleep or not in her room. He was tempted to twist the doorknob and check if the room was locked, but he wanted to respect his new wife’s boundaries. It would not make a good first impression if he tried to impose anything rash. They were in this together.

“I...I will be in the dining area if you need me.”

Ferdinand dined alone. Not once did he hear a peep from Bernadetta. 

Things would remain that way for the next month. Ferdinand would hear an indication of Bernadetta moving about, but whenever he’d try to break down those barriers, she wouldn’t reply to him. 

His father visited sometime shortly after the first month of marriage.

He invited Bernadetta, naturally. “My father is visiting today. Would you like to say hello to him?”

“N-No thank you!” 

It was the most he had gotten out of Bernadetta since that first night. Ferdinand couldn’t even call that progress. He was an optimist, but he knew that Bernadetta wouldn’t talk or even acknowledge him in the days to come.

“How are you faring with your new wife?” 

Ferdinand was incapable of lying. Not even to his father. “The rumors concerning her were true.”

“The ones about the cursed dolls?”

Ferdinand couldn’t help but give a resigned laugh. “I do not believe so! No, the rumors of the daughter of House Varley being a recluse.”

“Oh, those rumors, yes. She would make for an obedient wife. She would not stray.”

“How can one stray if they are not even moving?!”

That wasn’t exactly true, in a sense. He knew that Bernadetta would leave her room from time to time. There were kitchen and office supplies that had gone missing and he knew that Bernadetta was the likely culprit. The problem was that he never caught her.

Ferdinand could not care for a wife who was obedient. He wanted a partner and a friend. Someone who he could eternally bond with. He had plenty of friends and hobbies of his own, but--Hobbies...Perhaps he could lure her out that way. 

“She is still the ideal wife, especially with that crest of hers.”

Ferdinand sipped on his tea, the taste bitter on his tongue at the mention of her crest. It mattered not that she had a crest and he didn’t appreciate his father changing the subject to that. “I will never stop trying to help her out of her reclusive shell, but I must admit...it has proven to be quite a difficult task.”

“The son I know would never give up on his goals.”

“Of course. That is the true path of a noble!”


For the last month, Bernadetta had completely shirked her duties and became the exact opposite of what her father trained her in regards to being the ideal wife.

She would sleep during odd hours, usually during the daytime. She would often awake an hour or two before the sunset and would engage in any of the hobbies she felt like partaking in at the moment. 

At night, when Ferdinand was sleeping, she would slip out of her room and rummage for supplies. She usually started in the kitchen, grabbing whatever ready-to-eat meals she could get her hands on and devour them. Then she would obtain books, blank pages, and office supplies from the office room. She was careful to grab things Ferdinand wasn’t using. Things located all the way back in a drawer. Or books that looked dusty and unused. 

She would spend the small hours of the night reading books by candlelight (also stolen by her). Bernadetta didn’t like the city lights that emanated from her window, so she got the darkest bedsheet she could find and attached the ends of it just below the ceiling.

By her estimations, Ferdinand was a light sleeper. He was always alerted to when she closed the door so she would have to keep it open during her excursions at the risk of finding him inside, waiting for her. 

He was persistent, often hanging by her door and giving her a morning’s greeting or a farewell goodnight. Bernadetta was too ashamed of herself to reply to him in kind. 

So it surprised her when she replied to him with rejecting him for a luncheon with his father. 

She didn’t know why she spoke to him. She wanted him to forget she existed, not acknowledge her as living on this plane. If she kept on being silent, then maybe he would finally learn to give up and she could live her life in peace and solitude. 

“Bernadetta?” He was back? Wasn’t he supposed to be at a lunch with his father?

“Y-yes?”

“I was wondering…Would you like to go see the city with me?”

“Um…”

“Have you ever seen Enbarr before? I know you lived in your territory your entire life.”

“Not really?”

“No?”

“Nope. Sorry! I’m-I’m not not interested!”

“I wanted to buy tea leaves and books at the bookstore. Would you like to at the very least, accompany me to the bookstore? I can buy you a book of your choosing. I am certain the ones in our library are not varied enough to enjoy and are rather dated. Perhaps I can purchase a new book for you?”

The prospect of visiting a bookstore certainly seemed enticing. Bernadetta liked the idea of going to a bookstore and being surrounded by shelves and shelves of a near-endless supply of books. The smell of books, new and old, was comforting to Bernadetta. Enbarr was a big city, too... There were probably loads of bookstores to check out!

But…

“Surprise me!”

“Excuse me?”

“Surprise me with a book, then!”

“I...I do not know your preferences, Bernadetta.”

Bernadetta felt her pulse rising. “Um...I like fiction. Long stories! The longer, the better!”

“Such as...an epic?”

“Y-yeah! Get me one of those!”

Silence followed. He must have left. She positioned herself back to sleeping. 

“An epic, you say?” he asked. Wasn’t he supposed to be leaving?

“Um...sure?” Is he gone now?

“Would you prefer any other genre?”

“Nope! That’s fine by me!”

Silence followed. Bernadetta began to count before he would speak again. After she hit two hundred, she felt herself drifting. Slowly...slowly…

“Bernadetta, I am back!”

Bernadetta could barely open her eyes. She was so sleepy. Sleepier than usual. All that talking really exhausted her. 

“Bernadetta? Are you in there?”

“Yes?” She cursed herself for being stupid enough to reply. 

“I would like to give you the book now.”

“Um…” Bernadetta didn’t want to open the door. That would mean facing him again. And… This is a trap! He was trying to lure her out! She was onto him now! She would open the door, he would pry her out and the next thing she knew, she’d be back home with her father again! She had already failed as a wife. She had done nothing but be a total and utter disaster with her wifely duties. 

That was it! This whole book thing was a ruse! She would have to outsmart him! “You can leave it outside!”

“I was hoping to give it to you in person. From a...husband to his wife, yes.”

“No!”

“Then I will have to hold onto this book for a little while longer, then.”

This proves it! This was only a plan he made with her father to lure her out! He can’t be trusted! 

Bernadetta didn’t have any more reasons to speak to him. She couldn’t speak to someone who was treacherous and untrustworthy. No. 

“Bernadetta…” She grabbed Captain Snufflekins and let the angry tears fall. “Please understand...I just...Your happiness is important to me. I do not want you to be unhappy with this arrangement.” 

But how could someone so treacherous speak with such sincerity? He must have been a good actor.

“I hope you have a change of heart soon. Goodbye, Bernadetta.”

Now you did it Bernie. If he’s not acting then you ruined a perfectly good husband. Happy?

The feeling inside Bernadetta’s body was hollow. That night, she didn’t even bother to leave her room for her nightly excursions. Not like this. Not when she was always such a disappointment to everyone. 

She was useless. Worthless. A failure.

And that was all she’d ever be.

Chapter Text

Ferdinand never thought someone could pull him to the end of his tether, it was most unlike him. 

He was starting to devise new tactics in ways to talk to Bernadetta or even catch her outside. He figured that Bernadetta would try to scavenge for food in the small hours of the morning, so he would wait for her in the kitchen. But she never appeared. He then moved to the office and left the door only a small crack open so he could sense her movements at an angle where he could spot her. If Petra were here, she would say that his behavior was not unlike those of hunters trying to corner their prey. 

Ferdinand didn’t see it as such, but he was growing more and more concerned for his wife by the day. How was she eating? Surviving? This was no way to live her life. 

It was nearly four months since their union and he hadn’t seen her once since the ceremony itself.

Worse yet, it was starting to impact Ferdinand’s sleep schedule. This had gone on for far too long. 

“Bernadetta?” he said, knocking on her door. He tried to keep his voice even in an attempt to mask his concern. “I have something to discuss with you.”

“Um. What? But I didn’t do anything?” Her tone was defensive. As if he were here to reprimand her. That was obviously not the case. He would need to be straightforward with her.

“There is no need to be defensive. I am not angry with you. Rather…” This wasn’t starting out very well. Ferdinand felt the immediate need to de-escalate the situation and calm her down. “I am entering your room, Bernadetta.”

“No! Please! Don’t!”

He rattled the doorknob, and much to his surprise, the door opened. He half expected Bernadetta to shut the door or fight him, but she was nowhere to be seen.

No, that wasn’t it. Rather, the room itself was transformed, looking unlike anything else in their house. The air was stale and musty. It had appeared that Bernadetta had put a makeshift, dark colored curtain, which cast the room in a dark shadow. It was nearly impossible to see anything in the room. 

He was certain that one could see the city lights from that angle, but it had appeared as though Bernadetta hid herself away even from the beautiful sight of Enbarr. 

His eyes finally acclimated to the darkness, where he found her small form, sitting near limp on a chair. She reminded him of a ball-jointed doll. She was looking away from him. The only part of her that was moving was her chest. It was rising and falling steadily.

“Bernadetta?”

“Just get it over with!” she snapped back to life. “You’re going to take me away from here, aren’t you? I’m going back home. Back to my father.” Her breathing became frantic and frenetic. Her skin was pale. So deathly pale. Ferdinand was afraid she’d faint.

Where did she get that idea from? “No, that was not my purpose or intent! Look, just breathe, will you? You will feel better.”

“Can’t...breathe...too...scared…”

Ferdinand frowned at her words. He didn’t want to scare her. That was...The only thought that came to mind was getting closer to her. He bent down on his knees and found her hands. They were cold. She screamed, the noises ear shattering. 

“I see that you are struggling. Please calm down.” He squeezed his hands in affirmation. She reacted by screaming even louder. He could make out a “please don’t hurt me”, but his ears were ringing. I did not imagine this conversation would turn out this way. “Bernadetta...I will not hurt you.”

He stayed with her, watching her breathing slowly going back to being steady. She had reverted back to being a limp doll. Her hands had warmed, but she was not responsive. 

“I just wanted to discuss how you are always hiding in your room. I believe that I am the root cause of why you have shut yourself away. I want to help you acclimate to this life. I know it is not easy to be whisked away from your life and into another with a complete stranger.”

Bernadetta’s face met his, but she wasn’t looking at him. She seemed to be seeing past him. It was concerning.

“I have respected your boundaries for these three months, but I am deeply concerned. You have not been eating, have you? I am worried for your health. Not to mention, there is a whole world waiting for you out there! Do you not realize that life is passing you by? Have you no desire to venture past this reclusive lifestyle?”

He prayed to the goddess that his words would come through to her.

“Stop it.”

“This is unhealthy behavior. Bernadetta, please. Come with me. At least to the kitchen. I would like to at least ensure that you are eating and staying hydrated. I beg you! I am so-”

“I said ‘No!’” She got up from her chair, her rage wild in her eyes, and flailed her hands about. She knocked him down with her sheer force. She was a lot stronger than he had ever anticipated, but the pain in his wrists was throbbing. He was pretty sure his wrists were sprained.

“Ouch...I sprained my wrists…”

“Now you’ve done it, Bernie...He’s going to hate you for life. Worthless...Idiot…”

“I do not hate you, Bernadetta…I just-”

“No! I’m done for! You’ll be the death of me for sure!”

“That is not the-”

Much to his surprise, Bernadetta fled the room before he even finished his sentence. His attempt at conversation...worked? But at what cost? He had not one but two sprained wrists and he felt so embarrassed at his forceful conduct. He could only hope that his words had gotten through to her and she would at least eat and find a need to go outside her room. That would have to do for today. 


Ferdinand’s twenty-fourth birthday had arrived shortly after his sort-of-disastrous talk with Bernadetta. 

She had become less despondent in the following days, if only by a little. He could sense her movements again during the hours he wasn’t out, yet they weren’t quite odd hours anymore. Most times she would leave her room at sunrise and sunset each day, venture into the kitchen, and come back. Ferdinand made no effort to pursue her. 

That did not mean he had simply given up on her. 

For now, the best course of action was to let her cool off. Allow her to get used to her new surroundings. Perhaps the next time he would initiate another long heart-to-heart conversation, she would be more receptive to him. He would still greet her door whenever he woke up and say his goodnights, but beyond that, he made sure to be careful with her.

He still believed it was worth a shot asking her to accompany him out on his birthday.

He knocked on her door as a courtesy.“Bernadetta? I do not know if you are aware, but today is my birthday. My father has gifted me with tickets to the opera. It would be box seating, where few would enter. Would you like to accompany me?”

“No thanks.”

“I understand. I will be leaving shortly.”

“Wait!” 

Ferdinand’s heart began to beat wildly against his chest. Would she actually agree to go with him?

“Um...happy birthday, Ferdinand. That’s all.”

He felt a small smile creep onto his face. “Your wishes are much appreciated.” He left the corridor, feeling a small sense of satisfaction that he had a small, if not pleasant conversation with Bernadetta. 

Tonight, the opera was showing a revival of one of Ferdinand’s favorite plays. The story of a warrior princess who once lived in seclusion. She was afraid of the world around her, until she learned to train and fight. She would go through a series of misadventures and eventually find love. In some versions of the play, her love interest would perish while fighting a dragon and she would vanquish it as means to avenge her long lost love. 

The play was popularized by Manuela Casagrande’s performance as the princess, but tonight’s play was starring none other than the riveting “Mythical Songstress”, Dorothea Arnault, one of Ferdinand’s dearest friends.

Halfway through the play, when intermission started, a tea set had rolled into his box via cart.

He recognized that tea set. It had a white background decorated with roses. The tea smelled exquisite. It was none other than Seiros Tea.

Only one person could have owned that tea set and had a shared love for Seiros Tea.

“Lorenz.”

“Ah yes, the one and only, Lorenz Hellman Gloucester.”

In strode in a tall and elegant purple haired man with perfect posture.

“I did not expect to see you here tonight.”

“I came here for my dear friend’s birthday, no less. And I must admit...I also came here to admire our deal mutual friend’s operatic performance. It just so happened to coincide, yes.”

“I see…”

“I heard that you have taken a wife. I would dare not disturb you in your newly wedded bliss, but I surmised that you would set foot in this opera house today, as you are apt to doing.”

“You were correct in your assumption.”

“How odd it is.” Lorenz poured a cup of tea for Ferdinand. “That you have been wedded but your wife is not here by your side. I would have greatly enjoyed meeting her.”

“She did not wish to view the opera.”

“And so you are here, but not your wife?” Lorenz sipped his tea. “I will not beat around the bush. I’ve heard rumors of your wife. A recluse? What was the Duke thinking?”

Ferdinand felt defensive at his friend’s words. Or at least, the tone of them. There was nothing wrong with Bernadetta. Except...except...But Ferdinand did not want to simply let those words slip by. “In all honesty, she has not adjusted very well to her new life. I do not believe my father has chosen poorly in this regard.”

“It’s said she possesses a crest. Indech, yes? Perhaps it is that?” Ferdinand ignored the slight frustration he was feeling. After all, they both possessed a crest.

It was time to turn the tables on Lorenz. “And what of you? Have you found your eternal flame?” 

“Alas, I am still searching for the perfect bride.” Lorenz had become enchanted with a noble girl in the Alliance. One who, if Ferdinand could recall correctly, was quite similar to Bernadetta in some aspects. He was ready to propose marriage, but with her father’s approval, the girl had chosen a commoner instead. Things in the Alliance were certainly different if she were allowed to wed a commoner without repercussions.

The lights dimmed, meaning the opera was to resume again. “But for now, I am here to enjoy the opera with my dear friend.”

The final half of the opera commenced and Ferdinand was delighted to see that this was the version where the heroine’s lover had perished in the battle with the dragon, if only because one of his favorite songs was sung. 

Dorothea had a voice that was more than capable for the task. 

“Magnificient,” Lorenz said besides him. “She is simply magnificent.” He wiped a tear falling from his eyes and fanned his face to prevent more from falling.

Ferdinand surmised that perhaps Lorenz’s true intent was to merely observe Dorothea. Or court her despite his adamant stance on marrying a commoner. 

When the final curtain fell and the cast did their their curtain call, Ferdinand saw that the stage was swamped with flowers. Red roses, to be specific.

Ferdinand and Lorenz chatted a little longer as the audience below began to make their exit. 

Dorothea herself entered the box. She was holding a bouquet of roses. They were half her size.

“Dorothea!” Ferdinand said. “How lovely of you to make your presence here.”

“It’s been a while, Ferdie. I’ve heard you’ve gotten married! I suppose some congratulations are in order.” 

Lorenz cleared his throat. “Dorothea.” 

“Lorenz.” 

“You were exquisite on stage. Simply a marvel to behold.”

Dorothea’s attention went back to Ferdinand.“So...Ferdie..Where is she? Can I meet her? What’s she like? Is she cute? Is she friendly? Does she like music and the arts? I’m so happy for you!”

“I am afraid she is not here.”

“That’s a shame. I wanted to meet the girl who has stolen my Ferdie’s heart.”

“And on his birthday,” Lorenz interjected. 

“Your input was not needed,” Dorothea said, her voice bitter. Ferdinand didn’t know what was going on between them, but didn’t want to impose on either of them. 

“By the by, I’m glad you like the flowers, Dorothea,” Lorenz said.

“At this rate, you’re going to run out of roses to give me, Lorenz. Perhaps it’s best to leave some for the rest of Fódlan.” 

“Never. I grew these myself.”

“Anyway... Please do bring your wife over to the opera house sometime, Ferdie. I would so love to meet her instead of the usual stuffy old nobles. Speaking of, I have to go and pay my thanks to the other nobles. Goodbye!”

Dorothea left the box. “Dare I say… She is colder than the icecaps in Sreng,” Lorenz said. “But alas. I must take my leave.  Keep the tea set and the boxes of Seiros Tea as a gift from me to you.”

Ferdinand bid his goodbyes to Lorenz and arrived home. When he peered out of the carriage window, he saw the dark curtain hanging over Bernadetta’s room from a distance but he could have sworn he saw the bottom corner of it move when he got out of the carriage.. 

When he entered his bedroom, he saw something placed on the pillow of his perfectly made bed. 

It was a folded piece of paper. When Ferdinand opened it, he was met with the figure of himself on a horse. The drawing was actually well done and accurate, despite it not being in color. Paper Ferdinand’s locks were long and his coat had all of the necessary details. The horse he was on was drawn to scale and had the perfect proportions. How could have Bernadetta noticed this level of detail when she saw him in his usual dress at least twice? She must have had a perfect visual memory.

She was a talented artist. 

He read the contents of the card. “ Sorry for the crude drawing. It was last minute and I don’t have my supplies. I swear I didn’t know it was your birthday today. So happy birthday, Ferdinand!

She only drew all of that in just a few short hours? She really was talented. 

He saw that even though she was in his room, the book he bought her was still in its place inside the drawer. It seemed she only entered and left the room. 

Ferdinand observed the card again. Maybe one day, probably soon, she would open herself up to him. He would await that day with gusto.

Chapter Text

Summer was in full swing. It was hot in the city of Enbarr during the summer and Bernadetta heard stories growing up about people often visiting the ocean for a swim.

It was nothing she was interested in. She had other things in mind.

She saw the calendar on her wall. 

Today marked six entire months of marriage. She had barely spoken to Ferdinand since that...That encounter. He had started to dial back his persistence, but he wouldn’t go a single day without saying good morning and good night. He seemed to always be friendly, but Bernadetta couldn’t help but think it was all an act. No one was ever that friendly. It was impossible.

She didn’t know what possessed her to draw a picture of him for his birthday. It was a terrible gift but it was all she could do with her limited supplies. 

It was around now when Ferdinand usually stopped by her door, bidding her a good night.

“Good evening, Bernadetta.”

Good evening? He usually says goodnight. Must be a change of pace.

“If you have a moment, I would like to discuss what happened before.”

“He still wants to talk about that?! Ah! The hour of fate arrives...Help!”

“I am not here to hurt you! You need not even open the door! Just listen to me, please.”

Bernadetta grabbed Captain Snufflekins and hugged him tight. “I...I don’t have to open the door?”

“Not at all.”

“Is this a truce? Okay. Okay, I like truces!”

“Thank you. I wanted to apologize for my intrusion. At the time, I sincerely believed that you were starving yourself. That you were not sleeping enough and living an unhealthy life. I realize that this is largely in part due to you being unfamiliar to this environment and I should not have pushed you so.” Bernadetta squeezed her stuffed bear harder. He...probably had a point, actually. During that time, Bernadetta was actually starving herself. She had learned to ignore the numbness in her stomach, but it never left. She believed she didn’t deserve to eat. She was an unworthy intruder living here, so why bother? But even now, her stomach growled. Eating once a day was not a healthy way to live.

Ferdinand continued, “And for me to frighten you like that...By getting too close to you and making you uncomfortable...It was unbecoming conduct for a noble.”

“Um...Maybe a little bit.” When he spoke, she wanted to believe him, despite a contradictory voice in her head screaming at her, telling her it was all a trap. She didn’t appreciate it when he grabbed her hands like that. No one...no one ever touched her. It felt wrong. 

“Frankly, I am embarrassed by my behavior. I disgraced myself.” 

Bernadetta wanted to tell him that he wasn’t disgraceful in his actions. Well, he sort of was, maybe a little, but he also had a point. They were tied together for the rest of their lives. She remembered Father would say that a husband had the right to do what he pleased with his wife. Bernadetta was supposed to have submitted to his touch, yet she began to act violently. She had even hurt him! If anything, she was the one who should have felt embarrassed. 

“As for my injury, you need not feel guilty or afraid,” he said, reading her thoughts, “The sprain was a result of my own thoughtlessness. Not anything you did. I have always strived to be a good person...but I suppose I did little to show for it in my behavior towards you. I have failed in my duty as a noble and as a husband.”

That’s not true! 

“Um...Ferdinand?”

“Yes, Bernadetta?”

“I don’t know much about this sort of thing...But you shouldn’t say things like that about yourself! It wasn’t your fault, you know. I’m to blame, too. I hurt you...And I’m sorry.”

“Really. It is fine. It healed quickly.”

“And...it wasn’t like you did this for nothing, either!”

“I am not so sure what you mean.”

Bernadetta looked at the door. If Ferdinand were here with her, she would have tried to make eye contact. Maybe. It probably would have been too difficult but she would have made the effort anyway. “I do like my time alone...Actually, it’s more of a need. But you’re right. I do need to venture out every once in a while.”

She could hear Ferdinand let out a sigh of relief from the other side of the door. “I do not want to bother you, Bernadetta. I know you are uncomfortable.” She felt the pause in his voice. “That drawing you made...The one you made for me on my birthday. It is an excellent drawing.”

“You liked it?”

“I did. So much that I say goodnight to Paper Ferdinand von Aegir every evening.”

That got a laugh out of her. 

“You said you lacked art supplies, but even with only a quill, you are quite talented! I cannot imagine you have spent all this time without gathering the needed supplies.” She understood what he was saying. At the very least she could go outside and find some new supplies. “I would love to see more of your work.”

“T-thank you.”

“Bernadetta...My only goal in our partnership is to see you happy. Please never forget that. Goodnight.”

“Night.”

Bernadetta heard his footsteps, followed by the closing of his bedroom door. 

“Okay, Captain Snufflekins...I think..I want to believe him. I really do.” Not all men are like Father, right? She wasn’t going to start trusting Ferdinand immediately, but perhaps giving him an inch wouldn’t hurt. Maybe...maybe they could even be friends.

It was a rather nice thought. 


“I can do this. I can do this, Captain Snufflekins. I can do this!” Bernadetta paced around the room. She was dressed in clean clothes and her hair was brushed. Her hair had actually grown a little since the wedding. It was now just over her shoulders. She wondered if it was worth growing out. 

She was dressed and ready to go out. It took three days of mental preparation and she even tried sleeping at regular hours. I am ready!

She didn’t intend to venture very far. She just wanted to check out some stores. Maybe even have some cake. Actually...she would definitely have cake.

Bernadetta opened the door. She took a step. Then another. It was near painstaking to do this in the light.

“Bernadetta is that you?” She could hear Ferdinand’s voice in the study. She didn’t feel the existential dread when he spoke this time. Maybe he really wasn’t out to get her. 

“Um...yes?” She walked right in front of the study. “I’m...um...I’m going to town.”

“Do you have funds? I can give you some gold if you need any.”

“Um...thanks, but I have some in my satchel.” She peeked inside the room. He was sitting in front of a desk, which was full of paperwork. He was smiling, his teeth perfectly lined and shining. Bernadetta couldn’t remember seeing her parents ever smile, especially in her direction. The only person who ever did that with her was…

She shoved the memory aside.

“Have fun, then, Bernadetta. If you need me for anything, please do not hesitate to find me.”

“Okay!” She awkwardly kept walking forward and found the exit. 

She was met with a shining sun and clear skies outside. There wasn’t a single breeze to be found and the day was hot. It nearly stung at her. 

But she knew it was for her own good.

There was a street nearby that was littered with quaint shops. She passed a bakery with cakes on display and immediately entered. She had ordered a marble cake and a sponge cake. 

She was the only person sitting in the dining area until she saw a mother and child enter. They shared a lemon cake together. The child kept looking at Bernadetta and smiled in her direction. 

Two people had smiled at her today.

Bernadetta wanted to smile back at the child, but the most she could do was muster a weak upturn of her lips. You can’t even do that, Bernie. But the child didn’t seem to mind her horrible attempts at smiling. Either way, Bernadetta didn’t mind being in the presence of small children. They typically did little wrong, anyway. 

Before leaving, she bought more cakes so she could eat them at home. She also thought about giving some slices to Ferdinand. They were so delicious! It would be cruel to have them to herself. 

Bernadetta wandered around the street, looking for a bookstore or an arts and crafts store. Instead, she was met with the sights of people entering and leaving food markets, seeing wares of jewelry and accessories, an armory, and a blacksmith. Bernadetta avoided the places with a higher concentration of people and kept walking. 

This isn’t so bad. No. Not at all. 

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, she observed the people around her, including the children who were playing in the middle of the street. 

Everything was so lively and bustling. 

Yet Bernadetta felt like an outsider. So out of place here in the open world. Did she really belong here?

This world isn’t for you, Bernadetta, a voice said inside her head. You are not to fraternize with the commoners. You are above them. 

Bernadetta closed her eyes. No. Not now. Go away! 

The voice in her head was a memory. Of what happened after that incident. The incident she tried so hard to block from the depths of her mind. She couldn’t ever escape her father’s voice. Especially out here in the open.

“Excuse me, miss?” a voice said, snapping her out of her vision. It was an elderly woman. “Do you need anything? Are you experiencing a headache?”

“Um…” Why would someone approach me?  Bernadetta saw her surroundings. She was leaning back against a wall, holding the bag of cakes tightly from its handle.

“I know where the apothecary is if you need help.” 

“N-no thanks.”

“Oh I see. You make the same face my husband makes when he has a headache. I’m sorry to intrude but I can’t simply turn a blind eye to a stranger in need.”

Bernadetta swallowed. She actually had a question but she also wanted to turn tail and go home. Back to her room where her father’s voice wouldn’t follow her. But this lady was being so nice to her. It was okay to ask if she was offering her help, right? “T-thank you!” Bernadetta swallowed again. “Um...Actually...I wanted to know where the bookstore is. Do you know?”

“Of course. Just go down the street. When you pass that corner over there, just take a left and it’ll be nearby. Do you need anything else?”

“Nope! Thank you!”

The kind lady was accurate with her directions and soon enough, Bernadetta found herself inside a quaint bookstore. It wasn’t a large store by any means, but it was small and cozy and had a small sitting area. Best of all, it had only a few people browsing. It was perfect!

After a few hours, Bernadetta walked out of the bookstore with a few books and blank notebooks. She was more than ready to go back home, despite not having found an arts and crafts store. It was probably best to save that for another day as motivation.

Ferdinand was relaxing in the dining area when she walked back in. He was enjoying a cup of tea. 

“Hello Bernadetta! Did you have a good time outside?”

“It wasn’t so bad!” She ignored the creeping thought about her father’s voice manifesting in her head.

Ferdinand smiled. “I am glad!” His eyes fell on the bags. “I see you did some shopping. Do you need me to help you carry your bags upstairs?”

“N-no thanks! I can manage.” 

“Well...would you like to have tea with me?”

Bernadetta didn’t know what to say to that. For one, she was exhausted from her excursion. It took out nearly all of her energy. She would be busy in her room for the next few days before going out for her other supplies.

“You can say no, if you want. I will not mind.”

“I’m pretty tired, actually, but…” Bernadetta surprised herself by pulling a chair back and sitting across from Ferdinand. “I did buy cakes for us!” She opened the bag containing a box of cakes and opened it.

Ferdinand’s face lit up. “Then we shall drink tea and eat cakes! It is the perfect combination!” He was already smiling, but now he was grinning from ear-to-ear. He reminded her of a puppy. Or one of those big friendly dogs. That was a good thing to imagine. Bernadetta liked dogs. Dogs were good. 

“I have a fondness for sponge cake. It pairs well with a cup of Southern Fruit Blend.” He cut a piece of cake and placed it onto a plate. "I may have asked this of you before, but what flavors of tea do you enjoy?”

“Oh. Um...I like the Albinean Berry Blend.” Bernadetta began to list the teas in her head. 

“I do not have that one, but it is duly noted.”

“Oooh! I also like Honeyed-Fruit Blend!”

“That I do have! I can most certainly brew one after we finish this batch.”

“Okay!” Bernadetta chewed on her half of the sponge cake while enjoying a cup of Southern Fruit Blend. They both sat in an awkward, yet enjoyable silence. 

After Ferdinand began to set up the leaves for the Honeyed-Fruit Blend, he began to speak. “I see you went to the bookstore. What books did you get?”

Bernadetta opened her bag and answered his question, showing him the books she bought. To her surprise, she didn’t find herself exhausted. Especially since Ferdinand’s never stopped grinning at her, his dimples adding even more friendliness to his demeanor. Bernadetta wondered if his cheeks hurt from all that smiling but she had a feeling that was probably not the case.

“That reminds me. I bought a book for you not too long ago. Would you like me to retrieve it for you? I began reading a couple of chapters every night before going to bed but you may have it. After all, it was a gift for you!”

“Um...sure! But I’d rather you hold onto it until you finish it. Maybe we can swap books when we’re done?”

“That is a splendid idea! We can talk about them over tea sometime!”

“Oh...um....yeah!” Ferdinand began to pour the tea for the two of them. Bernadetta quietly observed him. He’s not so bad, is he? Maybe...maybe we can be friends. Maybe this whole marriage thing isn’t so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Bernadetta’s mother was back in the Imperial capital during the Horsebow Moon, but other than a single letter, she did not seek her out. It was better this way. Bernadetta liked and respected her mother well enough, but she never felt…Well, their relationship wasn’t exactly terrible, but she always felt her mother was out of reach.

It was now nearing the end of the Wyvern Moon and she had still not heard a single word from her mother.

Meanwhile, her interactions with Ferdinand were becoming more and more pleasant by the day. They would occasionally have tea together and despite her initial fears of him, he hadn’t proved to be a terrible person. In fact, he was becoming more of a friend.

After she finished reading some of the books she bought from her first visit to the bookstore, she had discovered that the book he had given her was nothing short of a doorstopper. She also learned that nothing was just simple with Ferdinand. Rather, everything was grandiose with him. If she asked him for a book, he would give her a two thousand page book; if she asked for a paint brush, he would come back with an entire set of paintbrushes of different widths and tips; if she wanted some Albinean Berry Blends, a week later, there would be a giant crate full of tea leaves imported from Albinea. 

Even though it was a bit much, he proved to be quite caring and well-intentioned. To her, it was the thought that mattered, even though he was a little excessive. 

She would periodically venture out to the nearby street and do some shopping. In those few months since her first excursion, some of the shopkeepers had begun to recognize her. Even the man who managed the bookstore would alert her to new arrivals and give her recommendations based on her past purchases.

She also bought new accessories to decorate her new room with, including an ornate curtain and rod to cover her window. Her room looked...brighter, yet still retained a lot of Bernadetta’s preferred aesthetics. Except for the knitted plushies of carnivorous plants. She still hadn’t told Ferdinand about that, especially since her mother’s voice rang in her head about sharing her more unusual interests.

Today, though, Bernadetta was having lunch with Ferdinand.

“I have been wondering, Bernadetta,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Today marks ten months since our union.” 

“Time sure flies, huh?”

“Would you care to celebrate with me?”

Celebrate? “Wh-what do you have in mind?”

“There is a showing at the opera house tonight. Would you care to join me?”

Bernadetta had spent time with Ferdinand, but it was always within the confines of their own house. Never outside. If she said yes, this would be their first event together. Was she ready to take that step? She was admittedly comfortable with the way things were, but he was so nice to her. And if she went to the opera, she could enjoy a good story, maybe. “Um.”

“You may choose to stay home. You need not worry about my reaction.”

“Actually...I was going to say yes!”

The shock on his face was palpable. “You were?”

“Uh-huh. I think...maybe if you’re there with me, it won’t be so bad.” I think. 

Ferdinand grinned. Even though he did that often in their conversations, it always made Bernadetta feel special. “I would feel honored if you went with me.”

Bernadetta spent the rest of her afternoon getting ready. She had some fancy dresses purchased by her mother that just sat there in her closet. She settled on a frilly black and white dress with a tulle skirt. It was the cutest of her outfits and one of the most appropriate for going out to a place like an opera house. 

Bernadetta didn’t really bother with the rest of her appearance, putting on minimal makeup and attaching a large white hair clip to the side of her hair, where she usually put her hair clips. It felt weird whenever she wasn’t wearing one. Her hair had grown down to her shoulders, yet the tangles that formed after she showered were so many, it took up the bulk of her grooming. 

Ferdinand knocked on her door. “Bernadetta, are you ready?”

“Uh-huh!” 

She opened the door. Ferdinand let out a small gasp. “You look elegant, Bernadetta. Elegant, and cute, I might add.” Ferdinand was no slouch, either. He wore a refined maroon coat with gold embellishments. The stitching was intricate and detailed. Bernadetta already thought he was handsome, but right now, it was a little overwhelming to look at him.

“I...I do?” She felt color rising to her face. 

“You do! People will most certainly talk about you.”

Her eyes widened in fear. She didn’t like that at all. “Maybe on second thought, I shouldn’t go.”

Ferdinand realized his mistake and shook his head, his hands running through his hair. “My apologies. What I meant to say was that people would think the same way I do! I do not wish to frighten you.”

“Oh...okay…Then maybe it won’t be so bad...”

They were in the carriage together, sitting in front of each other. Bernadetta looked outside the window watching the city sights and was surprised when Ferdinand’s hand found hers. She didn’t find herself flinching at his touch. “If you desire to leave early, then please do let me know. I would understand if all of this is overwhelming for you.” He gave her a reassuring squeeze.

“T-thanks.”

He let go of his hand and she continued to watch the city until they reached the opera house. 

Tonight’s performance was a story that Bernadetta was all too familiar with. It was an adaptation of the book Ferdinand had given Bernadetta about a continent plunged into war. She didn’t know that the book was turned into an operatic adaptation. 

“Is that why you you invited me here tonight?” she whispered. 

“Of course. We could compare and contrast the book and operatic adaptation in our discussions over tea.” 

“I’d like that!” She liked how thoughtful he always was. He would have only invited her to something if he knew she would absolutely enjoy it. Bernadetta held her breath when she saw her favorite character, the Lady of the Forest, show up for the first time. She lived her entire life in isolation and when she meets the hero, they enter a whirlwind romance that ends in tragedy for the two of them. Ferdinand and Bernadetta’s discussions of their love was a point of contention for them. Bernadetta thought that the characters had plenty of reason to fall in love with one another, while Ferdinand believed their love was fleeting and built on appearances and not true love.

However, this version of her was different. She was still kind and gentle, but she not only lacked her naivete, she was also more assertive with herself. Bernadetta liked the performance of actress who played her, but the character's direction, not so much.

“The woman on stage right now is a dear friend of mine,” Ferdinand whispered, referring to the girl who was playing the hero’s sister. She was incredibly beautiful. “She has expressed an interest in meeting you.”

“M-me?” Bernadetta’s first thought was how someone so beautiful and dazzling would want to interact with her. Then, a second, more unsettling thought entered her mind. “She’s your friend. But wouldn’t she be a commoner?”

“Does one’s station at birth truly merit their worth as a person?”

According to Father, yes. Yes, it did.

“I don’t know. I haven’t talked to many commoners outside of a few interactions.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. 

“Then perhaps…” Ferdinand’s thoughts were interrupted by an abrupt change in scenery. 

The rest of the operatic remained dramatic, with the stakes growing higher and higher in each scene. Even though it had greatly cut from the source material, including all of the incestual references, which Bernadetta personally felt added to the depravity and core emotions that disgusted yet fascinated the reader. Despite all of that, she still thought it was entertaining throughout. 

She was surprised by how she enjoyed herself. Not once did she want to leave.

The songstress Ferdinand spoke about walked into their box not long after the operatic ended. Her green eyes were centered solely on Bernadetta. “Hi there! You must be Ferdie’s wife!”

“Um...hi!”

“I’ve been dying to meet you. And you’re so cute! My name is Dorothea, what’s your name?” Dorothea wasn’t done speaking. “Wow, Ferdie, you know how to pick them! She’s so cute, isn’t she simply adorable?”

“I wholeheartedly agree!” Ferdinand said.

“No hesitation! He must really love you.”

Bernadetta’s entire face went red. 

“Oh right. I had asked you a question. I just...was really wanting to meet you and I still don’t know your name yet!”

“B-Bernadetta.”

“That’s a pretty name, Bern. Mind if I call you Bern?”

Bernadetta shook her head,. Dorothea was so pretty and dazzling it was difficult to speak in her presence. “N-not at all!”

In that moment, a new presence had entered the box. It was the last person Bernadetta had expected. 

It was her mother. 

“Mother?”

Ferdinand stood up and bowed at Bernadetta’s mother “Countess Varley. What a pleasure to see you here.”

“How pleasant to see you again, Your Grace,” Bernadetta’s mother said, bowing to her son-in-law.

“No need for formalities.”

“I thought I had recognized the two of you during the intermission. I had to simply say hello. May I steal away my daughter for a second?”

Bernadetta’s stomach dropped when Ferdinand nodded. At least he wouldn’t be alone, but she dreaded speaking to anyone in her family. Especially if unprompted.

“How have you been?”

“It’s been going...well.”

“It’s been ten months and you’re obviously not pregnant, nor have I heard of you appearing in any social events Have you been taking your duties seriously? If your father had to find out—”

“Mother, do you have to go there? No, ‘you look well, Bernie! I hope he’s treating you right’.”

“That doesn’t matter. Your father wouldn’t have cared.” Mother put her palm to her forehead. “Bernadetta, please don’t tell me you’ve been shirking your duties and playing in your room. Have you ever done any of the required bookkeepings or internal management of your house?”

Bernadetta had nothing to say about that. Ferdinand did all the work. He seemed to like doing it so...it worked out. But Mother wasn’t done reprimanding her yet.

“Ten months and not once have you sent a single letter to me or your father.” 

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to write a letter home. The thought of willingly interacting with Father was revolting.

“You waited until the moment I sent you a letter to respond. Your husband, by the way, has been dutifully sending House Varley a letter at least once a month.”

That caused Bernadetta’s gaze to go dark. He does what? “H-he sends l-letters to Father?”

“In this regard, he’s been a better son than we could have expected. Not once from you, Bernadetta. If you want the cold shoulder, then let me know, you know better to keep your allies close.” Mother paused, but Bernadetta knew there was more. “Speaking of allies, I hope you won’t make friends with that commoner girl I saw in the box with the two of you if you know what’s best for you. Nothing good has resulted from a friendship with them. You should know that by now.”

Bernadetta’s thoughts were still on Ferdinand writing Father letters.

“Are you listening?”

“N-no. Of course not.” Bernadetta shook her head. “I mean, I am listening, mother! I-I understand.”

Ferdinand writes to father...That makes him...a spy! He was never on her side. He was using her. He was an extension of her father. He was her enemy. 

She knew she shouldn’t have trusted him.


“So that’s the Countess Varley.” Dorothea said. “She looks...so serious and has a daughter that adorable. Is she...one of those, by the way?”

“Not as far as I can tell,” Ferdinand said. “The court of nobles say she is a genius. If she were to prove to be a corrupt noble, then she must be hiding it well. I cannot say the same for her husband.”

“Bern’s father?”

“He is close friends with my father. That alone is quite suspect.” Ferdinand crossed his arms. “Documentation shows that Count Varley and his late father often allocated their funds for their own personal gains. The people of their territory are suffering as a result. When the Countess is in Enbarr, the denizens noticeably have a better yield in their mines and crops. Productivity and morale is higher during this time. I am still in the mist of conducting a secret investigation on Count Varley but I can at least say that with certainty.”

“And Bern?”

“There is no evidence of her being involved with any of the corruption. Bernadetta would rather tend to her hobbies and hide in her room than engage in the inner workings of the nobility. It is unfortunate, but I would prefer this outcome than a corrupt spouse.”

“Or a bad one,” Dorothea said. “There’s so many bad nobles out there, Ferdie. I don’t know how you’re going to reform Adrestia as Prime Minister when there’s so many snakes in the grass.”

“It will be difficult, but it is possible. You are my ally, Dorothea.” Ferdinand uncrossed his arms, placing his right hand under his chin. “Perhaps...could it be possible if you could befriend Bernadetta?”

Dorothea had a huge grin on her face. Dorothea often smiled, but her true smile was such a rarity. This was one of those times. “You don’t need to ask that, Ferdie. I’d have gladly done so even if you hadn’t asked.”

“I am asking because Bernadetta does not have any friends here in the Imperial Capital. She is...She is a recluse. If there is anyone I know she would prefer the company of, it would be you.”

“Really? I’m flattered.”

Dorothea flipped her hair. “So...I have to ask,” she said, lowering her voice. “I know this whole thing was arranged, but... Have you fallen in love with her yet?”

“Dorothea! That is rather forward of you!”

“I had to ask!” Ferdinand wasn’t sure of the answer to that. Bernadetta was a lovely girl who proved to be a superb conversationalist when properly engaged, but was he in love with her? There was admittedly a small spark of attraction, he could not deny that. When he briefly held her hand earlier this evening, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand and a small flame had ignited within him. Then he recalled the way his chest tightened when Bernadetta realized what operatic performance she had been taken to and the way she gazed at him when she did so. But love and attraction were two separate concepts. Perhaps he did have the beginnings of an infatuation towards her. That wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

“But at the very least you have a small crush?” Dorothea asked, practically reading his mind.

Ferdinand couldn’t answer that, either. “I believe that is a topic for another day, perhaps.”

“Hmm, maybe I’ll ask Bern the same about you,” she said, winking. 

Seconds after Dorothea spoke, Bernadetta was back in the box with her mother. Ferdinand immediately noticed the dramatic change in his wife’s demeanor. The way her arms slumped. The way she avoided eye contact. Ferdinand was mildly surprised he was able to pick up on her body language so quickly. 

“It was nice seeing you again, but I must go. The group I had come with will be looking for me,” the Countess said.

“I need to go talk to one of the other songstresses. It was nice to finally meet you, Bern!” Dorothea had left the two of them together. 

Bernadetta was quiet while on the way to the carriage. When they had entered the opera house, they walked side by side, but right now, she was walking a few paces ahead of him, as though she wanted to run away as fast as she could.

“Are you alright, Bernadetta?” he asked her shortly after the carriage took off.

Bernadetta’s entire body was turned away from him. 

“Bernadetta?”

“I don’t want to talk.”

What could have the Countess said that upset her so?

“You will feel better if you talk to me about it.”

Bernadetta crossed her arms and shook her head. “I said what I said. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Ferdinand wanted to touch her hand again, but her mood had darkened. He feared she would sprain his wrist again. Perhaps it was best to allow her to cool off.

“I will be here at the ready whenever you do wish to talk about your discussion with your mother.”

Bernadetta did not respond or appear to acknowledge his words. Now the question Ferdinand posited as to when she would turn around. With Bernadetta, one never knew. He hoped it would be soon.

Chapter Text

A little over two weeks had passed since the debacle at the opera house. Ferdinand often dwelled on how everything was going perfectly that night and where everything went wrong. He was ready to invite her to a small dinner at a nearby locale where they’d discuss the operatic performance in detail, as well as opening up about his friendship with Dorothea and their joint efforts to put a stop to the corrupt nobility but that had been put to a screeching halt. 

He wouldn’t break the news that her father was a corrupt noble and would likely be stripped of his title when he ascended into the Prime Minister role yet, but he would in due time. 

What did her mother tell her that night that resulted in Bernadetta hiding herself away in her room again? She stopped responding to everything he said, from his good mornings and good nights as well as his invitations to tea. He even wanted to introduce her to his horse in the stable. 

He was thinking of purchasing a horse from a nearby breeder for their anniversary or her birthday, since both were fast approaching, but now she wouldn’t even talk to him.

Ferdinand was back to square one with Bernadetta. 

He missed her companionship to the point where it was agonizing. He considered her a friend and now she wanted nothing to do with him again, which stung more than he could have imagined. It harkened back to younger days, when Ferdinand wanted to play or train with others but no one wanted to. The way he at first, tried to do his utmost best and by proving his worth, but his competitiveness had only alienated others. It was only when he started to level with the others did things get better. He had to do the same with her.

The only course of action he could take was to talk this out with her. 

“Bernadetta, I have to discuss what happened the night of the opera house with your mother. She must have said something that deeply upset you.”

Bernadetta didn’t reply. 

“Whatever it was that she said to you, I would likely not judge you for it.” The thought came to him, knocking him down like the wind. “Was she upset with you because we...we have not…” He felt his face redden at the thought. “Or perhaps because you have not made yourself present at society events?”

Bernadetta still did not reply.

“Please, Bernadetta, I beg of you. Trust and communication are essential components of a marriage.” He rattled the doorknob. It was locked. “Please...say something. Anything.”

“Go away.”

“I will not! I will not stop until you tell me what is troubling you. In fact, I will not leave this doorway until you tell me!” Ferdinand could hear the frustration in his voice. How could he ever get through to her? 

Bernadetta was back to not replying again. This was going to be a long evening, but he would never give up on her.


Bernadetta’s room was a mess again. She had the curtains permanently covering the windows. She didn’t feel like doing much these days. Everything felt wrong ever since she concluded that Ferdinand was a spy for her father.

And right now, he wouldn’t leave her doorway. She was blocked off from getting her nightly meals. She would have to speak to him. There was no way she could exit from the window. Not if she wanted to plunge down and break her neck.

A part of her thought that was kind of appealing, but she quickly chastised herself for having that thought. It was a constant during her worst days. The cruelest thoughts would manifest into her head during the most inopportune times. She had always ignored them. 

This was the first such instance when she had one since moving in with Ferdinand. 

She moved the curtain and opened the window, feeling the chilly air of the Red Wolf Moon hit her lungs. She was wearing a nightgown and her body instantly felt the chill enter her system. She felt so alive when the cold air entered her lungs. The wind drowned out Ferdinand’s constant chattering. She looked down. The ground looked so far away she had no clue why she even had those thoughts just now. She closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh, chilly air...then out again.

But the wind had soon stopped and Bernadetta couldn’t handle the cold anymore. She shut the window, feeling suddenly refreshed. 

If she told Ferdinand right here and now that she knew he was a spy for her father, he wouldn’t believe her. In fact, maybe he’d send her back for being a raving lunatic for having figured him out.

Bernadetta chose to go to sleep. Surely, he would go away by the time the morning hit. 

But that morning, she heard the usual “Good morning, Bernadetta” from him. Bernadetta hated his persistence sometimes.

“If you are wondering, there has been a change in my plans.” Good, that means he’s leaving. “I will be doing my work from outside your door. If you need anything, you need not hesitate to ask.”

Bernadetta growled. 

She took out a book and began reading. But even from outside, his presence was still felt and it was distracting to her. Would it have been better to just be out with it? If he did think she was crazy, she would be locked in here anyway. 

Bernadetta walked to the door. “You’ve been sending letters to him, haven’t you?”

“Letters? I do not know what you speak of.”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Ferdinand! You’ve been sending letters to my father each month.”

“But of course! I have sent both him and your mother missives over finances and estate matters. I do mention that you are doing well as a courtesy.”

“I don’t believe you! You’ve been keeping tabs on me this entire time, haven’t you?”

“N-No! Is that why you are angry with me? That must be the reason.” 

“I know it. I’m on thin ice, aren’t I? You’re going to send me home next month and ask for an annulment.”

“What could possibly make you think that?” His voice sounded so wounded. “You do not believe me so it is best to provide you with the return letters. Allow me a couple of minutes to retrieve them.” 

True to his word, Ferdinand had slipped the letters from under the door. She recognized her father’s hand. They were in reverse chronological order, but Bernadetta started with the one from this month. 

They contained mostly numbers and logistics, mostly pertaining to her territory’s supplies. Some was of metalworking, others of the harvest or of textiles being sold within the region. 

I am pleased to know that Bernadetta is adjusting well to your household. Or it is good to know that Bernadetta is healthy. Thank you for your update. She hated seeing any remnants of her father, especially something he penned, but this was something she needed to see with her own two eyes. 

Now she felt a horrible sense of embarrassment for accusing Ferdinand of being a spy for her father. 

She opened the door, finding Ferdinand sitting on the floor with his bedcovers and surrounded by a stack of pillows. Papers were scattered all around him. Ferdinand was not kidding about staying there as long as possible.

He looked at her like a kicked puppy, his large, vibrant eyes watching her expectedly. “Do you believe me now, Bernadetta?” To her, he sounded so wounded. How could I have done this to him? You’re awful, Bernie. Awful! Awful! Awful!

“I…” She didn’t want to tell him she couldn’t bring herself to fully trusting him. She had barely known him for a year. “I want to, Ferdinand.”

He rose from his fortress of pillows and neared her. He grabbed one of her hands and lifted it close to his heart. “Bernadetta...I know there have been many aspects in our marriage that would be looked down upon by others. It’s not for others to know about what we do and do not do. After all, we were not given enough time to know one another.”

Is that what he thinks? Bernadetta believed it was better he reached this conclusion. 

“I do not know what your mother said, but if I were to warrant a guess, it would be that she assumes you are neglecting your household duties. It is of no reason to send you back.”

She nodded. He squeezed her hand. 

“Bernadetta, I want you to know something.” She nodded, feeling embarrassed, and looked away. “Please, look at me.” She made the attempt to make eye contact with him. “If you ever feel upset at anything, especially if your anger is directed at me, I would gladly hear your grievances. Nothing will be solved if you simply bottle up your emotions.”

Bernadetta couldn’t help it anymore. “I-I-I’m so sorry!” Tears burst from her eyes. Ferdinand released his grip on her hands and got even closer to her, his arms wrapping around hers. She sobbed into his shirt, staining it with her tears. 

“You do not have to be sorry. You did nothing wrong.”

“Yes, I did!” Bernadetta sobbed louder. “I’m stupid. I made all these assumptions about you. You’re so stupid, Bernie! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”

“Do not say such things.” She heard his voice catch. “You will make me cry.”

Bernadetta sniffed, trying to rein in her tears. “I’m sorry! I don’t want to make you cry.”

“I was worried about you!” He released her from his grip. 

“You were?”

“I am always worried about you, Bernadetta. You are always so needlessly hard on yourself. When I watch you in this state, I cannot help but want to be the shoulder you lean on.”

Bernadetta felt as though her body was floating at his words. “Thanks, Ferdinand.”

“Now that this argument is over, we should talk over a late breakfast. We can do it right here if you so please. In fact, I wanted to discuss the operatic performance with you.”

Bernadetta nodded. 

“Ferdinand?”

“Yes, Bernadetta.”

“I forgot some of the opera stuff. I got so upset.”

“Then I suppose we will have to go again, when you are ready, of course. But thankfully for you, I have an excellent memory!”

“G-good.” She wiped some of the remnants of her tears off her face. 

“Stay here and make yourself comfortable while I get us our breakfast.” Ferdinand left the hallway and Bernadetta went back to her room, grabbing her stuffed bear. She took one of the pillows and propped it against her back. She hugged her bear as she started to calm down.

Ferdinand was back with a giant plate of food containing many sides. 

“That is a rather large bear,” Ferdinand said. “Did you purchase that at the market?”

Bernadetta shook her head. “He was a birthday gift from my uncle. His name is Captain Snufflekins.” It was the final birthday gift he had given her and therefore one of her most prized possessions. He had gone through multiple wear and tears, but Bernadetta was always quick to patch him up. He was always in pristine condition, as a result. “I actually made the outfit he’s wearing.”

“What a meticulously tailored outfit. I can see it was crafted with love.”

“Do you have any stuffed animals?”

Ferdinand shook his head. “I have always slept with many pillows.”

Bernadetta ate some of her bacon, an idea floating through her mind. She would have only a month, but if she put enough work and effort, then she could provide him with a good first anniversary slash makeup gift for Ferdinand. 

It would be the best way for her to redeem herself to him.

Chapter Text

Ferdinand wondered if giving Bernadetta a large bag of sugar cubes for her birthday was a good idea. She was confused at first, and then interpreted it as means to integrate her cooking into their daily lives. 

She had prepared her first meal for them with the sugar cubes in the form of a birthday cake. Bernadetta greatly enjoyed cooking and baking meals just as much as Ferdinand enjoyed brewing tea. 

Despite it being a pleasant side effect, it wasn’t the reason he had bought that large sack of sugar cubes. 

On their first anniversary, he had convinced her to visit the stables. 

“These horses are so cute, aren’t they?” she said. 

“I must confess something: I have always been a passionate equestrian.” Ferdinand saw Bernadetta petting one of the stallions. He was gently trying to steer her towards the direction of the small mare. “I also forgot to mention, when I was a small boy, I had a stuffed animal that resembled a horse. I do not know what happened to him. I had forgotten I had him until...” The discussion he had with Bernadetta about stuffed animals after they made up jogged his memory for a bit of his childhood.

“Aww,” Bernadetta said. Her eyes gravitated towards the mare Ferdinand intended for Bernadetta. “Ooh! This horse is beautiful!” The horse had flowers decorated into her mane She was in the stall next to Ferdinand’s horse. They were getting along just well. “Hey there.” Bernadetta patted the horse, who moved her muzzle in Bernadetta’s direction for more petting. “You’re really friendly!” The horse was just as sweet-tempered and affectionate as the breeder said she was. Ferdinand could help but smile at Bernadetta’s instant connection with her. 

“I heard she enjoys sugar cubes in particular.” Ferdinand pulled out a pocket sized sack of sugar cubes and fed it to the mare.

“Sugar cubes…” Bernadetta said, clearly processing his words. “Ferdinand...Were those sugar cubes…?”

“Yes. This mare is my gift to you, Bernadetta.”

Her mouth gaped open in shock. “You didn’t have to…Ferdinand why...”

“You are my wife, are you not?”

“Y-yes but…” Bernadetta was visibly shocked. She had stopped petting her horse, who moved her muzzle closer to Bernadetta in a desperate attempt to attract attention from her. “I can’t acc—um,  don’t deserve such a thing.” She knew Ferdinand liked to go above and beyond in his gestures, but she probably didn’t think he would go this far. But it was their first anniversary and she deserved something special. 

“I disagree. I believe it is past time you have a horse of your own.” Ferdinand furrowed his brows. “You...do know how to ride one, do you?” When they had first met, Bernadetta’s father had described how good she was with horses, but she didn’t possess the passion he had for them. He thought maybe it could be something they’d do during their time together.

“Um…I do, but...Um, it’s been a while.” 

“If you do not know about horse care, then I will gladly be your teacher! You will find that there is nothing more relaxing than an evening stroll, Bernadetta.” Perhaps she also needed a strong bond with an animal. 

“Are you sure? Are you sure you want to gift her to me?”

“Absolutely.” Bernadetta went back to patting the horse. Ferdinand offered Bernadetta a sugar cube for the horse, which she readily accepted. 

“She likes me! You’re a sweet little thing, aren’t you?” her fingers hovered over to the horse’s ears, which she scratched. The horse’s upper lip wiggled. It seemed as though the two would get along just fine. They made quite a pair and Ferdinand couldn’t help but think how sweet Bernadetta looked in this very moment in time. All that was next was to teach her the basics of horse care.

After some time of Ferdinand watching Bernadetta getting acquainted with her horse, they walked back inside their house. “Hey um, Ferdinand?” Bernadetta’s cheeks were bright pink.

“Yes?”

“Actually, I got you something, too. Well, not got. I actually made something for you. It’s um, it’s in my room.”

“I can make us tea while you retrieve it. I cannot wait to see what you made for me, Bernadetta.” He wondered if it was a new portrait of him, with more polish. He would hang it up in the entryway for visitors to see if that were the case. 

When Bernadetta returned, his eyes fell on the large orange dog in between her hands. It was a stuffed animal, just a little smaller than the stuffed bear she had in her room.

“I made you, um...this. He’s...um, super soft and perfect to cuddle with.” She extended the gift for Ferdinand to accept. The dog indeed was soft to the touch. Bernadetta had chosen the materials carefully. The dog had a wide smile. 

He hugged the toy animal. “What a cute puppy! Thank you, Bernadetta.” 

“I know it’s not a horse or an actual dog, but…”

“He was made with love.” Bernadetta’s face went tomato red. 

“Um...is it the tea or is it awfully hot in here?”

Ferdinand hugged the dog again. It was so incredibly soft to the touch. It wasn’t what he was expecting, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. She didn’t need to surprise him with a gift, either. He was reminded of the rumors he had heard of her. Ferdinand laughed.

“What is it?” she said, her voice full of worry. 

“My father presented the prospect of you twice to me.”

“He did?”

“The first time, I was eighteen. I had heard rumors of a girl who locked herself in her room, making evil dolls to curse her enemies. I was so frightened, I dissuaded my father from going through with it.”

“What? But I don’t make dolls to curse people!”

“I can see that right now. You make cute dolls!”

“Like carnivorous plants and things!” Carnivorous plants? Such as the ones that ate insects? The thought of them made Ferdinand visibly shudder. Perhaps that was what caused the rumors. Those were not…

“Ah...hmm...Maybe I should not have brought it up.” This was a poor way of finding out Bernadetta had an odd taste in aesthetics. 

“Why not? Carnivorous plants are adorable? Have you ever even see a trumpet pitcher plant?”

Ferdinand let out a nervous laugh. What an odd direction this conversation took. “Aha, yes. Adorable. I should check on the tea.” Well, not everyone had the same taste in aesthetics he had. He set the dog aside while he finished with the tea, the dog smiling at him every moment. Upon further inspection, Ferdinand wondered if Bernadetta made the dog in his likeness. 

Then I shall call him Ferdiedog von Aegir. Yes, the perfect name for the perfect dog. 


Dorothea came to visit a few weeks later. 

Ferdinand had left on behalf of his father to the Aegir territory to help settle a dispute with annual yields. Or something of the sort. Bernadetta didn’t want to be alone, which she feared would put her at the disposal of her father, but Ferdinand took his duties very seriously.

“Hey Bern,” she said. 

She wasn’t expecting any visitors, but Dorothea wasn’t the usual type of visitor. Most of the time, they were there for Ferdinand. Dorothea was here for her

Her mother’s words echoed in her head. I hope you won’t make friends with that commoner girl I saw in the box with the two of you if you know what’s best for you. Nothing good has resulted from a friendship with them . Bernadetta pushed the words away from her head. She couldn’t just be rude to a guest. 

“Hello Dorothea! Um, would you like some tea?”

“Sure!”

“Ferdinand likes to um, collect tea so we have many.”

“I’ll drink anything you offer. I don’t mind.”

“Do you have a favorite?”

Dorothea pursed her perfectly painted lips. “Um...I think I like Sweet-Apple Blend and um...Albinean Berry Blend? But really, anything will-”

“Ooh I love that one!” Bernadetta said, letting herself go in a moment of excitement. 

“Then let’s share that one, yes?”

Bernadetta wasn’t an expert in making tea the way her husband was, but she had observed him enough times to replicate his movements to perfection. 

“This is so lovely, Bern!”

“It is, isn’t it?” Even though Dorothea was a commoner, Bernadetta felt overwhelmed. Dorothea was so pretty and dazzling. This was the kind of girl that guys like Ferdinand married, not recluses like Bernadetta. 

“Something on your mind, Bern?”

Was it that obvious she was feeling overwhelmed by Dorothea? “Um...I was just thinking how nice it is to have you over here. I’d like us to be friends.”

“I already thought we were friends!” They had only met once. How could they be friends this quickly? Didn’t friendships take time? “I know what you’re thinking, but any spouse of Ferdinand is already a friend of mine.”

“That’s n-not what I mean. Oh, I’m such a coward! I want to be friends…” But old memories keep getting in the way… Bernadetta couldn’t finish her thought. 

“It’s okay, Bern. We can take this friendship slowly. Did you know that Ferdie and I weren’t always this friendly with each other?”

“No?”

“I hated his guts when I officially met him a couple of years ago.”

“Oh?” Bernadetta couldn’t understand how someone could hate Ferdinand. “What was he like in those days?”

“You’re lucky you didn’t know him when he was eighteen. He couldn’t go three sentences without saying his name to people to remind them just who he was. And the way he buzzed about...he was nothing more than a little bee, buzzing and droning aimlessly about. He was always vying for attention and could...get overwhelming. He’s grown up quite a bit since.”

“He’s not so bad.” That was a massive understatement. Ferdinand was an amazing person. She just couldn’t bring herself to say that.

“You’ve got quite a catch. A rich, handsome husband who clearly cares about you. I know the whole thing was arranged but it seems like it’s worked out for the two of you.”

“What about you?”

“I hate most nobles, especially the men...Although there’s a few bad women out there, too. I’m sure I’ll find my special someone eventually!”

“You’re so pretty and dazzling, I can see that easily happening!” Bernadetta poured some more tea in Dorothea’s cup as she told him about the horse he gifted her on their anniversary. 

Bernadetta realized the more she spoke about Ferdinand, the more she missed him. She couldn’t wait until the house held his presence again. 

“What do you like to do?” Dorothea asked, changing the topic of conversation. 

“Me?” Dorothea nodded. “Um, I like to um...draw, embroider, um, write stories...”

“Oooh what kind? I love stories! Especially romantic ones with star-crossed lovers.”

“Me too! But I don’t really like to write sad stories,” Bernadetta said. “I like to write stories where my heroes go through a journey but it all ends happily for everyone. I know that’s not realistic, but...I like them. Yes. I like them!”

“There’s nothing wrong with that! I’d love to read your stories sometime.”

“Ummm.” Bernadetta was shocked to hear someone she barely knew so interested in her stories. Bernadetta never shared her stories with anyone before, but she had a thought. If she was writing them, then who would read them? “I need to um, polish it a little and make it perfect but would you actually want to read them?”

“Of course,” Dorothea said, her nodding so vigorous and sincere. “I would love to! Whenever you’re ready to share them, of course.”

Bernadetta sipped her tea, trying to swallow her nerves. She could do this. She could share some of her work with Dorothea in the near future. It would be okay. 

Bernadetta watched Dorothea sip her tea. It feels nice making a friend. I know she’s a commoner, but she’s so nice and wonderful. Don’t mess this up, Bernie! Please...

Chapter Text

Bernadetta worked on making a green coat for Ferdinand’s twenty-fifth birthday. She figured it would contrast his hair and eye color beautifully. Ferdinand was gone until shortly before his birthday, which gave time for Bernadetta to openly work on her project. 

Dorothea visited whenever she could to keep her company, whenever she wasn’t rehearsing or auditioning for roles at the opera, which kept her busy as well. It made Bernadetta think about how busy everyone was all the time while she preferred to work indoors. She was now starting to wonder if she could try to learn basic estate management and doing her part to help, but Ferdinand was rarely around these days.

Ferdinand’s birthday fell on the final day of the Great Tree Moon so she had more than enough time to perfect this coat for him. She also had enough materials to fashion a new cream colored cravat for him. 

“I’m home!” she could hear his voice carry all the way to her bedroom. She hid the outfit away before going to say hello to him. Minutes later, he stood near her doorway, by then, she had ample time to hide his gift someplace he wouldn’t see. 

Ferdinand looked a little bit weary from what she was used to. He had lost weight and had dark circles under his eyes. 

“Hi Ferdinand!” 

“It’s good to see you again, Bernadetta.” She surprised herself by giving him a hug. He returned the hug with fervor, despite him being so tired. Hmm, were his hugs always this good? Bernadetta had embraced him before but never noticed just how warm and open he felt. Ferdinand yawned. “I wanted to go on a ride with you, but I am exhausted.” 

“It’s okay to rest, Ferdinand. I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

They walked together to his room, where Bernadetta observed Ferdinand crumple onto the bed, gone to the world. 

She had gone back to her room, free to work on his birthday present once more.

For the rest of the short time before his birthday, Ferdinand rested. 

Bernadetta pushed herself to knock on his door the morning of his birthday. Ferdinand was already dressed for the day. The dark circles under his eyes were beginning to disappear and he smiled at her presence. He looked a bit more like the Ferdinand she had known before his mission. Bernadetta had seen the dog she made for him lying in the center of the bed right in front of the pillows, as though he were guarding the pillows with a smile on his face.

“Um...happy birthday, Ferdinand.” He looked shocked to see her standing there. “I made you...um, something.” She handed him a gift bag where the coat and cravat were. 

Ferdinand gasped when he took the gift out of the bag “I love it!” He shed his coat and put on the new one she made. “It fits most perfectly! However did you get my measurements, Bernadetta?”

“I measured the other coats you had. I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s more than okay!” He moved to embrace her. Bernadetta found herself savoring the feel of his arms around her and the gentle, yet firm squeeze he gave her. He hugged her in a way that made it seem as though he put so much feeling into them. Bernadetta was supposed to make Ferdinand feel special on his own birthday, but here he was making her feel as though she were the one deserving attention. “Thank you so much!” Ferdinand paused, his face lighting up even more. Bernadetta wondered just how was it possible for someone to be this bright. “Actually, there is a ball next month for us nobles. I would love nothing more than to wear this coat and cravat to the ball. And for you to accompany me.”

“I…”

“You do not have to give an answer yet, for it is not for a few weeks. But please consider going with me.”

“I’ll consider it,” she said. 

“Now,” Ferdinand said, shedding his new coat and placing it on a hanger. “Would you care to join me for a birthday breakfast?”

What was odd about breakfast was how quiet he was being. She was already so used to hearing him fill up the silent space between them that it struck her as unusual. He was deep in thought.

“Um, Ferdinand?”

“Yes? What is it, Bernadetta?”

“You’re being awfully quiet.”

Bernadetta could see that Ferdinand was hesitating. “My father will not spend my birthday with me today.”

“Oh.” Bernadetta thought of her birthday. Usually, her mother would give her gifts, such as art supplies or a notebook. Her father didn’t care if it was her birthday or not. Either way, birthdays were never a big deal in her house, but she realized with Ferdinand it was back when he had given her the sugar cubes, and later, the horse. “I’m sorry.”

“It is okay, Bernadetta. I…” Ferdinand paused and shook his head.  “This is not something I imagined myself discussing over breakfast.” Ferdinand set aside his spoon. “My father and I were once very close. When I was a boy, I used to think the world of him.”

In a desperate attempt to listen and empathize with Ferdinand, Bernadetta shoved her memories of her father aside. 

Ferdinand shook his head. It pained her to see Ferdinand in this state. He was always so optimistic and confident about everything that she found his behavior jarring. 

“Ferdinand?” she said, trying to channel his energy. “Do you want to take a walk?” She was doing a horrible job of trying to be a shoulder for him to lean on, she wanted to do the same for him.

“Are you not hungry?” he said. 

Bernadetta shook her head. The words he often said to her materialized in her head. I’m more worried about you. They left the house and Bernadetta led the way, with the two of them walking near the stables. She noticed even his gait was off. Ferdinand usually stood with perfect posture and walked with an assuredness and confidence about himself. Much to her surprise, she was able to pick up on the smaller nuances in his change in behavior. From the slight frown he had shown in his eyes, to the way his tone of voice sounded so austere. She imagined what he usually did during her worst moments. Ferdinand always did something differently each time, but something he always did was offer himself as someone to rely on. The only thing she could think of was finding his hand and holding it in an attempt to show she was there for him. That she was listening. He accepted her hand and began talking.

“I was a boy when I was told of my destiny to become the next Prime Minister of the Empire. I have never had any other dream, only to be like my father and his father before him and all of those who carry the Aegir name. I have always held my family name with confidence and pride, and I still do, however.” Ferdinand stopped walking. “I have been working against my father.”

“Is that why you were away?”

“In part, yes. My father has always routinely assigned me objectives to carry out within our territory, and occasionally beyond. I admit to over-exhausting myself at times, but when I was eighteen, I became fully aware of my father’s misdeeds. In all of my tasks, I find it essential to be in touch with the commoners and know their needs. Oftentimes, the nobles and the commoners must work together. It is the only way to maintain peace, but the actions of my father have only created dissent and discord. I promise you he was not always like this. His greed got the better of him. He has strayed from the righteous path.

“I must soon pass stern judgement on my father. He was once my teacher and has forgotten everything he once taught me. It pains me to do this, Bernadetta, but I have no other choice. I must hold him accountable. Only then can I justly guide the Empire’s subjects and work to create a better world. That is my dream, my will, and my future.” 

There was a sadness to his voice, but Bernadetta could also sense hope. She knew he was passionate about his duty, but she didn’t understand the full scope of his determination until now. His body language changed once more, his posture becoming straighter and the light was back in his eyes (although, she could also see the sunlight reflecting on him, it was as though he fed off of the light). He found her other hand and lifted both of them. Their gazes met.

“Ferdinand, I’m with you every step of the way,” she found herself saying. “I may be terrible at giving support, but um...it’s there!”

“Thank you,” he said. He frowned again. “You do not give yourself credit, Bernadetta. Your support is giving me the courage to move on and fulfill my destiny. I feel unstoppable with you by my side.”

“Really?!”

He raised both of her hands together and kissed them. Her heart beat wildly against her chest at the gesture. She wasn’t expecting him to do that at all and tried not to show the surprise on her face. She was probably failing at doing that. “As my wife, you are the most important person in my life. I already feel much better now having told you of my worries.” He released her hands from his. Me? Important? I’m not...

“Would you like to go riding with me?”

“O-of course,” she said, still not over his small gesture of affection.

But the thought remained in her mind. She was supporting him. She wanted to keep helping him. Not because he was like this with her and she was trying to return the favor or anything, but because he was her friend and she genuinely cared for him. He was so kind and sincere and here she was, locking herself away while others were suffering and Ferdinand was feeling their pain. A thought came into her mind.

Maybe...maybe I should go to that ball with him.


Ferdinand had never looked forward to going to a ball before like he did tonight. He had almost thought that Bernadetta would say no, but three days before the ball, she had surprised him by agreeing to accompany him. 

It had happened over one of their night time rides. The weather had finally become pleasant enough to enjoy their time together while on their horses during the night hours. Ever since he shared his burdens to her, he had started to feel a comfort he didn’t think was imaginable. Ferdinand considered himself an open book, but when it came towards such sensitive topics such as his father, he always tried to avoid the lingering negativity settling in his mind. He felt free with her, an emotion he never thought he would feel in an arranged marriage of all things, but here he was. He had friends, such as Dorothea and Lorenz, but the making of them was always such a mystifying concept for him. He was outgoing and had many interests, but he almost always felt he was withdrawn from people, partially due to status, but also because he had his own flaws that prevented people from liking him. It was a feeling he loathed. He had grown used to taking his leisure by himself, but now he had Bernadetta with him, and he didn’t feel quite as alone these days.

Ferdinand always partook in his excitement over his horsemanship in a solitary way, but Bernadetta proved to be just as enthusiastic as him. Bernadetta carefully braided her mare’s mane and added accessories to make her look cuter. 

He had picked out this horse specifically for her temperament, but he vastly underestimated how quickly they’d bond in a few short months. 

“Are you hungry, girl?” Bernadetta asked once they were back in the stables after they finished their ride. She took an apple slice from her satchel. “I know. It was a long ride, you deserve an apple.”

Ferdinand watched her with rapt attention...until his horse stretched his muzzle into Ferdinand’s hand, as though jealous of his friend being treated with affection. In a rare moment of forgetfulness, he had forgotten to bring a treat for his horse. “My apologies. I may have misplaced some of my treats,” he said, patting his horse.

“You can have my banana, Ferdinand,” Bernadetta said. 

“Are you certain?”

“I didn’t know if I should have brought it or not. I don’t want to spoil her by giving her too much food.” She watched his horse move his muzzle towards the treat. 

“Thank you, Bernadetta,” Ferdinand said, accepting the banana. His horse welcomed the treat, chewing it with glee. He saw Bernadetta watching him from the corner of his eye. 

“Um, Ferdinand?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve been doing some thinking…” Bernadetta placed her hands behind her back. “I’d um...I’d like to go to that ball with you.”

He felt his entire body reacting to her words. “You do?”

“Sure! I thought about that coat I made you...and I have a few ideas! I don’t mind being your date...” Bernadetta’s entire face had gone red, but Ferdinand almost paid her no mind. He knew this was such a major milestone for her and the thought of them meeting peers of their own age and showing her off…

Showing her off? he asked himself.

Yes. Showing her off. 

He wanted Bernadetta to be known to the world. Someone like her deserved that. 

He spent the next three days buzzing about, wondering what Bernadetta’s ideas were, but she kept silent. She had asked him for space in preparation for the event and he knew never to bite off more than he could chew. 

Bernadetta knocked on her door early that evening. Ferdinand was in the middle of making sure he looked perfect, including the freshly picked out magnolia he had carefully placed inside his lapel. He had been trimming his eyebrows. He had inherited his father’s bushy brows and always strived to keep them from going out of hand. Ferdinand did not want to know what else he had inherited from his father. He was terrified of the thought of going ba-- Why am I thinking about him tonight?  

He pushed the thoughts away to the back of his mind.

She was wearing a short green and white dress he was certain she had worn before...except he couldn’t recall when she had worn it. The dress had a similar fabric as to the one made into his coat and there were green ribbons sewn into the shoulders, leaving Ferdinand to believe she had modified her dress to match him. 

“You look spectacular, Bernadetta!”

“I do? I took my wedding dress and fashioned it to match your outfit. I think it would make us look…”

“Like quite the pair!” he said, finishing her sentence. 

“People say you only wear your wedding dress once, but...It’s not like many people saw me in this, right?” Ferdinand didn’t mention he himself barely saw her in it for she had practically run away from him for months after. The Bernadetta standing before him today was almost entirely a different girl. 

One who made him feel…

“Oh!” he said. “You are not wearing a clip. I picked out another magnolia just in case, but I would rather you wear it.” He placed the stem of the flower against a clip and handed it to Bernadetta, his fingers brushing against hers. He felt a bolt of electricity at the touch of her fingers.

“Thanks!” she said, accepting the flower. 

There was a silence hanging over the air between them. Ferdinand found himself staring at her while she adjusted the flower to fit her hair. It looked perfect on her. Meanwhile, Bernadetta was lost in thought.

“I have an idea, Ferdinand.” She left and returned in seconds, holding a ribbon not unlike the ones in her dress. “Um, can you bend down a little?” He sat down on the edge of the bed as her fingers ran through his hair. His arms were covered by clothes, but he felt every single one of his hairs rise at her touch as she lifted his hair and wrapped it around a ribbon. “There.”

He got up and saw himself in a mirror. The ribbon looked lovely on him, pulling his hair back. From a certain angle, he was reminded of the way he used to look years ago, before his hair had grown to this length. He had questioned cutting it, but right now he looked so elegant and noble. 

Now they looked truly coordinated. Ferdinand felt a burst of excitement in the pit of his stomach knowing that he and Bernadetta would dazzle the ballroom together. 

“Um...should we go?” she asked. “I’m ready, by the way.”

“Right. We would not want to be the final guests.”

They both sat across from each other in the carriage. Bernadetta stared out the window and Ferdinand couldn’t be bothered to look outside. He found himself much more interested in his wife. 

“Bernadetta?” he asked. 

“Yes?” she said, turning her head slowly. She had large eyes, but her makeup only amplified the stormy gray of her eyes and her long black lashes. Ferdinand felt his pulse racing as her eyes met his. He was surprised she didn’t turn away from him when they made eye contact. Rather, he was the one feeling suddenly shy in her presence. 

“Do you remember what I said to you the night at the opera?” She shook her head. “If you would like to leave the ball early, please inform me. I would not want you to feel overwhelmed. And if anything bothers you, please, please tell me. I am here for you, Bernadetta. Now and always.”

“Thanks, Ferdinand.” His hand had found hers and she went back to gazing out the window. He didn’t let go of her. He didn’t want to. 

But when they arrived to the ball, he had forced himself to let go, yet to his surprise, when they neared the entryway, her hand was back on his. 

“Are you nervous?” he asked. 

“A little…” she said. “Actually, no, that’s a lie. I’m really, really nervous, Ferdinand.”

“You have little to worry about. You are Bernadetta von Varley, wife of Ferdinand von Aegir. You can do anything you set your mind to!” His words had motivated her, as a small smile crept on her face. His pulse raced at the sight of her smile.

When they entered the ballroom floor, all eyes were on them. He felt Bernadetta’s grip on his hand tighten while they walked together. The attention lasted a little longer than Ferdinand anticipated, but by reading the room, he knew what everyone was thinking. 

That was Ferdinand von Aegir and his reclusive wife. 

He hoped they were thinking what he was thinking: That Bernadetta was too beautiful to be hidden away. 

If there was something Ferdinand loved, it was attention from others. He wanted to be noticed by everyone in the room. It was such a rare opportunity these days when he had been consumed with so much paperwork and planning. He wanted to simply bask in it. But Bernadetta was his opposite. She cowered, attempting to make herself small and hiding her face away by turning to him.

“May I have this dance with you?” he said, trying to ease the tension. Perhaps if she found something else to focus on yet maintain some momentum from the crowd of nobles, she would calm down a little.

“Um...sure!” He had carefully placed one hand on her back, and positioned his hand against hers. He wanted to show off his best dance moves, but right now was not the correct moment to do so. They began to dance and Ferdinand became aware some of the fellow guests had diverted their attention away from them. Bernadetta noticed this as well and he saw her breathing changed. Her breaths were much closer to normal. 

“How are you feeling?”

“Better. It’s not so bad when people start to look away from you.” Ferdinand was inclined to disagree, but before he could do so, Bernadetta stepped on his foot. He was glad she wasn’t wearing heeled shoes. “Sorry!”

“It is quite alright.”

“I have something to tell you, Ferdinand: I don’t know how to dance very well.”

A couple of seconds later, her other foot was on his and she nearly stumbled. Maybe it wasn’t quite alright, but the song was over soon enough and Ferdinand had to introduce her to some members of the nobility. 

“I can always teach you,” he said. After all, he had an excellent command of dancing. She would be an expert in no time!

They had to move on and talk to the other nobles, though. Bernadetta was mostly silent during his discussions, only ever uttering a “hello” and other required pleasantries. It was evident she had little experience on the subject of socializing with others...or of typical noble topics. Instead she clung to him and gave an apprehensive smile. 

“Get me out of here,” Ferdinand saw a man close to their age say to someone. 

“It’s a no-can-do, Linhardt,” his companion, another man their age, said. “Even my old man dragged me here.”

“This is pointless. I’m wasting precious sleep for this.”

The first man noticed Bernadetta and Ferdinand walking near them. 

“Linhardt! Caspar! A pleasure to see the two of you this evening,” Ferdinand said. 

“Do you see what you did, Caspar? You were so loud you’ve attracted the attention of His Nobleness.”

“Aw Linhardt, Ferdinand isn’t so bad! Hey Ferdinand!”

Ferdinand couldn’t understand how someone could be so openly rude. Well, they were both kind of rude, but in completely different ways. In the past, Linhardt had fallen asleep right in the middle of the ballroom, causing chaos on the dancefloor and Caspar once made a mess in a buffet table with his terrible manners. They were still decent men, though. “Have you two met my wife, Bernadetta von Varley?”

“Aw yeah, I heard ya took a wife, but I thought it was just some rumor,” Caspar said. “They say she—” Linhardt elbowed him before finished his sentence. Ferdinand was appreciative of the gesture. 

“This is Caspar von Bergliez,” Ferdinand said, pointing to the shorter, louder man with blue hair. “And that’s Linhardt von Hevring.” The man with the long green hair and large blue eyes took Bernadetta’s hand and shook it. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet someone else from a family my father despises,” Linhardt said.

“Your names sound familiar,” Bernadetta said. It was the first time Ferdinand saw Bernadetta feel slightly at ease at this event. 

“I’m not surprised. Let’s all arrange a meeting time. I’ll call it: The Club of Nobles Whose Fathers Hate Each Other, where we can talk about all of the terrible things our fathers say about the other.”

“Linhardt likes to piss his dad off,” Caspar said.

“Well, I’m just surprised the daughter of House Varley decided to show herself at one of these balls. I’m jealous it took you this long. I’d rather have partaken in one of my evening naps than show up to this wretched affair.” Linhardt yawned.

“And how are you faring, Caspar?” Ferdinand asked him.

“Linhardt and I wanna see how long it takes for either one of our dads to fight and who’ll get kicked out first.”

“I wish it were mine so I can go home early, but we all know Caspar’s father has a short fuse to match those short legs of his,” Linhardt said. 

“That’s not true. My dad can totally beat up your dad first!”

Ferdinand noticed Bernadetta was actually smiling at their banter. 

“And where’s your dad, Ferdinand?” Caspar asked. 

“My father has some important business to attend to tonight. I am here in his place,” Ferdinand said. It was the closest thing to the actual truth. His father did actually have other business, but what most people didn’t know was that he was about to enact the first phase of his plan. The thought of going against his father, the man he once admired so long ago, consumed him, but Ferdinand had to push down those thoughts and focus on the ball happening right now. 

He knew about the intense three way rivalry Houses Varley, Hevring, and Bergliez had but out of the three, only Varley had caused concern. Count Hevring had his moments, but if Ferdinand could use his own father and Bernadetta’s father as an example, he knew Count Hevring would go down the right path. Count Bergliez was not a corrupt man, but Ferdinand’s primary concern was his eldest son, Caspar’s older brother, who was known for being easily swayed and taking bribes.

“How boring,” Linhardt said. “Your father is quite amusing when gets drinking.” Ferdinand tried not to take offense to that. His father was a jolly drunk, but--

“Good evening,” a voice said, interrupting the conversation. 

It was none other than Count von Varley. 

“F-father?” Bernadetta said, her voice a squeak.

“I’m walking away now,” Linhardt said, unceremoniously leaving the small group.

“Hey! Wait up!” Caspar said. 

“Of all people, I did not expect to see my daughter here with her husband,” he said. 

He was joined by his wife moments later. Ferdinand saw Bernadetta’s entire body tense. Ferdinand could not recall seeing their names on the invited guest list. House Varley wasn’t known for attending balls like this. 

“We were not expecting you, either,” Ferdinand said. 

“I hope my daughter is being a good wife,” Count Varley said. 

“She is,” Ferdinand said. Bernadetta slowly crept near Ferdinand’s body. If he didn’t know better, it was as though she was cowering behind him. “She made this coat for my birthday.”

“Our daughter has always been a talented seamstress,” her mother said. “It’s good to see her putting her talents to good use.”

“I admit, I have been rather disappointed with you, my boy,” Count Varley said, “I missed your most recent status updates in the past few months.”

“I am afraid I have been rather busy attending to my own duties.” That was a lie. He was busy gathering as much reconnaissance as possible against the corrupt nobles of F ó dlan, beginning with Count Varley. Ferdinand had found things he didn’t like about the going-ons in Varley territory. Not one bit. Not to mention, Bernadetta had been so bothered by his missives he wanted to stop altogether.

“Then make Bernadetta do it.”

“O-of course, F-father!” she said. 

“Since we’re here, why don’t we have a moment with our daughter?”

Bernadetta held Ferdinand’s arm in a vice-like grip. It was actually starting to fall asleep.

“A-actually…” Bernadetta said, “I um...I’m not feeling so well…” When Ferdinand looked in his wife’s direction, he saw her face was noticeably pale, almost green, even. Beads of sweat formed on her brow. Ferdinand could not recall if Bernadetta ate something that went bad earlier in the evening, but it was something he couldn’t ignore. 

“My apologies, sir, but it seems my wife and I need to make an exit.” Ferdinand made sure to bow politely at his in-laws before ushering Bernadetta out. 

“Bernadetta, are you alright?” he asked. He had asked her that question so many times throughout the evening but this time, she looked ill. Her eyes were downcast the entire time. Ferdinand was tempted to carry her, but he was afraid of eliciting a reaction from her.

She shook her head, her eyes still on the floor. 

“I will escort you home.”

Bernadetta said nothing while they awaited the carriage. 

Her body was slumped. 

“Bernadetta, you do not have to answer my question, but is there anything I can do?”

Bernadetta shook her head. Ferdinand noticed that the magnolia he had given her earlier in the evening was gone. He felt a sudden sadness at that. 

He didn’t understand how quickly Bernadetta turned from being pleasant and engaged in a conversation to feeling ill. He placed his hand on hers. Her skin was ice cold, yet her palms were sweaty. 

“Are you cold?”

Bernadetta didn’t respond. 

“We will be home soon enough.”

Ferdinand cursed his luck. Every time he had gone out with Bernadetta, it often ended in disaster. It was his fault, though. He had dragged her to these long events instead of easing her in. 

He wanted her to live her life, to be happy and have friends, but he couldn’t rush things. 

A voice in the back of his head spoke. It is odd. She was having a good evening until Count Varlely made himself known. Could he have-- It was a terrible thought and he pushed it away, focusing on how small Bernadetta looked right now. She was despondent once more and he was concerned for her. He wanted to reach out and hold her while she was in this state, but...

Ferdinand thought of the magnolia. It was such a beautiful, delicate flower, but much like her, it had withdrawn itself away by the end of the night.

He resolved to be more careful with her. That was what he needed to do from now on.

Chapter Text

Bernadetta couldn’t believe her luck.

Her father! At the same party as her! Right when she was finally starting to feel comfortable, he had to show his face. She was finally starting to forget what he looked like and now…

Now she couldn’t erase the way his gaze fell on hers, his eyes scrutinizing her. His memory was imprinted at the front of her mind again. 

It was terrible knowing he was somewhere in the capital. She prayed to the goddess he wouldn’t visit her. There was little chance Ferdinand would turn him down if he wanted to visit. 

Usually her sense of terror and dread quickly died down, but it was in the early hours of the morning and she couldn’t bring herself to sleep. 

Ferdinand was nice and understanding, but still...It was her fault for being such a failure of a wife. 

Her first ball...their first official outing, and she couldn’t last the entire night. 

Bernadetta couldn’t sleep for the rest of the day. She drifted throughout, but whenever she thought she heard voices coming from outside, she pried her eyes wide awake. 

Perhaps if she faked a cold, that could get him off her case if he did decide to pay them a visit. 

Ferdinand would check in on her every few hours and she would give him a few words of affirmation and offer to get food for her, but Bernadetta didn’t feel like eating. She would go to the kitchen and bring back bread and soup to her room, where she knew she could safely eat in peace. It was reminiscent of the way she was acting last year, except this time she was feeling cognizant over her own behavior. 

She hoped the goddess would release her from her torment soon.


It wasn’t until three days later when it happened. 

“Where is she?” she heard her father’s voice say. His voice was loud and booming. He didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t the only inhabitant of the manor. 

“No!” He’s come for me. Sweet Death, please come for me first. I don’t want to go home!

“Bernadetta?” 

Bernadetta got out of her bed, her body growing ice cold as she tried to find an exit. Maybe if she left her room right now, he wouldn’t find her. But she needed someplace to hide. 

Bernadetta’s body grew colder as she hid under the bed. 

It was like Before. Back when Bernadetta would avoid her father by hiding under the bed. It was always a fruitless effort. He always knew she would hide there and would pry her out. Bernadetta remembered the unholy screams that would come out of her mouth, the way her father would place his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. How she would bite him and he would retaliate...She couldn’t bear the repetition of another event like that again.

Bernadetta played with the idea of trying to throw herself out the window. If she landed on the bushes she could break the fall. Yes…

But she couldn’t move her arms...Or legs. She was frozen on the spot. She was like a ragdoll now. 

The doorknob shook. Then it was followed by a banging of the door. He was here. He was here and he had come to collect her. She was done for. This is it. 

The worst part of all of this was the fact that when her father came to carry her off, she’d never see Ferdinand again. A world without him looked so...bleak. 

Bernadetta prayed to the goddess for absolution.

The door opened. 

Bernadetta pried her eyes open and she was screaming, her screams permeating throughout her room, her fear still holding its grip on her.

*

She was back in her bed, not underneath it, and Ferdinand was at her bedside. Her body was not frozen, rather, she was thrashing about, her entire body covered in sweat. She saw Ferdinand was rubbing his chin in visible pain. 

“Bernadetta? Thank the goddess you’re awake!” he sounded so relieved. 

Bernadetta herself had never felt so relieved in her life. She began to sob uncontrollably.

“It’s okay, Bernadetta. It’s okay…” Ferdinand lowered himself to her and embraced her, his body warm. She couldn’t stop her crying against his nightshirt. “It was just a nightmare you were having.”

After a few minutes (or rather, it felt like hours to Bernadetta), he let go of her. 

“Bernadetta...would you like to spend the night in my room instead? I believe a change in environment would suit you.” 

She couldn’t say anything. Instead, she nodded and took his hand as he led her to his room next door. His bed was unmade and showed signs he left in a hurry.

Upon closer inspection, this was one of the first times she noticed his hair was an unbrushed mess.

She lay on her side, facing away from him. 

“I have this for you,” he said, handing her the stuffed bear her uncle gave her. Bernadetta didn’t even notice he had been carrying Captain Snufflekins. He was so thoughtful.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice hoarse from all the screaming. After a few moments of silence she spoke again. “Wh-what happened?”

“You were screaming. I was afraid there was an intrusion, but I believe you were having a nightmare. I had to ensure your safety so I ran as fast as I could to your bedroom.” She could feel his breath on the back of her head. “I only wish for you to go back to sleep. Perhaps if I am here with you, then you will attain a good night’s sleep.”

Bernadetta felt a small circular motion on the back of her head. She had mistaken it for his breath, but rather, he was idly stroking her hair with his fingers, as though to calm her down.

“Do you want me to sing to you? I am told I have a rather pleasant singing voice. One that would make a pegasus dance with joy!”

She laughed, feeling a little better. She debated on telling him about the fact that she was terrified of her father. She had gone almost a year without having nightmares of him but now they were back in full force. 

But before Bernadetta could contemplate the subject any further, Ferdinand began to hum instead, and she began to feel herself drifting away into a much more peaceful sleep.

*

Bernadetta felt a tight grip around her waist when she awoke. She wasn’t fully awake and daylight hadn’t quite hit the room yet, but she felt herself trapped in a strong grip, thus rendering her unable to move from her current position. 

It took her some time to realize that Ferdinand snaked an arm around her waist and was holding her tight. 

The feeling wasn’t unpleasant at all.

Bernadetta had never been embraced like this. Ferdinand had embraced her in the past (moreso in recent months) but when she thought about it further, the only person who ever gave her physical affection was her uncle. 

She closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep again.

Ferdinand moved from his place next to her and he rolled over to his side, his entire body now facing hers. His hair tickled her face and she made sure to move it away from her. But now his body was extremely close to hers. So close she could feel his breath on her cheek. Bernadetta felt a pinch of nerves starting to creep in.

Yet she didn’t want him to move from this position and she especially didn’t want him to move his arm away from her waist. He felt so warm against her body. Bernadetta wanted to do the same, but since she couldn’t exactly move, she had to settle on cuddling Captain Snufflekins.

Ferdinand moved again, his other arm moving above her head. 

He probably just sleeps like this, anyway.

Bernadetta began to relax and fell asleep again.

When she awoke, Ferdinand was gone and she felt her anxiety start to return.

He left her a note saying he had to go attend to something important but he hoped she was feeling better after getting some rest. 

She spent the rest of the day in his bed, hugging both her bear and the dog plush she made for him. She wanted to absorb Ferdinand for all that he was. However…

There was a guest. 

“I’m not here!” she told one of the attendants.

“Lady Bernadetta, this guest says she would really like to see you.” She?

“Who is it? It’s not Mother, is it?”

“Unless your mother happens to be remarkably young, I do not believe so. She’s a tall girl about your age. Brown hair, green eyes, red dress.”

That sounded a lot like Dorothea.

Why was she here? She had terrible timing!

Bernadetta hastily put on something half presentable and went downstairs, where Dorothea was waiting at the entrance. She looked so beautiful and so glamorous, even in her regular clothes. Bernadetta couldn’t shake the feeling of wrongness at seeing Dorothea here so soon after her encounter with her father again.

“Hey there, Bern!” 

“Dorothea! I was not expecting you to be here.”

“I had some free time on my hands so why not pay my friend a visit?” Friend. Why did she have to say that?

Bernadetta took a deep breath. “I want to be your friend, Dorothea, but we live in two separate worlds. Old memories keep getting in the way and my father is in town and—”

Dorothea’s mouth was agape. “Bern, are you okay?” She continued. “Bern, whatever happened to you in the past, you have my full support as your friend.”

Anxiety poked at Bernadetta’s stomach with a fluttering as though she had a couple of dozen moths flailing about, ready to burst from her abdomen. “Don’t you get it, Dorothea? You can’t be here! We’ll never be friends. Father would…He would...” The thought of her father sending his battalion to find Dorothea and…

He likely had his spies camping about. Dorothea had to go now before any damage could be done to her.

“Go!” She said, her voice loud and shrill as she held back tears. Dorothea only blinked. “Just leave!” 

Dorothea held her ground. Bernadetta had no other option. She ran back up to her room and left Dorothea standing by herself. Perhaps she’d get the message, then.


Bernadetta was walking to her usual favorite spot in the woods. It was the spot they generally agreed to meet in. There were plenty of carnivorous plants around the small stream of water. 

Her friend also shared her fascination with the cute pitcher plants that bloomed near the stream, however, the water was dirty enough that they didn’t live for long. They wanted to change that so they figured out ways to distill and purify the water. 

Bernadetta had never had a friend before. The fact that they encountered each other was by pure chance. She was sketching in the woods when he had been studying the creatures that lived there. He had a frog on his shoulder that leapt towards Bernadetta. It was a warm memory. 

It hurt keeping their friendship a secret.

Except this time, her friend wasn’t standing at their usual meeting spot. 

Instead, her father was there. Her blood ran cold at the sight of him.

“Bernadetta,” he said, his face calm and his tone even.

“F-father?”

“I saw you here the other day with some boy. A commoner scum, no less.”

“N-No!” she said, her body growing slack. 

Father grabbed her hair, pulling her towards him. She yelped, the pain hitting her scalp. “Don’t lie to me, Bernadetta.”

“I’m-I...” She didn’t mean to say “no”, it was more of a reaction. He pulled on her hair some more. Bernadetta’s scream was so piercing, she saw birds flying away from the treetops. But she was certain no one would come to save her. 

“Did you do anything with him, Bernadetta? Choose your words carefully and be honest, you stupid child.”

Bernadetta didn’t understand what he meant. They were only fourteen. What other things could they have done in a forest?

“We only fed the plants and um...the animals!”

Her father released his grip on her hair. Bernadetta resolved she would cut it soon so he would never grab her like that again. The pain was too intense. “I don’t believe you. Tomorrow, a physician will examine you and see if your virtue is intact. You will never leave this house unsupervised again.”

“What?! But…” Bernadetta choked back a sob.

“You will never see him again. I’ve made sure of that. Remember that you are above commoner scum. If I ever hear of you making friends with those beneath you, then…”

*

Bernadetta woke up in the middle of the night, yet this time, Ferdinand was not at the foot of her bed, calming her down. She probably wasn’t yelling, but her sheets were soaked with sweat and her face streaked with tears. This was a memory and a nightmare. She touched her hair, half amazed her scalp wasn’t in throbbing pain. It had grown considerably ever since she married Ferdinand. 

Ferdinand…

He had come in late this evening from his meetings and she didn’t dare disturb him when she heard his arrival. Yet she was so desperate for his comforting ways. The way he’d talk to her, his voice soft and full of compassion. The way he’d stroke her hair. His embrace... She wanted to take her mind off of all of the bad things and go back to sleep.

Bernadetta decided it was probably for the best to go get a snack or make some chamomile tea to relax herself. 

Ferdinand’s door was wide open and when she peeked inside his room, she saw his everyday clothes were strewn all over the floor, as though he were so tired he couldn’t bothered to be organized. He was sleeping on his side, hugging the plush she had made for him, the very one he named Ferdiedog. His hair was spread around his head. He looked so angelic in this state.

His eyes opened. 

“Bernadetta?”

“Oh no, I woke you up. Oh, Bernie, you idiot! Look what you did!”

“Please do not say that! It is quite alright. I admit I cannot sleep properly tonight, yet I am exhausted.”

“I had another nightmare. I was thinking of…” she yawned before she could finish her sentence.  

Ferdinand sat up. “Would you like to join me? Perhaps what we need tonight is each other.”

Bernadetta gave him the barest of nods before taking her spot next to him in his bed, her body on its side, facing away from him. Immediately, Ferdinand’s arm had found its way around her waist. It was far too soon for him to have fallen asleep so quickly, so Bernadetta deduced he was making a conscious effort to hold her. She was glad they were surrounded by the darkness, because he wasn’t able to see her face, which was likely flushed into a deep shade of red. 

“Do you remember your nightmare? Oftentimes, it helps to talk about it.”

Not only was it a nightmare, but it was a deeply rooted memory ingrained in her mind. She didn’t want its roots to spread and consume her, but at the same time, it wasn’t something she was ready to tell Ferdinand. “It’s faded away,” she said. 

Ferdinand responded by pulling her closer to him. Bernadetta’s heart began to drum wildly in her chest. “If you have another nightmare, remember that I am here for you. Always.”

“What if you’re away?”

“Then write me a letter or perhaps tell me at the first possible moment! I want nothing more than to help vanquish what makes you unhappy, Bernadetta.”

Would he vanquish her father? Was he even capable of that?

Bernadetta realized she hadn’t brought her bear with her, and grabbed a spare throw pillow to hug. She was tempted to turn in Ferdinand’s direction and cuddle him back, but she was too afraid.

Ferdinand’s breaths steadied and fell into a small rhythm, indicating he was asleep. His legs moved, and his ankles twisted themselves against her legs, intertwining like tree branches. Bernadetta couldn’t help but notice they were now physically entwined. His embrace was so warm and affectionate, and this time she was near certain he had fallen asleep.

Bernadetta wanted him to never let go.


Ferdinand got a missive from Dorothea the following day, asking him to meet with her in the apartments where she and the other members of the opera lived in.

He was wary at first, because that was how rumors often spread and he couldn’t afford a scandal at the level of his father when he was so close to seizing power as prime minister. He was aware of his father’s multiple dalliances and the issue that resulted from them. It wouldn’t be fair to Bernadetta if she were to receive such falsities. 

But it was the urgency of Dorothea’s message that prompted him to pay a visit.

She was wearing a simple blue dress when he arrived that morning. Her face was makeup-free and serious. The room was barren except for posters that hung around the walls and the endless vases of roses that littered her cabinet shelves. They appeared to be recently sent.

“What is the matter, Dorothea? It surely cannot be another threat?” It had been just over two years ever since Dorothea’s last scuffle with the nobility. It was a Faerghan noble who had asked for her hand, but then proceeded to kidnap her. Ferdinand and Lorenz had apprehended the dastard, but because he had diplomatic immunity and seemingly endless wealth, the only consequence he faced was banishment from The Adrestian Empire. 

“No, but I’m worried about Bern.”

“Bernadetta?”

“I paid her a visit the other day, but I was kicked out and told we could never be friends, that we lived in two different worlds. It just seemed...odd, is all.” Dorothea pursed her lips. “I’m concerned.”

“She has been plagued by nightmares as of late.”

Dorothea crossed her arms. “Hmm…”

“What is it?”

“That’s got me thinking...Has Bern experienced any—how do I phrase this?— Trauma?”

Ferdinand shook his head. “I do not know and I cannot say for certain. There have been rumors of her reclusive nature, but they are tied to baseless claims. House Varley has historically been a rather private family so it is difficult to gauge.” All he knew was that both times they were out and about together in public events, Bernadetta was worse for the wear. The one area of commonality was that her parents became involved in some way. However, Ferdinand couldn’t say that with one hundred percent certainty. As loathe as Ferdinand was to admit, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility of Bernadetta having experienced some sort of traumatic event at the hand of one of her parents. It would have certainly explained some of her behavior. But even if that were true, he wouldn’t have known what exactly happened to her. Not unless he asked her about it upfront. He didn’t think their relationship was deep enough for Bernadetta to open up about any kind of traumatic event in her life.

“Something’s wrong, Ferdie. I want to come over and resolve the issue but she’s said some alarming things.”

“Whatever do you speak of?”

“That we weren’t of the same level and shouldn’t be associating with one other.”

“Her father may have told her to stay away from commoners.” Unfortunately, it was a normal sentiment felt among many nobles throughout F ó dlan. It would certainly line up with House Varley’s sequestered ways. 

“Figures. But I believed we were making real progress in our friendship.”

Ferdinand shared her concerns about his wife. He had a pressing errand to run in Brigid but he was delaying it for as long as he could until he was absolutely certain Bernadetta would be okay.

“I believe in time, she will come around.” He thought of the two nights they spent together with Bernadetta in his arms. He never would have imagined a year ago that he’d get this close to her. His thoughts soon began to move towards how soft and warm she felt against him, the way he felt so relaxed at the thought of her—

“You’re blushing, Ferdie. I’d certainly love to know what’s on your mind.”

“N-nothing of concern!”

“But this meeting of ours does make me feel slightly better. Key word being ‘slightly’ here. Don’t think I’ll give up on our Bern just yet!”

“I will inform you once her parents leave Enbarr. I believe her father has left, but I will ask. Bernadetta will likely be easier to approach if that is the case.”

Ferdinand believed Dorothea had the right idea. The best strategy with Bernadetta was to be persistent with her. To never give up on her and show her she was special. That she was deeply cared for and valued. 

For that was how he truly felt about her, and he would dedicate the rest of his days to letting her know that.

Chapter Text

Bernadetta felt immense guilt over her treatment of Dorothea, who didn’t deserve the things she said to her.

Yet despite that, the memory disguised as a nightmare kept persisting. She didn’t want to bother Ferdinand by returning to his bed so instead she endured them. 

The most searing part of her memory had been the hair pulling. She remembered the amount of force he used on her, the way his fingers crumpled around her hair, grabbing as much as he could with his fist and dragging her towards him. 

When she looked into the mirror, she saw her hair was past her shoulders, but not long enough to reach her elbows. It was only just shorter than when the incident with her friend happened. 

Even though the worst punishment she had faced was hair pulling and an uncomfortable examination from the family doctor, it was nothing compared to what her friend experienced, with him being beaten within an inch of his life. She didn’t want someone as wonderful as Dorothea to face the same fate. She had an entire career to worry about. Her father could easily have someone tear her throat apart, rendering her unable to talk or sing. Her life would be ruined, and all because she sought out a friendship with Bernadetta.

She wasn’t worth having a friendship with.

Bernadetta scoured the office room and then Ferdinand’s room. She had found the item she was seeking in his room, but they were far too small for her to utilize properly. An idea had come to her and she ran to the kitchen, taking out the knife. 

Do it, Bernie, and the nightmares could stop.

It was the only way. 

Bernadetta held the knife high against her back, closed her eyes, and cut through her hair as quickly and swiftly as possible.

Chunks fell on the floor, her hair falling delicately. She felt a weight lift from her head. Better.

She picked up the pieces on the floor and threw them out. It was right then and there that Ferdinand had come home. His mouth was wide open in shock at her sudden change in appearance. 

“Bernadetta...You cut your hair.” She couldn’t tell if that was a good reaction or not.

She felt sheepish all of a sudden. “I...I uh...Does it look good? I did it myself.” She turned around.

“Your hair is uneven in the back. Would you mind if I trimmed it a little to balance it out?”

“Could you?”

“Of course.”

Ferdinand led her to his room, where he kept the scissors on the highest shelf. Of course she couldn’t find it. It was too high for her to reach.

She sat on the edge of the bed while Ferdinand sat behind her, snipping away wordlessly.

“I am done,” he said after a few minutes. Her hair now felt even lighter, except for two trails that ran near the nape of her neck. She ran her fingers through the remnants of her hair. No one could ever pull them again.

There was a silence in the air before Ferdinand spoke up. “I have often wondered if I ought to do the same.”

“What do you mean?”

“I used to sport short hair myself, until I had errand after errand and did not find the time to trim it properly. Eventually, people complimented me for being fashion forward. I could not find myself speaking the truth: that I simply could not care for my hair for the time being.”

“It suits you, though! Your hair is so pretty and gallant. You look like a knight in shining armor!” Bernadetta didn’t realize just how embarrassing her words truly were but Ferdinand lit up nonetheless.

“That reminds me,” he said, “I have never shown you my armor collection, have I?” 

The next few hours were spent in a room Ferdinand had fashioned as his storage of weapons and armor. Bernadetta never entered the room mostly due to the fact that it was locked. She was a little curious of it but not curious enough to have asked Ferdinand in the past. She had been too scared then.

The room was just as big as their rooms and Bernadetta found his armory fascinating. Ferdinand had a story for each and every single piece in the room. Best of all, it had this really nice, comforting smell that was somehow very Ferdinand. He claimed it was a cleaning oil he mixed up for his gauntlets, but Bernadetta had a feeling there was a kitchen ingredient involved. Cooking oil was likely used.

After some time, Bernadetta yawned. 

“I can see that you are tired,” he said.

“A little, yeah.”

“Are you still having nightmares?”

Bernadetta paused before giving him the barest of nods. 

“You are more than welcome to stay with me,” he said. 

There was nothing more she wanted than to have him close to her again. It wasn’t something she could explain but he was so calming. Bernadetta wasn’t a fan of the sun, but to her, Ferdinand felt like the sun personified. He was so bright and cheerful and she wanted to be near him whenever she could so she could have a semblance of his positivity. “Thank you,” she managed to say.

When they entered his room again, Ferdinand held her hand. “Bernadetta...you are always welcome to stay here whenever you wish. I will not mind.”

She yawned. Ferdinand had let go of her hand. “Um...I’m going to um...get ready.”

When she came back with Captain Snufflekins in tow, she saw Ferdinand was already dressed for bed. He had tucked himself under the red covers, a small candlelight blazing on his nightstand. He had a book in his hands. 

“Would you mind if I partake in some light reading while you sleep?”

Bernadetta wasn’t sure if she wanted to call the massive book in his hands as light reading, but she wasn’t one to criticize another person’s reading material. She shook her head and climbed in besides Ferdinand. “I don’t mind at all.”

“If the candlelight bothers you, you need not hesitate to tell me.”

Bernadetta could only yawn, feeling the instant comfort of sharing the bed with Ferdinand again. 


She had woken up in the middle of the night. The candlelight was still on and she noticed Ferdinand had a blank look on his face. He had barely made any progress in his book.

“Ferdinand?”

He jumped at the sound of her voice.

“You’re still awake. Are you okay?”

“I am afraid sleep is eluding me tonight,” he said. Bernadetta cursed herself for being useless. “It is nothing you did,” he said, reading her mind. 

“What’s wrong?” she asked as he set the book down, sunk down to her level and turned in her direction. The soft candlelight danced behind him. The color of the candlelight amplified his hair color, looking fluorescent in the light.

“Some nights I…” He closed his eyes and winced. “When we were married, I had nights like this quite often. There is an expectation a von Aegir must live up to.”

“What kinds of expectations?” Bernadetta asked, stifling a yawn. She hated herself for yawning. She didn’t want to appear uninterested in what he was saying. She looked down and found his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. 

“My father has said my entire life that a noble must be held to their own standard. I did what I could to embody what a noble must be. I would spend my days training with my lance and go horseback riding and I would spend my nights reading treatises and the diplomatic history of my ancestors. I do my best to emulate what a von Aegir must be. I want to look the part, I want to dress and speak as a Prime Minister would.”

It certainly explained why he spoke the way he did. Ferdinand rarely used contractions in his speech and often spoke with such a stiff formality. Even during their most intimate moments, he kept that demeanor. But it was who he was.

“But knowing my father’s misdeeds, I do not know how I can possibly show the noble standard now that he has irreparably damaged our name. There have been centuries of von Aegirs changing the world for the better and I want to live up to that expectation.” Was that what he was worried about?

“Every family has someone who does bad instead of good. Not everyone in a family is perfect.” She thought of her own family and how she felt the opposite. “I think you have the power to change that perception, Ferdinand.”

Ferdinand closed his eyes and sighed. To Bernadetta, he looked so weary. She was tempted to wrap her arms around him and reassure him, but instead, she just squeezed his hand some more. “My greatest fear is that my efforts will not bear fruit. Ideally, I would want to be loved and seen throughout history as a respected Prime Minister. I have often stayed awake, wondering what the history books would say about me. I want their words to paint me as inspirational, that my actions and deeds have brought upon reform for the better.”

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” Bernadetta said.

Ferdinand laughed. “I suppose it is.”

“Can I ask you something?” she asked. 

“Anything.”

“What’s your um...plan?” Bernadetta winced, knowing the question was too vague. “Um...When you’re Prime Minister, what’s the one thing you want to accomplish?” She had been married to him for almost a year and a half and she still didn’t know. 

“My top priority is to bridge the gap between the nobility and the rest by implementing free education all across the Empire. I have sampled the literacy rate throughout the Empire and there are many among the commoner class who cannot even read. There are many talented people who are not living their lives to their full potential because they lack the means to afford a good education.”

“That’s not a bad plan,” she said. “I think you can do that.”

“You do?” there was hope in his voice. 

“I really do. It doesn’t sound easy, but um…” Bernadetta was cut off by the candlelight going out, the room now dark and still.  “I know you can do it.”

Ferdinand released his hand from hers and placed himself behind her, his arm around her. “Perhaps it is time to go to bed,” he said.

“Do you feel better?” she asked. 

“Yes. Talking to you, Bernadetta...You help me so much. I appreciate you listening to me.”

“I want to help you, Ferdinand,” she said.

“You do so much already.”

“I don’t.” She began talking again right when he was beginning to protest. “I want to help you more. You’re the one doing all of the paperwork and management and stuff and I just lay in my room, doing nothing.”

“You are not simply ‘doing nothing’.”

“But who else will do this when you’re away? Ferdinand, you can’t just be Prime Minister and manage your territory at the same time. I'm not confident with numbers and I don’t have the experience but I can try my best, but...Can you...Can you help me so I can help you?”

There was silence in the room.

“Then if that is the case, you will find no better teacher than Ferdinand von Aegir.” Ferdinand yawned. “Talking to you had relinquished me of my burdens. I find myself becoming exhausted.”

She felt him beckoning her closer to him and she readily complied, allowing him to hold her tight as they drifted into a peaceful sleep.


Bernadetta decided she wanted to cook something up for Ferdinand as means to surprise him the following day when he returned home. He was always so kind to her she wanted to do something nice for him as well.

“This aroma…” Ferdinand said when he arrived, immediately stepping inside the kitchen. “It is simply superb!!” He had arrived earlier than Bernadetta expected. She felt her instincts taking over.

“Hey! You weren’t supposed to be here so early! No peeking!” She shooed him out of the kitchen before she lost sight of the meat she was cooking. It was important she had to flip it on the pan during a crucial moment and she couldn’t afford any distractions.

When she finished preparing the plate, she found Ferdinand reading on the dining table as she carried their plates. There were other books stacked together neatly. 

“This is scrumptious, Bernadetta!” he said while they ate. 

“I um...I just wanted to surprise you, is all. Sorry for um...chasing you out...” She felt mortified that she had shooed him out of the kitchen in that manner, but he seemed to have forgotten. Tonight didn’t go the way she imagined. She wanted him to come home to a still warm plate and see the look of surprise on his face. Plus, she didn’t like it when people were around to scrutinize her every move. For her, cooking was something she wanted to do for fun, not something that was analyzed. But all things considered, everything had gone perfectly well. 

She hadn’t cooked for anyone in ages. There was no way she’d cook for her father without wanting to add a few secret ingredients to her recipes and her mother wasn’t much into eating.

“It is of no concern, Bernadetta. You most certainly succeeded in all of your endeavors tonight.”  Ferdinand wiped his mouth with a napkin. “You are a remarkable cook.”

“Can you cook, Ferdinand?”

He nodded, but it wasn’t the confident nod she was used to seeing. “I know how to cook. Not that I am very experienced.”

Bernadetta crossed her arms. “Hmm, I guess you’d probably need some simple recipe to start, but I can always teach you! With enough practice, you’ll get really good!”

Ferdinand smiled, sending shockwaves all over her body. 

“Oh! Your cooking left such an impression on me, I simply almost forgot to inform you. I have brought in books on management. I also have a log of my old records as an example for you. Would you like to sit beside me and take a look?”

“Um...sure!”

They were set in a rhythm after that. These days, Ferdinand was busy and away from home, but Bernadetta spent her days cooking, drawing, writing, and tending to her horse. He would come back in the late afternoon and they would often spend time together with him teaching her the basics of estate management and his methods for effectiveness. He also gifted her a twenty volume cookbook of recipes all over Fódlan for her perusal.  

The nightmares began to subside to the point where she would often forget them whenever she woke up. She had never looked forward to sleeping so much until now. Ferdinand always held onto her, his body strong and firm. She was growing used to his embrace, in fact, she felt as though she couldn’t sleep without it sometimes. 

The only thing that bothered her was the way she ended her blossoming friendship with Dorothea. 

She appeared again a few weeks after Bernadetta rejected her friendship. She knew that Ferdinand was still good friends with her, but she couldn’t imagine why she was here.

“Hey Bern,” she said. “You cut your hair! I love it!”

“Um...why are you here? Are you here to tell me I’m terrible? I deserve it.”

Bern, I've just been worried about you. That's all. When I said I was your friend, you ran away, saying something about your father. Remember?”

“Um...Vaguely?” Bernadetta watched her feet, feeling stupid when she had forgotten to offer Dorothea some tea. She didn’t want to lose her again. “Would you like some tea?”

“I would be delighted!”

Bernadetta made the two of them tea. 

“Bernadetta, is everything alright?”

She nodded. “I’m sorry, Dorothea! Please don’t hate me!”

“Why would I ever hate you?”

“I...I kicked you out of here. I hurt your feelings.”

Dorothea laced her fingers together. “Well, it did sting a little but you kept saying things about your father. If you want to tell me about it, you can.”

“Oh...um...I…”

“Your father isn’t here now. Whatever it is, you’re safe to tell me.”

“All right…” Bernadetta sat besides Dorothea. “My parents told me never to befriend a commoner. They said commoners are scum and that he'd crush any that tried to come near me.” Dorothea’s mouth went slack. 

“Hang on. Scum? They called me—I mean commoners—they called us scum?”

“But once, a long time ago, I did secretly make friends with one...a boy. When my father found out about him, he disappeared the very next day. I heard he was found beaten half to death. I never saw him again. Since then, I've been terrified of making friends with anyone, commoners, especially.”

Dorothea scooted her chair closer to Bernadetta, her hand on Bernadetta’s. “I... I never knew that kind of thing really happened. You hear stories, sure, but... Oh, Bern. I'm so sorry.”

Bernadetta was quiet. Moments later, her lip began to quiver. “My father...he’s a very scary man.” She couldn’t hold back a sob any longer. “If he hurt you...he could end your career at the opera...All because you befriended me. I’m not worth the effort.”

“Relax, Bern. I’m not afraid of the likes of him. I’ve met plenty of people like him before. If your dad tried to beat me up, I'd return the favor and then some! I’ve had run-ins with the most wicked, terrible men. I survived kidnappings, attempted murders, all kinds of stuff during my time here at the opera. But you know what? I broke those guys' arms. Snap! It was a thank-you for all the trouble they went through trying to hurt me.”

Bernadetta imagined a circle of silhouetted faceless men surrounding Dorothea with ill intent. Dorothea prevailed against each and every single one of them. Bernadetta wished she could be like that. “You’re incredible, Dorothea!”

“So now that you know I can defend myself, can we be friends, Bern?” Her hand squeezed hers.

“All right. Yeah ... yeah!”

Bernadetta poured the tea for the two of them. All was starting to feel right again. Dorothea spoke up again. 

“Your father...does he mistreat you?”

She felt her insides freeze at the question. “What makes you think that?”

“I don’t know. I just wanted to ask. You don’t have to answer at all if you don’t want to.”

Bernadetta blew on her tea. She could trust her. Dorothea knew what it was like to face such a difficult situation. “Um...He’s a very greedy man and obsessed with money. He’s only ever seen me as bait for a rich husband.” Bernadetta debated on continuing. Her problems felt so insignificant compared to Dorothea’s. “I was trained to be a good, submissive wife so I was chained to a chair all day. He would challenge me to stay quiet.”

Dorothea set her tea aside and gave Bernadetta a hug. Her hugs were different than Ferdinand’s. They were bonier, yet still full of affection. 

“After that incident with the boy, I wasn’t allowed to make any more friends. Soon, I stopped wanting them and was happiest alone.”

“Your father is a repulsive man, Bernadetta. I would do more than just snap his arm open if I ever encountered him.” Her eyes were watery. Angry tears were running down her face.

“My problems aren’t much compared to yours.”

Dorothea wiped her face. “Just because our problems are different doesn’t mean one is worse than the other. You were tortured, abused, and exploited by someone who was supposed to love and care for you unconditionally. And trust me, you deserve all of the love in the world.” Dorothea paused. “Does Ferdinand know?”

“No,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Please don’t tell him!” Bernadetta’s guilt was now replaced with the fact that she had been married to Ferdinand for over a year and a half and told someone else about her upbringing. She wasn’t sure how she could go about that with him. They were so close with each other and she was very afraid to tell him. She didn’t know why she was paralyzed with fear the thought of telling him, but she was.

“It’s not my story to tell.”

“Should I tell him? He’ll be so mad at me...”

“I think you should, but whenever you’re ready, Bern. And believe me, he’ll completely understand. I truly believe Ferdinand will always be there to love and protect you from all harm.”

Bernadetta wanted to believe her with all of her might. But instead, she grabbed her teacup from its saucer and changed the topic to something more pleasant, feeling relieved that she had re-acquired her friend back.

Chapter Text

Brigid was warm no matter the time of year, but in the early autumn, it was blistering. Ferdinand didn’t pack anything weather appropriate so he was always sweating or on the verge of sweating. Ferdinand had to constantly rotate his handkerchiefs whenever one was too damp to use. However, today he got a pleasant surprise in his mail.

 

Dear Ferdinand, 

I’m sending you a dress shirt with this letter. I made this one myself and it’s of stronger materials than some of the ones you already had so it should be easier to manage with all that heat. I don’t know how much longer you’re going to be in Brigid so I figured you could wear one made out of linen. I’m glad you’re doing okay, Ferdinand! Please stay safe and hydrated! I’m excited to see you again!

Yours, 

Bernie

 

Ferdinand almost ripped off his current top, which was half moist and replaced it with the one Bernadetta sent for him, which was a dark blue fabric. He felt the difference immediately. 

It was strange being in a different room. Brigid’s royalty did not live in estates like they did in Enbarr. Instead, they lived in wide, open houses with endless space. Each room had a view of the gardens outside, and Brigid had plenty of flora. He wished Bernadetta could bear witness to it.

Petra, the Queen of Brigid and an old friend of Ferdinand’s, was training outside in the training area. Petra was using the sword today. Brigid’s swords were lighter than those of Fódlan, but were less powerful. Ferdinand figured out that the lightness of her weapons was why Petra overexerted herself with force. She had no weaknesses with in regards to weaponry and was someone he couldn’t underestimate in sparring. 

“You are wearing a new blouse, Ferdinand,” she said.

“My wife sent it to me.”

“Your wife made the blouse?”

“Bernadetta enjoys tailoring and fashioning new things.”

“Your wife is enjoying many things,” Petra said. It was true, now that he thought about it. She was good at just about everything, except for going outside. “Excuse my rudeness, Ferdinand.” She handed him a spear. 

He was rusty when he had come to Brigid. He spent so much time doing paperwork and with Bernadetta that he had neglected his combat training. 

Petra was a skilled fighter, moving with a speed and dexterity that Ferdinand had to constantly monitor for openings. Petra always had a predictable pattern but with her, timing was everything. Ferdinand wasn’t as speedy or dexterous as her, but he prefered balance to his combat as a jack-of-all-trades. It was better to display little weaknesses than to focus on one or two strengths. 

Petra won the first two rounds. Ferdinand the next two. 

“I like it when you talk about Bernie,” she said. “She is always welcome to Brigid.” Throughout most of his conversations with Petra, he would somehow always make the conversation about his wife. He couldn’t help it. He wanted to let others know how good she was. He wanted the entire world to know.

But this time, Ferdinand furrowed his brow. He didn’t tell his wife the real reason he was visiting Brigid. He had discovered a trace of Count Varley’s dealings with corrupt mercenaries from Brigid and Dagda and had a secret stash of stolen money hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t only that, but he had unsanctioned battalions attacking commoners who did physically laborious work. Ferdinand was almost certain he was pocketing the money from commoners. 

The true problem therein was that once Ferdinand discovered traces of Count Varley’s misdeeds, he also found that of other Fódlan nobles, including his own father and Count Gloucester, who were two of the biggest names in this particular scandal. 

As far as Bernadetta and the rest of Fódlan’s nobles knew, he was making improvements with Brigid and Fódlan’s relationship as a quasi-ambassador. Few people knew of his true plans. That he was staging a coup against his father. He always knew that he would eventually unseat his father, but it was only imminent now. 

He had to be careful with who he told. The only person who had known was Dorothea, but he felt Lorenz had to know of his father’s going-ons. Telling Bernadetta of her father’s misdeeds was something he was afraid of informing her about. The idea of her own husband imprisoning her father and stripping him of his power sounded cruel to Ferdinand, even though he had his own separate concerns over Count Varley’s treatment of his daughter. He didn’t want to put any strain on their relationship, not when he tried so hard to form their bonds. 

He recalled Dorothea’s words from not too long ago. She grabbed him by the arm, her nails digging into the fabric of his coat. “If you ever hurt Bern in any way, I will kill you. I don’t care that I’m your friend, I will destroy you.” It was a far departure of her usual behavior with him. 

“Ferdinand?” Petra asked. “Are you lost?”

“Lost?” he said. “I am here, yes.” Ferdinand understood what she meant. “You mean lost in thoughts?”

“Yes. Ferdinand looks lost in thoughts.”

“My wife’s father is not a very noble nobleman. The mere thought of taking him down, and my own father alongside him, is quite daunting. I do not wish to hurt her.”

He had looked into any witness accounts or testimonials over Bernadetta’s relationship with her father and had found almost nothing about them. It was, of course, expected if you were investigating the social relationship in one of the Empire’s most secluded houses. It was always easier to find financial documents and other external information. 

The only thing he had found was that Bernadetta once had an uncle who she was close to, but he died almost a decade ago. He had already known about her uncle thanks to the bear Bernadetta always slept with and her attachment to it must have carried over from the sentiments she felt towards her uncle.

Petra’s eyes met Ferdinand. “Perhaps Bernie will be okay.” Her eyes lit up. “Brigid is having many things you can give her.”  

Ferdinand’s stressful thoughts vanished into thin air. There was nothing he enjoyed more than giving Bernadetta a gift. At first, he was gifting her in order to make her feel wanted and comfortable around him. They were simply strangers. In hindsight, Ferdinand could have viewed his actions as selfish in a certain light. He didn’t want to bribe Bernadetta into liking him, but after their first anniversary, he had become unable to stop. Seeing her smile and appreciate his gifts made him want to keep making her happy. It was like an addiction.

“You are correct, Petra. What can I give my wife when I return?”

“Here in Brigid we have many hunting daggers.”

“Err…” Ferdinand didn’t believe Bernadetta would appreciate that. 

“Sunflowers are popular as well.”

An idea hit Ferdinand. “Bernadetta has rather... unusual taste in plants.”

“Brigid is having many plants.”

“It’s err...those insect eating ones.” Ferdinand tried not to think of the one plant he knew of, the one known for snapping shut whenever something flew in its orbit. The thought of a plant eating a fly was grotesque to him. Insects in general were repulsive to him. 

“Brigid is having many of those, Ferdinand! Allow me to take you to the gardens.” 

There were gardens everywhere, but Petra appeared to have a personal garden filled with many exotic species Ferdinand couldn’t even identify. 

Petra pointed to an innocuous looking purple plant with a trumpet-like leaf. “A...fly will...um, fly inside and the water gives great harm to it.”

“And I can take one?” The description was disgusting but he supposed it was better than actually see the plant attack the insect and seeing it die. This one appeared to be more discreet with the way it consumed its meals.

“Ferdinand can take as many as he pleases. Bernie is a friend to Brigid as well.”

He knew Bernadetta would be more than pleased with this gift. He looked forward to seeing her smile more than ever now. 


“You spent most of your time sequestered in your room, studying your books. On the rare occasion you went outside, you were paralyzed with fascination.”

“Of course! There are so many fascinating things to be learned from nature! There are a great many books out there, and I have read most of them, of course. But I've found that what is written can differ greatly from how things truly are. Take this chemida beetle, for example. I've been reading from "The Glossary of Falibrian Entomology" lately. According to the glossary, their wings fall off once they reach maturity. However, I have just found an adult beetle whose wings still work perfectly! Exceptions do exist to the rules my books outline. This is a rare specimen. I wonder, should we take it back with us?”

He placed his hand on his chin, his orange hair shaking as he realized she could use the beetle against him.

 

“Orange hair? Is he supposed to have orange hair?” Bernadetta said to herself. 

Bernadetta greatly underestimated just how much she’d missed Ferdinand. Last year, they would say no more than five words to each other a day and now that they were separated, she found herself thinking about him even during the moments that didn’t require it. 

She kept visualizing her protagonists. They were childhood friends out on an adventure when they’re suddenly thrust into a war involving deadly monsters. She was studious and proud, yet reclusive, and he was pious yet odd and strongly empathetic.  And then they fall in love. 

No Bernie, they’re not supposed to fall in love. In fact, now that I think about it, did she always have short purple hair?

Bernadetta wrangled with the story she was writing before she was interrupted. 

“Hey Bern! I was told you can be found here?” It was Dorothea. 

Bernadetta had been currently occupying the study room and had pleasantly found out it was a comfortable place for writing. It also contained Ferdinand’s presence, which she found comforting. 

“Hi Dorothea!” She set her quill aside. “What brings you here?”

“Well, I heard Ferdie’s been gone for some time now. You must be really lonely without him so I came to pay you a visit!” Ordinarily, Bernadetta would have found salvation in solitude, but lately, the solitude felt...well, lonely. 

She missed Ferdinand. From his endless conversation topics to his insistence for tea to the way he’d hold her late at night when the world wasn’t watching. It felt like a piece of her was missing. 

“So what were you doing?”

“Um...nothing, really!”

“You’re writing something. Are you writing a love letter to Ferdie?”

“N-No!”

“I’m just teasing you, Bern.”

“It’s a story I’m trying to write. It’s nothing important.”

“A story? You know I love stories!” she said, trying to take a peek. Bernadetta hid her text. “I love stories with dashing heroes! With plucky heroes! But a story isn’t quite a story without a strong supporting cast!” She remembered Dorothea once offered to read something she wrote but that never materialized. She supposed Dorothea decided to quietly drop the matter. Then again, Bernadetta did cause that temporary rift in their friendship.

“I know, right?”

Dorothea crossed her arms. “Hmm, I’ve never tried writing a story myself, but I have so many ideas. Usually, I read them and then act them out on stage.”

An idea struck Bernadetta out of nowhere. It was better than just having Dorothea read her stories. “Maybe...maybe we can try writing one together! Though maybe not the one I’m working on, but a brand new one!” The idea of working with Dorothea sounded pleasant.

“That sounds great!” She pursed her lips. “Actually, I came here to pay you a visit so we could go hang out somewhere! I know where all the best shops in Enbarr are!” Bernadetta was uncertain of going shopping with Dorothea, but she had come all the way here and Bernadetta admitted she was curious to see what Dorothea thought best shops in Enbarr were…

“Um...Okay!” 

*

Dorothea had very different shopping ideas than Bernadetta did. 

While Bernadetta preferred to shop for books and supplies, Dorothea much preferred to shop for clothing and she was a fan of clothes that were...not Bernadetta’s style at all. 

“This is cute. I think it would look amazing on you!” She held up a short magenta minidress. It was too...provocative for her. Bernadetta inadvertently pinched her lips together. “Too much?”

“Um...yes?” She didn’t feel comfortable showing too much skin, especially in certain places.

“Nevermind, then.”

Bernadetta hovered towards the nearby accessory section when Dorothea was deeply focusing on on a pile of dresses. She saw a metallic purple and white pin made in the shape of a lily. 

“My, you have superb taste in aesthetics. Might I recommend this one.” A tall man with uneven purple hair a few shades lighter than her said. He was holding a purple rose brooch. His other hand was on his hip.

Dorothea stormed into their sight. “What are you doing here, Lorenz?”

“I am visiting my favorite accessory store, of course. It’s a pleasure seeing you here, Dorothea.”

Dorothea’s arms were crossed. “This is mostly a clothing store, Lorenz.”

“It is, but unless my eyes are blind, I see there’s an accessory section in front of us.” The man, Lorenz’s eyes fell on Bernadetta. “Forgive me for asking this, but won’t you introduce me to your friend, Dorothea?”

“Are you calling me rude, Lorenz?”

“You are putting words in my mouth, Dorothea. I merely said I wanted to meet your friend. I believe I deserve to at least know her name, especially considering she is one with a good sense of aesthetics.”

“Lorenz, this is Bernadetta,” she began through gritted teeth, “Bern, this is Lorenz. Oh wait. That’s right. Lorenz Hellman Gloucester .”

Recognition shone through his eyes. “Bernadetta? You are Ferdinand’s bride, yes?”

“Um…” Bride? “Yes?”

“What a small world. I am a dear friend of your husband. I have been longing to meet you, however, my timing has never been fortuitous. Until today, of course,” he said, laughing. “It seems serendipity had brought us here together.”  His laugh was very controlled, almost stilted, and it made Bernadetta feel awkward.

“What are you doing here?” Dorothea asked.

“I had some business in the Empire today. Something to do with going-ons throughout my territory and the like and I believed I would stop at my favorite store while I was in town.” Lorenz’s gaze fell on Dorothea, except Bernadetta noticed his eyes never quite made contact with hers. “It is lovely meeting you here, Dorothea, and meeting you for the first time, Bernadetta.”

Lorenz began to leave when he turned around and turned in Dorothea’s direction, his eyes finally meeting hers. He turned away. 

“Um,” Bernadetta asked. “Uh...I don’t know how to phrase this but--”

“Lorenz isn’t worth talking about. The only thing we have in common is our mutual friendship with Ferdie.” She grabbed a pile of clothes and held onto them. “Also, I love accessories! I may disagree with Lorenz on most things, but that purple rose brooch is really cute!”

She ultimately decided on purchasing both the lily and the rose and a maroon long sleeve, knee-length dress Dorothea convinced her to buy. It was actually quite cute, with a ribbon in the center of the waist.

Bernadetta’s questioning of Dorothea and Lorenz’s relationship was further confounded when the shopkeep said that the man clad in purple said to add everything they bought to his tab. 

“I’m going to snap his neck,” Dorothea said. 

“P-please don’t! He’s Ferdinand’s friend, right?”

“He knows better than to do that.”

“Um...is he...Is he um…” In love with you?

“I don’t even know, and even if he was, I’m not one of his noble girls so that’s not going to go anywhere.” Dorothea closed her breath and huffed, her body tensing in irritation. “Anyway, enough about him. I think you should wear that dress when Ferdie gets back.”

Dorothea and Bernadetta spent the rest of the afternoon together, talking about everything and nothing, including possible ideas for their story. Bernadetta felt at peace being with her friend, no longer worried her father would come after her. 

Their time together ended just before nightfall, when Dorothea warned her to be careful in the main part of Enbarr after dark. Dorothea promised they would spend more time together whenever she would have another free day, especially since she had no idea when Ferdinand would return. 

Bernadetta returned to an empty house and found herself back in Ferdinand’s room. 

It contained little of him on account of him being gone so long. She could no longer find traces of him except for his armory. The pillows and Ferdiedog no longer smelled like him, nor were they marked in the ways he liked to sleep. Her desperation for him was worse at night, especially when it was just her alone in the entire house. She wondered if he was feeling the same in Brigid.

She woke up the following day cuddling both plushies, her first thoughts of the day once again centered on Ferdinand. She missed his presence. The way he would always say the right things, the way he tried so hard to be her friend, how he always wanted to share their time together and have meaningful discussions. She missed his long, glossy hair and the way his eyes were always bright and sincere. But most of all, she found herself missing his embrace. Bernadetta had never in her life felt safe. Cared for, yes, but when her uncle died, she felt as though no one would ever care for her again. Not to mention, Ferdinand gave the most powerful hugs. 

Bernadetta spent that afternoon in the stables tending to their horses. Ferdinand’s stallion, usually an easygoing and happy-go-lucky horse, was tense and had a sliver of sadness in his eyes, although it was less evident now that she was brushing his mane and feeling him apple slices.

“I miss him, too, you know,” she said. “He would have loved to take you with him to Brigid, but I don’t know if you were needed there. But um...you’re with me now.” 

The horse pouted in response. Bernadetta wondered if the horse understood what she said. She knew Ferdinand loved speaking to him constantly, so maybe that was the case. 

After tending to the horses, she resumed her time in the study, checking her bookkeeping journal for any discrepancies and hoping that a letter from Ferdinand would arrive, detailing when he’d come back.

But today, that letter never arrived.

Chapter Text

Ferdinand was gone for nearly two months when Bernadetta got the letter she was praying for. She was in the middle of reading a missive from the Aegir territory and writing down the numbers in a bookkeeping journal, but now everything would have to take a backseat now that she had received word from him.

 

Dearest Bernadetta,

As I pen this letter, I am sitting in a fishing harbor in Brigid, my legs dangling from a wooden pier. Worry not, for my legs are not near the water and I am a competent swimmer if I were to fall in! Sometimes I go here to clear my thoughts, for I have many, including some I have yet to share with you, Bernadetta. I do truly believe there will be a time where we can share more with each other. I believe that time is approaching with due haste. 

I must also confess, I sit in this pier as it faces the direction of where Enbarr is across the ocean. Across from you. I do so worry for your welfare. If you are experiencing nightmares and a deep sadness that I cannot help you with. When I am away from you, I feel as though my duty as a husband has failed, but it is at the cost of being the future Prime Minister of Adrestia, which has been my destiny since I breathed my first breath. A destiny that must come to pass soon.

My business in Brigid has almost reached its conclusion, Bernadetta, and I should arrive home in four days' time. Based upon my calculations, by the time this letter reaches you, my arrival shall be scheduled for tomorrow at the port in Enbarr. You need not wait any longer, my dear Bernadetta. I will be home.

Unconditionally Yours,

Ferdinand von Aegir

 

Bernadetta reread the letter again three more times in a row, trying to process what he said, which was quite a lot. She knew that he had a lot of work to tend to, but was there more than what she had known about? He sounded almost melancholy. To be fair, she was feeling the same way, except the nightmares had subsided again (mostly, with the occasional nightmare happening once or twice a week that she could barely remember). 

But more importantly, he was coming home. Tomorrow!

Bernadetta imagined him arriving in his carriage at home and she would run out of the house, eager to greet him. But that sounded so wrong to her. She took in a deep breath. No, she would meet Ferdinand in the port herself and give him the surprise of a lifetime. She was going to go farther than she usually did when she went out by herself, but it would be worth it in the end. She could do this.


Ferdinand had packed more in his bags than when he had come to Brigid. Petra had given him multiple provisions, as well as a rug fashioned in the Brigid style from animal pelts. He was carrying a container with the pitcher plant in his hands. The more time he spent with the plant, the more he started to grow attached to it. 

The color was pretty, and the way it looked was so unassuming. Plus, it had bloomed a most beautiful and unusual flower at the top. Perhaps there was more to this flower than he initially thought of.

He tried not to think about the fact that it was carnivorous. 

Petra’s library had books from around the world and she happened to own a book detailing Brigid’s flora written in his language. 

Caring for purple pitcher plants (Sarracenia): Sarracenia grow best under direct sunlight. Pick a location with strong sunlight. Sarracenia like acid, nutrient poor moisture retentive soil. Avoid rich soil. Make sure to keep the soil moist/wet and do not let the soil dry out. 

But it was the last paragraph that brought relief to Ferdinand. 

Do not fertilize or give meat to this plant! When left outdoors, Sarracenia can feed themselves!

The idea of feeding...it...sounded repulsive to him, but the more he read about the basic care of one, the easier being around it was. In fact, he was starting to look forward to ordering the correct soil and helping Bernadetta with caring for the plant. 

He felt butterflies rise in his stomach as he saw Enbarr materializing in the distance as the ship fast approached the harbor. Ferdinand had never felt so happy to be home. He knew that Petra’s soldiers would arrive in Fódlan at the ready, but for now, he wanted to rest at home and spend time with Bernadetta, who was always not far from his mind. 

He wondered if she had received his letter. The weather had been perfect these past few days, so he had assumed she likely did. 

Ferdinand watched the city grow closer and closer until it was time to gather his belongings from his cabin and sent them outside to a nearby transport carriage. 

He got out of the boat and onto the wharf. It felt strange to stand on the rock-solid concrete floor after says of being on a rocky, wooden ship. It was almost dizzying. “If you will, please send them to that carriage over ther—”

“Ferdinand!” a voice saying his name interrupted him. Who could possibly be here?

He turned around and was face-to-face with Bernadetta herself. She was wearing a dark red dress he had never seen before with a ribbon tied to the waist. The dress billowed with the ocean breeze. She was simply breathtaking to behold. For a second, he thought this was a seasick dream, but he remembered he didn’t get seasick. Bernadetta von Varley was here, in the flesh. In Ferdinand’s mind, the world had taken on a rosy hue now that she was here.

“Bernadetta?” he asked, incredulous. 

She shyly nodded. 

She’s here...for me. 

His heart stopped at the realization. He knew it was difficult for her to come out like this and yet, here she was. For a split second, they stood across from one another, until Ferdinand set his things on the ground and welcomed Bernadetta into his arms. 

“I missed you,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. 

“And I missed you, as well.” He nuzzled his face against her hair. She squeezed him tight, as though she didn’t want him to let go. He he didn’t want to, either.

Their embrace lasted for minutes, or maybe hours, until they released their hold on one another. Their faces inches away from one another. Ferdinand had wanted to give Bernadetta a kiss in the past, but during moments she was terrified as means to calm her down. A reassuring forehead kiss. A kiss on the cheek to let her know she was cared for. A kiss on the back of her hand to show encouragement.

But for the first time in their marriage, he wanted to close the small gap between them and kiss her senseless. To feel her lips grazing his had become this intense desire he never experienced before until today. One he now wanted more than anything else in the world. Ferdinand didn’t consider himself to be a man of desire, but he wanted to show her his devotion. That he was…

“Bernadetta?”

“Yes?” her voice was low, almost in anticipation.

He wanted to ask her for permission, but he found himself freezing in sudden fear. You cannot do that, Ferdinand. He couldn’t comprehend his sudden shyness. Ferdinand was not a man to hold back his thoughts but right now, he understood fear. He didn’t want to scare her. Or perhaps it was something else. Maybe he was the one who was afraid.

“I brought you a gift from Brigid!” He raised his hand to the back of his hair. “Er, that is to say, I got us a lot of mementos from Brigid but this one…” He bent down to the items he left on the floor so he could take in Bernadetta’s warm embrace and took the pitcher plant that was laying on the ground in the plastic container.

Bernadetta’s large gray eyes widened and seconds later, she squealed in a way he had never heard before as she accepted the gift. “It’s a purple pitcher plant! You got me a pitcher plant! You’re amazing!”

“Er, uh, yes! Yes it is!”

Bernadetta’s fingers lightly grazed the potted plant, as though a mother giving her child affection. “Oh, Ferdinand, it’s beautiful! I love it!” She placed an arm around him and gave him a one armed hug. 

Her eyes didn’t leave the plant as they made their way to the carriage. Ferdinand noticed that Bernadetta always accepted his gifts with enthusiasm, but this was different. She was awestruck by the plant, as though that insect eating thing was magnificence itself. 

Maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe it wasn’t exactly magnificence itself. Ferdinand observed his wife. It was Bernadetta herself who radiated magnificence. 


Bernadetta watched the pitcher plant in amazement. Her mother had warned her not to ever tell people of her strange interests and Ferdinand was visibly disgusted when she accidentally revealed her love of carnivorous plants to him. But he had actually gifted her one. She couldn’t believe it.

She looked over at him from across her seat. He was staring into the distance outside, his hands laced together. He was deep in thought. 

“Um...Ferdinand?” she asked, her voice shaky.

“Yes, Bernadetta?”

“Is everything alright?”

“Yes. I am just tired, is all, my dear.” He unlaced his hands and placed one above her own. The hairs on the back of her neck rose.

My dear. Had he ever called her that before today? Bernadetta was certain he hadn’t. It made her heart flutter.

Since the moment she had received his letter, she felt her heart going on overdrive. At first she thought it was the idea of going outside to an unknown place and surprising Ferdinand, but the moment she saw him walk out of the boat, she understood why she was like this.

What she didn’t understand was why Ferdinand didn’t kiss her minutes ago. Or at least it certainly seemed so. Maybe I’m just misreading things.

But Bernadetta didn’t want to misread things. The moment was perfect. So why didn’t he...

She didn’t think she’d ever be in this position. She had only read about what was happening to her in books or saw it in operas. It was usually bombastic and full of high-stakes, whirlwind drama. But this...this was quieter, yet powerful all the same. 

His fingers intertwined with hers, causing her already beating heart to pound against her chest. She was surprised Ferdinand had not taken notice.  

Seconds later, she saw Ferdinand had closed his eyes, his head slumping a little bit to the side. 

She closed her own eyes, the image of their moment together before he set aside everything to hold her coming into mind. The way the wind caressed his hair. The sunny, cloudless skies above him. The palpable and pleasant shock registered on his face the very second their eyes met. It was a moment she’d never forget as long as she lived. 

The moment she knew for certain that she was completely, irrevocably in love with Ferdinand von Aegir. 

Chapter Text

She had to draw that moment. It wouldn’t leave her mind. Ferdinand was tired and had gone to bed not long after they arrived home and Bernadetta’s veins were coursing through an adrenaline rush since she had that realization moment not too long ago. 

She started out sketching the boat in the background, followed by the sun, positioned high above where Ferdinand would come to be. 

Every now and then, she would take short breaks where she’d watch the pitcher plant, still in disbelief Ferdinand actually went out and got one for her, despite his distaste for them. It was beginning to bloom, a spectacular purple flower having grown in a long stem above the plant itself. Her fingers grazed the flower. 

She would have to find a place for it tomorrow so it could grow with direct sunlight, but for now, she just wanted to be with her favorite plant. She felt a small temptation to draw it, but she went back to drawing the harbor. 

More time passed and it got harder to see when nightfall hit. Bernadetta’s heart began to race as she envisioned the scene again. 

The way Ferdinand’s face was just inches away from hers. She closed her eyes and imagined the two of them getting closer, closer...Ferdinand tasted like tea, yes. And they would look into each other’s eyes and...and—

“Bernadetta?” Ferdinand was at the entryway of her room. He looked sleepy and was in his nightwear.

Her heart began to pound erratically again. “Huh? Is everything okay?”

“I am fine, my dear.” Ferdinand had no idea the effect “my dear” had on Bernadetta. She avoided his gaze when he said it in a poor effort to act nonchalant. “I was only concerned because it is late.”

“Oh, um...sorry! Um...What time is it, anyway?”

“It is past midnight.”

“Sorry! I got carried away with um....”

“No need to apologize, Bernadetta. There have been many occasions when I got so carried away with the task at hand to the point where I forgot to take care of myself.” Ferdinand gave her a sleepy smile. “Will you come to bed with me or will you stay here?”

“Just give me a minute!”

Bernadetta went to her room, set the sketch aside, and got herself ready for bed. When she put her nightgown on, she realized just how tired she was. The adrenaline rush was finally leaving her system, now replaced with total exhaustion.

Ferdinand was facing the doorway when she entered. She had forgotten she left Captain Snufflekins in his bed and was mildly embarrassed, to see him in Ferdinand’s arms. 

“Do not worry. Captain Snufflekins has done an exemplary job with aiding my slumber!”

“That’s um...good!” She sat on the bed and lifted the blankets, positioning herself next to him. 

“But I would much rather have you next to me,” Ferdinand said. He placed a hand just above her, the other above her abdomen.

Bernadetta’s exhaustion had evaporated in its entirety, once again, with the adrenaline rush once again replacing it. Did Ferdinand know of the effect he was having on her?

“Um...goodnight Ferdinand!” Good way to end that conversation, Bernadetta! She wished he would have kissed her over at the harbor. Wait no! That would make things more awkward! Wouldn't it? 

Ferdinand moved away from Bernadetta to blow out the candles and repositioned himself even closer to her, his body heat making her already hot body even warmer. He wrapped his arms around her. 

“Goodnight, my dear Bernadetta.”

With her heart pounding with the rhythm of a parade, Bernadetta faced Ferdinand’s direction, their faces inches apart once again. It was so easy. She could just close the gap and end this tension already. He would either kiss her back or reject her if she tried. Either way, this...this... torment of being so close to him would be put to an end. 

Bernadetta shakily placed her head closer to him, angling under his chin and an arm went around him. There! That was easy!

Yes, but you didn't kiss him goodnight, Bernie. 

“Bernadetta?” Ferdinand’s voice cut through the darkness of the room. She nearly yelped at the sound of his voice.

“Yes?”

“I missed being here together like this.”

“Me too.”

“Sometimes I think about how you once avoided me for months without end and now, almost two years in, I have become the luckiest man in the world by having you beside me every night when I am home.”

“Ferdinand…” Bernadetta desperately wanted to kiss him, right here, right now, but instead she avoided his gaze. “You don’t know just how lucky I am to know you.”

“I must admit, I wanted you here for selfish reasons.”

“S-such as?” Bernadetta tilted her face up, meeting with Ferdinand’s shadowy one. She could do it. Right here…? Right now…?   She could finally tell him she always wanted him here, besides her. 

“You bring about a calming effect on me when I sleep.” Ferdinand yawned. “Forgive me.”

“It’s...no problem. Also...Ferdinand?” 

“Mmm?”

“You keep the nightmares away.”

“That is...excellent.” Seconds later, she heard his breathing begin to steady. Bernadetta tried to pace her own breathing and closed her eyes, hoping the exhaustion would take over again.

Bernadetta was awakened by the light in the room. Ferdinand’s room was always bright and sunny. Whenever she would sleep here, she was always woken up by the light. 

Usually when they shared a bed, by the time she would wake up, Ferdinand would be gone. Except not today. Ferdinand’s arm was draped around her, his eyes open. The light of the room only brightened his eyes more.

“Good morning, Bernadetta!”

“Morning,” she murmured.

He hugged her tightly, as though giving her a morning hug. Bernadetta savored the embrace. “How did you sleep?”

“Good.” Once she had gotten herself to calm down, it had become the best sleep she had ever gotten. “You’re um, usually gone by the time I wake up.”

“I thought I could take a few days off to be with my wife. Is that alright with you?”

“N-no! Not at all!”

“Do you have anything in mind for us to do on this fine morning?” 

“I don’t know. I’m usually very sleepy at this hour. But you’re fully awake.” Ferdinand was a morning person. With his personality, Bernadetta expected that from him. She didn’t consider herself a morning person. She preferred the quiet of the night.

“Well...I would like to go on a ride.”

Bernadetta couldn’t argue with that. “Sure! Just uh, let me get ready.” 

Ferdinand was a natural on his horse after so much time apart and the two went down a trail together. It was a path they had taken before. Bernadetta was surprised when Ferdinand got out of his horse and stood on a small grassy knoll in the middle of the trees. 

“When I was a boy, there was a location not far from my home in the Aegir territory that was not unlike this. I would oftentimes procure a nearby wooden stick and practice what I thought were my superior sword fighting moves.” Ferdinand crossed his arms. “Oftentimes, I would sing.”

Bernadetta laughed. 

“Your laugh is so rare, Bernadetta, but when you laugh, I feel as though I have won a great reward.”

Bernadetta was certain she was blushing right now, but she wanted to continue the conversation. “Well, I didn’t do anything like that when I was a kid.” She saw Ferdinand’s full attention was on her. “But whenever I did go out, I would, um, sit down. No...I would lay down and watch the clouds.”

Ferdinand sat down on the knoll and positioned himself face up as if to watch the sky. “There are not very many clouds today. Just a wisp.”

Bernadetta followed suit, laying herself down next to him. “It was always kind of cloudy in my grandfather’s territory. Well, it used to belong to him in those days, actually. I think it’s because we’re higher up and closer to the mountains, maybe? Sometimes I would try to see what shape the clouds took, but most of the time I just really enjoyed watching them move. I always found it relaxing.”

“It is quite relaxing, indeed.”

They lay like that for a while, watching the small wisps of clouds move slowly throughout the sky. 

“Bernadetta?”

“Uh-huh?”

“I...n-nevermind.” Bernadetta could have sworn she heard Ferdinand’s voice quake. 

“Are you okay, Ferdinand?”

“Something has been bothering me as of late.”

“What is it?” She didn’t like that. It could be anything that was bothering him. Oh, maybe it was her weirdness bothering him! There was no way he could ever love a reclusive mess like her back. 

“Do I make you uncomfortable?”

Bernadetta could not believe her ears. “Wh-what?” What is he talking about?

“Whenever I call you ‘my dear’, you look away from me and I am aware that when we do share a bed, I can be...well, rather cuddly. You seem erratic whenever I hold you close at night. I do not want to overstep my boundaries with you, Bernadetta. It would be most unbecoming of me as a noble if I were to present myself with misconduct.”

No ! Ferdinand, you can never make me uncomfortable! It’s the exact opposite!”

“Opposite?” Ferdinand squeaked. “As though...I make you more comfortable?”

Bernadetta couldn’t understand how clueless he was being or how she was able to say these things to him without being a mess. “Yes.” 

Ferdinand breathed a sigh of relief. 

Her hand found his, their fingers lacing together.

“I was worried. I do not want to make you unhappy. Doing so would be my greatest disgrace to you as your husband.” Ferdinand released his hand from Bernadetta and got up from where he was sitting. “I would like to return to this locale with you and have a picnic another day.”

“I’d like that.”

He offered his hand for Bernadetta to take, which she accepted. She stumbled a little bit, her face almost crashing with his chest. “Bernadetta, are you alright?”

“Just a little clumsy.” Her face rose, meeting his. Once again, Bernadetta found herself inches apart from him. “Ferdinand?”

“Yes, Bernadetta?”

Say it. Say that you love him. “I just wanted to say. Y-You make me happy.” You’re the only person since my uncle who has made me feel loved. You treat me so kindly and you’re so genuine, so sincere, and so patient with me... It’s why I’ve completely fallen for you. But the words were stuck in her throat.

“Your eyes...Are you crying?” Ferdinand’s index finger wiped a tear falling down her face. 

“I guess I am!” She sniffed. “Th-these a-are happy tears, though. R-really happy ones!” She placed her arms around him in an embrace, her tears staining his shirt. 

“Bernadetta?” He gently pulled her away from him and grabbed both of her hands. It reminded her of a time when he would try to do that and she would respond violently. She chastised her own prior behavior. She looked up, her gaze meeting his. The sunlight lightened his eyes, giving them such a warm effect. Bernadetta felt drawn to him, to his sincerity and warmth. His eyes showed all of that, and more.

“Yes?”

“I…have a confession to make.” his voice was shaky. He cleared his throat. “I have thought about you every second I was in Brigid. I cannot shake you off my mind. You are an angel of my dreams, your voice a siren in my shipwrecked mind, beckoning me to you--” 

This was getting a little much for her despite her heart soaring at his words. She laughed. “Ferdinand…”

“What I am trying to say...Is that nothing would please me more if I could kiss you. That is, if you will allow me the honor of doing so.”

The moment felt like a dream to her. She wanted him to just do it, but hearing him ask for permission was such a sweet relief, she could hardly believe her ears. “Yes, Ferdinand.” 

He tentatively placed a finger under her chin, tilting her face slightly up. Their eyes met. Bernadetta felt her pulse racing in anticipation. 

Ferdinand leaned in her direction, his lips meeting hers. His lips were softer than Bernadetta could have ever expected and he tasted like mint. Bernadetta’s heart pounded against her chest, a feeling of certainty swelling within her. Ferdinand broke the kiss. 

“Thank you,” he said, their faces still centimeters away. 

She moved forward and found his lips again, this time her hands wrapping around the back of his neck as he deepened the kiss, his arms holding her waist steady, as though he knew her knees would buckle and she’d fall. He would break each kiss and kissed her again and again and again, with each new kiss bringing about a newer and higher intensity. Bernadetta felt her breathing speed up as she melted into him. Bernadetta had read plenty of novels where two characters would kiss, but she never imagined it would be this wonderful.

“We ought to stop for now,” he said after a spell. “I am actually quite hungry.” They held hands as they walked back to their horses.

“Oh, I know! I can cook up something for us!”

“That would be divine, my dear.” Ferdinand kissed her nose and got back on his horse. 

“Hey, you said we should stop!”

She caught sight of Ferdinand beaming, his smile like the sun. She knew that in this moment, she was probably beaming too.

Chapter Text

Getting all of the footwork in time was tricky, especially when there was no music playing. She figured out that the dancing speed was in ¾ time and had to count accordingly to that. But just because it was easier in her head didn’t guarantee it was easy for her body to follow along. 

At first, Bernadetta was having trouble because Ferdinand’s presence was too distracting, but after a dozen or so incidents of her stepping on his foot, she was beginning to feel utterly embarrassed being with him in the same room.

“And one, two, three,” he said, completely unaffected at how she was dragging him down. He was the one taking the lead and she couldn’t even manage to follow. 

Why did she agree on going to the fall ball with him?

“And done,” he said, letting go of her. It felt weird now that his hands had let go of hers.

“D-done?”

“Yes.” He bowed down to her, finding her hand and kissing it. Their eyes met and she felt the heat rising up to her face. “You are steadily improving, my dear.”

“I don’t feel that way.” She felt terrible for his poor feet. They needed a break.

“Perhaps we could practice some more if you do not feel confident about dancing.” He got closer to her, his arms wrapping around her waist. “You need only to keep practicing.” 

“I was once considered a dreadful dancer.”

“What happened?” she asked. 

“Well,” he began, loosening his arms around her. Bernadetta’s heart fell at the thought of him being away from her. She chastised herself for it. She knew he would always come back to her. “I insisted I had an innate natural talent for dancing. That was not the case. I would ask every noblewoman for a dance and...I may have been too eager to dance.”

“Did you um, step on their toes?”

Ferdinand’s face went flush. “I most certainly did, and I made mistakes in everything else, as well. The positioning of my arms was incorrect, my pacing was all over the place, and I believed waltzing was glorified walking. It was not until I had gotten rejections that I began to understand. No one wanted to dance with me.” To Bernadetta, that sounded like every account she had heard of her husband from over six years ago. “The thought of being rejected stung so I swallowed my pride and asked for help.”

“Sometimes, it’s good to ask for help.”

“My inferior dancing skills were a way to seek improvement. I wanted to become the best dancer in the room. To prove my noble mettle!”

“You know what, Ferdinand?”

“Yes?”

“You got what you wanted. You’re the best dancer in this room!”

Ferdinand laughed, his laughter music to her ears. She felt her heart soaring at having made him laugh, and deliberately so. “Not for long, my dear. You will surpass me in due time. I recall it having taken months for Dorothea to have taught me basic mastery.”

“Dorothea was your teacher?”

“She was reluctant at the time. She hated me then. I was admittedly more distracted at the thought of her hatred of me instead of focusing on the dance. I could not understand what I did that warranted such feelings.”

Bernadetta couldn’t understand how someone as loveable as Ferdinand could be hated. Especially by someone like Dorothea, who was amazing in her own way. “Did you ever figure out why she hated you?”

“We had a chance encounter as children. I saw her bathing by a fountain in the capital square, her voice angelic. I mistook her for a water nymph. I may have stared at her in awe for too long at her before I came to my senses. When I retrieved my father, she was gone. She had mistaken my awestruck gaze as a glare, hence her displeasure of being my dancing instructor.”

“So…” Bernadetta began to understand now. 

“We had an open and honest conversation together. It was the beginning of our wonderful friendship!”

Bernadetta had flashbacks of the time when she thought Ferdinand was a spy of her father’s. The way that was solved was Ferdinand seeking out the truth through honesty and trust. She wondered what would have happened if he didn’t have those letters or if she never came around. Would she be here with him right now? Would she spend every night with him in calm solitude, their bodies locked in a tight embrace? She couldn’t bear the thought. 

Ferdinand spoke again. “Would you like to try again?” 

Before Bernadetta could say no, Ferdinand spoke again. “If we make it to the end of this dance, I promise I will show you something special.”

Bernadetta wondered what he could possibly mean. There was no way he would do something suggestive or salacious, but he had piqued her curiosity. But would she want something like that? There was a certain appeal to that thought. Bernadetta had read plenty of risque novels herself and to be honest, all of those male leads were paling in comparison to Ferdinand. 

She ended up agreeing to his terms and began practicing once again. 

After three attempts they made it to the end. When they finished, he got closer to her, their faces inches apart. “You are a spectacular partner,” he said, throwing all of her self-doubts out the window.  Bernadetta expected him to close the gap between them. His eyelashes fluttered and his lips brushed hers, but only for a moment. 

“Excuse me, but there is a visitor waiting at the entrance.” It was enough for the two of them to fully break apart from each other.

Bernadetta watched Ferdinand. She thought he had the day open today. That’s why he was preparing to help her for the ball with dance lessons. 

“My apologies, but I do not have any visitors or guests for the day.”

“It is the Countess von Varley. She requests an audience with her daughter and son-in-law.”

Bernadetta began to feel her stomach dropping. She wasn’t expecting her to simply visit. Mostly because she never bothered to. Why was she here?

Ferdinand’s hands found hers. 

“M-my mother?”

“You do not need to say yes to her if you do not wish to see her.”

Bernadetta swallowed her pride. “No. I should see what she has to say.”

“Are you certain?”

Bernadetta nodded.

Ferdinand’s fingers remained locked with hers as they arrived at the entryway. Her mother stood, her back to them. She was observing a bouquet of freshly picked magnolias. 

“Hello, Mother.” She looked the same as always.

She turned around, bowing to them. “Good afternoon. I hope I’m not interrupting anything today.”

“No, Countess Varley. I was instructing your daughter in the art of dancing. We plan to attend the fall ball together in three day’s time.”

The Countess raised an eyebrow. “You were?”

“Yes,” Bernadetta said. 

“My apologies, Countess Varley, would you care for some tea?”

“That would be wonderful,” she said. Her words were warm, yet they were betrayed by her awkward, cold tone of voice. 

“Do you have a preference?”

“Do you happen to have a Honeyed-Fruit Blend?”

“Ah yes, that is Bernadetta’s favorite. We have a full crate of tea leaves for that blend in particular. Please come to the dining area. I will brew a miraculous brew for you.” 

Bernadetta saw how effortlessly he led the conversation and felt jealous she couldn’t even be that way with her own mother. 

The three of them sat while Ferdinand made small conversation with her mother about their jobs, with his hand never leaving hers as they sat across her mother. Bernadetta was surprised by just how much she was picking up on the conversation in regards to management. She finally spoke up when she caught Ferdinand making a mistake about something in the Aegir territory.

“Actually, um, Ferdinand?”

“Yes, my dear?” 

“That was the spring’s yields in grains. There was a small drought when you were in Brigid so this year um, wasn’t as productive as the usual years.”

“Oh!” he said, “My sincerest apologies for having given you misinformation, Countess Varley.”

“It’s okay, Ferdinand,” Bernadetta said, “you weren’t here anyway.”

The Countess made a face Bernadetta vaguely recognized. She had mastered having a neutral face and was impossible to read by most people, but if Bernadetta was correct, she seemed pleased by this?

More time passed as they made small talk. Bernadetta had become more comfortable in her presence. This impromptu visit was rather pleasant, actually?

“Is it possible if I may have a moment alone with my daughter?” she asked. 

Ferdinand furrowed his brows slightly and his hand squeezed hers, as though to say it was okay to say no.

“S-sure,” she said. She had a feeling it wouldn’t be so bad this time. “I can show you our horses in the stable.”

“I would like that,” she said. 

Bernadetta and her mother began walking through the small trail that led to the stables. 

“It seems you’ve finally tended to your duties, Bernadetta. It took you long enough.”

“Ferdinand’s been really helpful. I’ve learned so much about his territory. I’m not very good at calculating numbers, but it’s getting easier.”

“You’re my daughter. You’ll be an expert in no time. It might take a few years, though.” Her mother was not finished. “I also apologize for interrupting your ‘dance practice’.” Something about the way she said that made Bernadetta stop in embarrassment. She wondered if it was the beads of sweat coming from their foreheads or the fact that both of their hairs had been mildly disheveled when they arrived to greet her that made her think that. 

No! That’s not it! “It c-could wait,” she said, pretending not to catch onto what her mother was implying. Ferdinand once said what they did and did not do was pretty much no one’s business. This included her own mother. 

“I always knew the match would be gainful if you tried a little harder.”

“Huh?”

“The way the two of you kept looking at each other in the dining hall and throughout our conversation. Not to mention the hand holding. I take it he’s a good husband?”

Bernadetta didn’t want to tell her mother she was madly in love with Ferdinand. It was too embarrassing! “He’s great.” They entered the stables where her mother met her mare. Naturally, her mare demanded attention from the new visitor. “She was a gift from him. For our first anniversary. We go on rides often.”

“Does Ferdinand give you gifts?’

“Um, all the time. He can get...excessive, but he means well.”

“Well, you certainly seem happier than when I saw you last.”

That’s because you were with Him.

“I feel that way.”

“Good. I had to steer your father into aiming higher rather than the drunken, rich playboys.” The Countess paused. “I realize our last conversation may not have been tactful on my part. I was merely concerned for your conduct, especially considering your father’s prior actions. Your father...” She shook her head. “He’s not someone you want to anger, and you know he’s quick to that.”

Bernadetta didn’t say anything. She always knew her mother had a complicated relationship with her husband. One Bernadetta did not know the full details, but at the end of the day, she pitied for her mother for having being forced to marry him.

“Then again, tact is not one of my better qualities. I will be heading back to the Varley territory before the fall ball, but I wanted to make the time to visit my daughter. I may not look it, but I am glad to see you are starting to grow and flourish in this environment.”

“Um...thanks, Mother.”

“It brings me great relief. Bernadetta, if you ever need assistance or my opinion in anything, please remember that I am your mother. I would be content to help.”

Her words made her Bernadetta hide a smile. This was the most friendly her mother would get. 

“Thanks, Mother,” she said awkwardly. “I really appreciate that.”

“I would like to keep a correspondence with you, especially now that you’re starting to attend to your duties. Being the wife of a future Prime Minister will not be an easy task. You will have to ask for help when you need it.”

“With you, right?”

“Not with that oaf of your father, of course,” she said. She had never heard Mother insult Father so openly like that. Then again, they were in a safe place where talking mouths would not travel to him. “You’ll learn nothing of value from him.”

Bernadetta never wanted to “learn” anything from him ever again. 

The two of them spent a few more minutes in the stables, with the Countess brushing Bernadetta’s mare. 

Ferdinand was pacing in the parlor when they returned. Bernadetta gave him a small smile, which he quickly returned. The Countess bid herself goodbye and left. 

“How are you feeling?” Ferdinand asked her once they saw her leave. "How was the chat with your mother?" 

“It was good, actually! She said I could always ask for assistance if I ever needed it.” She was tempted to tell him she had mistaken their dancing for something else, but held her tongue. She wanted to repair her shaky relationship with her mother. She wasn’t so bad when she wasn’t being awkward.

“I am glad to hear that.” 

Bernadetta got closer to Ferdinand. “Um...I have to ask...what was it you were um, promising if I got to the end of the dance with you?”

Ferdinand smiled. “Ah, yes. I did promise you something.” He bent down and kissed her cheek before leading her to the kitchen. “Well, I wanted to surprise you, but I myself have been doing some practicing.” He uncovered a tray that stood in the countertops. Under the sheet were four crudely made chocolate muffins. Two were missing. 

“What happened to the other two?”

“I...er...I...burned them,” he said after hesitating. 

“I can always teach you to bake!” 

“That would be most certainly wonderful.”

After a moment, she eyed the muffins. “Can I have one?”

“Please!”

They weren’t awful by any means, but Bernadetta could tell he used too much sugar, which drowned out the taste of the chocolate. It wasn’t terrible, but with enough practice he could get better. 

“I hope my surprise was to your liking,” he said.

“It was!” Bernadetta gave him a hug, which he was eager to return. “Thanks!”

Ferdinand snuck in a kiss to her temples. Bernadetta paused. She looked up and their eyes met. She felt her body shake in anticipation as he kissed her properly. “You taste like sugar,” he said. He kissed her again, this time deepening the kiss before breaking it apart and taking a muffin for his own. “I must admit...This is rather sugary.”

“Do you want to try baking a new batch right now?”

Ferdinand nodded. “I would love to bake with you, Bernadetta! It would be the perfect way to practice.” They began to take out the supplies needed to bake some more muffins.

Perhaps that was all they needed. Time and practice.

Bernadetta never found herself looking forward to the future so much the way she did right now.

Chapter Text

Ferdinand greatly underestimated just how much he had come to care for the pitcher plant he brought over from Brigid. He wanted to make sure it was getting enough sunlight and that the soil was moist enough for it to thrive. It rained enough in Enbarr, but not in the autumn, so he had grown worried over the plant possibly suffering in a new environment.

He knew Bernadetta would visit the backyard gardens and tend to the plant, but he wanted to personally ensure it was healthy and happy. 

“Ferdinand? Ferdinand?” he could hear his wife’s voice echoing from the entrance. “Hey, where are you?”

When he turned around, he saw Bernadetta sighing in relief at having found him. She was already dressed for the ball tonight. She looked simply stunning in the high waisted black tulle skirt and black blouse. It was an outfit Bernadetta did not make herself, but it suited her perfectly. But what really drew her to him was her lips being painted red. He was used to seeing Dorothea wear makeup like that so he wondered if she had given her advice or perhaps she had given her the lipstick herself. 

Ferdinand realized he was staring at her, completely spellbound, which was the wrong thing to do at the current moment, because those ruby red lips were currently turned downward in a frown.

“I couldn’t find you anywhere!” She looked visibly upset.

“Is everything alright, Bernadetta?”

“I just...I was feeling really worried. Today is the ball and...” Her gaze fell on the pitcher plant. “Um....is that...my plant?”

“I was tending to it.” He got up. 

Bernadetta’s mouth fell. He was just as surprised at his attachment as she was. “You were?”

“It is quite a lovely and unique plant once you get accustomed and acquire a proper understanding of it. Forgive me for losing track of the time. It is most unlike me.” They began to walk back to the house again. “You seem distressed.” He was admittedly glad that now Bernadetta was actively seeking him out whenever she was feeling ill at ease. “Do you want to talk about it?”

They stopped right before the stairs.

He got closer to her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. She nodded. “I’m scared. What if I embarrass us? What if I don’t last the entire night?”

“You are incapable of embarrassing me, my dear. I am all too proud to have you beside me. Always. And if you want to go home early, I will not complain. We will simply retire early for the night and call it an evening.”

“I just....”

“Would you prefer to stay here instead?” he asked. “I will not be disappointed.”

She shook her head. “No! I want to be there with you. Besides, I’m already dressed up and ready to go.” 

“We still have some time before the evening, Bernadetta. Would you like to do something to pass the time? It could help you relax before the ball tonight.”

He watched her mull over her options. “Um... I haven’t really embroidered in a while so I guess I could try and do that.”

“Of course, my dear. I will be getting ready if you need me.” He leaned in her direction and kissed the top of her head before heading upstairs. 

It took him an hour and a half to get ready, mostly because he kept checking up on her to ensure she was indeed feeling better. She was lost in her needlework, her face serene and her posture relaxed. Ferdinand felt relieved at the sight of this.

Ferdinand spent the past few days mulling over his fashion choices. The general theme of the fall balls in Enbarr were black and white affairs. Wearing white would have been a way to contrast Bernadetta’s black ensemble, but at the same time he would have attracted too much attention for his wife’s liking. He settled for something fashionable, a black coat with white embellishments and a white vest underneath it. By the time he was finished getting ready, the sun had already fallen.

When Ferdinand went to inform Bernadetta that he was ready to go, she was missing from her room. There were multiple possibilities as to where she could be, but he floated the idea she would decide to stay home once and for all.

“Ferdinand?” she said from behind, slightly startling him. She was carrying two magnolias in her hands. “Are you ready?”

“I am. Are those for us?” 

“Um, yes! I picked these out for us. We wore them last time and I thought…” He had wanted to give her a magnolia, but because of his worries concerning her, he had nearly forgotten all about it. “Maybe we can do it again?” Ferdinand accepted the flower and placed on his lapel.

“Now we are complete.”

Ferdinand smiled at her when she clipped it to her hair. Bernadetta shyly looked away. Pride flowed through his veins, seeing the way such a small gesture would send her into a flurry. He offered her his arm. “Thank you. Shall we go?”

They sat closely besides each other in the carriage in a complete, yet comfortable silence. Ferdinand was holding her hand and running his thumb along the length of her hand. The gesture visibly relaxed her as she gazed outside the window. 

Bernadetta remained seemingly stone faced when they left the carriage, but he was able to recognize the nerves fluttering through with how wide her eyes were. They were by far her biggest tell. 

“Do you remember what I said to you before the last ball, my dear?”

She swallowed dry air. “I am Bernadetta von Varley, wife of Ferdinand von Aegir and I can do this!” It wasn’t exactly what he said to her, but he appreciated her motivation. 

“I believe in you. In us.”

The ball was already in full swing when they made their entrance. He knew that her parents were in the Varley territory but he performed a quick scan of the room before they joined the dancefloor. 

The dancing had gone perfectly well, with Bernadetta remembering all of the dance moves. Best of all, she hadn’t stepped on his toes once. He saw her confidence grow as they danced another song, then another after that. 

“Ferdinand, it’s good to see you again,” a viscount from one of the western regions of the Empire said when they wrapped up their fourth dance. “Is this your wife?” 

“Yes! This is my lovely wife, Bernadetta von Varley.”

The viscount was elderly and seconds later was joined in his own wife as they made small conversation together. Much to his surprise, Bernadetta began to join in. 

“It’s hard to find someone who truly enjoys embroidery. I can tell by your hands that you enjoy the craft. Did you know that our territory supplies some of the textiles sold all throughout the continent?” the viscount’s wife said. “I am the owner of an arts and crafts store over in my territory and over here in Enbarr.”

“Really?”

“Yes! You ought to visit it. It’s over at a plaza on the far side of the capital.”

“I go to one pretty often here in the capital!” Bernadetta began to describe one she frequented.

“That sounds like my store to a T.”

“Really? That’s my favorite store!”

Ferdinand watched his wife with glee and saw the viscount portraying a similar expression with his wife. The night was going excellently. 

She also participated in the next conversation with ease, this time joining in on topics such as finances and other such busywork. It was evident that she was beginning to feel more at ease into the evening. It wasn’t as though she were a different Bernadetta altogether, but rather, her best side being shown out in the open. 

She looked so beautiful, so radiant tonight and her spark was what was needed in this ball. It wasn’t as though she was magnetic, but she had a certain appeal to her that brought over other nobles. It was as though she were a star, shining bright among the masses.

He pulled her for another dance after some time had passed. 

“How are you faring, my dear?”

“Good!”

He wanted to kiss her in the here and now, in this ballroom full of nobles. Doing that, however, was improper, even if you were married. “I am glad to hear you say that.”

“It’s not so scary going to these kinds of events. But um...Let’s um...let’s not make this a regular thing.”

He laughed. “Duly noted!”

Moments later, someone had asked her for a dance. He was young, possibly a few years younger than Ferdinand himself, and quite a dashing young man, but Bernadetta accepted the invitation. Her eyes said otherwise. 

Ferdinand was not jealous to see his wife dancing with another man, he knew that she only had eyes for him, but he was apprehensive over the idea of her dancing with a complete stranger. 

Ferdinand himself was approached to dance moments later by an older woman. He accepted the dance, keeping a close watch on his wife during the meantime. 

Bernadetta had proven to be an excellent dancer. But an unintended effect that resulted from this was that men both young and old wanted to dance with her. It had gotten to a point where when they locked eyes, he recognized her gaze as pleading. 

“Excuse me,” he said to his partner the moment after the song ended and strode over to where Bernadetta was standing. Her partner nodded at Ferdinand and left them together. “How are you, my dear? Do you need fresh air?”

She nodded. 

Ferdinand made sure to be discreet as they walked away from the main area of the ball, his hand never leaving hers as they stumbled upon a small garden lined with lots of statues. She sat on a stone bench, collecting herself. 

Ferdinand sat beside her, forgoing the hand he was holding so he could instead wrap his arm around her shoulders. “Is this better?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“You are doing an excellent job, Bernadetta.”

“I am? But I just left the ball.”

“People take breaks often. Even I require one when I am attending these events.”

“You do?”

“Indeed.” She turned in his direction. She had small beads of sweat lined up at her hairline, causing it to cling to her scalp. She was clearly exhausted from all of the dance, and her nerves of meeting strangers likely did a number on her energy. “I will say, I never anticipated this outcome for tonight.”

“You mean me not freaking out?”

“No. Rather, our dance practice proved to be quite effective. Everyone in the room wanted to dance with you. But no one more than myself.” 

“Why? I’m just…” 

Ferdinand didn’t want Bernadetta to finish that sentence. “You shine so bright, like the northern star in the constellations above. Your skin is ethereal and supple, you are an enigma among--”

“Ferdinand,” she said, laughing, her face going pink. “You’re embarrassing me!”

“To put it succinctly, then. You are magnificent. You are the most beautiful person I have ever seen, inside and out. I cannot stop gazing at you, my beautiful star.” 

“If anything, you’re the star, Ferdinand. You always...I don’t know...guide me.” He moved closer to her temple and kissed the spot next to the magnolia that hung proudly in her hair. 

He wanted to kiss her very badly right now, but he was afraid of ruining those perfect red lips. But at the same time, he wanted that mark on his lips. He would wear it like a badge of honor. 

“I am so proud of you,” he whispered, still hovering over the spot where he just kissed her. 

Bernadetta angled her face, their faces now just centimeters apart. She cupped his cheek with her hand and leaned closer. She was softer than ever, her lipstick making her mouth even softer to the touch. He was certain a huge portion of it was already gone. 

He broke the kiss. Only a little bit of lipstick was smudged. It was stronger than he anticipated. 

“Do you want to go head back inside?” he asked, still feeling hazy from their kiss. Her hand was still on his cheek. 

“I want to stay here with you. If only a second longer.” Bernadetta closed the gap between them and deepened the kiss. He found himself opening her lips, his tongue languidly exploring her. She allowed him and reciprocated, albeit tentatively. 

Ferdinand allowed himself to get lost in the moment, to get lost with his wife, his hands languorous and caressing the small of her back. He wanted nothing more than to stay still in this moment.

It was just like at the harbor all over again. Desire poured out of his every being. Before he was married, he was always one of the last people to leave these events, but right now, he wanted to go home and continue doing...this. He wanted to know where this could lead to. And if it didn’t lead anywhere, then he could savor these moments for all they were worth.

Restrain yourself, Ferdinand. 

But before his thoughts could manifest some more, he heard yelling. 

“Linhardt? Lin?!” They pried themselves off each other as Caspar von Bergliez ran into the area. “Yo. Have you seen my buddy, Linhardt? My dad and his dad are about to fight and I need to make sure I get my 500 gold for when my dad beats his ass.”

“Ugh. First these lovebirds then you decide to scream your way into my nap,” Linhardt von Hevring said, his face poking out from behind a large statue. He yawned.

Bernadetta squeaked in terror. Ferdinand’s jaw dropped. 

“What?” Linhardt said, confused. “However, you have ignited a curiosity within me. Would a couple with two different crests have children favoring one crest or favoring none? I would like to know the probability so please let me know. I’d require a sample size so maybe four would suffice.”

Ferdinand was the kind of person who rarely felt mortification but right now he was more than ready to go back to the ballroom. 

“Um...I think I’m ready to go back now,” she said.

“O-of course, my dear.” He grabbed her hand, his other hand running through his hair. 

Much to his continuous surprise, Bernadetta had lasted throughout the night, unlike her lipstick. Other than watching Count Hevring win the fight against Count Bergliez, the night went smoothly.

Bernadetta was quiet throughout the ride home. She had used up all of her energy. Despite that, he was so immensely proud of her for accompanying him to the ball. She was perfect in every way tonight. The way she looked, the conversations she had, the way she was utterly delightful with her footwork and her overall warm demeanor. He was so glad that others got to see his wife for the person she was. He was certain that after tonight, all rumors of her would officially begin to subside.

“I’m totally exhausted,” Bernadetta said when they left the carriage. “I think I need to rest,” she said. “For like, a week.” She paused, her eyes going wide. “Oh no! That is--I don’t mean to say that I don’t want to um, not be with you. I just need time alone. That’s all.” His eyes fell on the magnolia that remained clipped to her hair. It was still vibrant as ever, but it was starting to droop at the edges throughout the course of the night.

“I understand, my dear. Please remember to take care of yourself. That’s all I ask.”

“I will.”

“Goodnight, my beautiful star.”

She didn’t come to his room for the rest of the night, preferring to stay in hers. It was better this way, because Ferdinand needed to evaluate his comportment with her. He was going too far with her and pushing her. It was important to be a gentleman at all times. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing her again for any reason. 

Not to mention that he knew she valued her time alone. This event would surely be enough cause for her to stay in her room for a few days. He only hoped she would remember to properly take care of herself in the meantime. He would respect her boundaries, he always would, even though it would hurt to be away from her. 

He would always be there for her whenever she’d come back to him. And when that moment would arrive, he would be ready.

Chapter Text

Dorothea was someone Bernadetta could trust, so she told her everything that happened since Ferdinand had come back. She even told him about the night at the ball last week and the way he kissed her that night. It had opened up something inside her, like this warmth that started right in her heart and sent bolts of electricity throughout her body. And when he called her his “beautiful star”, she saw actual stars in her eyes at his words. Even though he embarrassed her with his praise at times, she actually secretly loved it.

Yes, she needed time alone after the ball to reset herself, but only four days later did she find herself having a quiet teatime with her husband again followed by a night of them talking about one of the more recent books they read while cuddling each other, neither wanting to let go of the other. During her short time alone, she had begun to ache without him. Being without Ferdinand felt wrong .

It was now over a week since the ball and she had invited Dorothea over for tea and cakes. 

“So let me get this straight,” she said after taking a giant gulp of tea. Bernadetta wondered how she managed to do that, because the tea was scalding. “You two have been married for nearly two years and you only just had your first kiss?”

Bernadetta nodded shyly. 

“I have to say, Ferdie has always been a true nobleman. I’m surprised you didn’t kiss earlier. Isn’t that part of the wedding ceremony and all of that?”

“Um, no. We only signed a contract and um...yep.”

Dorothea gasped. “How...unromantic.”

Everything romantic began...When did it begin, exactly? Bernadetta wondered if that time they had their first kiss in the meadow, but that wasn’t it. It had begun much earlier. Was it on their first anniversary when he gifted her the horse? Or was it earlier than that when he had taken her to the opera? Or maybe it was when he welcomed her into his bed that night when she had nightmares. Her feelings had been festering for a while sometime but now she fully recognized them.

“I understand I have these feelings, but I don’t know what to do about them.”

“It’s okay, you can talk about it with me. I am an expert in all things love.”

Bernadetta gasped. “Wow...Have you ever been in love, Dorothea?”

“Me? Oh, no. Definitely not. But...I have acted and sung of characters in love. I’ve felt the anguish of unrequited love. Of seeing my husband die in a battlefield on the desert as my infant daughter is pried out of my arms and raised by my killer or when--”

“Um...Dorothea?”

“Oh you mean like actually have fallen head over heels with someone?”

Bernadetta nodded. 

“Er...um, that’s not to say I have been. There have been...people I feel things for, but nothing comes out of it. Oftentimes they just see me for my pretty face and beautiful voice, but not the person I am.” Dorothea’s voice gave Bernadetta a sadness she did not anticipate. “Don’t be sad for me, Bern. I think one day the love of my life will show themselves...Well, I certainly hope so, anyway.”

“I know they will!”

“I’m happy for you, Bern! Ferdie’s a good guy, I promise. I can help you on what you can do next. Come here.” Bernadetta froze. Dorothea, having caught sight of her hesitation, moved towards her ear and whispered something Bernadetta knew she would whisper and at the same time didn’t believe she would have the audacity to do so. 

“That? Are you sure?” She’d be lying if she said she didn’t think about that in a serious light. That still didn’t make the fact that Dorothea shared the idea with her out in the open any less discomfiting. 

“It would certainly be a way to show your love for him, but knowing you, it wouldn’t be something I would take lightly.” She was right. 

“Have you…”

Dorothea nodded. “It’s no big deal to me, but with the right person…” That wistful look on her face was back.  “I’m joking, of course. You should just let nature take its course.”

“Oh!” Bernadetta said. “Speaking of um, nature. Ferdinand gave me the best present ever from Brigid.”

She had the pitcher plant outside, but Ferdinand had bought a book detailing how to care for one. She didn’t want to put Dorothea through the trouble of going outside while they enjoyed their tea.

“Oh my, what is that?”

“It’s a purple pitcher plant! Ferdinand got me this in Brigid.”

“That’s a pretty flower.”

“It’s a carnivorous plant,” she said. “Ferdinand doesn’t really like the concept of them, but him getting one for me and surprising me with it was…” Bernadetta couldn’t finish her sentence.

“Remarkably sweet.” Dorothea sipped her tea. “How do you take care of it? And how does it um...eat things?”

Bernadetta took a deep breath and began to explain the process of how to take care of a pitcher plant in excruciating detail. She only hoped Dorothea wouldn’t find it too weird. “Actually, Ferdinand’s really gotten into caring for it! I’ve seen him outside a few times, checking the soil and watering it.”

“My,” Dorothea said. “I want to see it now!”

When they went outside, Bernadetta checked on the status of the plant. It was still healthy. 

“It’s a pretty little thing!” Dorothea said, bending down, her fingers delicately tracing the plant’s leaves. “Aw, I hope I can find someone as sweet as Ferdie.”

“I hope you do, Dorothea! You deserve it!” Bernadetta felt so grateful to have a friend who was willing to listen to all of her eccentricities. She really hoped she would find the love she was seeking soon enough.


Ever since that moment when Ferdinand finally gathered the courage to kiss Bernadetta, he found it more and more difficult to keep himself separated from her. He wanted to kiss her, to hold her, to kiss her while holding her, even, at every opportunity. After his arrival and subsequent first kiss, the entire relationship had changed in a way Ferdinand couldn’t quite define. It had grown physical, yes, but that wasn’t quite it. The night of the ball was a particular highlight of all of the feelings that had manifested. From his need to be with her whenever possible to him being the person she turned to whenever she was facing some sort of difficulty. 

Despite that, it was getting harder and harder to show restraint, especially since he had so many things to do and the time for him to ascend to his position as prime minister was imminent. He had to tell her everything. He didn’t want any secrets nor anything hidden from her. 

He was growing terrified she would find him too imposing. He was slowly realizing his persistent and emotional nature had the drawback him being clingy. He knew that he had the capacity to be a nuisance in large doses and therefore, he would leave Bernadetta to her own devices. The only drawback to that was how much he missed her during those times. 

Yet whenever they were reunited, neither could let go of the other. 

Ferdinand found himself thinking about what it would be like today when he saw Bernadetta again today. Would she wear that dark red dress again? She looked so beautiful in it. Lately, she had been preoccupied with a drawing she was making and turning it into a portrait, but she wouldn’t allow Ferdinand to look at it. Not even a peek was allowed. 

“Hmm, you have this faraway look in your eyes, Ferdinand. Surely, you must have a lot on your mind,” Lorenz said. 

“Er, uh, yes. I most certainly do.” It was difficult to concentrate on their meeting. “My deepest apologies for what I have shown you, Lorenz.”

“I have had misgivings about my father. That he has engaged in this severe impropriety,” he said. “It’s not something you ought to apologize for.” Ferdinand wanted to know what Lorenz was thinking. “I have...Let’s just say my father’s possible, and now some of his confirmed actions have made me consider how I could move forward.” Lorenz pursed his lips. “Unfortunately, I am not fortunate enough to be in a position where I have allies and battalions on my side.”

“You could borrow some of mine.”

“And risk losing numerous good soldiers? My father’s men are not merely to be trifled with. At the moment, my best bet is to bide for time. I would need to simply wait until I am named the Leader of the Alliance and strike when I have the power available at the ready.” Lorenz crossed his arms. “It would certainly help my cause if I were to take a noble wife. I would have gained my wife’s troops, but alas.”

Ferdinand thought about the archers of House Varley. They were some of the best archers in the continent, but they were loyal to Count Varley for the time being. He had another plan in mind. 

“By the by, how are you? I met your wife by chance not too long ago at a store. She was with Dorothea.”

“You did? She is quite lovely, is she not?”

“She has impeccable taste in accessories.” Lorenz flipped his hair. “I must confess. I am envious. I would give anything to have a wife of the proper appearance, temperament, and grace. She must also be fashionable and fabulous as I, of course.”

“Must she be noble?”

“You managed to find a wife of the proper status. Not that it matters, but she has a crest.”

“She was seen as a commodity by our society, but there is so much more to Bernadetta than her noble status and crest. Bernadetta is a fiercely beautiful and artistic soul. I cannot see myself with anyone else.”

“It seems you are quite taken with her.“

“I am!” he said, feeling the words ring true as enthusiasm bubbled within him. “I find myself looking forward to seeing her every day. I firmly believe your wife need not be noble, but rather someone who will stand by your side at the ready.”

Lorenz shook his head. “As much as I may wish for that to transpire, I cannot. Not when the Alliance is in a precarious position. As much as I would partake flights of fancy towards a commoner, I cannot give in. I cannot afford to do so. Your information is indeed valuable, but alas.”

Ferdinand shook his head. He did not understand the ways of the Alliance, but he had to take Lorenz’s word for it. They parted, with Lorenz taking a copy of the dossier Ferdinand had given him. 

Tonight, he found Bernadetta sitting in the dining area. The aroma of Seiros Tea had filled the room. She had made him his favorite tea tonight alongside some Sweet Bun Trio, which was their shared favorite pastry. 

“Hey Ferdinand.”

Ferdinand bent over and kissed his wife, her lips soft and pillowy against his. He knew his lips had felt so rough compared to her, yet she never complained. He felt his palms grow sweaty and his stomach fluttered at her touch. 

“I made us some tea and pastries. It’s still hot so be careful!”

He sat beside her and sipped on his tea. 

“I finished, by the way. Um, with my drawing.” Bernadetta swallowed dry air. “I wanted to show you.”

Ferdinand spotted the portrait flipped face down on the other side of the table. Bernadetta rarely showed her artistic endeavors to Ferdinand and he couldn’t understand why. She was so talented. He still thought about the first birthday card she made for him. The same card that now served as a bookmark. Him knowing that she was willing to show him the fruits of her labor filled him with a sense of happiness. 

“I am excited to see it!”

“Um, right.” He could hear the nerves in her voice.

She brought over the painting and placed it over the table. The scene was that of a pier, with several docks of boats. The one in the center was a large wooden boat not unlike the one Ferdinand had traveled in. The portrait had been painted in watercolor, the sea and sky looking dreamlike. Two figures were standing in front of each other at the edge of the dock. One had a dark red dress blowing in the wind, the other with long orange hair. He found the scene beautiful and relaxing. 

“You’re quiet,” she said, her voice shaking. 

“Fear not, for I was merely admiring the painting, my dear. It looks as though it were from a dream. A very pleasant one.” That moment in the harbor really did feel like a dream to him. He still thought of the fact that Bernadetta actually set aside her fears and came to greet him. Ferdinand felt incredibly valued. It was the very same feeling he was feeling right now. He hoped Bernadetta felt the same way. 

“I um...I was thinking of hanging it up in our— I mean, your room. The walls are a little bare.”

Ferdinand laughed, which he immediately realized was the wrong thing to do. 

“You’re laughing. You think it’s not good enough. I understand. I don’t really use watercolor all that much and…”

“Bernadetta, the painting is ethereal. Exquisite. I find it to be a marvel. What I was laughing about, of course, was that it is not my room anymore. It is our room indeed.”

“Oh.” Her face went flush, which made Ferdinand’s heart do flips. He thought she looked so cute whenever she did that (which was always). 

“If you will allow me, I would like to hang this up at the first possible moment.” Ferdinand realized his gaffe. “Er...right now, actually.”

He saw Bernadetta hiding a smile with the teacup. 

Minutes later, Ferdinand hung the portrait on the walls opposite the bed, the scene adding a sense of calm to the room that Ferdinand never thought was needed but now filled the room with.

“It looks so natural,” she said. 

“Bernadetta, I have always believed you were a talented artist. Since the moment you gave me that birthday card. No one would be able to get that many visual detail and proportions correct in just a few short hours. Frankly, I am quite envious of your talent. You have a capacity of doing amazing things. Never forget that.”

Bernadetta looked away from him and at the door. “No one’s ever said that about my art.” She paused. “I was told it was a waste of time. That my paintings were never going to amount to much. But I like doing it.”

Ferdinand found that disheartening. Why would someone tell her such negative things? She did not deserve that negativity. “They’re wrong,” he said, his voice firm. 

Bernadetta turned around, their eyes meeting. “I want to believe you.”

“Bernadetta. I would never lie to you. You are so incredibly talented in your hobbies. I want you to appreciate yourself just as much as I d—” He was surprised by Bernadetta throwing herself at him, her lips capturing his. Ferdinand closed his eyes to savor the sudden kiss. Her lips were slightly damp yet as soft as they had always been. She tasted of Seiros Tea and Ferdinand wanted nothing more than to devour her.

He broke the kiss and took her hand, leading her towards the bed, where he gently lay her down below him. He wanted to kiss her everywhere. Her lips, her cheeks, her nose, eyelids, forehead. And he did, slowly and carefully, at first. 

Bernadetta gasped when his lips gently nibbled her earlobes, the noise pleasant yet irresistible to him. He moved to her neck, her noises more pronounced. Ferdinand felt something possess him at the mere sound of them. He was quickly losing control of himself with his desire for her rising. He felt himself growing desperate, his body and mind hungry for more, kissing her with more urgency. He did not want to stop. But this was not the behavior of nobles. 

He pulled back. “My apologies. I should not push anything you might not want to do, my dear.” He quickly left the room, leaving Bernadetta behind while he gathered his bearings. He couldn't understand how his body was betraying himself and his conduct. He was suddenly terrified of his own impropriety. 

After some time, Ferdinand steeled himself and got ready for bed. He would understand if Bernadetta didn’t want to show herself, but to his surprise, she was already snuggled in bed, wearing her nightgown. 

“I am surprised you are here, still.”

“Um. But I want to...be here, I mean. Yes!” Her voice was still its normal self, yet he couldn’t help but think of the ways she reacted when he kissed her neck.

“I...goodnight, Bernadetta.” 

He turned away from her, embarrassment pooling around his body. It hurt to face away from her. He closed his eyes, praying to the goddess that sleep would find him. 

Ferdinand closed his eyes, feeling Bernadetta’s arms go around him, her hands on his arms. He wasn’t used to her holding him, but he found the feeling just as satisfying as whenever he did the same to her. It did not help in lowering his wanting of her. 

He couldn’t move. He was paralyzed on the spot while Bernadetta snuggled closer to him. 

He had eventually fallen asleep and barely realized when he did eventually turn in the direction he was so used to facing when he slept. What stirred him was the feel her fingers caressing his hair. 

“You’re awake. I’m so sorry for waking you!”

“Can you sleep?”

She shook her head. “You left the room so abruptly, Ferdinand. I was wondering if I was doing something wrong.” 

“If anything, I was the one partaking in wrongdoing. A noble should not behave that way. I was appalled of my own conduct towards you. I do not want to push you or do anything you are uncomfortable with.”

“Ferdinand. You’re a noble, but um, you’re also my husband. You should have asked me.” 

“What should I have asked you?” He legitimately did not know. Her hands found his.

“If it was okay to kiss me like that. To um, touch me like that.”

“What would you have said?”

“I would have said yes.” She hugged him tight, her body lining up with his. She kissed him, her kiss harder than he was used to. She was full of wanting, of yearning. Ferdinand now understood he did not consider her feelings and was embarrassed of his own conduct in the moment. He kissed her back in an attempt to match her intensity. He was astonished by her assertive behavior and caught in a daze when she climbed on top of him. He suddenly realized how the nightgown was thin and left little to the imagination. It hiked up her leg as she kissed his face, her fingers in his hair. 

“Um, am I doing this right?” she asked. 

“There is no wrong way,” he managed to say, his breaths heavy. “Everything you do is perfect.” He honestly didn’t know if there was even a right way but he was moved by how right everything had felt. He couldn’t process how he went from sleeping to feeling wide awake and alert to her every action. 

Ferdinand allowed himself to gently move Bernadetta from her position on top and lay her below him, as it was hours ago. He went through the motions he did earlier, kissing every spot on her face, leaving no spot untouched. Her arms and legs were wrapped around him, as though attempting to keep him in place. He moved lower to her neck. 

“Is this okay?” he asked, kissing her bare shoulders. 

“Yes.” 

“I would like to kiss your hands now.”

She loosened her grip on him, offering her hand. He kissed the tips of her fingers with adoration. He wanted to kiss every inch of her skin, but he felt the heat of bashfulness holding him back again so he settled for this instead.

“Ferdinand?” she said when he finished. 

“What is it, my dear?” 

Her breathing was unsteady. “I um...can you help me out of this nightgown? It’s kind of difficult to breathe...I want it off.”

He could not believe what she was asking him. Surely this had to be a dream of some sort he was having. One of those very dishonorable dreams. She was giving him permission to give into his need to kiss her everywhere.

“Are you certain?”

Bernadetta nodded and Ferdinand obliged, slowly taking the dress off. He could see her outline in the darkness and marveled at it before going back to giving her reverent kisses in the newer places. “You are beautiful. So beautiful,” he whispered, admiring her body. “You really do shine like a star in the night sky.”

She whimpered whenever he kissed a sensitive spot, which did things he did not realize were possible. He moved back, with both of their hands getting Ferdinand out of his nightclothes. 

He felt his bare skin against hers, the feeling so natural. There was a purity to it that he could have never anticipated with their bodies this close together. 

Her fingers ghosted over his body. She found his old battle scars. Scars he would have to someday tell her about. 

He noticed the moonlight showed her having scars of her own in places that weren’t easily visible. He wondered how she got them. If she had gotten them from mere clumsiness or through an accident. If someone had hurt her, they would surely pay the price for it. He stopped kissing her.

“Bernadetta?”

“Mhmm?” 

“Are you comfortable doing all of this?” He had never seen anyone’s body like this before. He had never done any of these things before tonight. His father had tried to convince him to visit a brothel once or twice, but Ferdinand staunchly refused. He did not want to repeat his father’s mistakes. He wanted to be intimate with a person he had feelings for, and only then.

“I am. You’re the only person I’ve ever felt this good around. You make me not hate myself.”

“Bernadetta...I wish you could love yourself.” He paused, knowing his next question would be monumental for the two of them. “And would you like us to stop?”

Bernadetta took a deep breath. “No. I want us to keep going. I’m ready.”

“Are you absolutely certain?” he kissed her knuckles. 

She let out a small laugh. “Ferdinand, I knew this day would come but...I never thought I’d actually want to...”

His fingers softly patted her hair, strands of her hair in between them. “I er...uh...I have never done this myself, so forgive any awkward behavior on my part!”

“Me too.”

Ferdinand kissed her with fervor, before awkwardly breaking apart from her. “I heard that it hurts. Er... For the woman, I mean. I pray you do not feel that way.”

“I trust you, Ferdinand.” There was no going back. 

Ferdinand nodded, rising above her and kissing her gently, making her feel as comfortable and wanted as possible. 

After a few moments, he succeeded in becoming one with her, the two of them gasping in astonishment at the gravity of their actions. One of her hands found his, the other on his chest.

“Are you hurt?”

Bernadetta shook her head.

Ferdinand had no idea what to do and neither did she, it seemed. He moved to kiss her. He strived to be gentle with her. “You’re beautiful. Perfect,” he said once more. “Everything about you. I wish you could see yourself the way I do.” 

He now understood everything he was feeling as he proceeded to make love to her, a smile on his face. He loved her so much. He loved his wife more than anything in the world. More than his belongings, his status, even his family name. She meant everything to him. 

He put himself into each kiss, hoping Bernadetta could understand his emotions and how deeply he felt for her. He wanted her to know how much he loved her, the depths he was willing to go for her.

When they finished, he held her close, kissing her damp hair. 

She held him back, her breathing still erratic from mere moments ago. 

The room was a silent witness to their actions. Ferdinand could scarcely believe what he had just done as he made small circles on her hair. He kissed the top of her head before going back to where he usually slept. Bernadetta was close to him, her breaths becoming steady until she had fallen asleep. 

“Goodnight, my dearest Bernadetta,” he said, his voice tender with love. “My shining star, my love.”

He would tell her he loved her. And he would tell her everything she needed to know tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“You useless girl. You did it. You are finally with child,” Father’s voice rang through the room. She couldn’t remember how she had gotten back here in her family’s parlor, where it had all began. 

“Oh Ferdinand, it has taken too long with your marriage to produce an heir. You will finally give me a grandchild,” Duke Aegir said. “Do you think the child will have a crest?”

“Yes. It took ages to coax Bernadetta into committing to her duties, but she is now carrying the next Prime Minister of Adrestia.” Bernadetta looked down at her stomach, which was swollen. When did that happen?

“She can spend her final months here at her home, where she belongs,” Father said. 

“That sounds splendid!” Ferdinand said, and disappeared. So did his father.

“No! Ferdinand!” she said, in an attempt to get up from her seat, but she was chained to her seat. She would never go back there. Ever. She would have to release herself from those chains first even by force...


Bernadetta woke up, her eyes stained with tears. She was completely naked, with the sheets covering her entire body. Ferdinand’s bare arms were wrapped tightly around her. She could see the small orange wisps of hairs on his arms against the soft early morning daylight. 

It was a nightmare. Just a nightmare. 

You did it, Bernie.You finally did the thing you should have done since day one.

But this was different. She didn’t do this out of obligation. She did it because she wanted to.

He will take you home now that you will inevitably have his child. That’s it. You gave in to him

Bernadetta didn’t understand why the voice was back in her head again. Ferdinand was good to her. He said such wonderful things to her last night while they...they…

The memory was sweet and it would be one she would keep for the rest of her days. She tried to focus on those thoughts instead, but they only made her sadder.

She sniffed. She tried to pry her hands out of his grip to wipe her tears. 

It was no use. Ferdinand moved his arms and she knew she had woken him up. 

“Good morning, Bernadetta,” he said, his voice soft. 

She couldn’t reply. Instead, she buried her face into the pillow. 

That’s not the voice of someone who would betray me. No. I love him. I know he wouldn’t.

But what if, Bernie? What if he wasn’t on your side the entire time? What if he’s just one of them all along?

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

“Is everything alright? Is something the matter?”

She couldn’t reply to him. Bernadetta allowed the pillows to absorb her tears and snot coming out of her face. 

“Bernadetta, please speak to me. Are you regretting last night? Please tell me what’s wrong.” 

She vehemently shook her head. “I could never regret last night.” She took a deep breath. “I had a nightmare.” She felt Ferdinand’s chin on her shoulder, his hand on the small of her back. 

“Would you like to tell me about it?”

“I want to. But I don’t know where to start.” She moved away from the pillow and met his sleepy gaze. His hair was a tangled mess and his eyebrows looked...long. It was a far cry from the well-groomed nobleman she was used to seeing but she enjoyed him in his natural state. She loved seeing him in ways no one else would ever see but only her. He offered his arms as support for her. When she accepted his offer to be in his arms, her head on his chest, she began. “I dreamed I was pregnant.”

“Pregnant? While it is a possibility, it is still far too soon to discuss that.”

“I um, agree.” She didn’t want to think of that yet. She was hoping she could find a way to prevent a pregnancy now that she had...experienced what led to the making of them. She would need to learn more about preventative methods. She wasn’t ready to become a mother yet. 

“I do not necessarily believe that last night would have…” He paused. “But if it did, then we would have to discuss that. But what happened? Please do continue.”

“We were at my home, where we first met. Your father and mine discussing arrangements and…” she told him about his disappearance and her being chained to the chair in the dream. 

“Bernadetta, I swear on my life. I would never abandon you. Not for anything. I may leave to attend to my duties, but discard you? Never!” He smoothed out her hair and moved to kiss a spot on her forehead. 

“I believe you, Ferdinand.” The voice telling her he was a traitor had gone. 

They stayed like that for a while. 

“Bernadetta?”

“Yes?”

He took a deep breath. “May I ask you something?”

Bernadetta wasn’t sure what it could have been, but judging from his deep breath and serious tone, this was likely something that had weighed heavily upon him. She remembered his letter he sent to her when he was about to leave Brigid. She couldn’t recall his words, exactly, but they were something along the lines of something he wanted to discuss with her. Something consequential. “Um, sure?”

“What is your relationship with your father like?”

It had been a direct question, but it pierced through her like a lance being hurled in her direction, cleaving her through. After too many beats of not answering, she finally thought of something to say. “W-why do you want to know?” She answered his question with another question, harkening back to the days of last year, when she evaded him. Except this time, she was bare. She no longer wanted to be like this. She sat up, holding the covers over her body, and scanned the room for her nightdress. A chill had escaped from her breath. 

“Are you cold, my dear?”

She nodded. She gathered her nightgown and he grabbed his nightclothes. He opened a drawer, giving her the coat she made him for warmth. It smelled like him. She sat on the edge of the bed, Ferdinand not far behind her.

“I understand this is not a conversation to have in our current state of undress. I should not have brought it up, but it is a pressing matter and I would no longer like to keep this from you.” Ferdinand met her gaze. “Your father...I have been conducting an investigation on him for some time now and what I have found is troubling, to say the least.”

“Troubling? W-what do you mean?”

“I did not wish to say it, for I do not know of your true relationship with your father. I have had...concerns, but the interviews and evidence I have found against him have shown him acting in a vile and reprehensible manner, especially towards the laborers and commoners of those living in the Varley territory. I do not wish to hurt you by informing you of this.”

Bernadetta felt even colder as she sat on the edge of the bed. She heard Ferdinand’s voice as though he were miles away. She knew her father had beaten her friend near to death, but now that he mentioned it, she wasn’t surprised by this revelation.

He continued, “He has also allocated funds for himself, which cause the territory to go into a regressive economic state several times. This practice was actually started by your grandfather. My father was a part of the problem, often turning a blind eye and helping him out at times against potential insurrections through these oppressive behaviors. This is not the way nobles must act towards their citizens.”

Bernadetta was utterly speechless. He had hurt...many others. It wasn’t just her. 

“I have quietly taken action against my father months ago. He is currently under house arrest under my command by my men. I shall instate myself as the acting Prime Minister of Adrestia in the coming days.”

“W-what?”

“There will be a massive political reform, but a requirement for me to do so is to cast down your father as an example to the other nobles. I have been hesitant in part because I wanted to tell you of this before I did anything against your family.”

His voice was closer to her as she stifled a sob. 

Lock him up. Throw him into a dungeon. Chain him up for the rest of his life. 

“Bernadetta?”

“I hate my father,” she said, unable to keep her voice steady. “I’m terrified of him.”

“I saw the scars on your body last night. Did he do that to you?”

Bernadetta tried to open her mouth. “Yes,” she croaked. She used her hands to hide her face.

“It all makes sense now…” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “When you were furious with me that night at the opera house for sending him missives, the nightmares after we ran into your father at the ball…” Bernadetta could see Ferdinand picking up the pieces and putting them together. 

“They’re marks. Scratches from broken edges in metal or rope burns.” She began by explaining how she was tied to a chair during most of her childhood, which veered towards her isolation and need to be shut indoors. “I just had this overwhelming feeling of fear all the time. No matter how hard I tried, my father never thought I was good enough. After that, it was just constant scolding. He couldn't say two words to me without mentioning how useless I was. An unmarriageable girl. 

“My life was isolated to say the least. I wasn't allowed to play with other kids, let alone make friends. Even with other nobles, especially boys. One time, I even befriended a commoner boy and...” Everything had spilled out of her as though she were a glass of water that had fallen from a counter, shattering, water flowing everywhere. She couldn’t stop. 

Ferdinand had moved closer to her as she told him everything, his hands on her lap. He leaned down, his head on the crook of her neck. He was intently listening to her every word. 

There was a point where she couldn’t say another word. Everything stopped. There were no more tears left for her to cry. She felt dry. Empty.

“Bernadetta, my love.”

L-love?

“My only regret is that I did not meet you sooner.” He took her in his arms. “I am so sorry.” He said it over and over again. He was the one who was crying now. “I wish I could have helped you.”

“Why are you sorry? Ferdinand, you did nothing wrong.” 

“No, but after hearing of your life experiences, I want to make a promise to you.” He wiped a tear off his face. “You will never see your father ever again. I will ensure it.”

“Thank you.” She turned to him, watching the waves of his hair shake. “Thank you so much.”

“Bernadetta....” He positioned her back again in the bed, her body small and compact against his. “No one will ever hurt you again. I will guarantee it. I shall protect you from all harm, my love.” He cradled her softly. “You deserve everything, and more. I will dedicate the rest of my days, and possibly beyond, for your safety. I want you to feel happy and loved forevermore.”

“I love you, Ferdinand,” she said, the words coming out of her mouth effortlessly. They were now said and out in the open. She had nothing else to lose now that she had completely bared herself to him. All of her barriers were obliterated.

“And I love you, Bernadetta. More than you can possibly know.” He kissed her jaw. Bernadetta moved, so she could allow him to kiss her more easily. “I love you. I love you. I love you,” he said in between kisses. 

Fueled by his chants of “I love you”, Bernadetta was starting to feel hot under her clothes. She began to feel bold again and shed off the coat he lent her, discarding it on the floor. She placed her arms around his neck after he slowly raised her nightdress again like last night. She repeated the same with his clothes.

This was very different than last night. They were a part of the shadows, allowing themselves to strip off their doubts and fears. This time, Bernadetta had allowed herself to tell him everything. She trusted him. He shone in the light, his entire body aglow. His body was warm, his fingers running against her arms, caressing the burn marks that lay hidden under her arms and stomach, then moving towards the scars below her navel. 

“I love you so much,” he said again. “Will you allow me to show you again how deeply in love with you I am?”

“Please, Ferdinand,” she replied, her voice a whisper.

This time, she felt no discomfort, no doubts, no feelings of self-hatred or whispers of hate manifesting inside her, contradicting Ferdinand’s words. It was just her and Ferdinand. Skin-to-skin, face-to-face. His body pressed against hers. She felt whole. Appreciated. Loved. Wanted. Needed. Everything her father said to her throughout her life was meaningless now.

He was more assertive this time, and so was she. His hair fell all around her like an orange halo. She tucked in a lock of hair behind his ear as he moved against her. She placed a hand on his chest, feeling his heart beat wildly against her palm, matching hers. He bent down, kissing her lips, then moving to her neck, adamant on taking her breath away. 

She could only sigh in relief at the new emotions she was experiencing. She felt like an entirely different person. As though a new chapter in her life had begun. One she was fully ready to start with him by her side. 

Bernadetta accepted his warmth, his kisses, his embrace and allowed herself to experience and share the love she had for him. 

After, he held her close again, her head on his chest, his arms wrapped around her. “Thank you for telling me everything. I know it must have been difficult for you to do so.”

“I trust you, Ferdinand. It scares me how much I trust you.” She felt so raw and vulnerable right now, but most importantly, she felt loved. She loved him with her entire being.

“I will do everything to uphold that. You mean the world to me, Bernadetta. Please don’t ever forget that.”

Bernadetta nodded, her eyes falling on the painting across from them. “By the way, Ferdinand?”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know if you figured it out already,” she began. He took one of her hands and idly played with it, running his fingers against hers in an up and down motion. “But that painting. I worked on it so hard. I wanted you to know the exact moment I knew I was in love with you.”

“The harbor?”

“Hmhmm.”

“I knew I should have kissed you then,” he said, applying a kiss to her knuckles. She laughed. “Maybe we can go visit Brigid together soon. Petra would allow you to tend all of those plants you love so much to your heart’s content.”

“I like that idea,” she said. She wasn’t afraid to go out anymore as long as he was with her by her side. Maybe in due time she could venture out into the open on her own and see the world. But maybe Brigid would be enough for now.

“I do, too. After I get everything sorted out, we can go to Brigid together,” he said, reading her mind.

“Mhmm.” Bernadetta closed her eyes again, feeling a calm she never thought she’d ever feel, and allowed herself to fall asleep in her husband’s embrace. As she fell asleep, she wished to herself, to the goddess, that this was what the rest of her days would look like. 

 

Chapter Text

Count Varley had known that Ferdinand was coming for him. If there had to be a guess, it was likely when Ferdinand and his battalions were spotted entering Varley territory. 

Based on their formations, it appeared as though the enemy’s side had been ambushed by Ferdinand and his forces. It was good, knowing he had held the upper hand in battle. 

Ferdinand actually didn’t plan on invading Varley territory so soon, but when Bernadetta told him about her father’s mistreatment, no, his abuse of her, he changed his plans. He wanted nothing more than to confront his father-in-law and give him a piece of his mind.

It wasn’t just for Bernadetta’s sake, but for the commoners as well, and even for Adrestia as a whole. It was his job to maintain everyone’s happiness. 

Archers were placed everywhere around the Varley estate. Some were more strategically placed than others. Ferdinand and his horse were wearing anti-archer armor, plus he had equipped the Ochain Shield, which would deflect any and all arrows flung at him. 

He stood at the front of the estate, on his horse. The last time he had been in this very location, he had been dragged by his father to meet a girl he had arranged him to marry. It had been nearly two years since then and his entire life had changed. 

“If you value your life,” he said, carrying his voice as much as he could, so that the archers on the roof could hear him, “I would not engage in this fight.”

“Why are you here?” a voice said. It was Count Varley, who had shown himself. He was standing proud on the rooftop.

“As Prime Minister of the Empire of Adrestia, I have come to arrest you for your crimes.”

“Do not make me laugh, boy. Prime Minister? You?” Ferdinand was not surprised in the least that Count Varley was underestimating him. It would make his inevitable victory all the more sweeter.

“Indeed. I shall show clemency to those who do not attack. You have my word.”

“Enough talk. I will do this no more. Archers. At the ready. Ensure that this prime minister doesn’t break through the gate.”

It appeared that some of Ferdinand’s words had gotten through to the battalion. Some of them lowered their weapons, including one who had been standing near Count Varley. The Count grabbed his soldier’s weapon and pushed him off the roof, his body slamming against the pavement. The other archers on the rooftop steadied their bows in fear of meeting the same fate.

Ferdinand gasped in horror, seeing Count Varley’s true nature for the first time in the flesh. “You give me no choice, then.” Ferdinand called his battalion to bring in the explosives. 

He watched the battalion light the cart of explosives and he waited. 

It would only take a few seconds, but to Ferdinand, it felt like an eternity. Ferdinand was in battle mode and would not allow his mind to wander, but for those moments, he tried to imagine what he would do to Count Varley once they were face-to-face with one another. He didn’t like to let his emotions get the best of him during battle, but numerous thoughts, most of them very much not noble, floated through his mind over what he’d do to Count Varley. 

Steel yourself. You must not allow this, Ferdinand.

The gate had exploded minutes later and Ferdinand’s soldiers charged in. Some of Brigid’s mercenaries had become part of the fold, attacking any foot soldiers Count Varley had employed. 

Ferdinand focused on finding a way to enter the estate. He had no choice but to break a window with his lance and get in. “At the ready!” he told his squadron, opening the front door so they could enter. 

Count Varley would prove to be of no match against his men, as they had either fallen or retreated, surrendering to Ferdinand without a fight. Maybe Count Varley would finally know what it would be like to be on the other end of a power dynamic. It was what he deserved. 

Ferdinand went up the stairs, passing through the darkened walls of the hallways. 

This was the place where Bernadetta spent over twenty years living. In these dark, dusty hallways. He wondered which of these rooms was the one where she had spent her entire life in seclusion. Where her father had strapped her to a chair and “taught” her the ways of being the perfect wife. 

The thought disgusted him. 

She already was the perfect wife just by being herself. 

He searched for the rooftop stairs and eventually found them in a hidden staircase.

He was now face-to-face with the Count. Ferdinand felt a sudden rage at the sight of him. This was the man who spent years tormenting his wife.This was the moment that Ferdinand was awaiting. The moment he was looking forward to for so long.  The moment where he would enact his first major use of authority. The moment where he would give Bernadetta the justice she so deserved. Count Varley needed to be vanquished. 

He must rot in the eternal flames, Ferdinand thought. But he would not cast him down to the eternal flames. No. He would be judged by the goddess when the time would come. But before then, he would face his due punishment.

Several archers had their weapons pointing at Ferdinand’s face, but he didn’t care. He knew they wouldn’t hurt him. Ferdinand’s soldiers were more powerful and he had the stronger authority of the two.

“You,” the Count said. 

“Count Varley. No...By the order of I, Duke Ferdinand von Aegir, Prime Minister of the Adrestian Empire, I am arresting you for the crimes of corruption and abuse of power. You are to be stripped of your power and sentenced to live in solitary confinement.” He pointed his lance at him. “Do you accept and surrender?”

Count Varley did not break his eye contact. 

“Consider your next words carefully.”

But he did not say a single word. Instead, Count Varley’s arrow flew towards Ferdinand and deflected, bouncing back into the ground as though it were a mere toy. It didn’t even make a dent in his armor. Ferdinand marched to where Count Varley stood and knocked him over with his shield. He was far easier to knock down than he anticipated. He pointed his lance at him, the tip grazing his stomach. 

It made Ferdinand think of the scar that was on his wife’s own stomach. He toyed with the idea of moving his lance forward, of returning the favor. But Count Varley interrupted him.

He sighed. “Fine, then. I surrender. But don’t think this is over, Aegir boy.” Ferdinand raised his lance. “You do not know who you are messing with.”

“Oh? But it is indeed over.” Ferdinand felt an entity of contempt and aborrence possess him as he strode over to where the former Count Varley was standing and and landed a punch to his face. Ferdinand’s steel gauntlets hit him strong enough to break his jaw. He also felt that something was coursing through his veins. It was a power that activated in the heat of battle, when he felt no pity for his opponent, who was now on the floor, doubling in pain. Whenever he was at his most ruthless. It must have been the Crest of Cichol. “That...is for all of the suffering you caused to my wife.”

He kicked him with as much force as possible, aware that it was in poor form to kick someone while they were down. But it paled in comparison to all of his vile, wicked deeds. “And that is for mental torment you have given her. For being a fixture in her nightmares. For all of the scars and all of her fears.” He couldn't stop kicking him. But no amount of kicking would ever take away the damage Count Varley did to his daughter. 

Count Varley tried to speak, but Ferdinand had succeeded in rendering his jaw useless. Tendrils of blood formed at the corners of his mouth. 

“You will never see your daughter ever again. Nor will you ever meet our children in the future. I will never allow them to come in harm’s way. This will be your fate. I pray that we may never meet again.”

Ferdinand had given the order for Count Varley to be chained and hauled off by his men. A fitting end for him. 

“As for all of you,” he said to the dissolved battalion of archers. “You are free to walk away and do as you please. I am keeping my word to you.”

He left the rooftop and began to walk away. 

“Wait!” it was a female voice who was calling him. The Countess was standing in one of the rooms. She was indomitable in her stance. Ferdinand gripped his lance, in case she tried to pull off a sneak attack. She saw the motion of his fingers gripping the lance. “Relax, boy. I don’t have any weapons on me.”

Countess Varley was said to be a genius. Ferdinand knew that it would be in her best interest not to attack anyway, as she was the likely inheritor of the former Count’s position. He did not believe his wife wanted the position.

“What is it?” he said, his voice still harsh. He was still in battle mode. He couldn’t bring himself to be his usual self quite yet. 

“I...You have become close with Bernadetta, yes?” she said. “I saw the two of you together a couple of weeks ago and I know my daughter well enough to know that she has feelings for you.”

Memories of them together began to play in his mind. Of the nights they spent together, talking about books and cooking and of their own fears and insecurities, the weight of her upper body against his chest whenever they did so. The way he would make her feel safe by playing with her hair, or having his arm around her. He felt himself finally soften at the thought of her. 

“I have heard the rumors of you and her, you know. And I can see it written on your face even now that you have fallen in love with my daughter. I was the one who suggested the match between you and her. I knew you would be the right one for her based on your temperament and what my daughter has had to endure. My husband was too blind knowing that his family name would be tied to the legendary von Aegir family.”

“Thank you, then.” Ferdinand didn’t know what else to say. 

“Can you do me a favor?”

Ferdinand eyed her with skepticism. 

“When you and Bernadetta were wed, my husband had stripped all of Bernadetta’s possessions save for a few. Many of them, including her stuffed animals, dolls, and children’s books were sent to the local orphanage, but I have kept as much as I possibly could for her. Could you return some of it to her?”

Ferdinand felt elation at the thought of Bernadetta gaining some of her precious childhood sentiments back. “Of course!” 

“I have felt guilt for being complicit in my husband’s treatment of our daughter, and I admit to being aloof with her when she needed me most. But…”

It was likely that the Countess had also suffered at the hands of her husband as well. Ferdinand did not want to press her if she didn’t want to, and he believed she wanted to keep the conversation brief.

“Be good to her.”

Ferdinand accepted his wife’s belongings and left the remnants of the Varley estate. He would have to allocate funds to the reparation of them but now that he had completed his mission, he would go back home and spend time with his wife. He felt like he was becoming himself again, the thought of seeing her bringing a smile to his face.


When Ferdinand entered the gates of his estate, he was greeted by Bernadetta running out of the front door. Ferdinand swiftly got off his horse and ran to embrace his wife. He felt the world spinning around him as they welcomed each other into their arms. He breathed in her hair, her sweet fragrance making the world stop spinning. He felt grounded now that they were together again.

“I was worried!” she said. “You’re back and you’re safe.” She had known that he was off to arrest her father. She looked so pale and worn out, as though she had not gotten any sleep in the interim. He hadn’t either. They would need to fix that.

 She let go of her embrace of him, now on her tiptoes as she kissed him senseless. Ferdinand had to break away before he would lose his mind altogether.

“Your father proved no match for my forces,” he said. It made sense, now that he thought about it. It was always the worst nobles who proved to the worst battlers. He went down so easily against him. It was likely because he preyed on the vulnerable. “I may have also...er...punched him.” And kicked him. Several times.

Bernadetta smiled, which ordinarily would have confounded him if it came from anyone else, but now that he understood all of the pain inflicted on her, it was more than understandable. 

“Your mother spoke to me. I have some of your old belongings.” He pulled the bag of Bernadetta’s items growing up. Her face lit up like the sun.

“They’re back?” she searched her bag her face registering sweet shock. “My journals! My art! Wait, where’s my plushies?”

“Er...they’re at an orphanage.”

“Oh! That's um, pretty good, actually! I'm glad to hear they're being used, still!” Bernadetta looked at her bag of items, then focused her gaze on Ferdinand. “Um...thanks. I...um…Do you want to go inside? You must be tired.”

Instead he pulled her into another embrace. He found her lips and kissed her again. “I have been thinking…”

“What?”

“When I was in Varley territory, I was surrounded by memories of when we first met. They’re...not entirely pleasant and, well...I…” His hands found Bernadetta’s, where he loosened the ring on her finger. “I would like to make new memories with you.” 

“Ferdinand, what are you--”

He lowered himself down to one knee, holding the ring to her. “Bernadetta von Varley, will you marry me...again?”

She had an astonished look upon her face. “I...um...I will! Yes, I’ll marry you again!” She paused. “Just, um...let's make it really small, okay? Oh! And keep the guest count short!” 

“Anything for you, my love.”

Chapter Text

Dear Mother, 

 

I hope you’re doing well. Ferdinand says he will send you some funds to repair your home after what happened. But I am writing to you for a different reason. Ferdinand and I have decided to get married again --properly this time-- and I’m inviting you to our wedding! We’re going to plan it together with the help of friends. More importantly, I have plans to renounce my claim to House Varley and become Duchess Bernadetta von Aegir. If one of our children wishes to inherit the Varley territory and house and title, then they can be taught under you, but this is what I think is best, especially because Ferdinand has to carry on his Prime Minister duties and I believe it's necessary for me to help manage Aegir territory. I believe you would think the same. 

 

Best, 

 

Bernadetta

 

Bernadetta actually hadn’t told Ferdinand of her plans yet. Mostly because she just made the decision today. Now that she was finished writing this letter, she would have Ferdinand read it. He needed to be the first person to know of this decision.

Her wedding was coming up soon, and the two of them had been planning whenever possible, but they were now going to receive outside help so they could carry out the wedding properly. 

Both of them had set their terms the night he proposed to her. Bernadetta wanted a small and low-key affair; Ferdinand wanted a romantic wedding that showed just how much he loved her.

“Bernadetta?” Ferdinand said, walking into the study. “What are you doing, my love? You know Lorenz and Dorothea will be here any minute now.”

“I was writing a letter to my mother, inviting her to the wedding. Want to read it?” She got up from the study and offered him the letter.

“I would love to,” he said, accepting the letter. He brought the letter to his face and began reading it. He slowly put the letter down, his eyes wide in shock. “‘I have plans to renounce my claim to House Varley and become Duchess Bernadetta von Aegir…’” He gazed at her, completely dumbstruck. 

“Um, is that good?”

“You...are choosing to bear the von Aegir name?” his tone indicated he was absolutely stupified by what he had just read.

“I want to.”

“Bernadetta von Aegir…” he said, as if tasting the name on his tongue. Bernadetta liked it. It sounded right to her. “Bernadetta von Aegir, Bernadetta von Aegir…It sounds so sweet, so delicate, so perfect. I would be the proudest man in the world if this is the choice you make.”

“I’m certain.”

Ferdinand set the letter down and wrapped his arms around her. “I love you, Bernadetta von Aegir,” he said, getting closer to her. Their foreheads touched.

“Not yet!”

“Soon…”

He kissed her, his kiss desperate and fervent as he pushed her back towards the desk. She sat on the edge, accepting him. Ferdinand parted her lips, his tongue teasing her. She allowed him, her hands running through his hair. His hands fell on the hem of her shirt, fingers grazing her skin. Bernadetta shivered at the touch of his hands. He wasn’t wearing his gloves right now. 

The night he proposed to her, the two of them agreed they would wait until their second wedding night to “consummate” the marriage but right now was the first moment Bernadetta felt tempted to breach that agreement. 

He touched her scars, as though caressing them. A habit he picked up after their first time. It actually fueled her desire for him even more. 

He broke the kiss. “We must stop.”

She couldn’t think straight. “Ferdinand…We don’t have to, um...but we can do other things.” 

“I…” He began to contemplate if that was technically breaking their mutual agreement. “Yes. Let’s.” She grabbed his hand and began to lead him towards the bedroom. 

They were waylaid by one of the attendants. “Duke Aegir. One of your guests has arrived.”

Bernadetta felt deflated. But it was probably for the best. 

*

Dorothea waited in the dining hall table. She stood up and hugged the two of them. “You’re getting married? You’re getting married! Again!”

Ferdinand held Bernadetta’s hand. “We agreed our first marriage was not...ideal,” he said.

“Bern told me. It was very unromantic. Not something either of you deserved.”

Lorenz walked into the room. “Lorenz! Perfect timing!”

He bowed to the two of them. “I must extend my deepest, most sincere congratulations to the two of you for your union.”

“Thanks!” Bernadetta said, “Um...Ferdinand and I were wondering…” She looked at her husband for elaboration. 

“We want to make this a small, intimate, yet romantic affair,” Ferdinand said. The plan was to have Lorenz supply the flowers, wine, and cheese from the Gloucester region and for Dorothea to assemble an orchestra for the occasion. 

They wouldn’t have been able to set up on short notice without either of their help. 

“Can you both um...set aside your differences and help us? Please?” she asked. 

“You can count on me, Bern, of course you can!” Dorothea said. “It’s him I’m worried about.” She glanced in Lorenz’s direction. 

“I have already proven myself as a dependable and reliable man. I shall not falter in my assistance.”

“Now that we have discussed our plans,” Ferdinand said. “How about the four of us partake in some tea?”


Over the course of the week, Dorothea helped Bernadetta with finding the right dress. Bernadetta settled on a floor length white dress that wasn’t too elaborate or too simple, made with an intricate sewing pattern in the back.

As beautiful as her dress was, it didn’t help that Bernadetta was having a full-blown anxiety attack just minutes before the wedding started. 

Due to having been set on such short notice and set specifically on their second wedding anniversary, her backyard had become redecorated to accommodate the wedding, but she still freaked out when she peeked out a window and saw people sitting in chairs, talking to each other. The guest list was small, but the idea of having thirty to forty pairs of eyes watching her was daunting. 

“I can’t do this!” she said, burying her face into the bouquet of magnolias. 

“You’ll be fine!” Dorothea said, her tone calm and reassuring. 

“What--What if I trip?”

“Then you’ll get back up.”

“What if...what if...” Bernadetta froze. 

“Shh, it’s okay, Bern. It’s okay to have cold feet.”

Bernadetta began to sob into her gloves. “I d-don’t have cold feet! I-I want to marry Ferdinand again! I’m just terrified.” Dorothea stood by her side, comforting her, allowing her to cry the tears she needed to cry.

“So then what’s the problem?”

Bernadetta’s mother entered the room. “She’s late.” Her eyes were on Dorothea.”People are starting to--”

“Not now!” Dorothea hissed. 

“Oh,” the Countess said. “I see. Please do continue.”

Dorothea gave the Countess a sincere smile. “What’s the problem, then, Bern?”

“I’m scared of all the people watching us. And...and what if I embarrass Ferdinand?”

“That’s not going to happen,” Dorothea said. “He’s incapable of that. Actually, I’d say the opposite is more likely to happen, if I’m being honest.” She cleared her throat. “Listen to me, Bern. You’re going to walk down that aisle and your going to keep your eyes on Ferdie and only Ferdie. Forget about the rest of us. Enjoy the romance and enjoy the love you two have for each other.”

Bernadetta sniffed. “Y-You’re right.” She wiped the tears off her face. Dorothea offered her some tissues and she wiped her nose and eyes.

“I can take it from here,” the Countess said. “I’ve always been good with makeup. Tell your fellow singer friends to be ready in ten minutes.”

“Got it,” Dorothea said, winking at the two of them. “You’re going to be great, Bern!”

“She’s a good friend,” the Countess said while taking out the makeup supplies. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you, but...” She gulped. “That’s not true. I’m actually not sorry. She’s become my best friend.”

“I’m glad you didn’t listen to me. At the time, I was concerned about what your father could do to her. I wasn’t thinking she’s lowly scum. Enough about that and enough about him. Be still.” 

She listened to her mother and stayed still, fighting against the urge to blink back eyeliner made tears. She delayed the wedding long enough already. She didn’t want to make Ferdinand wait any longer for her arrival. “Perfect,” she said. “Try not to cry again, though.”

“I won’t.” Bernadetta took the bouquet and began to walk, her mother rushing ahead of her to take her seat.

There were no more than thirty people, but up close the backyard had been magnificently decorated, with magnolia flowers and red roses (provided by House Gloucester, of course) placed everywhere. Petals flowed from seemingly out of nowhere and Bernadetta wasn’t sure if it was a magical effect (she was somewhat certain it was), but it felt a lot more romantic than her first wedding ever did. 

She still felt nervous walking down that aisle with so many eyes on her and a beautiful melody playing to the pace of her walking, so she did as Dorothea suggested and focused on her husband instead. His hair was tied in a whitte ribbon and he was beaming at her. To her, he looked beautiful, radiant and untouchable in his white suit, like the sun above them. 

“Bernadetta, my love, you look just as beautiful as I imagined. Daresay, even more so,” he said when she finally reached him. She had forgotten everyone else in the room was there, focusing only on her husband. His hand reached out for hers and Bernadetta accepted, releasing one of her hands from the bouquet.

She hadn’t planned this but she began to speak. “Ferdinand...Thank you so much. Thank you for your patience, your persistence. I didn’t know how scared I was, how isolated. But you make me so happy.”

She saw him wiping a tear from his face and nodded.

“Bernadetta, my love, my shining star. Nothing could have prepared me for the privilege of being yours. My love for you is larger than the moon. My soul is yours, Bernadetta. I am yours for eternity, even after I breathe my last. I would do anything for you. Even move mountains. You are the angel I never knew, possessing me in my dreams and here in reality…”  Ferdinand went on. 

Bernadetta glanced at the audience to gauge their reaction. There wasn’t a dry eye in sight, but she could see a few smirks. Dorothea was standing with her fellow opera members in the front row, sitting next to Lorenz. Her eyes were completely wet, but she was visibly hiding a smirk as she cupped a hand to her mouth. She gave Bernadetta a knowing look and her earlier words came to mind.

“And what if I embarrass Ferdinand?”

“That’s not going to happen,” Dorothea said. “He’s incapable of that. Actually, I’d say the opposite is more likely to happen, if I’m being honest.” 

She was right. 

“The way I feel for you, your sweet pink lips and the words that come out of them, I did not know what I was truly living for until--” Bernadetta cast her bouquet aside and kissed her husband. She looped her arms around his neck and he responded in kind, doing the same to her waist as he returned her kiss with enthusiasm.

The audience clapped as she broke the kiss, feeling both equal parts embarrassed and relieved to have finally gotten him to stop talking. He kissed her again, a small peck on the lips as they returned to their regular stance, this time both of their hands holding each other’s. 

“Ahem,” the officiating priest said. “Are we ready to move on with the ceremony?”

“I realize I may er, have gotten carried away,” Ferdinand said. 

"A little bit."

A few minutes later, they were pronounced husband and wife again and walked out of the backyard together, flowers falling all around them in elation and an orchestra played. Dorothea was openly weeping into Lorenz’s shoulder and she caught her mother dabbing a handkerchief.

They entered their home, knowing they would have to go back out in a few minutes, but for now they’d have a few private moments with each other. For a second they stared at each other and in the next, they both clung to one another, her face on his chest and his arms wrapped around her, making her feel whole. His embrace was so comforting. She never wanted to let go.

“We did it, Bernadetta. That was perfect, my love. You were perfect.” 

“I love you,” she said. 

“I love you too.”

She tilted her face up, her eyes meeting his. He moved a hand to her cheek and she moved forward, meeting him for a soft kiss. “You really do make me happy, Ferdinand.” They quietly continued their embrace for the next few minutes. She didn’t think this wedding would have made her feel any different, especially considering they had signed their marriage contract exactly two years ago today, but now, she certainly felt different. This was the wedding she never thought she wanted. The wedding she deserved. 

“Before we head back out, I have a surprise for you,” he said after a spell. They would have a small, intimate wedding dinner with only the closest of guests and then have the entire night to themselves. 

“What is it?”

“Tomorrow, a ship embarks to Brigid. I was wondering if you would want to accompany me to Brigid. We er, we never had a honeymoon together. It is okay if you do not wish to go, I am certain we can find other ways to--”

“I would love to go with you!” 

Ferdinand kissed her hand, and suddenly, the world didn’t seem so bad to Bernadetta. 

*

The next day, a very tired Bernadetta and Ferdinand got up just before sunrise and embarked on a ship headed to Brigid. 

It was a beautiful morning, with the colors of the sunrise mixing in the sky, of orange and pink and blue. She stood at the edge of the ship and looked down on the pier, her eyes on the very spot where she had known she had fallen in love with her husband. The spot had grown smaller in the distance as the boat began to sail. 

“Are you nervous about leaving? I may have sprung this up on you and it is still not too late to turn back, my love.”

Bernadetta faced him and took his hand. “I don’t want to turn back. Not ever. I want to only move forward with you, Ferdinand. And if that means facing my fears, I would rather face them with you.” Ferdinand bent down and kissed her, the ocean breeze wrapping them into its salty, sweet embrace. Bernadetta had never looked forward to anything more in her life before. She felt powerful. Fearless. Strong. Loved. She knew she would have bad days, but even then, Bernadetta was certain of one thing. She was ready to face the world and live her life the way she wanted to, forevermore.