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The Varley Files

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LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Pegasus Moon

To Her Esteemed Archbishop,

Apologies for delaying so long in responding to your last missive. I admit I was reluctant to speak about the delicate matter that has come to the Fraldarius household in the recent year. Yes, my father is still missing, and while I have certainly been educated and groomed to command my father's household, it is still a sore point that he should have disappeared from home without even telling me. As you are aware, Fraldarius is mostly--if at all--not under my control (until several moons ago, my late mother had been the sole leading lady governing Fraldarius--and from her room, I may add!). The inheritance has now defaulted to me, but I have enough trouble as is in the north, and even with esteemed Uncle Syl on hand to assist, keeping Sreng from testing the borders is...tepid at best.

Still, onto the matter at hand.

You had asked for any information that could possibly lead to the location of former Duke Felix Hugo Fraldarius. At the time you had sent me a letter, I was not even aware he had gone missing. (The Lioness and I had only recently arrived from our excursion to the north.)

Was I surprised about his disappearance? No. My parents were both eccentrics, particularly my mother, and my general response to her disappearing for long periods of time has often been: "Yes, but did you REALLY check her private rooms? REALLY?" She always shut herself up inside, though this should be no surprise to anyone.

My father, on the other hand...

In truth, Archbishop, I have no idea where he went. I wouldn't be worried, but when I'm getting a letter from both the Archbishop and the King of Unified Fodlan soon after asking about his right hand’s whereabouts, that gives me some pause. According to Uncle Syl, my father would "never let The Boar alone without supervision" (please don't repeat this to His Majesty). It is unlike Father to shirk his responsibilities, and even more unlike him not to tell Uncle, you, His Majesty, or the Lioness what his plans were. Perhaps he'd been kidnapped?

No. I suppose not. Felix Hugo Fraldarius is not one to get easily taken. Especially within his territory.

I cannot tell you where he possibly went. Fodlan is a big place. Logic tells me he journeyed south to the old Varley lands, though as to why, I’ve no inkling on the matter. However, I did find something that may interest you.

Arriving with this letter are several journals from my late mother, Lady Bernadetta, wife to Felix Hugo Fraldarius and former heir to House Varley of the Adrestian Empire. Father was not a prolific writer, so it’s hardly a surprise that there is no record of his comings and goings, his actions, his deeds, after the years of the Unification War. If it hadn't been for the songs that were sung of the Savior King and his Blue Lions, I don't think I'd have known much about my father's past.

Thankfully, it is mother who kept good records--there are volumes of the day-to-day humdrum of inventories and household cares. But her interests were not only on the workings of the household. In fact, a majority of her other written tomes are dedicated to her actual life.

Mother's prose is, I will say, quite excellent. Uncle Syl and I have been poring through volumes of journals dating back from the time Your Esteemed Archbishop entered Garreg Mach Monastery. Uncle has always been a fan of her writing, and much of the books that now line my shelves are stories my mother wove from even before I was in her womb. She records her meetings, her adventures, her fears, her love. It is difficult to fathom, but I do believe she and Father had loved each other very much.

I have yet to read the later years, but instinct tells me that somewhere in these Varley Files is a clue to where my father has gone. These were the last journals he'd read, according to the librarian. Father had gone so far as to request every single leather-bound volume to be squirreled away to his study. By the time I arrived, most of the journals had been opened, and there were notes written in the margins. Whatever my father was up to, I am sure it had to do with my mother's books. 

So far, her musings are mostly that: musings. But you of all people would know her well, Archbishop, and perhaps you might find something Uncle Syl and I missed on our first go. I have written annotations in separate files and marked passages of interest. Let me know if you discover something Uncle and I did not.

I shall write again in two month's time to tell you of any more findings regarding her journals. I shall also be sending more journals then. I hope the new season is finding you well, and give my love to Their Majesties!

 

Signed,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Fraldarius Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan

 


 

LONE MOON, 1180

My mother was wrong on all levels. This new world in the Monastery was no better than being home, and I almost wish I was back at Varley in the comfort of my own room.

Except I would never willingly go back. Not when my mother took so much pains essentially kidnapping me from the household. How she did this is beyond me, but I both fear and respect her decision.

Still, silly Bernie is having a hard time.

There are too many people here at Garreg Mach Monastery. If I'm not being forced to talk to the Archbishop, I'm being forced to go to class. I'm being forced to interact with my classmates. I'm being forced to make friends. The Black Eagles seemed like a good choice, especially since most of the people I speak to are nobles. Father would no doubt come marching forth screaming for a bloody religious war if he found out there are more than just nobles in the Black Eagle House. (Quick, Bernie, we must come up with ways to hide our connection to Dorothea, immediately!). 

Our house leader, Edelgard, is fascinating, but a bit scary. I don't think she makes for a good wife. I kind of admire that. She is heir to a thousand-year-old empire, and I don't think Father would mind her too much, especially not if she'll be the new Emperor once the old one's dead.

Oh, Bernie, there you go again, rambling about politics that you certainly have no part in.

(Note: For someone who found herself to have no business in politics, Mother was very well informed...)

It's taking a lot of effort just to get to class. To be present, as mother would call it. It becomes difficult just making my way out of my own room to attend lectures, especially when there are people there. The professors are okay, but it's difficult trying to please them. What good am I as a student anyway? None of the subjects are things I've been groomed to learn. In place of etiquette lessons, I'm learning magical theory. To replace embroidery and needlepoint, I'm meeting up with an archery instructor, taking equestrian lessons, and learning how to hold a spear properly. It's confusing to say the least, and goddess, I am so very sore by the end of each day. It's been a good few moons and I'm fairly certain I still don't know how to swing a damn lance. Bernie is a lost cause, folks. I've accepted that, why won't anyone else?

Archery lessons, on the other hand, I kind of like. (It comes with the fact that I don't have to deal with any targets up close and personal. And no sparring, either!) Still, I'd prefer to avoid it and any interaction with people if I can.

Bernie's Two Things That Give Her Solace at Garreg Mach:

Thing One: The scenery. When you can find a place to yourself, always take advantage of the scenery. There are mounds of rolling hills and grass so green that even I could be persuaded to shed a tear over how beautiful the area is. It's no wonder that the monastery was built where it was built. It overlooks most things below, including the village that people go to during their free time. I prefer to wallow up on the monastery grounds while everyone else is away. Soooo much quieter and peaceful, and nobody bothers Bernie then.

Thing Two: The greenhouse. I guess this relates to scenery, but you should see the plants in there! Not even the gardens at Varley can compare to the amount of flora variety found in the greenhouse. It's another quiet place, and unless a student is on duty, not many go in. The greenhouse keeper leaves me alone most days, and there's only two other students who really come in to come see the plants for the most part. I try to hide when the giant from the Blue Lions House (De-something?) comes around. He's scary, but I do notice he’s gentle with the plants. Maybe he’s not too bad…

Marianne from the Golden Deer House also comes to visit whenever she thinks nobody’s there. I know this because she never sees me lurking in my own corner. Maybe she does know I’m around, but she doesn’t want to talk to me, either. Let’s be honest, Bernie, who does?

Sometimes I think Marianne is as much of a recluse as I am, but after more observation, I think her attitude is more a punishment than anything. I almost want to ask, but I don't.

Chapter Text

GREAT TREE MOON, 1180

There is a lot of commotion this month over mercenaries. After the commotion last month about one of our professors running off, it seems too convenient that we'd get a new professor even before the seasons completely change. I mean, I'm not even sure why Professor Alpin ran off. Were we too much for him? Was it Hubert’s face that finally drove him off? I wouldn’t blame him...Edelgard may like the guy, but he makes me shiver every single time he starts to laugh.

Oh goddess, maybe it wasn’t Hubert. Did Professor Alpin leave because of me? Was my magic skill that hopeless? Did Bernie do something wrong yet again ? Please say it isn't so.

(Breathe, Bernie, breathe.)

But what are the chances that this mercenary company would have someone viable for us? Aren't mercenaries dangerous? I wonder what my father would think if he knew there was a possibility that I'd be taught by commonfolk. Boy, he'd seethe through his ears. I'd find the thought more humorous than terrifying, but there's really no getting around how Father would feel. Perhaps he'll whisk me back to Varley.

Let's hope not.

-

The new professor chose to lead the Blue Lions House.

Most of us find this out in the noticeboard just outside of our classroom, though if anyone had asked me, I would have been able to tell them. Who’d want to be in a classroom with a wreck like me as a student anyhow?

Also, I had seen the new professor walk into the Blue Lions House classroom at dawn, hauling a pile of books and fiddling with her cloak. She must have decided to use that time to prepare to announce the news to her students. Or, you know, to get some quiet before the storm.

We congregate a little before Professor Hanneman arrives for lecture. And by congregate, I mean that the Officers Academy students and Edelgard’s inner circle find themselves a section of the classroom to chat. How I manage to be part of this group is still miraculous to me. But then again, Dorothea is here, too, and that’s saying something, right?

Edelgard greets everyone with a terse nod of her head, her face cast in a frown. “I had hoped for a better outcome. Professor Byleth would have been a great addition to our house, and she would have made a fantastic asset for Adrestia.”

“What in the goddess for?” It is Ferdinand--always combative, competitive Ferdinand von Aegir--who retorts. “She could hardly know much more about the world than we do. She must be near our age from the look of it!”

She’s the one who saved our illustrious leader’s life at the camp, you ignorant buffoon,” snaps Hubert, Edelgard’s right hand. If looks could destroy, I’m pretty sure Hubert would have decimated Ferdinand by now. (That being said, I’m pretty sure Hubert could harm anything with a simple flick of his finger…).

“I heard all about that from Ashe!” Caspar quips, fists raised, though I’m not sure if it’s out of excitement or if it’s just one of his ticks. “Looks like Professor Byleth and her mercenary father went and kicked bandit a--”

“Don’t be crass, Caspar,” Ferdinand interrupts. He shrugs. “From the looks of it, there wouldn’t need to be a rescue if our illustrious leader was prepared for the fight.”

My eyes go back and forth between Edelgard--who never seems perturbed by Ferdinand’s insults--to Hubert. Someday I feel like Ferdinand will have pushed Hubert too far regarding Her Imperial Highness and I swear, the mage will truly explode on Ferdie. Literally speaking.

The tension disappears when Dorothea laughs. “I think it’s romantic! A wandering mercenary comes in the nick of time to save a princess. It makes for a lovely, operatic beginning, don’t you agree?”

Some of the Black Eagles students--including Linhardt--nod. Linhardt yawns. “If anything, the story itself doesn’t get boring by the second telling.”

Ferdinand raises his palms as a sign of truce. “I suppose it does have a nice ring to it. But as I said, it is neither here nor there. Our mercenary professor chose to lead a different house. Having Professor Hanneman is not exactly a far cry from hopeless either.”

“I suppose,” Edelgard sighs. She still looked troubled.

"Edelgard," I squeak softly, muffled beneath the book I had put on top of my head. I take the book off and look up. I almost regret speaking, so I gulp and try again. "Having Professor Hanneman is a good thing, right? I mean, uh, he does teach offense magic. We need that, right?"

Hubert snorts in his disdainful, Huberty way. "Perhaps, but it does not take away the fact that he's too curious for his own good."

"Professor Hanneman is a good fit for a house filled with magic-users." Linhardt speaks. “And his research on Crests is fascinating to say the least.”

Edelgard glances at me and raises an eyebrow. "Linhardt I can understand, but I didn't think you’d find it a good thing, Bernadetta."

I fight my nervous jitters at being addressed. Nobody really notices Bernie. But goddess, Edelgard's stare goes right through you .

"I'm no good at magic..." I say. I take a pause, because my brain at this point is panicking since oh-my-goddess-Edelgard-is-talking. To. Me . "But...but Professor Hanneman knows his way around a bow, too...maybe he'll have some kind of, uh, magical training to go with that?"

Edelgard nods. "You are not wrong. This may be a learning experience for all of us then."

“It is always best to be learning,” Petra smiles, patting me on the shoulder in encouragement. For some reason, when Petra says those things, I am oddly comforted. I like Petra, the strange little princess from Brigid. I relax just a little bit and smile back at her.

Professor Hanneman finally enters the room, and we all head straight to our seats. Mine happens to be in the very back, where nobody will think to look.

Bernie’s List of Black Eagles Students Who Don’t Scare Her:

Person One: Linhardt. Linhardt might be a little too quiet when he moves around, and that’s a little scary, but he doesn’t bother me. Not really. I think it’s because he’s always napping, so on those times, he’s mostly harmless.

Person Two: Petra. She’s really nice, never yells, and I have never heard her say mean things about people. I wonder if she would want to be my friend. She’d make a nice friend.

 I spy Petra in the distance. I might try to talk to her a little bit. I just need to work up that courage.

Go, Bernie, go!

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Great Tree Moon

 

Her Esteemed Archbishop,

Admittedly, not much happens with my mother the first few months after your entry at Garreg Mach Monastery. It is once you begin interacting with my mother that she starts writing copiously in her room. Your deeds are countless, Archbishop, and you may not want to hear them recounted, but I suggest reading my mother's words and taking them into consideration. It is one thing to be placed on a pedestal as a legend. Quite another to be painted as human.

No updates on Father's whereabouts this time, but I did promise a letter. And quite possibly a gift. In between one of the last journals I read was an embroidered patch of a lion silhouette in blue. I think she'd absentmindedly placed it there after meeting Father for the first time. I would have sent it along to Fhirdiad through my courier, but it seemed a waste, knowing His Majesty is not in the capital at present.

Also attached is a package of four-spice blend for the twins (which I have plenty), and chamomile for Uncle Dimi. I am unsurprisingly out of Almyran Pine Needles, but I shall be sure to pass some along once it is warm enough in the north for my father-in-law to discreetly visit his extended family--and, in-so-doing, provide us with the best tea flavor of all. He does like to impress with such things, after all. I’ll make sure to send him your regards, if you don’t see him before we do, that is.

 

All my love,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Fraldarius Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan

 


 

HARPSTRING MOON, 1180

Blast it, Bernie! This'll teach you to daydream in public!

The new professor--Professor Byleth--practically waylaid me today. Between her and Edelgard I don't know who's got me panicking more. What I do know is that I do not appreciate it one bit that this professor knows exactly where my normal haunts are. The nerve that she should bother me when I want so terribly to be unbothered !

Just the other day, she'd come up to me when I was watering the plants. Traipses right up to me without a by-your-leave, clears her throat, and then asks me how my day is going.

It was going well until she showed up .

But I didn't say that. How could I?

"I..." I stammer. Goddess, I almost drop the watering can, Professor Byleth giving me such a fright. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

The professor tilts her head, the way she normally does when she has more questions than answers. "Excuse me?"

"Gah!" Of course I'd blurt something stupid out loud, and now it's clear the professor hates me. By this point I'm sure she's already judging me and that's such a mistake because you're not supposed to be RUDE to teachers, and-- "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I was just--"

"Bernadetta, please, I just wanted to say hello," Professor Byleth asks. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure she meant this gently, but I'm there going full-panic mode and I don't even want to be in the greenhouse anymore.

I shove the watering can at her. "Yep. And this is my friend Watering Can. Watering Can, Professor Byleth. You've met, I'm done. There's one more corner of the greenhouse that needs watering. Thanks, bye!"

And goddess, I ran out of there as fast as I could.

It would have been a clean getaway, too, if not for the fact that I run into Dorothea, who was walking down from the student quarters. Trying to explain to her what's got me into a tizzy is just another hour of useless time spent outside. With people .

"Bernie?" She approaches as though this was the most normal thing to do.

Let me tell you right now. It's not. Especially since Dorothea is a commoner. No no no to commonfolk!

"Uh, oh, hi Dorothea," I squeak, still out of breath from hightailing it out of the greenhouse so fast. I'm sure Professor Byleth must be scratching her head at what just happened. Or worse. She's plotting revenge against me! Gah, Bernie, why do you do such stupid things?

"You seem flustered," Dorothea says. She raises her hand and puts a palm on my forehead. It takes all of my willpower not to flinch. Maybe it's because I'm so tired, because I actually let her hand touch my head, and I don't swat it away or panic. "Are you ill?"

"Ngh...no," I finally say, then back away. "Not...not at all. Just...I was just running."

"It's a strange place to be running. If you wanted to train, you could have gone with me to the training grounds," she says. "I just finished a very productive round with--"

"Oh, no, oh no no no," I respond. "No sparring for me, thank you very much. Running is...running is good. It's healthy. And it requires no one else. Yes. I think I'll go running some more. In my room. With no one."

Dorothea’s smile falters, and I can tell she's trying to be patient with me. That's not a good sign. People trying to be patient with me usually means I'm annoying them. I get to be so annoying sometimes. "Running in your room? But Bernie--"

"I'll catch you later, Dorothea!" I say, then start sprinting again. I don't even bother to look back to see if she'll try running after me. Normally, people don't.

Thankfully, this time, nobody stops me. I make it to my room. Ah, sweet, sweet seclusion. I enjoy breathing in the scent of flowers nearby, a mixture of daffodils, carnation, and pitcher plant--

Wait. Daffodils? Carnation? Pitcher plant ?

"Somebody was in here," I say, horrified. I glance all over the room, find the offending vase of flowers on one of my bookshelves.

There is a note attached to it.

Bernadetta,

Someone mentioned you had a fondness for pitcher plants. Dedue had given me some seeds last month, and I harvested quite a bit for my room. I thought you'd appreciate these.

- Professor Byleth 

Oh goddess. Professor Byleth was in my room. Professor Byleth was in my room . When? How? What ?

Was nothing sacred anymore?!

This just in: Bernie is going to faint from confusion.

Bernie’s List of Gifts She Likes:

Gift One: Sweets. I could be persuaded to leave my room for some cake. I’m not the only one, though. Last night I caught Lysithea and Annette sneaking around to the kitchens, only to come back to Annette’s room chewing on slices of cake, with cookies gathered in small bundles. My stomach grumbled at the thought, and I almost knocked on the door to ask for a piece. I didn’t.

Gift Two: Plants. Well, I like pitcher plants the best, because they remind me of the warm colors of the south. It was the best part of the Varley greenhouse back home, and one of the very few things I miss.

The flowers do smell nice, at least. It is soothing enough that I don’t even realize I lost my satchel in all my running.

Up until I do.

Chapter Text

GARLAND MOON, 1180

Sometimes I feel like the world is physically out to get me.

And if it isn't the world, then it's a Blue Lions student.

I don’t know what it is about the Blue Lions House that is so full of intrigue (no, not the right word...psychotic students? Still not right...), but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the professor. And some of those boys that are always so darn visible .

For example, that Sylvain. I’m minding my business in the library, thinking of getting some sewing done--because of all things, Leonie needs a patch-up in her clothes, and of course Bernie decided to volunteer herself--when a bushel of red hair peeks out of a bookcase and heads straight toward me.

Sylvain Jose Gautier likes to talk about himself a lot. I was warned away from him before going into Garreg Mach, because even his reputation preceded him. The way some girls sigh over him, you would think he’s the most handsome man of the age. He’s not bad-looking, I will admit, with his tousled red hair and the way he casually smiles and flirts with everyone, but he’s no snake-tongued charmer like Claude von Riegan, the Golden Deer’s leader. Now he’s the type of guy who could woo any girl on the spot. Any guy, too, if he really tried.

FGF: (Uncle Syl is quite affronted that he’d be compared to the likes of Claude von Riegan of all people. I politely reminded him that I’m married to a von Riegan, so my mother is not wrong on that front...)

Does Bernie even have a type? Hmm, this is something to ponder.

FGF: (Mother very much has a type . Her type is strong, silent, tall, a skilled swordsman, and usually handsome. No biases, of course.)

I mumble my responses to Sylvain’s question, up until he starts talking about a manuscript. Which he found. Which was mine.

That is when I really lose my head. He uses words like “really talented writer” and starts talking about my book as though it is something to be published.

Can you believe it? Something to be published .

No, no, no, why would anyone want to do that with anything I write? Bernie, what is he saying?

“I’m dying to read more!”

Dying. Dying dying dying dying…dying like my soul. Like my life in Varley. Like those bandits going up against Professor Byleth in battle. Death, destruction. The ultimate end.

A hand waves across my face, and the skirt-chaser’s face looms down from above. “Bernadetta? Are you okay?”

I take a deep breath. “Sorry, um, was someone talking about a story?”

He scrunches his face in confusion. I bet most girls would have swooned or sent him laughing by now. I bet Father would have chastised me for being the exact opposite of most of these girls. “Yes? That would be me. I read your book.”

“Y...you read my book?”

It was so humiliating. How could I have been so careless? How in Fodlan did I misplace my story? It was not ready for the world to see! I mumble my excuses--or something of the like, honestly, I don’t remember what I said--and walk away.

Ugh, he actually read my story. I regret everything now. I can’t burn his memory even if I burn the pages...not unless I throw him in the fire too…

To be honest, the thought comes through vividly, and I can’t help but feel the flicker of heat and the fanning of flames and the screaming of a certain Blue Lions jerk who’s out to humiliate me. That would shut him up.

I shake my head. “Don’t think things like that, Bernie.”

I’d be no better than my old man if I did.


And if that book-encounter wasn’t bad enough this week, I get another run-in with a Blue Lions boy. Why are there so many of them ?

I’m just walking out of the classroom when I see him. Felix. The extremely sour-faced boy who almost never leaves the training grounds. Dark-haired, menacing Felix.

He's walking toward me. With a purpose. If I run, he'll chase me. Maybe if I just hold really, really still...I begin to hold my breath and pretend I'm a tree.

But nope. No. The world is physically out to get me, remember?

It doesn't help that he stops and stands right in front of me, blocking my exit away from him. Do I go back? Do I sidestep him? Do I flail my arms in panic? But he hasn't done anything yet, so maybe I'm just being paran--

"Ahem."

"Whatever it is, I didn't do it! I swear!" I raise my hands to protect my face. It doesn't occur to me that perhaps I'm in his way, and this is why he's giving me that menacing frown. "Unless...I'm offending you just by standing here?!"

He sighs, brushes a loose lock of blackish-blue hair out of his smooth face. His other hand is holding something out. Wait...I recognize it.

"No. Here," he says. "I believe this is yours."

"Huh? Oh. Yeah, that's my satchel." My satchel. I cannot recall for the life of me where I’d misplaced it... "Wait, wh--where did you get that?!"

Felix looks at me like he just lost a duel with Prince Dimitri. Felix doesn’t like to lose, so he’s definitely not looking happy. (Does he ever look happy?) "Stop asking questions and just take it."

I back away. "Nuh-uh. No way. No. Trap ! It's a trap!"

" Why are you acting like this?" I swear he reddens like a tomato. I swear it, because I'm pretty sure my face is just as red from the screaming I'm doing.

" Acting ?! Does this terror on my face look fake to you?!"

The outstretched hand continues to stretch toward me. "You're being difficult. Come on, this is yours."

Many things can keep me on the spot brimming with fear. An angry swordsman is one of them. "I can't! Your icy glare has frozen me completely!"

"Shut up! Just take the thing."

Flashes of my father come to light, and I'm taken back to that hateful room in Varley. My mind goes numb at the memory. At Father looming over me, a piece of rope in his hand. I feel the tug of said rope, the chaffing at my back. I can hear him snarling out the same cruel words over and over again, until he finally leaves, closes the door and I am left in darkness and silence.

"Just shut up, be a good girl," Father growls, his face red and bulbous and angry...so angry. Angry enough to kill. “I’ll return once you’ve learned your place .”

"No!" I scream, close my eyes, duck down. "P...please don't kill me!"

Whatever he says next is lost on me, because all I can see is the pommel of his sword, and that's the breaking point.

I see the glint of the dagger pushed up toward my throat. I hear the words of a man who is capable of making good on his threats. I see--very briefly--how my mother flinches, but holds on and doesn’t cry, even when her only daughter is locked almost every day in a room with no windows. With no light. With only rope and a metal chair and her terrified thoughts.

"Sword! He's got a sword!" I scream again, flailing, moving, moving.

Kicking, screaming, moving. Just moving. That's all I can do to withstand that horrible room. Be swift, be flexible, be nimble, Bernie, just don't get caught again. Never get caught again. On reflex, I move my hands. I swipe the sword, disarm my attacker. I take the sword and toss it to the side.

"My sword! How did you--"

"I can't do this anymore!"

I keep moving until I’m running. And I keep running until I find my solace.

FGF: (I don’t know how my father felt about reading this. It seems their first meeting triggered a horrible memory of her time at Varley. I wonder if he’d gone there to tie up loose ends, but that would mean confronting my grandfather, who is long dead.)


I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that the Blue Lions House is being sent out to quell an uprising. At least then I don't have to show my face to that black-haired swordsman for a while. I bet you he hasn't forgiven me for the nonsense I pulled on him.

Perhaps I should make it up to him. In retrospect, maybe I was too hasty in my yelling.

Bernie’s Ideas to Say She’s Sorry:

Idea One: Cooking. Felix must have some sort of favorite dish. Lysithea mentioned he’s not a sweets-person, and Annette did say that he likes spicy things. Maybe I can cook something spicy for him. I’m a pretty good cook. Cooks make for good wives, after all. Wait. Not that I’d want to be his wife. Gah! I’m not expressing myself well right now, am I?

Idea Two: Embroidery. I notice Felix wears elaborate clothing, something most of the Kingdom northerners do. His doublet could use some embroidery, right? A patch of a blue lion, to show his loyalty to his prince.

I mean...that is the way of things, right? Frightening Felix Hugo Fraldarius may be, but there’s no denying he has a way of fealty to his house and his future king. If only I could feel the same kind of loyalty to my own house and my own name.

Then again, perhaps it’s better I don’t.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan



Blue Sea Moon

To Her Esteemed Archbishop,

 

Many thanks for sending the packages along to Fraldarius territory. I know Fodlan’s Throat is the more convenient location for trading goods, especially when House Goneril is the household gateway into Almyra, but as I’d mentioned in our northern conclave last moon, His Almyran Majesty decided to take a sojourn west. He plans to spend some weeks in Derdriu before making his way to Fraldarius for the rest of the month. His last letter jokingly called it a “birthday treat to himself.”

If only His Majesty would do the same and treat himself from time to time. Please remind Uncle Dimi it does him no good to work himself to the ground. (Neither does it do you any good, Archbishop.) The people love him enough already. What they don’t want to see is their king having a breakdown, especially when his right hand isn’t there to pick up the pieces.

I hope he is holding up without my father. His Majesty is made of stronger stuff. I hope Dedue is not hovering too much, he does tend to hinder as much as help in day-to-day affairs. I do hear the twins are alleviating some of the workload. Did you two decide on who’s succeeding whom yet? (I understand it may not be my business, but inquiring minds and all that…)

Complications with Sreng have once more increased with the warming season, though it is nothing Faerghus’ northern houses can’t handle. Sreng bandits would have to cross Gautier territory before making their way into Fraldarius, and even if they do get in, I have a slew of veteran falcoknights and wyvern lords courtesy of Galatea and my father-in-law.

It helps that Uncle Syl and the Lioness are utterly meticulous about border security. Those two are attached at the hip, except when Uncle Syl decides to visit his favorite goddaughter to make sure she’s not having a panic attack. Since Uncle is reading this over my shoulder, I would also like to remind him that I don’t need two men in my life to take care of me. I was taught by the Sword of Faerghus, after all.

As for the journals, reading them has gone to a standstill. I’ve been preparing for another excursion to the north. I doubt my father made his way to Sreng of all places, but I am not closing my ears to the gossip if anything. If Father did go to Sreng, we’ll be able to pinpoint him. How difficult is it to find a wandering, middle-aged mortal savant anyway?

That question was meant to be rhetorical, Uncle .

Something did strike me as odd in the latest journal entry I sent along. My mother isn’t one to wax romantic, but did you notice that the moment she joined the Blue Lions House, she becomes more focused on trying to make friends? Was that your influence, Archbishop? It certainly wasn’t my father’s. If anything, he was doing the exact opposite of trying to woo her.

How those two fell for each other, I don’t even know.

All the same, I am grateful things turned out the way they did.

Once again, thank you for the packages. Claude will especially love the strangely-shaped aged cheeses you’ve managed to acquire for him. (Was that Uncle Dimi’s doing, by the way? Novelty cheese doesn’t strike me as your thing, no offense, Aunt By.)

 

All my love,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Fraldarius Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan


BLUE SEA MOON, 1180

No matter how many times I talk to people, it never gets better. And yet...

A woman asks for directions today and I almost brush past her. It would have been so easy, if not for the fact that I was trying to get on a certain professor’s good side.

She says she is looking for the public sauna. It’s been a running joke now that nobody but the villagers use the sauna at the monastery. I know where it is , but honestly, how often do the students actually use it?

(Case in point, I have not once used the public sauna. I prefer to take my baths in the most private of baths and I am not ashamed to say this is the most nobly-minded thing I do.)

“They’re um, they’re just up the stairs near the training grounds,” I say, aching to walk away already.

The woman gives a slight bow. “Thank you, Lady Bernadetta. I will take my leave now.”

My mind sighs with relief. “Oh. Uh, good. Good. Bye!”

I make sure the woman is out of earshot before breathing out and muttering, “Finally. That was absolutely awful . Terrifying.” I shudder in spite of myself.

“What’s terrifying?”

I swear my soul almost jumps out of my body. I was going to have an outer body experience. Bernie was going to die . “Ah!! Please don’t sneak up on me like…”

Oh, it’s Professor Byleth.

“It...it was nothing big. That lady a...asked me to show her to the sauna! I tried to be polite but strangers are so nerve-wracking.”

The professor ponders this and smiles a bit. I ease myself into a conversation with her. For some reason, nowadays I’ve gotten better at talking with Professor Byleth.

“You’ve never seemed scared of me,” she finally says, crossing her arms.

And that’s the thing. I notice this, too, but I can’t help but ramble. “Oh yeah? How about when I first met you and I wouldn’t come out of the corner or even uncover my face?”

Professor Byleth chuckles. “I remember that. You’ve gotten better, though. We’re having a conversation right now. And you haven’t bolted like you did the first time I spoke to you.”

The memory of the greenhouse makes me groan, and I cover my face with my hands. “You’re never going to stop reminding me of that, aren’t you?”

“Not in the least,” she grins, and it kind of makes me warm. The professor is notorious for barely showing emotion, and yet she is right in front of me, smiling the most genuine smile I’ve seen from her. “I’ve got your friend Watering Can to periodically help with that.”

I shake my head, and I can’t help but giggle as well. “Actually, now that you mention it, it’s funny. Once I started talking to you, I...I stopped feeling scared. I wonder why…”

For a time, this realization could not be put into words. And yet… “You know, Professor, you might be the first person I’ve been able to speak to normally since I got here. And...and I have no idea why.”

“I’m glad regardless.” This was said so softly, I almost don’t hear it.

I smile, a little excited in spite of myself. “I’m happy about it, too!” I tell her about how I hated doing drills outside, going out into the forest with people I didn’t know. Thanks to Professor Byleth, though, I can actually make it through a class, and I am grateful for that.

So grateful, in fact, that this was a request long time coming.

“So listen, Professor,” I begin, the nervousness that had disappeared before coming back. “I, um, I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh?” she tilts her head, to show she is listening.

“I, uh...canIjoinyourclass?!” The words jumble into one long saying, and I breathe again. “Can I join your class?”

Her mouth opens up in surprise and she blinks a few times.

“I know I’m useless, and nobody really wants me, but I promise I--”

“Sure, Bernadetta.”

“--can do much better, and archery is really my strong suit, so I know that’s a pretty valuable skill--”

“Bernadetta.”

“--Petra’s been teaching me--”

“Welcome to the Blue Lions House.”

“--so I--” it occurs to me then what her reply had been, so I stop rambling. “Uh...was that a yes, Professor?”

“It’s a definite yes,” she’s smiling so widely now I almost hug her.

“Oh. Yes! Uh, I mean, thank you!” I bow. “Sorry. I’m okay...I. Am. OKAY. I’m doing fine. Great! Thank you so much, Professor!”

In retrospect, things could have ended right there and I would have been a happily Blue Lion Bernie. But nope.

“By the way, was that you singing in the greenhouse?”

Oh no. Oh no no no no. Somebody HEARD me?!

“Wh...what? Y-you saw that?! Why would you see that?! You were watching me? THAT crosses the line, Professor! Singing? Me?! Why would I be singing? I’d never be singing! Ah! I’ve never been so humiliated!”

The professor must definitely be regretting agreeing to transfer me to her house by now. I mean, after she’s heard me singing? Goddess, why did you make such a useless, worthless, unmarriageable child?!

Bernie’s Fears Regarding Switching Houses:

Fear One: Hubert von Vestra. I would have said Edelgard, but to be honest, she would probably be less annoyed than Hubert. I spoke to Edelgard about switching houses to further my studies, and she seemed almost relieved that I’d break from her. I think it’s because she sees no use for me in her house right now. I guess it’s also got to do with the fact that my father is the Minister of Religious Affairs, and after moons of being in the Black Eagles House, it occurs to me that that department will be the first to go in Edelgard’s empire. Still, Hubert has been staring daggers at me, almost as much as he’s been glaring at Ferdinand. Although, from the looks of things...turns out Ferdinand and Hubert aren’t exactly enemies . Not anymore.

Fear Two: The Blue Lions Boys. Prince Dimitri has been nothing but nice and cordial. He’s always looking for supporters where his kingdom is involved. Perhaps he sees me as a valuable asset in the south, even though I probably won’t get House Varley for a long while yet. It’s not Prince Dimitri who scares me, though. It’s the rest of the boys in the Blue Lions. Maybe except Dedue and Dimitri. I’m still trying to avoid Sylvain like the plague, but there’s no going around the rest. They’re either way too friendly or…

Or they’re Felix Hugo Fraldarius.

Chapter Text

VERDANT MOON, 1180

I’m beginning to regret joining Professor Byleth’s house. They do scary things here. Like fight inside a tomb filled with goddess relics and who knows what else. Like having to be sent further from the field to shoot at some crazy dark mage.

Like fighting a Death Knight .

Unbelievable, Bernie, you sure know how to pick them.

A lot happened at the end of last month, so I’m hoping this month things will die down a bit. Heh. I don’t mean literally! Not actually die die...just...oh, you know, we need a calmer environment. How are people going to study properly when something is always happening every month?

Perhaps I might need to train a little bit more than I have to. Oh, but it’s a little nerve-wracking, especially when it comes to going into the training grounds.

Especially since he’s always there.

Felix Hugo Fraldarius.

Sometimes I have this uneasy feeling that he’s watching me. I can’t really prove it one way or the other. It’s just every time I’m trying to get some training in (because I swear, Professor Byleth is always on my case about this), he always seems to stop, and once or twice I’ve caught him just...staring. Not at me. He’s not being obvious. But I do question why he keeps staring at a pillar. Or one of those practice dummies.

Anyway, he was at the training room today, as was Sylvain.

Oh, goodie, I think to myself. These two never stop prattling.

For once, as I pick up a bow and aim at the target, I don’t get that prickly feeling of being watched, and I know it has to do with Sylvain being there. Felix’s attention is taken up by his friend, who’s talking to him about girls.

I almost snort. Of course Sylvain is talking to him about girls. When is Sylvain not girl-crazy?

FGF: (I’d defend my uncle, but Mother is not entirely wrong...)

By the sound of Felix’s exasperated sigh, I know he’s annoyed. “You’re interrupting my training .”

The bow is becoming a second part of me. I take a deep breath and feel the pressure of the bowstring as I pull it back.

“Hey, come on. Don’t talk like that. How long have we known each other?”

I take a breath.

“Long enough if you ask me. We only know each other because of our parents’ friendship. I didn’t have a say in it.”

I loose the arrow. The arrow hits the target, but I’m some ways off of perfect accuracy. Silly Bernie and her aim. Petra had tried teaching me once, but I’ve been avoiding her ever since she’s been calling me “prey.” Oh Saint Seiros, that teaches me not to ask her for help.

I hear Sylvain chuckle as I pick up another arrow.

“Is that how it went? Huh. I remember it more like you always following me around. Whenever there was something wrong--like you lost to your brother or you fought with Dimitri--you’d come crying to me. You were so meek and pure back then, cute even...like a baby brother.”

I completely miss the target this time, and the arrow hits someone else’s target.

“Watch it, Bernadetta!” Leonie calls out, clearly annoyed.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” I call back. My cheeks are red like spicy fishcakes, and I look to where Sylvain and Felix are standing, only to see them staring at me. I want to disappear. Or fly out on a pegasus. I’ll even settle for a wyvern. “Uh, don’t mind me!”

Felix stares for a bit longer, and Sylvain is giving me that usual grin he has around girls. The swordsman eventually turns back to his friend and sighs. “That’s enough.”

“What?”

I go back to re-drawing my bow, though it’s difficult to concentrate now, because my mind is trying to reconcile Felix of the present to cute crybaby Felix of the past. It is oh so hard to visualize, so that’s taking up a bit more of my brainpower.

“I said, that’s enough .” Even as I back away, I can hear that the conversation has gotten louder. More heated.

“Hey! Sorry. I just came to see if you wanted to pick up some girls. I didn’t mean to get on your nerves.” Sylvain sounds almost apologetic. That would be something new.

Felix begins to start walking. I think he’s prepared to leave the training grounds, which is an uncommon thing usually. He stays in here for hours after most people leave. As he does so, he continues growling at Sylvain and I’m almost sad that he’s not his cute, pure, crybaby self anymore. Why am I even interested in this?

“And you’re always prattling on about women!”

“Well, if a man sees a pretty girl, he can’t just let her pass by without commenting. That’s just rude. Hey Bernadetta!”

I drop my arrow and my head swivels towards them, eyes bulging. “Uh...what?”

“You’re looking radiant from practicing with us lowly mortals,” Sylvain winks. He turns to Felix. “Don’t you agree?”

Oh Sothis. Oh Seiros. Oh please make it all stop.

Felix stares at me, narrows his eyes. I could swear he reddens a bit, then turns to glare at Sylvain.

I will admit, his glaring is a little bit better than Hubert, but not by much. Those looks could definitely still kill...if his sword doesn’t do that for him.

“You’re insatiable . Do you ever stop? Certainly not to practice your sword technique. You always skip training. And you never consider how your actions hurt others...or how you hold them back. Can’t you see you’re distracting Bernadetta?” The last bit seems so out of place I’m almost in shock that Felix even considers me.

Sylvain must be thinking the same, because his eyes widen with surprise. “Oh. Wow.” He turns to me. “Sorry, Bernie.” To Felix. “That’s never my intention. Come on, you know me better than that. I’m not really—” he sighs. “Look, if that’s the impression I’ve given you, then I’m sorry.”

“Hmph.” Felix storms off, and this time, Sylvain stands there, not following him.

He’s unusually silent, and by this point, all thoughts of training is out of my mind. I don’t know what to say to him, but I approach him, a little at a time. He notices me and smiles down. “He’s right, you know. Sometimes I forget to consider how other people feel about what I say or do. That must have bothered you, the fighting.”

“Oh, uh, not really.” I really want to have him describe little old, baby brother Felix, but I don’t. “I’m...not so good at training anyway.”

Sylvain brushes a hand through his already messy hair. “All the same. Sorry. It’s...becoming a pattern. I’m having a rough week, and I think Felix sees that. He doesn’t want me going through the usual motions when he knows what we’re about to do. He hates that I’m just avoiding the issue, and that’s him lashing out at me.”

I gulp. Right. We just heard from Professor Byleth and Prince Dimitri that this month we’re to go after a Gautier. Well, ex-Gautier. Miklan, Sylvain’s disowned older brother.

He sits at a bench, and I put the training bow back to its place. I sit next to him, fiddle with my hands. I think he starts to relax, and I realize then that he just needs company. I suppose I could give him that much.

A part of me still wants to bolt, though. And it takes every bit of my power just to stay seated and, as Petra says a lot when it comes to hunting, not “scare the prey.” Not that Sylvain is anything like prey. I’m more prey than he is.

“What would your heroine do?”

I blink. “What?”

Sylvain glances at me, raises an eyebrow. “In your book. If your heroine has to choose between orders and blood, what would she choose? Does she refuse to fight, knowing that she’ll be fighting her brother? Or does she abandon this family member to a fate he so truly deserves?”

Somehow I know he’s not talking about my story or my heroine anymore. But I think about the problem anyway. It’s a puzzle, because to me, family is a complicated thing, and I’d like to think that my heroine has the same problems.

“I think that depends on family,” I say quietly, thinking of my own.

The answer piques his interest. “Oh? How?”

“I...I think most people are responsible for what they do,” I say. “You--my heroine can’t blame herself for every action a family member does. She can’t be responsible for picking up the pieces all the time.”

“Huh.”

“It’s...it’s like this.” I try not to dwell on my own situation, but it’s difficult not to think about Father or Mother. “My heroine’s, uh, uncle. No, aunt. No! Father.” Darn it, Bernie, don’t make this about you! “Brother, then. Yes. Brother. My heroine’s brother kills an innocent man and is tried and sentenced to death. It’s the law that he’s broken. And my heroine can...either break him free and let him escape, hoping that he won’t ever do it again--kill a man, that is. Or...or she can let the law uphold itself. Let fate and the goddess be the judge of him now.”

Sylvain rubs his chin. “It’s easier said than done. The brother was brought up terribly. He’s trash now, yes, and I admit I will probably lose little sleep about him finally getting his comeuppance. But...you can’t completely blame him for stealing--ah, er--killing that man in cold blood. Not when you also have his parents to blame for doing horrible things to him. If it were the heroine in her brother’s shoes, wouldn’t she be doing the same?”

I shake my head. “Actually, no.”

The quick and definite response seems to surprise him almost as it surprises me. Normally, I would stammer, but the idea fascinates me so much that I’m kind of enjoying where the conversation is leading. “My heroine isn’t treated as badly as m--the brother, but like her brother, she knows right from wrong just as well. He made his own decision. Perhaps he was angry. Maybe he just wants revenge. My heroine understands that, but she knows there’s always another way. She knows that at the end of the day, choosing to react violently is just going to blow up in her face.”

“And maybe she knows…” I hesitate, but Sylvain looks so interested in what I have to say that I continue. “Maybe she knows that it’s too late for him. That whatever she does will not be enough anymore. And...and choosing to help the other side is the only way to move forward. To make the changes that actually matter.”

We stay silent, thinking about our own problems. I try not to think about how this could apply to my father, to my mother. I try not to think about how my uncle is always trying to make things up for me by being the nicer brother. I try not to, but I fail, and I can feel my anxiety returning.

“You know, Bernadetta,” Sylvain says, breaking the silence. “People underestimate you.”

“What?” I do not expect that .

“You’re a tiny, strange girl,” he chuckles, and I redden, almost flail in panic. “Wait, let me explain!” I had gotten up, but he urges me back to sitting. “You like being cooped up in your room too much, I admit, but you’re pretty observant. And insightful. And,” he pauses, smiling his usual impish, girl-crazy smile, “that kind of makes you beautiful.”

Ugh. He’s back at it, and now I’m embarrassed that I’ve been sitting with him for this long. I get up this time, and he doesn’t stop me. “Uh, okay. Gotta go. Nice talk. Bye!”

“Thanks, Bernadetta!” I hear him call out before I round the corner away from the training grounds.

Seiros, if I never have to give words of advice again, I would be a happy Bernie.

Thoughts Running Through Bernie’s Mind:

Thought One: I hope Sylvain reconciles his inner conflict regarding his brother. I think Miklan is really in the wrong, and when push comes to shove, I know the professor will be forced to take action. All the same, I also hope Sylvain does not have to fight his brother. I’m a little afraid of what that will do to him, and as much discomfort he gives me for flirting and finding ways to humiliate me, it kind of makes him...well, Sylvain.

Thought Two: I really can’t get the thought of little Felix out of my head. I’m not sure why. But there’s something about him now that’s a little unnerving. It wouldn’t hurt for him to show some kind of vulnerability. Ashe says he’s like those knights in the adventure stories he reads. It flusters Felix when Ashe says it, but I don’t disagree. He’s much more of a knight than Father will ever amount to be. I just wish he would, oh, I don’t know, smile a bit more.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Wyvern Moon

 

Archbishop,

I hope you are well. King Dimitri sends his regards, but is regretful to say that he will be detained north in Fhirdiad until the Ethereal Moon. He’s been in a thunderous mood once I gave him the news up north and is preparing to mobilize for his next campaign. The Tempest King is what the people will be calling him soon, I bet.

I am writing this missive for him and for my goddaughter, who, as you are now probably aware (because Ingrid would have told you already), has been grievously injured after our last visit to Sreng. Don’t worry, she’ll be okay.

Things, however, are not looking good at the border. Back in the late King Lambert’s day, Gautier had managed to hold off any imminent invasion because the Srengi were hardly a threat. They had too many warlike chieftains vying for power, and by the end of a season, one of them died off to be replaced with the newer, stronger chief. And on and on it went. 

It is not so now. Our scouts have been talking about a new chief, one who’s been solidifying his power in the north. Slowly, but surely. Apparently he’s been doing this for years but we’d been so preoccupied by internal affairs--and Almyra and Brigid and goddess knows what else--that the intel from them slipped through the cracks. This is partly my fault, I’ve not been keeping as much tabs on my Sreng contacts, thinking that there’d be nothing left but desert and wasteland.

We took wyverns to travel to the Bolg mountains (the ones that overlook Sreng) to try to gain more intel, but were waylaid by archers and wyvern riders. The Sreng chiefs have wyvern riders. In the years that Gautier has been in the Kingdom’s service--over 200 and counting--this has never come up as a cause for concern. Whoever the Srengi are dealing with has been providing them with the means to weaponize themselves against us.

Fey was at the heart of the attack. They shot her wyvern down the moment they could get a chance, and we know she’s not a terribly good flier. She’d broken a few ribs by the time I caught her mid-fall.

Thankfully, my paladins came riding down from our side of the mountain. Ingrid’s quick thinking saved us all from becoming target practice by the overly-zealous Srengi. Once we’d cleared the skies and run off our attackers, I flew us out and back into Gautier territory. Fey is convalescing with us here, so it will be some time before she makes it back to Fraldarius.

I don’t know whether I want Felix to hear the news about his daughter. On the one hand, I don’t ever want Fey to come to mortal harm on my watch. Ingrid and I practically treasure her like our own, and it’s killing me that I even let her get ambushed like this. I was right there , Byleth, and she was still hurt.

On the other hand, I want Felix to hear about his girl. Maybe the thought of not being here to protect his heir will get him out of hiding, wherever he is. But then again, the thought that he’s missing because of more...nefarious reasons has crossed my mind. The wyvern riders were very specific in their attacks against Fey. Too specific, I think. That puts both Fraldarius members out of commission for the time being.

Sorry all I’ve got for you is bad news. I promise the next letter will be penned by my goddaughter once again. She’s more chatty than I am, and that’s saying something.

I’ve sent news to Curan as well. If you can, please try to dissuade the hotheaded Riegan from leaving Fraldarius territory. He does get overprotective from time to time, and Fey would probably give me a piece of her mind if she knew her husband was headed north to ensure her safety. Somebody has to help run the Fraldarius household from within, but in truth, if anything happens to him , I’m half expecting some Almyran incident to follow soon after.

And we don’t want that.

 

Keep safe,

Sylvain Jose Gautier, Margrave

Gautier Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan

 


 

HORSEBOW MOON, 1180

This month is beginning to be a frantic one. After the past few weeks, it has been hectic at the Blue Lions House, and we’re all still pretty shocked at what happened to Miklan. 

It’s never easy to talk about death, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. Rip off that bandage, Bernie, go on!

Miklan died at the end of the Verdant Moon. If there had been a way for him not to lose his life, I was sure the Professor would have found a way. Still, there really was no choice in the matter. Miklan had already done enough damage, and to top it off, there was a thing he did where he turned into a monstrous beast .

I cannot unsee that. The screams will stay with me until eternity.

If puzzling over Crest-monsters was the only thing to worry about, I’d probably be stuck in my room refusing to go out. I need a lot of time alone after that nonsense.

But then Professor Byleth came to us a few days later about Flayn’s disappearance...

Goddess, to think about the Death Knight being somehow responsible for Flayn being missing is giving me shivers. But that’s the truth of the matter. She’s been child-napped, and nobody seems to have a clue where she would have gone.

I already looked for her by the student quarters, and I can assure you, she’s not there. I even went so far as to venture to the greenhouse and the fishing grounds, and that’s usually where she is…

In fact, I’d been roaming the greenhouse for just that reason, when…

“You.”

Saint Seiros, I swear I jumped so high up I saw stars. Or is that not the saying?

“Ah! What’d I do? Am I in your way? I’m in your way. I know. I get it. I’m sorry! I can’t stand the sight of me—”

“Cool it,” Felix says, grabbing my wrist and physically dragging me to a corner of the greenhouse.

Oh goddess, it’s finally happening. He’s finding a secluded spot to murder me and hide the body. I’m a slight build, and I’m pretty sure if he wanted to, he could stuff my corpse behind the plants—

“Tea.”

--I’m sure I’d make a great fertilizer. Because obviously that’s the best use of dead Bernie anything’s ever going to get—

I blink. “Say that again?”

Felix frowns. Correction. He was already frowning , but his face contorts to an even meaner frown, if anything. “You like tea, don’t you?”

“I...I do?” I realize I posed that as a question, and he raises his eyebrow. “Oh, I...yes, I do like tea.”

“Alright,” he turns and nods back towards the greenhouse doors. “We can grab some at the gardens.”

“Wait. What?”

“Oh for the love of—I’m inviting you to tea.”

He says it so quickly and so dismissively, like a list he’s ticking off in his head. Item one, scare Bernadetta half to death. Item two, invite her to tea. Item three, lull her into complacency with sweets and quite possibly poisoned Albinean Berry Blend. Item four, bury her body in some secret room, like Flayn’s possible corpse...

My thoughts run away with me so completely that Felix shakes my arm to get my attention again. It’s my turn to frown, because I only just realize that he is still holding my arm.

“So how about it?”

“Is this a trap? But why?”

Felix finally lets go of my arm, and for a brief moment, his face drops his usual menace, and it looks uncertain. He pauses a moment, his hand goes reflexively towards his side where his sword is. “I...there is a personal matter I want to discuss.”

I wait for him to continue, because I’m still not sure why he needs me for some personal matter. The waiting gets too long, though, and before things get even more awkward, I start walking. “A...alright.” I say warily. “As long as you promise not to murder, poison, or dismember me.”

He snorts. “I promise I will not try to murder or poison you.”

“And dismember.”

“...what?”

“You won’t try to dismember me, either.”

“Oh for the love of--yes, I won’t try to dismember you.”

I eye his sword with suspicion, then nod. He takes the cue and nods forward, letting me lead the way.

The walk to the garden cafe is a quiet one, and I fight every desire to turn back to see if Felix is still following me. I can still feel the prickling sensation of being Felix-watched, so that alone tells me that he is. All the same, there must be something he needs to talk about because why in Fodlan would he want to invite me of all people to tea? We don’t even like the same things half the time!

We both stand in front of a remote table in the corner of the cafe. I fiddle with the tablecloth nervously, and he clears his throat. “O...oh.”

He waits for me to take a seat, and I do. He takes his own seat across from me, and once we’re settled, he asks an apprentice to bring us a Four-Spice Blend and a Honeyed-Fruit Blend.

It’s my turn to raise an eyebrow. “How—?”

“I asked the professor,” he grunts. “She’s taken tea with enough students by now that she knows we have preferences.”

We sit silently as the apprentice brings the tea. With the two pots, he also provides a small basket of assorted cookies. Felix helps himself to the tea but does not touch the cookies. I go straight to nibbling on a lemon-flavored one before I sip my tea.

I still don’t know why he’s brought me in for tea when half of our time is spent drinking and--in my case--eating cookies. Clearly it’s not because he enjoys my company. He still continues to frown.

Finally, as the area gets busier, and the apprentice is no longer walking near us, Felix straightens. “Sylvain mentioned you.”

Any warmth from the tea I just had starts draining from my face. I pale, and my hand starts to shake. Sylvain didn’t mention my book, did he ? Oh dear Sothis, this is an embarrassment on a completely different level.

“He said you were a helpful sort.”

A helpful sort. My hands stop shaking. Now I’m just being really paranoid. “With what ?”

Felix sighs. “I understand you talked of family matters. He didn’t go into detail, and I suppose I should have asked, but...” He shrugs. “Family isn’t what I want to talk about.”

“Then what ?” I almost jump right there. I’m beginning to think he is trying to poison me. But that can’t be it, because I just drank all that tea and I’m still not dead yet.

Though I did hear about how Claude created some sort of poison to make your stomach hurt days after...maybe Felix borrowed that and put it in my tea! He must’ve found a way to administer it in my teacup or teapot even with me staring at the table the entire time--

Bernie, you let your guard down, you silly—

“Stop!” I had gotten up, and his voice jolts me back into reality. “I’m not here to poison you.”

I must have said that aloud. My mouth goes slack, and I cover my face with my hands.

“I thought we were over this,” Felix says, and I can swear there’s the irritation in his voice creeping up again. “I invited you to tea, and I haven’t poisoned anything. I’m not going to kill you. And my sword is staying where it is, by my side. It’s not going to be used to dismember you. So can you stay right there? Please?”

I swear I made up the “Please” part, but he says it again, and I uncover my face.

“You’re always running away. You must really find me irritating.”

There it is. “Irritating, I know! I completely--What? No, I mean, I know I’m irritating, but—Huh?”

He doesn’t let the comment sink in. Whatever pleasantries he wanted to get from tea and cookies is now past, and he presses his palms on the table, leaning forward with a purposeful glint in his eyes. If you’ve never seen Felix fixed on something, well…

I will admit, it’s fascinating enough to get me out of my self-pitying stupor.

“Do you remember when you came up behind me and knocked the sword from my hands? I need you to teach me that technique.”

The fascination gives way to incredulity. “Sword? Teach? Technique?! ” I laugh nervously. “That’s, um, that’s a joke, right? Because that--that’s just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Not that...you’re ridiculous or anything.” Oh boy. I just told the guy who took me out for tea that he’s being ridiculous.

Wait. He didn’t take me out to tea. He dragged me. Yes. That’s the better word. Drag . This was not a voluntary event. Not in the least. I refuse to believe it is.

“Maybe so. But I saw you do it. You don’t remember? You moved like a flash, and before I knew it—”

I blink. Oh goddess, he must be talking about my full-blown panic mode. Had I done that to him? I must have. And now he won’t let it go. “Nope! Wasn’t Bernie. You must have dreamed it. Unless my accuser dares to produce some evidence.”

He removes his hands from the table and fiddles with something on his side. When his hands resurface, they hold a little brown pack, and I feel the lemon cookies start coming to life in my stomach. With a vengeance.

“Yes, evidence. I still have your satchel. See?”

“O...oh. My satchel. W-wait, that?” Maybe it’s not too late to deny everything. Why is he tormenting me so? “No, that’s, um, that’s not mine. You can’t prove it’s mine!”

“You know it’s yours.” He stands, takes the satchel, and puts it right in front of me. The cafe is still brimming with noise and laughter and people having tea, but we are in a corner, and he stands above me, a menacing figure drenched in afternoon light.

If Ignatz was here, I’m sure he’d want to paint a picture of the scene. At least, if I had half of Ignatz’s skill, I would . If I wasn’t about to combust from how nervous a wreck I’m becoming. I’m really no good at these situations.

I gulp. “I’m...I’m innocent--I swear!” I brace myself. “Merciful Seiros, save me!”

“This is getting nowhere. But, hmm…” He bends now, face almost level with mine. Amber eyes still filled with that purposeful gleam. Any minute and he’s going to invade my personal space and I. Can. Not. Have. That. My breathing becomes short, and suddenly the open garden becomes a closed, warm space and I find myself wanting to claw my way out. Wanting to reach for the rope to tear it away from me.

I don’t know when I do it, but I take the empty basket of cookies and swing it at Felix.

“What the—!”

“Aaaaah!” I shriek, and he backs away, almost stumbles, if not for his swordsman’s grace. He holds onto the tablecloth and rights himself back up before I can take another swing and hit him with the bottom end of the basket. “Lies! All lies! I didn’t do any—”

I drop the basket, horrified.

Felix looks shocked. Disappointed. Livid. His shoulders sag, and he replaces that purposeful look with one of his countless glares. “You know what? Never mind. I’m done here.”

I take deep breaths, not knowing if I’ve done the right thing. But he was so close, and it was hard to breathe, and...oh, Bernie, you panicked again. Now he’s gone, and doubtless that’s the last time he’ll try to interact with you...

And well, somehow, I think I made a mistake.

Chapter Text

Wyvern Moon, 1180

We found Flayn! Okay, maybe “we” might be too much of an exaggeration, since I took little part in actually finding her. But I will take credit for helping her to the medical room.

Mostly because I froze when the time came.

Jeritza’s chamber is menacing. It is no different than most of our student quarters, with its stark and soldier-like furnishings. Unlike our quarters, the knights’ quarters are more spacious, and thus covered with tapestries over the walls. The nobles’ quarters usually have a rug and a small banner to indicate their houses, and most of the knights usually have one simple banner of the Church of Seiros hanging by the side of their rooms.

This is not the case with Jeritza. In place of the wall hangings showing his loyalty to the Church, his walls are lined up with darker banners, almost like tapestries depicting a battle. I commit some of them to memory, noticing the banners being flown in each tapestry, noticing that there are at least ten.

The Ten Elites? I file the information away for now.

As I stare, transfixed, it dawns on me that there’s more to the room than meets the eye. I confirm this feeling when Professor Byleth hurries back from the corner of the room they were examining.

“Secret passage,” Professor Byleth quickly explained. “We found—”

“Professor Manuela needs aid,” Prince Dimitri continues, his arms full of Professor Manuela. He grunts, looks at Professor Byleth. They share a look, and I cannot help but envy the fact that they can converse without words to each other. Professor Byleth nods, and he turns to the rest of us. “I’ll return as soon as I can. In the meantime, I need you to support the professor. There are two more unconscious bodies by the secret passage. Please help in any way you can.”

And with that, the prince heads out of the knights’ quarters and towards the second floor of the monastery. Professor Byleth shouts her own orders, and we mobilize ourselves towards the secret passage.

The sight of Flayn and a second figure on the floor stops my motion. For a moment, I think they are both dead, and I steady myself on a wall.

It is Petra the huntress who crouches down, takes their pulse. It is Petra who sighs with relief and looks up, smiling grimly. “I am glad that they are still living,” she says. “But I am thinking they will also need some healing.”

“Do what you can,” Professor Byleth says. “I need a few of you here to help. The rest of you, come with me.” She does not wait for a response. She heads through the passage, knowing that her Blue Lions will be right behind her.

Felix darts through first, Dedue, Sylvain, and Ingrid in tow. The swordsman glances back, locking eyes with me. It is only a brief moment, a moment lost within all the little moments that happen at the same time.

I don’t know what he is thinking as he turns away, disappearing into the cavernous expanse. All I see is his look of disappointment the last time we spoke. His words of frustration.

“I’m done here.”

I lose my nerve. I cannot go in there.

I stammer an apology. The room is too stifling. The unconscious bodies on the floor too unnerving. I am getting claustrophobic. I am seeing glimpses of the past that I would sooner forget. I am seeing my father before me. I am seeing his disappointment, his irritation, his fury.

“What use are you , Bernadetta?”

I cannot breathe and I know I’m about to have another one of my episodes.

Ashe’s hand rests gently on my shoulder, and I let out a breath I did not know I was holding.

“I’ll go,” he says in his quiet voice. Sweet Ashe. Kind Ashe. He squeezes my shoulder. “Flayn and...this other girl needs attending to. It’s best if a few of you gets them both to the medical wing as soon as possible.”

“Y...you’re right,” I say, looking at Flayn. She’s small enough for even slight Bernie to help carry. Slight Bernie can be useful. Maybe. I look at Ashe, feeling confusion, guilt, relief. I should head down with him. They might need more than one archer below. What if one arrow went straight for—

“Bernie and I will take care of Flayn,” Dorothea’s musical voice rings out behind me. “Ferdi, help with the other student?”

“I--yes, of course I will,” Ferdinand responds. “It is, after all, the noble thing to do.”

Somehow I think Ferdinand wants to go down through the secret passage, too, but Ashe already runs in, followed by Annette, Petra, and Lysithea. Pretty soon there is no one else in the room, save for me, Dorothea, Ferdinand, and the two unconscious females.

I don’t bother thanking them for staying with me. I don’t bother apologizing. It will only come out to be a jumbled mess, and I know for a fact they won’t want to hear me anyway. Dorothea just looks at me and purses her lips. I try to say something, but she shakes her head. “Bern, whatever it is, we can talk later, okay?”

“O...okay.”

“Ferdi, be a dear and stop gawking,” Dorothea says, still smiling. “We’ll follow your lead. I’m sure your noblesome self can take care of--who is she?”

The heir to House Aegir gingerly picks the red-headed stranger up and slings her over his shoulder, moving past us and towards Jeritza’s door. Wordlessly, Dorothea and I take position on opposite sides of Flayn. We prop her up and we each take a shoulder, following Ferdinand out of the knights’ quarters.

By the time we make it to the second floor, it is Mercedes who meets us halfway. She rushes out of Professor Manuela’s office in a flustered state. “Oh! There you are! Dimitri mentioned you’d be coming by with--ah! It is Flayn! I’m so glad.”

Mercedes leads the way towards the medical room, and we follow, passing Professor Manuela’s office. I catch a brief glimpse of the professor lying on a makeshift cot in her office. It explains why Mercedes was coming from there.

The healer instructs us to place the two girls on separate beds. It seems like hours later that we are finally ushered out of the room to let the healers do their work. Dorothea sinks down to the floor, hair matted on her forehead with sweat. Ferdinand watches the movement, and he turns quickly away when Dorothea glances up.

“This is some day we’re having,” she murmurs before closing her eyes. She voices the relief we are all feeling at the moment.

“I worry for the others,” Ferdinand quips, brushing the sweat off his own forehead. “Who knows what they have found at the end of the passageway.”

“Nothing good,” Dorothea replies, eyes still closed. I sink down next to her. She feels my presence and tilts her head, almost as though to put her head on my shoulder. Thankfully, she doesn’t. Perhaps she knows me more than I thought. “But Professor Byleth is with everyone, and she always seems to pull through.”

I nod. I say nothing as the two continue to chat. I stop listening to the conversation, letting my mind wander over the day we had, to the conversation that occurred before..

My mind goes back to Jeritza’s room, and the hurry with which the prince left it, carrying Professor Manuela in his wake.

I open my eyes. The hospital wing was past Professor Manuela’s office, and there is no other pathway to get from one to the other heading up the stairs.

So why is it that we didn’t catch a sight of the Faerghus prince?

“Where’s Dimitri?” I ask softly.

Dorothea, Ferdinand, and I stare at each other, at a loss for words.


The days leading up to the Battle of the Eagle and Lion are filled with bundles of nerves all around. Just about everyone is anticipating the fight, especially those of us who joined from other houses.

It’s why I am stuck with Dorothea, Petra, and Ferdinand more often than I would have liked.

It is Ferdinand who approaches me first. Perhaps it’s because he feels a connection, since we both helped Flayn in our own way.

The way he tried to coax me out of my room, though...well, it backfires really quickly. The next thing I know, I’m apologizing to the guy for spraining his wrist.

Now you’ve done it, Bernie. Clearly this means you’ve turned Ferdinand von Aegir into your eternal rival.

Even though he insists he is not there to hurt me. Even though he leaves of his own volition…

It is Dorothea who comes bounding up next. She catches me humming and daydreaming in the greenhouse, talking to myself about friendship and being close to someone.

“Bern, are you okay?”

I make a noise between a gasp and a squeak. Seriously, Bernie, you need to calm down sometimes. “Dorothea! Did--did you hear all that?”

Dorothea giggles. “Just the part about you wishing you could get along with someone.” She winks and sidles up to me in a conspiratorial fashion. She lowers her lashes. “Soooo, Bern, who’ve you got a crush on?”

Crush? Crush? Whaaaa—

There must have been something on my face, because she squeals with delight. “Oh, come on now! Seriously, you have to tell me. Who are they? Do I know them? I am so excited for you, Bern!”

Whaaaaa—-no. Absolutely not. We are not having this conversation. No no no no no. I stop the images in my head from fully forming. I stop any thoughts of amber eyes and frowning lips and dark, dark hair— “Um. N...no. No! I was...thinking! About...about being friends. Yes! With you!”

Dorothea’s infectious grin fades to a confused smirk. “ Me ? I thought we already were friends.”

I need to think more quickly on my toes. Come on, Bernie, what else do you say? “That’s...that’s n--not what I mean. I’m such a coward!” I take a deep breath, and thankfully, Dorothea waits for me to express myself. “I thought it would be great if we could be closer.”

I do think about what I say next, and once I say it, I know it is true in a sense. “But old memories...they just get in the way for me.”

The ex-opera singer smiles that soothing smile. Somehow it is no surprise that she can charm her way through life. Dorothea has that way about her that exudes friendship and camaraderie. It is only a pity she’s a commoner. And I really should distance myself from them…

You’ll only watch them get hurt. And it’d be your fault, Bernadetta .

I shudder.

“Bern. Bernadetta,” Dorothea says, “Whatever happened in the past, you know you have my full support. I’m here. For you. I thought we’d already been friends for a long time now. Please—”

“Just forget it,” I say, walking away again. I am always walking away from something. “We’ll never be close friends. Father would just...he would just…No!”

I cover my ears, trying to block out the memories, but they chase me all the way back to my room, and I am left near tears as I remember the commoner that lost everything.

And it was all because of me.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Red Wolf Moon

To Her Esteemed Archbishop,

Despite Uncle’s insistence that I “rest like a good little Fey for once,” you and I know that I’m cut from the same cloth as my father. I resumed training the minute the healers declared me recovered.

I admit the events at the Bolg Mountains have shaken me. Much of that predicament was due to my own failings as a wyvern knight. I am not often in the skies, so I neglect that training in lieu of other, more practical skills. I have decided that while I am still here in Gautier, I have been accompanying the Lioness in her morning routines. She proves a very capable teacher, should you ever need a guest lecturer with extensive knowledge of the skies.

One of the things I found of note as I accompany Aunt Ingrid during her mornings is that she is responsible for mapping out the terrain beyond the mountains. She has been doing this not just for Gautier, but in Galatea as well, and on occasion, His Majesty even sends her east at Fodlan’s Throat from time to time (did you know this? I did not…) It appears to be a never-ending process, but she had explained that terrain, while familiar to most of us who live there, is constantly changing. This applies very well to deserts, where sand erodes even our deepest footprints. How does one, then, create a proper route for anyone to travel in? Why not just take to flight all the time?

Clearly flying is not always feasible, as is proven with my case.

The Lioness, however, has been doling out falcoknights in her employ, and some of her key players have been planted in certain locations throughout Sreng as scouts. Not all of them have reported recently, but from the gathered news, the Sreng warchief is planning something big. The extent of it, goddess only knows.

There was something else I’d been made privy to, and if it hadn’t involved a certain flying route through Fraldarius, I’m sure I would have paid it no mind. But…

On one of those maps the Lioness had given me responsibility for, I noticed several routes that flew south and back to Sreng through Fraldarius territory. It’s a pathway that reaches all the way down to Merceus in the south, and some of the key stopping locations include Fraldarius, Galatea, Charon, the Monastery, Bergliez, and Varley.

I bring this up because if this was a flying route, having a stop between Varley and the Monastery makes little sense. It is no long distance between my late mother’s relinquished lands to Garreg Mach, and any flyer stopping from Fraldarius to Galatea can reach further distances without stopping and resting down the valley. Besides, Varley already belongs to the Monastery, so why is it considered separate on the map?

Aunt Ingrid has given me the map to further research. I feel as if there’s something in the route I should thoroughly investigate.

Rest assured that Curan and my father-in-law are aware of my recovery, and by the Ethereal Moon--should His Majesty find no need of me in his campaign north--I shall return to Fraldarius. As much as Uncle’s hospitality has been nothing but doting, and as pleasant as it is to spend some time with the rest of his family, I would like nothing more than to be in the comfort of my home. And to avoid Uncle’s periodic mutterings of diplomatic incidents.

He does get overly dramatic, I’m afraid. Something he shares with my father-in-law.

 

All my love,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Gautier Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan


RED WOLF MOON, 1180

The Battle of the Eagle and Lion (and Deer) happened at the end of last moon, and I feel as if I need to drench in the memories. If only because it seemed a rather strange event. Scary? Maybe a little. Mostly, I was afraid I’d have to fight against my former Black Eagles friends, and, as it so happens, I ended up having to.

What I did not expect was that Felix Hugo Fraldarius would be fighting alongside me.

Gronder Field is a massive battlefield just east of Varley. I recognize the terrain because it is a famous training ground for Varley soldiers. There are numerous scouting locations outside of the field, and a ballista in the middle as defense against the flyers. Between three small armies, it is still a place that takes some time to traverse on foot.

We are stationed in the northernmost spot of Gronder Field, each of us given our own maps in case we are told to separate. I am given a battalion of my own archers and tasked to make my way directly south. There is a raised ballista section at the top of the hill, manned by the Black Eagles, and Professor Byleth asks that I commandeer it.

I gulp. “But...professor, really? Do I have to do it?” My voice squeaks as I visualize the terrain in my mind’s eye. “That ballista is really open for pegasus and wyvern knights...” Already I’m thinking of Caspar, who commands a battalion of wyvern knights, and of Leonie, whose battalion of pegasus knights is as formidable as her own skills in the sky. Shooting them down will be no easy feat, even as an archer.

“You will have backup assistance,” the professor responds. “Dimitri, you’re heading east towards where the Golden Deer is camped. Sylvain, Dedue, and Dorothea will go with you. Don’t underestimate Claude, he will likely use the terrain to his advantage. Annette, Petra, Ingrid, we are heading west to take care of the rest of the Black Eagles. Doubtless Edelgard will be there. Lysithea, Ashe, Felix, and Bernadetta, you need to take the hill. Felix, make sure nobody touches Bernadetta and Ashe as they arm the ballista. Lysithea, use your range.”

Lysithea grins. “To cast fire and fury down to my deserving enemies?”

The professor grins back. “Just like that. And maybe to help heal anyone if things go wrong.”

I look at Felix, whose eyes narrow into dangerous slits. It is clear he would rather take his own fighting directly to the general commanders of the opposition. He means to say something, to question the professor, but one glance at Dimitri is enough to silence him. Felix purses his lips. He knows just as well as everyone does that if there’s anyone who would want a crack at Edelgard’s skill in battle, it would be Dimitri; and like Felix, he’s being sent elsewhere.

I am relieved that I am not in the same group as Prince Dimitri. This is mostly because I remember the looks Dorothea, Ferdinand, and I shared when we were outside the healing room. Dimitri never explained where he went after bringing Professor Manuela to her office chambers. And from what Professor Byleth had said, Dimitri did not return to fight until the end of it, after the Flame Emperor disappeared.

My paranoia connects dots where I don’t want them to. The thought of Dimitri being the Flame Emperor makes absolutely no sense, but I cannot help but feel there is a connection.

That is when it occurs to me that Felix and I are in the same group. He says nothing as more orders are given, and once the professor and the Faerghus prince set out, so do we.

Felix sets the pace, and Ashe covers us from behind, his bow at his back, axe strapped to his side. He’s surprisingly adept at both, but it is his handaxe that he takes out to thwart the javelin that comes straight toward us.

Already the fighting has begun, and Lysithea’s hands begin to glow with the aura of her mixed magic. I ready my bow, in search of any movement in the sky. The minute I hear the thunder of wings, I swivel towards the pegasus knight, and I loose my arrow upon sight.

It hits the knight’s shield, but I loose again, quickly and without further thought. The second arrow makes contact with chainmail and there is a yelp from one of Leonie’s battalion soldiers. Immediately, I see the sky glow a strange color, and the injured soldier is whisked away from the battlefield. Perks of this being a mock battle: nobody dies.

I sight another target and loose, becoming less my nervous self and more attuned to the battle at hand. We slowly make our way toward the hill, Felix at the front, Lysithea and me in the middle, Ashe at the back.

Felix is a force on the battlefield, and I am unsurprised that he can wield his sword with ease. He is a sword dancer, dodging and weaving, nimble and deadly. He bruises and cuts with control, and I swear he can spend hours doing so. And I can spend hours watching him.

What surprises me is when magic bursts forth from his free hand when a fortress knight comes into view. The swordsman takes the knight down in two magical bursts of lightning, and Lysithea proves an able backup when she dispatches of the second knight, engulfing him in the cover of darkness.

We make it to the ballista in no time. Ashe shoots the archer at the top with his blunted arrow, and the archer is quickly whisked away by the magical light. Felix turns to me and nods. “All yours.”

Ashe and I prepare the ballista with the large, incendiary bolts from our packs. As we do so, I can hear the battle cries ringing from every direction. The Blue Lions, Black Eagles, and Golden Deer are now in the throes of battle, and chaos is everywhere. I swivel the ballista around, searching for a target.

Leonie in the sky, making her way west towards Ingrid. Caspar and Linhardt, back to back as they catch sight of Petra and Annette. Hilda and Lorenz clashing with Dedue and Sylvain. Claude making his way towards Dimitri, Ignatz right behind his leader. In the far distance, at a raised dais, stands Edelgard and Hubert, a formidable duo looking to crush anyone who gets in their way.

Somewhere at the bottom of the hill, soldiers begin clambering up. I aim, take a breath, and pull the switch back on the ballista. I look at the potential targets, find the best location to shoot. I loose the arrow, and the ballista shakes with the after-effects. Below, the ground erupts into flames, and many soldiers are whisked off and out of battle.

Beside me, Felix watches with mild interest. “Impressive.”

I cannot help but blush. It is no light matter, being complimented by Felix.

Anything I mean to say is punctuated by the blast of magic from Lysithea. Ashe shouts a word of warning, and I immediately go back to my line of sight. Ashe and I load another bolt in, and I find another target.

It is like this for some time, up until Claude and Ignatz somehow makes their way undetected. I would say it is almost impossible, but knowing Claude, he always has something up his sleeve. 

Ashe becomes preoccupied with Caspar, who finds his way to the center of the hill. Lysithea involves herself in a game of cat and mouse with Ignatz, and it is Claude who eventually emerges to meet Felix and me head on.

He grins, arms poised to shoot either of us in rapid succession. My eyes bulge, and the scheming Golden Deer leader nods. “Bernadetta, I’m going to ask you to step away from the ballista.”

“She’s not going anywhere,” Felix says, lightning beginning to form at the tip of his fingers.

“Not even if I say ‘please’?” Claude winks.

“You heard me, you snake.” It is close to a growl, what Felix says, and my palms begin to sweat. Any moment now, Claude will render me or Felix ineffective in the battle. I freeze at my spot.

“Bernadetta, go back to your bow,” Felix murmurs so that only I can hear. “When he shoots, make your move.”

I don’t ask any questions after, because Felix bolts toward Claude, and the Golden Deer leader shoots his arrow. Not at me, but at the more threatening of us. At Felix.

Everything after that happens at a rapid pace. Felix manages to parry the first shot, but Claude is just as fast and avoids Felix’s swipe. When magic bursts from Felix’s hand, Claude blocks with his glowing shield, pulls back another arrow, and shoots. This time, Felix is not fast enough to react, and somehow Claude makes a hit.

The swordsman turns to me, face wincing with slight pain from the arrow’s impact, and the warp light takes him out of the field.

Claude has no time to ready another shot, because I’m already close enough for a point-blank volley. I don’t even think about the damage I will cause at that close a range. I loose my arrow.

The Golden Deer leader follows Felix soon after, whisked away by some Church mage flying overhead. I drop my bow, my hands shaking from the close call.

Felix Hugo Fraldarius hates to lose, I think to myself. Felix Hugo Fraldarius never loses.

But in this case, he does. To keep me at my location. To ensure that I am unharmed.

Chapter Text

RED WOLF MOON, 1180 (Part 2)

The battle begins to die down, and one by one, each of us is warped back to the Monastery to get treated for our injuries.

Ashe and I suffer little to no damage on the hill. His nose had been bloodied by close contact with Caspar, but easily healed once under Mercedes’ blessed hands. I escaped with relatively no damage, save for the burns I’m going to feel around my arms after spending all that time with bow and arrow.

Dimitri and the professor were the only other Blue Lions who came out of the Battle of the Eagle and Lion (and Deer) unscathed. Dimitri because Dedue took the brunt of the blows, and the professor because...well, she’s the professor.

In the end, the Blue Lions gained its hard-won victory, and the professor gathered us up to talk about a celebratory feast. Granted, she had to wait for everyone to heal, and then not only that, but she also invited all the other houses for this celebration.

Personally, I would have loved nothing more than to take the win and sink onto my bed, to be uninterrupted for days.

Alas, when does Bernie ever get what she wants?

The dining hall that night...well, it is almost worth the agony of being out.

Already, the students are decked in their finery, uniform black and gold and white in their evening outfits. Nobody is dressed in their house colors, because it was agreed that the entire mock battle is not just a celebration of its winners, but one of cooperation between houses.

I like this idea.

I make my way to the back of the hall, my nose gravitating toward the food laid out on the tables. It smells wonderful in the dining hall, of spiced mead and ciders, of cinnamon-sprinkled sweet rolls and towers of caramelized cream puffs. Of fish and meat dishes, of vegetable soup and stir-fried noodles with pineapples in the mix. I could swim in the custards and the pies if it was appropriate.

Lysithea is already at the dessert table stuffing her face with applecakes, and not so far behind is Annette sampling a mug of hot apple cider. I make my way towards them, eyeing a piece of berry custard tart that is calling my name.

As I’m unceremoniously chowing down, I feel a tap on my shoulder, and I turn. I am surprised to see Claude von Riegan smiling down at me, holding two mugs, one stretched out towards me. “Hey Bernadetta!”

“Oh.” I gulp down the rest of my tart. “H...hi, Claude.”

He hands me a drink, and I reflexively accept. The mug warms my fingers, and I close both my hands around it.

“No hard feelings about today,” he begins after I take a sip of his offering. The warmth of the cider cascades down my throat, leaving with it a glowing taste of happiness. “I was trying for a vantage point, you see.”

It takes me a few seconds to figure out what he meant, but the battle comes back easily to me, and I nod. “Oh, I...I didn’t take offense or anything.” It was a mock battle. Why should I have?

“I’m glad! It’s important that I let you know there’s no animosity between us,” he says in his easy grin, the smile always a staple on his handsome features. “I didn’t want you to take it the wrong way, me shooting Felix.”

“Why would I?” I say, confused. The way I saw it, it was hit the most likely to attack, and Felix was definitely the most likely to attack.

Claude shakes his head, takes a sip out of his own mug. “Because you seemed really outraged when you got to me. I admit, that shot you hit me with was a doozy. Had I known how agitated you’d get after downing Fraldarius, I’d have gone straight for you first. Remind me next time to take my chances with Felix than with an angry von Varley. No, don’t freak out! That was a compliment, honest!”

“F...freak out?! I’m...I’m not freaking out!” Lies, Bernie. All lies. “I’m not angry at all! Maybe...maybe I was uh, agitated as you say. You were going to shoot me next, you know!”

“Fair point,” Claude shrugs. “Just wanted to congratulate you on your reflexes.” He tilted his head down and winked. “I think maybe we should try a little archery competition of our own. Between us, I’d really love to see who’s the better shooter.”

“Obviously it’d be her, you snake,” growls a voice behind me. I stiffen, and I tell myself not to turn around. Don’t turn around, Bernie, just don’t...

But it didn’t matter. I know immediately that it’s Felix. I turn around, just as Claude chuckles. “Fraldarius! I am so glad you’re healing just fine.”

“No thanks to your haphazard style of shooting,” the swordsman mutters. “Claude.”

The two share a nod, and Claude bows, his grin getting wider by the second. “Good work today. I was just telling Bernadetta here about how well she did right after you were, ah, incapacitated. And that there are absolutely no hard feelings on the matter. It was never personal, you know.”

“Noted. Is that all?”

Claude raises an eyebrow, holds up his mug as though preparing for a toast. “I can take a hint, Felix. Be seeing you around, Bernadetta.” And, as quickly as he arrived, Claude moves on, the cloak on his back swishing in style. I watch him approach Dimitri and the professor, who are having some sort of heated conversation with Hubert. What argument they were having stops the minute Claude von Riegan steps into their circle. What surprises me is that Hubert isn’t beside Edelgard, which is usually the case.

On the side, I eventually spy the future Adrestian emperor with the girl who’d been found with Flayn in Jeritza’s room. I think her name is Monica von Oche. I don’t know much about her or her territory. She is far to the west in the Empire, and she’s...well, she’s a little strange for my taste, always hanging onto Edelgard’s every word and taking her attention away from everyone else.

Not that I am jealous. Edelgard has long stopped speaking to me by this point. I’m still to this point wondering if it’s because she’s become distant in general, or she’s still harboring some annoyance that I switched houses. Should it really matter, though? She knows I’m still a von Varley. She knows I will still return...

Somehow the thought of even thinking the word “home” makes me shiver.

“Was he bothering you?”

It takes me a second to get out of my inner thoughts to remember that Felix is standing behind me. Well, beside me now.

I stare. “What?” I must have been watching Claude’s back for far longer than necessary.

“Was von Riegan bothering you?” Just how in Fodlan is it possible for someone to stare as intently as Felix can? I feel like he’s staring into my soul. It’s slightly unnerving.

I shake my head. “N...no. Everything’s fine.” Lies, Bernie. All lies.

“Is it?” Felix says, crossing his arms over his chest. “You were about to start flailing a few seconds ago. If I didn’t come to interrupt, I’m sure you would have started your crazy technique again, and Claude would be back at the infirmary.”

“Th...that wasn’t…!” I bluster, almost spilling the rest of my drink on him. He seems to have anticipated it, because he approaches and puts a steadying hand on my wrist to stop it from shaking. “Eeep!”

“Would you stop? I took great pains getting myself into my clothes, and I’m sure you did, too,” he says, glancing at my blouse. I’m still speechless even after he pries the drink from me and puts it on a tray of used mugs. “There. Now we are both unscathed by warm apple...whatever this sweet drink is.”

I take this time to watch him instead. Felix is dressed in more pronounced blacks, the gold buttons and trim around his outfit shining in the light. He cuts an impressive figure, even in his dancer’s slimness, but there’s no denying there’s danger there as well. What I notice most of all is that his sword is nowhere to be found.

“Um...”

“Out with it, Bernadetta.” I detect the slight irritation is back in his voice, and I wince. He sighs. “What is it?” he says more patiently.

I gesture at his side. “You don’t have your sword with you...”

He pats his unadorned belt buckle, looks down. “Ah, yes. One of Sylvain’s not-so-stellar ideas. Insisted my weapon didn’t go with the outfit. I spent a good part of the last hour trying to tell him I was just fine wearing my Academy clothes, but I was overruled.” The growing irritation in his voice is definitely not at me, so I get less anxious.

“So Sylvain talked you into that?” I glance at his clothes again, and he pulls on his collar uncomfortably. I feel almost bad for him, if he didn’t look quite so good. But I don’t.

“No. Ingrid and the rest of the crazy lion’s pride did.” Felix tugs at the stray lock around his bun and tucks it back in. “She had the audacity to bring Annette and the boar into the argument. By that point it was a lost attempt. Besides, I can survive without a sword for the night.”

“You can?” I don’t mean it to be a teasing comment, but he turns red anyway. “I could have sworn you slept with the thing.”

The corners of his mouth twitch, and I can feel a smile coming along. But he tapers it, and I’m left a little disappointed that he manages to control his reaction.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” he says softly, almost as though he didn’t intend for me to hear it. But I do, and it is my turn to blush.

“Besides,” he says hurriedly, a twinkle in his amber eyes, “I’ve got a couple of daggers tucked away in my boots.”

I couldn’t help it. I snort. That breaks the tension. Almost.

Felix gestures at the food and walks around me. He grabs a plate and starts piling food on it. The spices waft towards me, and I try not to wrinkle my nose. Felix does like a lot of chili in his food. All the same, I take his lead and follow him, grabbing a plate and helping myself to some of the dishes on the table.

We plant ourselves on one of the long tables by our friends and begin to eat. Our silence becomes a comfortable one, punctuated by the revelry of the night and the conversation of the table. Once or twice I look up to watch him, only to find that he’s also doing the same thing, and I turn away immediately. It’s getting ridiculous, his effect on me. But I cannot stop my own reaction, now, can I?

Bernie, don’t be stupid. The man is an enigma, and he probably still hates you for almost braining him at the cafe.

Maybe, I think--no, hope --to myself, maybe he hates me just a little bit less now.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Queen Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Fhirdiad, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan

Ethereal Moon

 

Byleth,

I hope this letter finds you well.

Through sources we both share--namely one in the Fraldarius territory--it has come to my attention that you have sojourned towards the Kingdom capital for the time being. I hope I am not remiss in addressing you in your queen consort title as opposed to your archbishop one. I promise you it is not because I am finding every which way to disrespect Fodlan religion, though we both know my feelings on blind faith.

Frankly, I just think of you more fondly as a queen among her people, a fitting match to the warrior king by your side. Doesn’t that sound more romantic?

Anyway, how is Dimitri, that scoundrel? I’ve been hearing strange, contradictory reports up on my own monarchic hill, and I fear I’m too curious for my own good if I left things alone. I’ve got one source telling me the king is in a tempest, his armies marching north with the fastest Gautier horses to quash any sort of Sreng resistance. I’ve got another source where he’s flying an army of wyvern knights and not stopping at Sreng, but headed west to Albinea of all places. Another where he’s traveled to Arianhrod to rebuild secret contraptions discovered by his foremost Crest scholars. Not to mention a fourth source saying that he’s actually moved southeast, tearing the countryside apart in search of a lost duke.

My personal favorite is the wyvern rider story. Mostly because him flying anywhere makes me laugh, and partly because it keeps him away from Almyra. Not that I wouldn’t welcome him with open arms if the lout ever decides to visit, but you have to admit, an army of Fodlanian wyvern knights would not be easy to explain away as far as my subjects are concerned.

Byleth, you and I both know there is a grain of truth to most of these rumors. Should I be concerned? Do I need to recall the scheme I’d cooked up for His Majesty’s birthday? I promise you it’s nothing harmful, but with Dimitri’s occasional brooding and Dedue’s paranoia over anything I send over, you never know.

I’ve sent packages through House Goneril for your celebrations during the Ethereal and Guardian Moons. I’ve also dispatched a verbal missive to Hilda, who I trust will reach Fraldarius territory by the end of the Ethereal Moon to discuss something I also learned through my sources. This one particularly mentions a missing duke. From what I’ve gathered, if that fourth rumor is true, Dimitri does not have far to go.

I haven’t told Fey of Hilda’s reason for her visit in hopes that Fey will be pleasantly surprised, so keep that between us, will you? You know how much I love harboring secrets.

 

From your king across the mountain,

Claude


ETHEREAL MOON, 1180 

Can you believe it? Tomas isn’t actually Tomas at all!

Turns out he’s more conniving than Hubert and a much crazier schemer than Claude. Turns out he’s got several more screws loose in his head than, well, than me!

We encounter Tomas down at Remire Village, and oh boy, do I not want to see that place anytime soon. While the villagers were going crazy with some plague-like symptoms (only, the professor and Jeralt think it’s much more than just plague), Tomas decides to tell us all that he’s not actually our old librarian, but someone named Solon.

What really bothers me about this whole situation is that I have no idea how Solon could make Tomas look so...well, so real . Was he using magic to glamour himself as Tomas? Or, worse, was he using Tomas’s corpse and wearing it?

Oh goddess, that thought comes to mind and I’m ready to barf.

But we’ll worry about that another time. What I’m more worried about this month is whether or not Professor Byleth is going to make me the representative dancer for the Blue Lions during the White Heron Cup. I hope to Seiros she doesn’t, nope nope nope.

Bernie doesn’t dance. Bernie flails with her arms and legs, and who knows if that can even be called dancing.

It can’t, right?

It’s also my birthday, and I did such a good job avoiding the subject that I did not expect an invite to tea from the professor. I would have refused, but the professor is a most insistent person, and short of breaking my door down (which Ingrid has already done at least once ), she would never stop hounding me if I didn’t go.

Teatime is painless and uneventful, though I am grateful that Professor Byleth didn’t make it into some grand celebration. I’ve had enough of that for the month, and we’ll be having a grand ball by the end of it. Plus, I think I share the same month as Dimitri’s birthday. The Blue Lions has enough to worry about, looks like.

When I return to my room, I am surprised by the large stuffed bear perched on one of my chairs. It has a blue ribbon tied around its neck, and sapphire gemstone eyes. The edges of the bear seems a little faded, as though it had already been through several washings, but the dark velvet coat still shines.

Somehow, someone got into my room again to drop this off, and honestly, I would be horrified by this blatant disregard for Bernie’s personal space, but I’m not.

Instead, I squeal in delight. It’s just. Too. Cute!

I take the soft, cuddly bear in my arms, and turn it around, in search of the kind soul who left it behind. Clearly the kind soul knew my birthday, but not many people did. Was it Ingrid? Annette? They knew I liked—

I spy the note as it flutters to the floor. I gently put the bear on my bed, pick up the note, and open it. Inside, scrawled in neat black writing:

“You seem to like cute things. Thankfully I have not had any use for Dima the Bear in over a decade. I have a feeling you will give him a better home. Happy birthday. - Felix

P.S. Don’t you ever , on pain of murder, poison, or dismemberment, mention this to Dimitri or Sylvain. Ever . If you do, though, I’ll soundly deny it.

There really is nothing else to say after that.


Bandits. Why are there so many bandits in Fodlan?

The subject of bandits come up again, just as the professor and I are having tea. Neither of us brings it up, though, and mostly it’s people around us in the garden cafe who are speaking about bandits in the north. Talks of villages being set upon by those hoping to plunder wares.

I know there’s a strategic logic to attacking villages, but honestly, I still think bandits are stupid for doing so. The last village--Remire--had very little to give to its own people, let alone provide for freeloading bandits .

The professor is riveted, though, but like the professor she is, it is hard to read what she thinks about the overall conversation around us. We sit and listen, the professor lost in her own thoughts, and me lost in mine.

But of course, that quiet between us is broken when a third party comes to interrupt. 

“There you are. I was looking for you.” Felix.

Professor Byleth and I both turn to the voice. Thankfully he is looking at the professor, because I pretty much look at him with bulging eyes and an open mouth. I’m ready to bolt.

“I need a favor,” he says after some hesitation.

“If you want to spar, can it wait a bit?”

Felix frowns. “I...no. This is something of an unusual favor.”

I cannot help but look at Professor Byleth as he says this. The professor and I share a glance, and we almost miss the look of worry in Felix’s eyes. But it is there, and we know immediately that whatever favor this is, it is something Professor Byleth would never refuse. Not from Felix, who doesn’t ask for help.

“My father sent a messenger. He wants me to return to Fraldarius territory.” He scoffs at the questioning look in the professor’s face. “Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius, the highest ranking member of the Faerghus nobility. But about the favor. You’re familiar with the Tragedy of Duscur, I presume?”

“Um.” Of course, Bernie, way to interrupt a tenuous moment. I look down, but it’s too late to back out now. “That’s where...that’s where Dimitri lost his parents, isn’t it? Where you lost your…”

It is no secret anymore, that more than one loved one was lost in Duscur. It is written in Dedue’s caution towards everyone, in Dimitri’s subtle black moods. It is in Ingrid’s wistful stares at the horizon, her recounting of a man she’d once pledged her heart to. The same man whose life shattered the entire Fraldarius household.

Felix never shows the strain of having lost a brother in the Tragedy of Duscur, never for a moment allows that weakness out into the open. But after watching him for some time, it becomes evident in the way he trains. As if, in some way, training his mind, body, and spirit away drowns out any other thoughts of sadness in his head.

The swordsman gives nothing away, though the narrowing of his eyes is indication enough that he is still hurting from that question, even years later. “Yes and no. The assassination of the king and queen happened before what happened at Duscur, but I suppose you can connect both events and call the whole thing that, yes.”

“After the king’s death, public order disintegrated. Bandits continue to raid villages across the Kingdom, including those within Fraldarius territory. My father says he needs my help driving the bandits away.”

“And you want me to join?” The professor already senses the request on his lips. Though, admittedly, it is not a difficult one to guess.

“Precisely.” Again he hesitates. “Perhaps I shouldn’t pull you into this...it stems from my family’s failure to secure the region. But honestly…”

He looks at me for a brief moment. I know this because I am still watching him, and this time, there’s a spark in his eyes that I catch. I do not know what it means. He returns his gaze at Professor Byleth. “I want to see you in action. I never tire of watching you fight.”

Professor Byleth raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“And it’ll be much more interesting for you than the training ground,” he finishes with an over-dramatic shrug. “Or maybe this task--driving off bandits--seems dull to a former mercenary?”

The challenging tone is definitely enough for the professor to mobilize herself, and she quickly makes her excuses, apologizing that our teatime is cut short. I tell her I do not mind, because I so very much want to be back in my room anyway.

Except I don’t return to my room when Professor Byleth finally walks away to prepare her class for an excursion north. I remain seated, with Felix watching me intently.

He clears his throat. “I meant it, Bernadetta.”

I try not to squeak. “Wh...what do you mean?”

“To see you in action.”

He does not explain further. He bows politely, turns around, and walks away.

It is only when I am finally back in my room that I groan with resignation. Because of course I’m going to head north with the rest of the class. Stupid, foolish, slightly smitten Bernie.


I think I know why Felix asks for the rest of the Blue Lions to come to his aid. It’s because somehow he has it in his mind that we can stop him from doing stupid things.

But he does stupid things anyway.

Like charge head on against bandits just to show his old man that he’s capable of handling everything in his path.

And what does stupid, unthinking Bernie do?

Follow the goddess-cursed idiot swordsman.

To be fair to his thinking, he did warn us that there are villagers trapped by the bandits. Part of his rushing is definitely to save his people, and that is why I don’t hesitate to go after them as well.

It proves a dangerous undertaking, because just how many of these attackers are assassins?! Even Petra has her work cut out for her, fighting a contingent always looking out to knife her in the back.

It doesn’t help that Felix refuses traveling with his own battalion. As adept as he is at leading an army, he refuses to be bogged down by men surrounding him. So when Professor Byleth assigns a battalion to me, I refuse them in turn. Instead, I ask for a single horse.

“What in Fodlan do you need with that ?” Felix asks as I struggle to get on one of the bigger steeds provided to us.

It is Ferdinand and Sylvain who grin, as they give me raised fists in acknowledgement. “That’s our girl!” Sylvain says, and I giggle nervously.

To make up for spraining his wrist, I had agreed--after some painstaking conversations through a wooden door--to take horseback riding lessons with Ferdinand. At the time, I found it beneficial because the professor kept insisting that I train myself with shooting arrows as I move, and what better way than on a horse, right?

Sylvain discovered us some days later as I struggled with holding onto the horse with my thighs around the saddle, while training my bow at a target. Much to my consternation, he also began to give pointers, even going so far as giving me basic directions in holding a lance on horseback.

“Lances are heavier, but will help you with endurance training, I promise you,” he said. “You’ll be carrying heavier things in no time at all!”

I will admit I was resistant-- very resistant--at first, but I found the training just a little bit exhilarating.

Finally on the horse, I canter it towards Felix and try to smile. I’m pretty sure the smile comes off like I have a toothache, because I’m nervous , not happy about the situation. “We have villagers to save, don’t we? What does it matter how?”

That is how I manage to make my way through the chaos of bandits and assassins and towards the stupid swordsman.

Felix--almost indestructible Felix--bites off more than he can chew. He finds two children being menaced by a group of assassins, and to protect them, he puts himself in the assassins’ line of sight. From a distance, I can see that he is trying to shoo the children away to a safer location so that he does not have to worry about them, but they are insistent on sticking to his side. This becomes problematic to someone who revels in fighting unhindered.

It could also prove fatal to all three if nothing is done about it.

So I do what my days of training with Ferdinand and Sylvain have taught me. I grab my bow and begin shooting at a distance. Once I urge my horse closer, I switch out of the bow and arrow and grab the short spears strapped to the side of the horse.

I don’t think about the consequences. I don’t think about how many spears I have. I just throw and throw, because all I can think about is the stupid man with two children grabbing at him and holding on for safety.

“Bernadetta!” He yells, finally free of the children, who’d run away to my direction once I clear the path. I hop off the horse and head toward him. Without anyone to worry about, Felix unleashes his own flurry of attacks, dispatching the remaining assassins with ease.

I reach him, my bow and quiver of arrows the only weapons I take with me now. I turn from him to view the area, bow out and ready to fire.

“The horse proved useful,” he grumbles. “Thanks for the assist.”

Protecting the rest of the village gets easier afterwards, with Professor Byleth and the Blue Lions continuing their onslaught. Felix and I make our way back to his father, and the two exchange heated words. Felix storms off, and I watch him go. When I turn to see Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius, he is glancing forlornly at his son, then speaks briefly to the professor.

I find it is another one of Felix’s coping mechanisms, pushing his father away in anger. For what, I can never really fathom. But deep down, there is an understanding I have of how Felix feels.

Fathers are complicated mazes to find our way around. And in our case, perhaps it is best just to avoid them altogether.

Chapter Text

ETHEREAL MOON, 1180

Annette really makes for a graceful dancer! And certainly better her than Bernie, yep!

I think Dimitri and I shared the same sentiment when Professor Byleth finally picked our house representative for the White Heron Cup. We were definitely happy that we had someone who could possibly outdance Hilda and Edelgard. There was Dorothea, but strangely enough the professor did not pick her. I think she knew Dorothea was a shoo-in, with her having been a trained performer back before her Academy days, and I suppose it’s almost cheating in a way...

Mostly, Dimitri and I were just really, really relieved that she didn’t come around and make us dance.

To my surprise, Hilda doesn’t participate. It is Claude who comes to compete. My guess is it’s to prove something, but Lorenz scoffs and admits to us that it’s because Claude lost a bet to Hilda and now he’s paying the consequences.

The man does know how to move, though Edelgard worried us a bit, too. In the end, Annette got the votes.

The rest of the month passes quickly, and before I know it, it’s time for the ball.

Goddess, help me on this day of days. It becomes all flurry and fancy free. Annette drags me across the student quarters and up the stairs to Hilda’s room, insisting that everyone is going to be there. I try to protest, but then Ingrid joins Annette in coaxing me out of my room, and I definitely don’t want a repeat of Ingrid breaking my door down.

So unfortunately, I go. But not before Annette ransacks my wardrobe in search of something “pretty” to wear to the dance.

“I...can you stop now?” I whine, not even caring that they can hear my voice squeak to an irritatingly high level. “I can dress myself!”

“We know that, Bernadetta,” Ingrid says, frowning at Annette, who chooses to ignore my request. “Annette, aren’t you being a little overzealous?”

“There’s no turning back now, Ingrid,” Annette says cheerily. I think I liked her better when she was too busy studying and not glowing over her dancing win. “Besides, I know she’ll want to look especially good tonight!”

I don’t understand her subtle teasing. I really don’t. I tell her this, and she stops to turn around. She grins. “ I happen to know someone has a crush, and remember the rumors about the Goddess Tower and--”

“S...stop. Right now. Right there.” I blame Dorothea for this. She finds romance and cuteness in everything . “Don’t even start this. I am not sneaking to the Goddess Tower tonight or any other night!”

Annette loses her grin and pouts. “Aww, Bernie, but--”

“Let’s just go to Hilda’s room, please,” I say, back to pleading. Before she can even protest, I stalk off, leaving Annette objecting behind me and Ingrid laughing. I don’t think I’ve heard Ingrid laugh much, but clearly something I did made her giddy. I walk faster just to try and ignore both of them.

We make it to Hilda’s room, and, as Annette said, almost all the girls I know are there. Dorothea and Hilda are chatting about the best ways to style their hair with Flayn looking on with great interest, Marianne is sitting nervously in the room, examining a bottle of perfume. Lysithea is scoffing at a purple scarf that Mercedes tries to put on her. Petra and Leonie seems to have abandoned even trying to get ready for the dance, choosing instead to discuss hunting techniques on the side.

Even Edelgard and Monica are there, though once again, Monica is taking up a lot of Edelgard’s attention away from the other girls. I admire Edelgard’s calm expression and wonder at the patience she harbors with this new-but-not-so-new student.

I try to fathom how it’s possible that all of us can even fit in the room, but we do.

When I enter, Hilda comes to greet me, and she brightens when Annette and Ingrid arrive at my heels. “Oh great! Now it’s really a girls’ party! Welcome to Hilda’s home away from home!”

I’ve never seen so many frills and decorations. I think about how Hilda is in battle--standoffish, sure, but put her up against an enemy and she’s ridiculously strong with an axe. It’s scary how strong. I try to reconcile that thought with the supremely girlish Hilda standing in front of me, worrying about what scent to wear and which boy to try to woo tonight.

It’s mind boggling how weird both Hildas are.

But in the back of my head, sometimes I am a little jealous that she can be both things. I hear my father criticizing me in my head, and I almost back out of the room, if not for Ingrid firmly placing her hand on my shoulder, knowing I might bolt any second. She’s right, of course.

So instead, I sit by Marianne, who looks just as out of place in the room as I do.

I wish I could say I got much out of that time, but all they did in the end was reinforce my need to pray to the goddess.

Oh Sothis, seriously, help me on this day of days.


Professor Byleth gathers the Blue Lions around her before the ball begins. Even the excitement of the ball reaches the professors, and Professor Byleth is no exception to that rule.

“This is the only ball of the year, and I see why. Everyone is absurdly excited…” Dimitri says, a little unsurely.

Dedue picks up on his prince’s mood. “Your Highness, you sound so detached. We are all encouraged to enjoy the ball tomorrow.”

“Right you are. What a burden...”

I want to tell Dimitri then and there that I totally get where he’s coming from. I’m not a big fan of balls, either. Probably for different reasons...

“Huh. I never thought we’d see eye to eye, but I agree,” Felix says. “I’d rather be swinging my blade than wasting my time with some girl at a ball.”

Ingrid rolls her eyes at this, while Petra shakes her head. “It is not all girls who will be dancing, Felix! What if you will be wanting to dance with some boy at a ball?”

There is a long and awkward pause after that statement, and Petra looks around, confused. Felix grits his teeth. “No,” he says simply.

Sylvain, however, laughs. He continues to laugh to a point where he sheds a tear, and he slaps Felix on the back. “Oh come on, Felix! Your Highness! You’re joking, right? This is our chance to dance with all of the ladies of the academy to our heart’s content. All of the gentlemen, too,” he winks at Ferdinand, who actually blushes.

“Yes, well, the boy I have in mind isn’t one for dancing,” Ferdinand mumbles. “Or mingling.”

“Oh for the goddess’ sake, Ferdi,” Dorothea says, patting him on the back. “Just lure him out for coffee. That always works with Hubie.”

“Dorothea!” I didn’t think Ferdinand could get any redder, but he does.

Sylvain continues to laugh. “And to think, Felix, you wish to throw away the best day of the whole year for sword practice? Insanity , I tell you!”

The somber mood between Felix and Dimitri doesn’t stop many of the other house students from voicing their opinion. Ashe grins up at Sylvain. “I’m pretty excited about the ball, myself. It’s not like we get to do things like this very often.”

“Yes, Ashe, true!” Sylvain is in his element now. He is waving his hands in a grand gesture. “In fact, I’m gonna do you a favor and give you a crash course in chatting up girls. By tonight, you’ll be an expert!”

“A...actually...I’d, uh, much prefer if someone could just teach me how to dance…”

“Don’t worry about the dancing part, Ashe!” Annette replies, her cheeks pinkish. Somehow I think she’s got a boy already in mind to dance with. And that boy is the one she’s planning to teach. “I can teach you that, easy!”

“And will someone tell Ingrid that the ball warrants at least a tiny bit of makeup?” Mercedes quips. “Juuuust a smidge? You, too, Bernadetta! You’ve tried to avoid us all day...”

“I...I’ll think about it,” Ingrid and I both say in unison. In Hilda’s room, she and I stood at a united front where makeup was concerned, though Ingrid did eventually abandon me when it came to fragrances.

Me? I ended up marveling at Hilda’s patchwork and embroidery. I can’t help it. I do have hobbies as well.

“Frankly, you’re all prioritizing this wrong,” Lysithea speaks up, still sitting at the table. She looks ready for a dance, all frills and pretty scarves and just about everything Hilda shoved at her. She does look adorable, though. “You go to the dance for the food. I bet the cook has planned something magnificent!”

Dimitri lets out a chuckle. “You know, there’s no telling where life will take us after we leave here. If only we could find a way to come together again, just like this…”

“A fine notion, Your Highness. Perhaps five years from now?” Dedue says, smiling. Only Dimitri can make Dedue smile these days. I don’t blame him, especially after what Felix said about the Tragedy of Duscur after our trip north.

Dimitri’s eyes light up. “Five years from now? Ah! That’s when Garreg Mach Monastery will be holding its millennium festival.”

Ingrid chuckles. “By then we’ll be addressing Your Highness as Your Majesty instead!”

I know the prospect isn’t new, but the fact that Dimitri and Edelgard are going to be king and emperor one day still jars me. I’ve only just started getting used to addressing Dimitri as Dimitri...but to think that in five years’ time I will be calling him His Majesty. It’s...a strange thought.

The thought sobers Sylvain up, and that surprises me most. “That’s right. I suppose we all know it’s coming, but by then you’ll be far removed from us.”

The future king of Faerghus shakes his head. “Come now. You know me better than that. My title may change, but I won’t. Besides, five years from now, you’ll all have your own stuffy positions to contend with.”

Now that thought gives me shivers. Felix notices, because he narrows his eyes.

I do not like thinking about going back to Varley. I do not like thinking about having my father tell me I’m not good enough to run the household. He’ll find ways to tell me I’m not perfect, no good, not even worth his time to teach.

It jars me now that between being a knight for a king or being the lady of the household, I would choose the former in a heartbeat. Ingrid may be reluctant to leave Galatea and become a full fledged knight, but if given the chance, I might go the opposite way.

The only problem is I don’t think I’m good enough to be a knight, either.

“The millennium festival does give us a perfect excuse to return here,” Dimitri suggests.

“A reunion! That sounds fun. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Annette says.

Most of the house follows her response, and before I know it, I’m promising the same, as is Professor Byleth. There is no going around it. As much as I like being in solitude...there is something about the Blue Lions house that makes me think I could stay friends with everyone here.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s okay in the end.


There’s really only so much dancing and socializing before even I want to go and disappear into a small space and stay there in solitude forever.

I think Annette is right about me sneaking off into the Goddess Tower. Just to get away from all the noise and the craziness.

So I do go to the Goddess Tower in the end. I don’t tell anyone at the dance. I just slink away and disappear. Most of the students are busy watching Dimitri and Edelgard start the dance with their respective partners--students from different houses who’d bravely asked them before the music began. Before I leave, I glimpse Claude approaching the professor. I don’t bother to look at all the others pairing up (though I do send a heartfelt wish that Ferdinand does get his dance), because honestly, I don’t care.

The Goddess Tower is unlocked and unguarded. The one guard that is assigned to the tower is busy having a conversation with a pretty girl dressed in a pale blue gown. By the way she giggles, I know she is flirting with him, and I hope to the goddess that the guard doesn’t get distracted enough to abandon his post and head to the Goddess Tower himself, pretty girl in tow.

I stick to the shadows, making sure not to be visible to either guard or girl. I open the door to the tower, and slowly close it shut. The door fully muffles my footsteps, so I move on and head towards the stairs.

The quiet echoing of my feet hitting the stone steps is oddly comforting, and I revel in the silence and solitude that the tower provides me. My room is nice to stay in all the time, but in this case, the fresh, cold air and the view from above is definitely a good change of pace.

When I make it to the top, I move towards the balcony, and I gasp as I watch the sky.

Stars and stars and stars. Far as the eye can see, shining so brightly that I think the goddess is watching over us and taking care to make the night magical. It is such a beautiful view that I get lost in the moment, and I lean back onto the wall just to watch the night sky.

I don’t notice the footsteps until it falters, and I stiffen. Frozen on the spot, I turn, peeking my head towards the inside of the tower. A shadowy figure looms before me, its cloak billowing in the chilly air.

“P...please don’t be a ghost,” I say softly, though the words carry and echo into the empty chamber. “Oh, you’re a ghost, aren’t you? Oh Seiros, I knew it was a bad idea to be in here. Ghosts eat your flesh, and all anybody’s going to find of poor, silly Bernie is her bones…”

“Bernadetta, it’s me.”

“And they probably won’t even recognize it anyway,” I continue to stammer, barely hearing the familiarly exasperated tone that is a particular Blue Lions swordsman. “Especially because nobody will notice I’m gone , and how could they, Bernie, when you lock yourself in your room so much!”

Bernadetta .” Felix’s body emerges from the darkness, and it takes him joining me by the balcony that I eventually stop to look.

“So it’s nobody’s fault but your--oh!” I don’t know at this point whether to be relieved or sorry that it wasn’t actually a ghost that came to the tower. “Felix. H...hi! What are you doing here?”

“Huh,” Felix muses. “I came to get some peace and quiet.”

“Oh. Uh. M...me too.”

He stands there, and the silence--which should have been awkward and strange--is actually comfortable for a time. It does become cold, and I shiver. He looks down at me, but makes no other movement. “Have you heard the legend of the Goddess Tower? That if you make a pledge, it will be fulfilled?”

“I...yes.” With Annette telling the story, I know it too well. It’s a grand story, and for a time, I did wish just to stay up here, secluded, with a nice boy in tow. But…

I did not expect that boy to be Felix, that’s for sure.

“Childish, I know,” Felix continues, gazing back out at the open air and the stars. “But if it were true...I pledge someday, I will surpass the greatest swordsman out there. I will surpass the professor. I will make her taste defeat one day!”

Of course he does. Because that’s the kind of thing Felix would make a pledge about. “That’s...your pledge to the goddess?”

He turns to me, a frown on his face, a look I cannot decipher. “What would you rather have me pledge? For a passionate affair? Love and romance? Those are things I’ve spent my whole life avoiding.”

“Why?” It’s a conversation I don’t think I’d have ever broached, but Felix is worked up, and I’m just too darn curious about it now. “Why waste all that effort avoiding romance?”

“Because, Bernadetta, they’re distractions .” He throws back his cloak and pats his sword. “Blades, blood, and battle. That’s what I’m made of and nothing else.”

“That’s...fairly limited,” I blurt out and immediately regret it.

He raises an eyebrow. “Oh? Coming from you, that’s a surprise. Sometimes, I think you have the right idea, about closing yourself off to the world. If I’m limited, what does that make you?”

My cheeks heat up. I should cower, should agree. Of course I’m limited. I’ve been told I’m good for nothing for years . And it is perhaps because of this that I lose my patience. I accept my limitations, and I know I am good for nothing at times, but Felix does not get to tell me that. Never him. “You know nothing about me, Felix Hugo Fraldarius.”

I say it like a hiss, and he takes a step back, incredulity changing to surprise to...the look he has when he’s engaging in combat. Alive, riveted. He’s looking to pick a fight, and well, so am I, it seems.

“Do I not? Bernadetta, you become transparent at times. You want to be alone, you don’t like people. Every time I come to approach, you become a deer ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. I’m honestly surprised you’re still here talking to me .”

“We all have our quirks,” I snap. “Mine happens to be to stay in my room and keep myself in seclusion. Haven’t you seen the type of world we live in? It’s scary out there. There’s always fighting, always people warring with each other. There’s always death. The archbishop wants heretics dead, the people of Faerghus want those of Duscur dead, the bandits want villagers dead, my father --”

My father wants me dead. I’ve said too much, so I stop, take a deep breath.

“Your father?” he asks in a soft voice. Whatever argument he begins to say comes up short, and he rubs his forehead, sighing. “You...it hasn’t been easy for you at home, has it? With your father.”

I look away. I want the stars to swallow me whole. I want no one there but me. I want it to go back to before Felix interrupted my silence.

But I cannot turn back time. So I stare elsewhere and try to ignore the swordsman beside me.

“You want to add to that death, too,” I say finally. He does not respond back, only looks away, and we both once again stand in silence.

For a time, he does not bother me, and we look at the stars, side by side. Almost as though…

Felix lets out a breath. “If someone saw us,” there is laughter in his voice, “this may look like an amorous meeting. You’ll have to settle for being mistaken as my lover.”

“Whaa--”

Warmth envelops me, and I realize he’s put the cloak he’s wearing over my shivering state. “This might make things worse in the long run, rumors and all,” he says, stepping back, “but neither you nor I really care so much about those, do we?”

“Felix--”

“It’s time I went back to training. Try not to catch a cold up here. I’d hate for such an...interesting person to be out of commission. Who’ll shoot my enemies down otherwise? Goodbye, Bernadetta.”

I stop shivering. I tell myself that the warmth spreading over me has everything to do with the cloak and nothing else.

Nothing else.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Pegasus Moon

 

To Her Esteemed Archbishop,

How dare you, Archbishop! I know my father-in-law conspired with you about Hilda’s coming to Fraldarius! Do you know how much panic I had been trying to ensure that my accommodations were at the utmost quality before the head of House Goneril came calling?!

Luckily, Curan had been told ahead of time and had taken care of the important details. Hilda is an asset and a wonderful dignitary to host, but sometimes she does tend to be, well, trying . Especially when it comes to her needs and wants. Please try to inform me next time one of Claude’s old friends is visiting. Please .

I don’t know if my father-in-law also told you of her purpose in visiting, but we might have a bit of a breakthrough in my father’s disappearance.

My mother, while she’d been sequestered at Varley between 1181 and 1185, had apparently done copious research on Duscur’s history and people. I know, this seems strange, considering the tragedy itself and the entire situation had since pre-dated any of her journal entries. It seems strange mostly because it really had nothing to do with her house or family.

However, mentions of these notes creep up once in a while in her journals. They are subtle mentions, but clear enough to me that the subject interested her, and she made it a personal mission to collect as many accounts as she could about the area.

She may have spoken to Dedue on the matter, though I cannot be too sure. In her journals, she was always so wary of the Duscur survivor, and as far as I can remember, I do not think she’s ever actually had any friends from Duscur, save Dedue. How she managed to compile notes and stories of the Duscur region--now the Kleiman region, I believe--is beyond me.

Whatever the case, Duscur’s history was a personal mission of my mother’s. Yet, for all my searching in mother’s old rooms and the libraries we have here in Fraldarius, I cannot find any journal pertaining to her private works. She was very protective over her research, but she never kept anything from father or me. Something tells me she may have hidden the notes elsewhere.

And what better place than her old home region? As I said, she’d been living in seclusion in Varley a better part of five years during the Unification War. She avoided contact with most people by that point, though I wonder if she sent letters? Those were definitely her favorite ways of communication.

It goes to stand, then, that my father might have headed south to verify the existence of these notes. As you are aware, the people of Duscur and the people of Faerghus have been at an uneasy truce, and though most of us now co-exist with the survivors and their kin, the past can’t be erased. After all, the Tragedy changed everything for Father, and perhaps this is his way of closure. Knowing him, he’d definitely be interested in mother’s notes, and knowing her, she certainly hid them from him to prevent further distractions. You have to admit, she did get quite anxious every time Father left in service to Uncle Dimi. But she would never stop him from doing his duty. Their relationship was strange like that.

How Hilda knows all this is beyond me. But then again, she and my father-in-law have always had a highly effective information system. Are you sure you or Uncle Dimi are not interested in their services? Probably not, considering that could blow up politically, but it’s a thought.

I have sent a letter to both Dedue in Fhirdiad for confirmation of my theories, though I am at a loss for who to petition to gain access to Varley’s old libraries and grounds. Since the area is now part of the Church, it stands to reason you might have a say in the matter, wouldn’t you, Aunt By?

Please advise. I hope to head south once I’ve settled matters here.

 

All my love,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Fraldarius Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan

 

P.S. Apologies for my previous agitation. I don’t mean to yell at the Archbishop. As a token of continued fealty, I send you packages of Almyran Pine Needles, as promised. As thanks for her delivered information, I’ve sent Hilda off with a shipment of Leicester Cortania for Claude and an assorted box of rose and mint tea for the Lady Goneril. Let it be said that the Duchess of Fraldarius is anything but ungrateful.


 

GUARDIAN MOON, 1181

It’s difficult to think of myself with the tragedy that struck the Blue Lions at the end of last month.

I’ve still yet to sort through my feelings after Felix and the Goddess Tower, but more important matters are at hand, and honestly, as Flayn would say in these situations, “We’ve got rarer fish to find.” Or something like that. I’m not actually sure Flayn says this, but it wouldn’t be a far stretch from the truth.

We lost Jeralt Eisner a few days after the winter ball. I wish I could say it was due to accident, but Jeralt was a formidable Knight of Seiros, and has been a famous one even after he left and came back.

He was also Professor Byleth’s father.

Needless to say, the professor is beside herself with grief. I was not there to help her or Jeralt to save the students at the abandoned chapel, and now I wonder if I could have done something to help prevent the event from happening.

Probably not, Bernie. If Professor Byleth could not stop her own father from dying, I would be far from helpful in that case.

The least I can do now is to place my flowers at Jeralt’s grave.

It is a difficult thing for me, to be out so often, but I do it to cultivate the flowers in the garden. I snip out the best pieces and arrange them in a bouquet. Before I tie them up in ribbon, I spy Sylvain and Ingrid heading inside the greenhouse. I almost duck myself into a corner to try to avoid them, but stand ground. No use anyway, silly Bernie, Sylvain’s already seen me.

“Hey, Bernadetta.” He tries to end my name in a note of brevity, but even Sylvain is tired this month. We all of it feel the loss of Jeralt in the Blue Lions House, especially when Professor Byleth has been aimlessly wandering the monastery in a daze. Most of her lectures have been half-heartedly given, and not even Dimitri can break her out of her mourning. Lysithea wrinkles her nose with disapproval, but she doesn’t have the heart to suggest to the professor that it might be better just to rest for the month.

“Hi, Sylvain, Ingrid,” I say, looking anywhere but at them. “What are you doing in here? Is it your turn to care for the plants?”

“It’s mine,” Ingrid says gently. “Though honestly, Sylvain and I are here to do the same thing you’re doing.”

“We’re going to see if we can gather our own flowers for Jeralt,” Sylvain says. He runs a hand through his hair and looks at the flowers I’ve already gathered. “Though by the looks of it, I don’t know if I could match your gift. Those are beautiful.”

I smile. “I...I’ve been cultivating these since Wyvern Moon. Well, Marianne helped out a few times. And--well, what does it matter whose gift is better anyway? I think Jeralt will…” I try not to think about the fact that we can’t really ask Jeralt anymore. “I think he would have loved them all.”

Sylvain beams at me, and a little bit of his usual self returns to color his smile. “Trust you to have the right things to say, Bernadetta.”

“Do you want to walk with us to the grave?” Ingrid asks. “We’re headed there as well. Just need to get some flowers.”

“Ah, well.” I try not to fidget. It’s already taking me a considerable amount of effort being outside for this long. To have too much company is, well...it’s still something I truly need to work on. I shake my head. “I think I’ll go now. I’m, um…”

But Sylvain understands the look I’m making, and he nods. “No worries. We might take a bit longer here anyway. See ya later, Bernadetta!”

“Uh, bye!”

I don’t hurry out of the greenhouse per se, but I don’t tarry either. By the time I get out and nobody is looking to ambush or talk to me, I head over to the other side of the monastery.

Jeralt does not have his own grave. I wonder briefly if the grave he shares is the professor’s mother. It is something of a mystery, Professor Byleth’s parentage, and I’d heard Leonie on occasion voicing the question of Jeralt being the professor’s father. Still, it is something that is definitely not my business, so I don’t examine the grave further. I just place the flowers down and offer my own prayers to the goddess.

“Those are lovely.”

I stiffen. Why is it that I always freeze up when I hear his voice now?

“Th...thanks.” At least this time I don’t turn around.

“You’ve come to pay your respects, too.” It is not posed as a question, so I don’t answer it. I continue to bow my head over the grave.

Felix walks forward and kneels over the grave, placing his own gift on the stone surface. An ornate sword, broken in half, the two pieces creating a whole. He arranges the two pieces apart before standing up, and brushing his pants. He catches my curious stare.

“Jeralt Reus Eisner,” he says by way of explanation, “was a legendary name in my father’s time. He often talked about Jeralt, and he’s hinted more than once that the man had been a minor noble for a time before he took on the mantle of Knight of Seiros. He’s the Blade Breaker.”

Ah, hence the broken sword. “That...is perfect,” I say, truly at a loss for words. For some reason, I think it’s a beautiful gesture.

He snorts. “You sound surprised.”

“I--do I? Did I squeak? Was it wrong to be surprise?” I fidget, press my fingers together. “So--sorry, sorry!”

“Stop, Bernadetta,” he says, placing a hand on my shoulder. “It wasn’t an accusation of any kind. I just...you seemed surprised. You don’t expect me to be thoughtful, I suppose.”

“I…”

Felix doesn’t drop his hand from my shoulder. I don’t know if I want him to, to be honest. “It’s just--it didn’t occur to me that you knew so much about the man. But come to think of it, with you loving swords and, uh, battles so much, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise, should it? Ahaha, right. Blade Breaker. Of course you’d know him like that. He’s earned a living being a powerful warrior, and the professor isn’t far from--eep!”

My shoulder is warm, and there is a slight pressure on it as the swordsman squeezes. His eyes hint at a warning, and I shut myself up. “Sometimes, I swear,” he murmurs, “You really get going, don’t you?”

“Sorry?”

“Once you start to ramble, there’s no stopping you,” he says. There’s no menace to it, so I don’t get offended, but I am still wary anyway.

“Is...is this a good thing? Or a bad thing?”

Felix shakes his head. “Neither. Just...interesting.”

“You say that a lot about me.” Okay, not really. He’s said it only once, but “interesting” to Felix Hugo Fraldarius is like Annette saying “magic” is interesting.

There, again, a quirk of his mouth! But before he could continue the conversation, there is conversation below us, by the stairs that led to the graveyard. Immediately, Felix drops his hand. I find myself visibly sighing with relief, and he scowls at me, displeased by my reaction.

I can’t help it, really. It was either be relieved he was no longer touching me or sorry that my shoulder didn’t have his warmth anymore.

Bernie, don’t be ridiculous. I swear, the thoughts in my head sometimes.

“Felix! This is a surprise,” Sylvain says. He approaches, holding a bouquet tied in a simple white handkerchief. Beside him, Ingrid holds her own bundle of flowers, a ribbon with her house’s emblem intertwined amongst the stems. “I thought--”

“Whatever you thought was wrong, as always,” Felix grunts. He nods. “I was just finished paying my respects. Is the professor...?”

Sylvain and Ingrid look at each other. It is Ingrid who clears her throat. “About that, we actually were going to find you after we visited the grave. But since you’re both already here, ah...”

“She’s found us a mission,” Felix guesses. “Of course she has. There’s no other way to mourn for her now.”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Ingrid responds. “She’s asking that you come. Bernadetta, you too.”

“I--what? Me ?!” I squeak. “Why? Where? Um...” I realize my indignation is so not what I should be showing, especially since it’s Professor Byleth we’re talking about here. “Where are we going?”

“Dedue’s asked for help,” Sylvain’s eyes are still on Felix, and the silent exchange between them breaks me out of my self-induced shock. Felix’s mouth is set in a thin line, a sign that usually means he’s not going to like what Sylvain is going to say. “He wants us to help him with Duscur survivors near Kleiman. They’re in a state of rebellion, and Dedue wants to stop any more bloodshed in the name of the dead king.”

“So he’s asked...the boar?”

“No, actually, he’s asked the professor.” Sylvain shrugs. “Surprising, I know, but it is what it is. Dimitri is going with us, of course.”

Felix rolls his eyes and throws his hand up. “Well of course he is. He wouldn’t just let his dog out of his leash.”

“Felix!” Ingrid’s tone is harsh, surprisingly so. She bites her lip when we all stare. “That’s enough. When you’re done here, get packing. Both of you. Orders from the professor.”

“It’s...going to be cold up north, isn’t it?” I murmur as Felix and I walk back to the dormitories.

He glances at me and raises an eyebrow. “Well, of course it is.”

“I...am not used to the cold in the north,” I say. I don’t know why I keep talking. It’s not like it’s Felix’s business how I feel about northern weather.

“That’s not a problem. Pack the cloak.”

My head shoots up, and for a moment, I don’t know what he means. “The--oh!”

“It should keep you warm,” he muses. If he notices my intense blushing, he says nothing. “We northerners are always packed for the extreme cold. As much as I dislike my father right now, I can’t disparage his practicality with clothing. He always sends the best my way.”

“Don’t you want your cloak back?”

He stops walking, as do I. When I turn to him, he’s rubbing his cheek. If there’s a blush there, I don’t see it. “Looks like you could use it more. Besides,” he shrugs. “The cold will do me some good.”

I would have insisted on giving his cloak back, but by that point, he’d turned away and gone straight to the training grounds.

Of course he would.

Chapter Text

PEGASUS MOON, 1181

If the end of last moon didn’t kill me with an onslaught of an anxiety attack, it very nearly did.

A little something about Kleiman, for those wondering (I know I was): it is very, very cold.

It does not help that we had to scale a mountain pass to get through to the region. It also doesn’t help that most of the lands there borders the coast. So imagine traipsing all the way north during Guardian Moon where the winds are at their worst and the snows are at their most frozen...

Needless to say I had the most miserable time getting there.

Granted, Felix’s cloak did keep me warm. And we are supplied with wyverns or pegasi for traveling there.

Not everyone is happy about flying, though. I’m sure Dedue would have protested himself, except he is anxious to get there before the Kingdom army makes their way to quash a rebellion. He settles himself on a wyvern, face stoic as always, but the way he grips the reins is a telltale sign of his sheer dislike of flying.

Like Dedue, Dimitri mostly grits his teeth and bears the pain of riding on a wyvern. At some point in the process of getting on, he almost falls, and it eventually gets decided that Dimitri will be riding with the professor. It is a blow to his pride, but Dimitri finds he isn’t the only one riding with another person. Besides, I think he has a crush on Professor Byleth, so his grumbling definitely lessens when he gets on behind her on a pegasus.

Petra takes Mercedes with her, and Ferdinand takes Dorothea. Lysithea, Ashe, Sylvain, and Ingrid all mount their own flying steeds with ease, and Annette giggles as Ignatz hangs onto her on the pegasus. That leaves Felix, who stares warily at anything that flies.

He is clearly uncomfortable when they bring him a wyvern, and wrinkles his nose as he tries to climb onto one. Eventually he does get on, and to his relief, it becomes stable enough for him to rise to the air.

Something else I learned along the way to Kleiman is that the place used to be the Duscur region. When Viscount Kleiman was awarded the title and control of the region, it was because of his heroism during the Tragedy of Duscur. It isn’t until later that I find that “heroism” in this case really means that he killed many of the people there in retaliation for Dimitri’s dead parents. A bloodbath, Sylvain calls it. A ridiculous massacre of the undeserving, Felix murmurs. Ingrid, on the other hand, calls it justice.

To my surprise, Dimitri doesn’t correct Ingrid, though he himself disagrees heartily. He did, after all, save Dedue from a gruesome fate. Ingrid doesn’t talk much on the flight there. Sylvain often flies by her side, as does Felix, and they all exchange words once or twice, but it is never something cheerful.

We arrive at Sacred Gwenhwyvar and alight on its mountain peaks. Ashe and I are tasked to scout the area, in search of the best vantage points, and that is when we see the glint of banners for the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus.

Ashe curses under his breath. It would be a bit more surprising, but I find that when Ashe gets agitated enough, he lets the language he learned on the streets show. I don’t mind it so much, not really, but it’s still disconcerting, that I’m working so closely with someone with neither rank nor title.

I think about Dorothea and my other classmates, and I cannot help but feel a sense of defiance, now that I’m so far away from my father. He would have disapproved completely.

“We need to get back,” Ashe says, “to warn the others. The Kingdom vanguard is here.”

He points to the tents and I see the warriors and knights in a flurry of activity by the foot of the mountain. Many of them are on foot, and some on horses. Few archers are posted below, just above a hill overlooking the vast expanse. They do not see us, but of course not. They do not think the danger will be above them.

I would say that that’s a dangerous way of thinking, but it works in our favor. We fly back to camp and relate what we saw.

“This isn’t good news,” Dimitri says, a growl of frustration escaping his lips, “But it’s not hopeless, either.”

“Certainly not,” Dedue says. “We need to reach the people of Duscur first, that is all. I fear the Kingdom knights will overpower them by sheer force alone, and the bloodshed…”

“Will be many,” Dimitry replies. “I agree. Professor, any thoughts?”

The professor bites her lip, tilts her head. It’s always like that when she’s deep in thought. She looks at the map Ashe supplies, and makes note of our markings on it. Her fingers run the length of the mountainside. “The Duscur rebels will be in the valley below. They will be at a disadvantage, especially if the Kingdom army is coming from above.”

“Which they are,” Sylvain points out, glancing at the spot on the map that marks the Kingdom army’s location. “As are we.”

“We’ll need flyers to head towards the areas where the rebels and the Kingdom are most likely to clash first. Ashe, Bernadetta, Petra, I’ll leave that to you. The rest of us will need to take things on foot. If we spook the Duscur soldiers, we might end up having to fight them. Don’t kill them . It is enough just to maim them or send them running the other direction. Our goal today is to stop a rebellion, not kill the rest of the Duscur people.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Dedue says softly. It is clear to everyone in the tent the gravity of Dedue’s grateful response.

“The army won’t attack tonight, and it would be difficult for anyone to ambush the Kingdom army where they’re located, even the Duscur people know that.” Dimitri begins to roll up his map. “So I suggest getting a good night’s sleep. The attack will begin tomorrow.”

It is hard to sleep, not on the eve of battle. I find myself wandering the camp, hugging the cloak close as I breathe in the chilly mountain air. I find a nice purchase of rock that serves as both a seat and a wall against the buffeting wind, and I stay there for some time, watching the stars. If not for the cold, I admit I kind of like the silence of the place and the darkness of the sky.

“Quite a view, isn’t it?” 

“Whearghh!!” I squeak, tilting over.

Lightning-quick reflexes stop me from falling and rolling down the mountainside. The same lightning-quick reflexes push me back onto the rock. Just as quickly--as though he had never encroached upon my personal space--Felix Hugo Fraldarius backs away and stands to the side.

“Felix, we have got to stop meeting like this,” I murmur, my breath coming up in whisps. “I swear you’re trying to kill me.”

“Hardly,” he says, voice amused. “You’re doing that to yourself. What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“You and half the camp,” Felix says, leaning beside me. “Ingrid has managed to rope Ashe into a conversation about some book they’d read at the monastery, and Sylvain has been playing middleman to their argument. About fictional characters . Don’t even get me started on what the boar and his dog are doing.”

“Why do you do that?”

“I--what?”

I shake my head. “I never understand why you call Dimitri a boar. I get the whole dog thing, because Dedue is very loyal to the prince. Not that I...agree with you or anything. I think Dedue’s great and all, but--”

“But why the boar?”

“Y...yes.”

Felix goes quiet for so long that I think he’s chosen not to answer. Only, he sighs after a time, letting out his own cold breath. He finds purchase on a stone seat next to mine, and I can’t help but be warmed by the proximity between us. It is a cold night, and there’s only so much warmth I can get from a cloak. Even if it is his cloak.

“There’s a darkness in the Boar Prince,” he finally says. “I saw it once, some years ago. There is a wildness in him.” He moves closer, though I only pick this up when his gloved hands play with the cloak. I think he is getting cold, too, and I am surprised he is even out here without his new cloak. “Mark my words, one day the prince will finally let out his true self, the wild boar within.”

I turn to him, and his hand stops fiddling with the cloak. He notices how his shoulder now bumps into mine, and he eases himself further away. Perhaps he felt me stiffen. Perhaps not. I don’t know, but he sits terribly still now, and I can’t help but want to keep him there in conversation, if nothing else.

“Then why follow him?”

“Why?”

“You don’t like your father,” I say, recalling the last time we went north. “And you don’t like Dimitri. And sometimes I feel like you only tolerate Sylvain because Ingrid makes you play nice with him. And those are your childhood friends. Why follow the Holy Kingdom at all?”

It’s a question I ask myself at times, locked up in the Varley household. Why keep my father’s name? Why remain a Varley?

“Heh.” Felix tugs at his hair, rubs a strand between his fingers. “That is something, isn’t it? I will not deny that my father and I have had...heated words. Sylvain is a pain on my side, but we do have some history, and I tolerate him for that. Mostly I stay because there’s a dead man I owe some fealty to.”

“Your brother? Glenn?”

Felix turns so sharply that I know it is the wrong thing to say. He grips my elbow and I wince. “What do you know of Glenn?” he hisses.

“Eep! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” He lets go and takes a breath. He says nothing after, so I continue. “I...it’s just there are stories, you know? And I feel like he’s the only dead man you’d ever show fealty to. It’s a guess.”

“You’d be right,” he snorts. “Glenn doesn’t deserve it, but he’s the man I looked up to. My father...it wasn’t right of Rodrigue to hail Glenn as some martyr. My brother was no martyr . He was a warrior. He did what he had to do, but made the mistake of dying. He died and it took many of us to pick up the pieces. It broke…” He stops, shakes his head. The silence is palpable between us, and I feel the breaking in his voice.

I don’t say a word. I just continue to look up at the sky.

“I stopped mourning him years ago.” The break in his voice disappears, and he is back to his usual sardonic civility. “But it kills me all the same that people talk of him like some chivalric knight. That it was his duty to die for king and country. What in Fodlan does that even mean? If you’re dead, you can’t fulfill your duty . Being stronger, learning, living , that’s how duty gets fulfilled.”

“As for the Boar Prince,” he shrugs. “He makes me uneasy, and I stay under his service mostly to watch.”

“To watch?”

“Don’t put too much trust in him, Bernadetta,” he whispers and gets up. “Someday his bloodlust will come back. Perhaps he’ll turn that towards the Blue Lions, and where would we all be?”

Somehow, it is harder now for me to sleep than it had been before.


I think the battle is what the professor needed, because she fights her way down the mountain with a ferocity none of us have seen.

She is experienced fighting bandits, and the rebels are no different for her. We all make quick work of neutralizing the rebel generals and persuading the Kingdom forces to return to their territories. After all, there is no point in another massacre, when the Duscur rebels have been turned around.

There is no celebrating to be had, because once we are done, we fly immediately back to the monastery. Frankly, I am relieved by the speed it took to return. I plan to sleep for weeks if I could. Or, you know, maybe hours. In the solitude of my own room.

Which I do, and I sleep for some time until there is a banging at my door, and Dorothea’s voice rings in the distance. I rub my eyes open, groan as I get up, and reach for my door.

“Bernie,” Dorothea says, and I stop in my tracks. She sounds agitated. “It’s the professor. Goddess, she’s gone.”

I wrench the door open, uncaring of how disheveled I look. Dorothea is pale, and her eyes are wide and ready to burst with tears. “She’s...oh, it was horrible!”

“What...what happened?!” I swear, we all only parted ways the night before, and there seemed nothing strange about our parting…

Dorothea didn’t wait for me to invite her in. She wafted into the room and sat herself on the chair near my desk. The bear with the sapphire eyes is on the chair next to hers, and she reaches for it, hugging it close. I would have objected, but I think she needs Dima the Bear more than I do. (I would have changed his name, but I can’t unsee the stuffed bear having any other name.)

“There was talk about Monica. Uh, Kronya now,” Dorothea begins, “After Jeralt’s death, Dimitri had roped Claude into investigating. The man might be as much as a womanizer as Sylvain, but there’s no denying he’s got a way with information. When we returned, Claude told Dimitri they have a location on Kronya. And Dimitri told the professor immediately after.”

I nod, sitting on my bed. I know where this is going. With the way Professor Byleth seemed in Kleiman, and how she was devoid of any drive to sleep or eat or, well, have tea with anyone , there really is only one way to bring her out of that kind of misery.

“She headed to the forest,” Dorothea says, confirming my thoughts. “She took Dimitri and a few of us with her, the ones who were still itching for a fight. When we got there, though…”

She gulps, inhales and exhales, as though she is trying to piece her emotions together before she falls apart. I have never seen Dorothea this upset before, and it shakes me up, too. “The professor...she’d gone ahead, and...and well, then she disappeared in a black cloud. Dimitri yelled for us to run back, and practically commanded me to get reinforcements, but what else could I do? Byleth is dea --”

More commotion, and soldiers run past my open room, yelling for a medic. Dorothea and I stare at each other, and in one united mind, we both lunge out of our seats and run toward my door.

I make it out first, and I see the swishing of blue cloak and the sweat-stained armor of Dimitri. I am a little relieved at the sight, but even more so when I see the woman in his arms. There is a strange glow to her hair, and if not for the distinct tights and the armored bodice, I would not have recognized her. But it is so very painfully obvious who it is.

Professor Byleth .

“Pr--professor?!” I manage to squeak out.

“Still alive, but I don’t know what’s wrong,” Dimitri says hurriedly as he passes by. “I need to take her to Professor Manuela.”

We let him through, and Dorothea backs up to the side of my room, sagging onto the wall. She utters an oath to the goddess, and--thankfully--lets go of the bear that she’s been squeezing so tightly. I pick the bear up and hold it to my chest. “I...I wonder what happened,” I say softly.

Laughter bubbles up in Dorothea. Laughter and relief and joy that our professor is alright. Strangely changed, but alright. “I don’t even care. I thought the professor was dead , Bernie. But she’s alive. Alive !”

I don’t admit it out loud, but I am also greatly relieved.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Great Tree Moon

 

Her Esteemed Archbishop,

We have finally gotten one step in the right direction! Thank Seiros.

Reports of a swordsman matching Father’s looks, height, age, and sour-faced temperament have been made between Gronder Field and Varley.

Uncle Syl has accompanied me south. I had made my objections, stating that his troops were needed with the king, but was immediately made to rescind when I realized that Uncle Dimi had practically ordered the matter closed. You had a hand in this, too, I presume?

Still, Uncle’s company was definitely welcome, and as wonders may have it, between the Lioness, the King of Unified Fodlan, and the majority of the Faerghus army marching north to quash the Sreng rebellions once and for all, we aren’t needed. This freed us up to search further south.

We made it to Varley without further incident, and with your gracious influence, we were let into the old grounds where my mother used to seclude herself in.

Varley Manor is a bleak place. After the land’s annexation to Garreg Mach, most of the lands have been used by villagers whose homes had been devastated by the Unification War. They’ve built towns closer to the monastery, and the village below the hill has turned into several villages. This meant that the old Varley Manor has been left unattended and uncultivated, and most of the area has aged tremendously.

Mother would have loved the overgrown plants, though. Especially the carnivorous ones that began devouring the greenhouse.

It’s unsurprising why Mother chose not to remain here. As I traipsed the halls and perused the faded paintings, it became apparent to me how she truly loathed being trapped here. The gardens might have been her only solace.

One room gave me particular difficulty, and I admit, after having read Mother’s journals, I had to hurry out the minute I saw the bare, gray walls and the scuff marks on the floor. I saw the chairs lined up on the sides, and fraying rope, and I knew what the room’s purpose had been. It is brutal and gruesome, and at that moment, I became nauseous.

Uncle Syl took out his anger on the room his own way. He torched the chairs and rope and bashed the door down with an axe. Leave it to him to make the already bleak house a bit brighter.

Mother was clever and shy, and knew how to hide things in the nooks and crannies of her own room. But Father knew her best, and he’d unearthed many journals that Hilda had spoken to us about. The journals were splayed out on Mother’s old bed, and other than the light dust covering the opened pages, there were further signs that Father had been in the vicinity.

One of the most worrying, however, had been the fact that his prized sword was propped by Mother’s old desk.

Uncle Syl recognized the Sword of Moralta immediately. He’d seen Father wield it enough times to know it from his other swords, and honestly, it shook him far more than it did me. Felix Hugo Fraldarius is never without his blade, and it took Uncle Syl about several minutes to decide whether to take the Relic back or not.

I made the executive decision to strap the sword to my side. As the only living Fraldarius heir, it made the most sense. Besides, Uncle Syl wouldn’t have been able to wield it anyway. The sword was never his calling.

We packed Mother’s journals with us and left no stone unturned. We both decided not to stay for too long. It is still a mystery, the how and why Father vanished, and it’s looking more menacing as I think about it. Uncle says Father keeps at least two swords with him, and perhaps where he's going he can't take a Relic with him. I don't know if Uncle is trying to reassure me or himself. I keep telling myself that he doesn’t need a sword to escape his tethers. I know he’s just as much an accomplished mage.

But what if there are more evil forces at work? I don’t want to think that he’s perished under them. I know my father. He’s the type of person to look death in the face and survive the encounter. He’s done so many times already.

We are headed back to Fraldarius territory to continue perusing through mother’s writing. Did you notice she stopped writing about her monthly activities after you disappeared for five years? I wonder if it’s because she spent those five years doing research instead.

Give the twins my love, and well wishes to His Majesty, though I believe we’ll be able to see him before you do.

 

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

[No Location Posted]


LONE MOON, 1181 (Part I)

My father has been placed under house arrest.

If Count Varley was to be the most of my worries, this wouldn’t be a problem, but a lot happened last moon, and I don’t even know where to begin.

Perhaps, I suppose, at the beginning. At least the beginning isn’t so bleak.

“No,” Felix says-- growls --and stands, making for the classroom exit. He doesn’t get very far, because Dimitri practically commands him to sit, and Ingrid and Sylvain cut him off at every opportunity. It is Dedue who successfully blocks him from the exit, his massive frame menacing even to a potent swordsman. Annette and Mercedes hold up a tray of what I now recognize as a meat pie, and Ashe tags along with a large box of assorted presents.

Felix is livid, red in the face and wishing to be anywhere but where he is right now. But there is nowhere to run, and he grumbles as he sits back down, a look of mortification crossing his face when Dorothea unceremoniously plops cat ears on his head. He looks up and glares .

“What in the blazes--”

“Short notice,” Dorothea shrugs. “It was the only accessory I managed to scrounge up in my arsenal of costumes. I think it’s cute!”

“It’s ridiculous .”

“I am not understanding,” Petra pokes at the ears. “Cat ears display the celebration of Felix’s naming? It holds this value?”

Ferdinand laughs. “I...think there is poetry to it.”

I don’t know whether Felix looks horrified or annoyed by this response. “Don’t you dare start, Ferdinand von Aegir.”

“Oh come on!” Dorothea pouts. “There’s poetry here! Cat ears, because he’s Felix, and he’s got... feline grace. And...uh…”

“We’re the Blue Lions house?” I suggest. “And that makes him feline through and through?”

Professor Byleth--who joins us soon after--hears the statement, and quips, “She’s not wrong! And you do look great in it, Felix. Like one of those rumpled sour-faced cats I pass along my way to class.”

Dorothea and Ferdinand stare at me, and we all burst out laughing. The look of consternation in Felix’s eyes is almost worth the pain he might cause on all of us once we’ve had our fun. Lysithea is also frowning, though I can guess as to why.

“I don’t know what the trouble is, Lysithea,” Ignatz says, looking at the pie. “It looks and smells delicious!” 

“I was promised cake. Where’s the cake?”

“You were promised baked goods ,” Annette says, “Felix doesn’t like sweets, so in honor of his most glorious birthday--”

“Which everyone should have forgotten .” Felix crosses his arms, resigns himself to the merriment taken on his account. “I don’t do birthday celebrations.”

“--we made him meat pie.”

“Correction,” Mercedes giggles. “Ashe and Dedue have made him meat pie.”

“Oghma wolverine smoked to a spicy perfection,” Dedue says blandly, though he is also smiling. A rarity for any occasion. “Ashe and I experimented with the best way to spice it, and we think we might have succeeded.”

Felix sits up, looks at the pie. “Hmph. I...suppose this pie of yours might be worth all the nonsense.”

“Nonsense?!” Sylvain says, sitting next to him and throwing his arm around his friend. “Why wouldn’t we celebrate one of the best days in the world?”

“You just like the partying part of birthdays,” Ingrid quips, though she actually drops her chastising tone and sits next to Sylvain. “But I suppose there’s always something to enjoy.”

“Like tea!” Ferdinand says, already pouring servings for everyone at the table.

“I don’t know if tea is the right pairing for a spiced meat,” Dimitri muses, eyeing the tea warily.

“Settle your unease, Your Highness,” Ferdinand gives him a bow, “It is a cold tea. I had batches steeped since last night and Mercedes helped with freezing some of the tea for ice. Now, I prefer hot tea myself, but I was told there would be spicy food involved, and it occurred to me that too much heat might be detrimental to everyone’s stomachs.”

“What flavor is it?” I ask, peering over, amazed at the lengths Ferdinand went through to prepare something for Felix, of all people.

Then again, I blush somewhat, I also spent some time completing his gift from me.

“Almyran Pine Needles,” Ferdinand beams. “Infused with cinnamon, and, for the sweet-lovers, I’ve prepared some Albinean Berry Blend as well.”

“That...is actually impressive,” Felix finally huffs. “Uh, thank you. All of you.”

Dimitri smiles. “Happy birthday, Felix!”

The swordsman grunts in response. We take that as a sign to sit and enjoy ourselves. And, funnily enough, we do.

Even Felix cannot avoid the merriment entirely, and at no point during that time does he take the cat ears off.

“You took that rather well,” I say, as the classroom begins to empty, and most of the Blue Lions start making excuses to leave. “I thought you were ready to fight anyone who got in your way.”

Felix snorts, stretches-- catlike , I think, and inwardly giggle--before getting off the bench. “The minute I saw the professor approaching, it was a lost cause. It would have been too much effort to try to fight her on top of Dedue. And I swear Annette was readying an ice spell under her breath. Don’t tell her, but I’m a little afraid of the damage she can do with her magic sometimes.”

“Ah, well,” I smile a bit tentatively. “I’m sort of glad you stayed.”

“Oh?” He looks down. “Why?”

“It’s not every day you turn 18. I should know.”

“I...suppose.” He waits for me to say anything more, but when I don’t, he turns to move away.

“Uh, Felix?” I stand, trying not to trip as I hurry toward him. “I...here!” I shove a wrapped package at him. “Wait, no, don’t open it here! Oh, god, you’re going to hate it!”

I try to run, but the rustling of Felix opening up the package keeps me rooted to the spot. It’s one of those horrific moments where you want to look away but just can’t . And it’s happening now, as Felix continues to unwrap the present.

A sea of blue meets his ungloved hands, and his eyes widen.

He examines the overcoat, and I wince as he feels the cloth beneath his fingers. Is he looking for an imperfect seam? I swear I double-checked everything as I sewed it together. It has to be perfect, I think. It took me most of the Ethereal Moon to design and gather the materials, and putting it together…

“Did you make this?”

Oh, goddess. He could tell it’s handmade. “Sorry! I thought it would be a good idea to make it myself. I didn’t think it would be so imperfect. You don’t like the asymmetric design, right? And who needs a fur hood attached to the shoulders? But it was really difficult finding the best seamstress for the job, and most of them couldn’t understand my design-- even though I practically illustrated it for them and told them that you would need a great deal of freedom of movement--"

“Bernadetta.”

“--and short of ruining the surprise--”

Bernadetta .”

“--I couldn’t very well ask Sylvain , he’s a good dresser, but not as well-kept as you--”

“Oh for the love of--”

“--not that I’m saying you look good as in handsome good, just that you are pretty stylish, and I know this doesn’t make up for the cloaks you already have, but--”

He doesn’t let me finish. While I ramble, Felix divests his hands of my present, placing it on the closest table to us. Instead, his free hands move their way to my mouth, closing them off from even more confused discourse. I blow out a breath, spreading the warmth back to my mouth--and his hand--and my eyes widen.

“You’re about to apologize for something, so let me cut to the chase,” he says wryly. “Thank you. It is...an extraordinary gift.”

Felix doesn’t remove his hands from my mouth, only stands there so I can calm down. When I no longer fidget, he stoops down, warm, honey-amber eyes leveled with mine.

He moves so swiftly that I do not register that he’s kissed my cheek until he lets his hands finally drop to the side. Now I’m really at a loss for words, and I almost don’t notice the small smile he gives before he bows out, takes his new overcoat, and leaves me in the classroom. But I do notice, and I stand there for a full minute.

Flabbergasted.

Chapter Text

LONE MOON, 1181 (Part II)

Everything goes wrong at the Holy Mausoleum.

It was supposed to be some glorified awakening of a goddess. Professor Byleth’s moment of ascension. At least, that’s what we were told by the Archbishop.

We knew, of course, going in, that there may have been trouble. What we didn’t expect was the duplicitous nature of one of our house leaders.

I still cannot believe that the Flame Emperor is Edelgard.

The revelation itself is a massive blow to us all.

It is why my father is now under house arrest, and why I’m on the run with the brunt of the Blue Lions.

It is why Dimitri has changed overnight. Gone is the casual ease in the air when we stir beside him. He is hardened now, closed off to even his closest friends, his mind on one thing only.

It is why the professor is walking, red-eyed from lack of sleep, harried and frayed as though she has no thought to keep herself together anymore. She is often in Dimitri and Dedue’s company, and the three are armed to the full, hyper-aware that there may be another enemy in our midst.

It is why Felix and Sylvain are busy working straight into the night on most days, writing missives and whispering with each other, getting troops mobilized for a possible attack by the Empire. Sylvain worries that the monastery will be attacked sooner rather than later. Felix is doubly worried because Faerghus will be next. They both write their fathers repeatedly, and owls go back and forth every day.

With one revelation, the world around us changes, and more than once I ask the goddess to swallow me up into the cold underground to let me live in peace and quiet.

I cannot face the world, cannot pass the Black Eagles classroom--my old house --without screaming in fear and frustration and desperation. I cannot bear to converse with Caspar and Linhardt, whose countenances are soured by their hardened faces--sons whose fathers have sided with a new emperor. I don’t know what is to become of them, stuck in Garreg Mach by order of the Archbishop. Hostages to an unreasonable conflict.

I cannot look at Dorothea, who used to affectionately call the new Adrestian Emperor “Edie.” She now walks the halls a diminished woman, a shade of what she had once been. I cannot bear to see Petra, troubled and confused and worried--oh so worried--for the well-being of Brigid, now that Adrestia has gone to war. She writes to her grandfather for guidance. Many of her letters go unanswered.

Most of all, I cannot look at Ferdinand, whose entire life comes crashing down on him. Letters from Aegir are all bad news; his father has been stripped of his title and nobility, his lands removed from the family’s name. He receives letters from Hubert. I do not know what they say, but Ferdinand’s reaction is the same for all of them. He clenches the letters from the new Count Vestra towards his chest, eyes glassy from the sheer refusal of crying. Ferdinand does not shed a tear, not for Hubert, not for his family’s dishonor. But I know he is devastated, and it is this devastation that drives me back to my room.

We all cope however we can, and it is days before anyone checks on me. At first I rebuff the treatise to get out of my room. But I hear the haggard voice of Professor Byleth, and I open the door.

“Can I come in?” she asks, though she could very well command, and I would have done what she wanted and more. I let her through and take a seat on my bed, taking comfort in hugging Dima the Bear.

The professor does not say much at first, then she broaches the subject. “I have not seen you attend class in a while.”

It boggles me how there are classes being run, what with an impending war. I shake my head. “It hardly seems important now, Professor. Sorry.”

She shakes her head and shrugs. “I understand. Honestly, with how everyone has been after Edel--after the revelation, I’ve had very few people attending my lectures. I would have been more surprised if more than two or three people actually showed . As is, only Annette and Lysithea have been constant attendees, and they’re just as distracted.”

We sit on in silence.

“Everything’s changed now,” the professor whispers. “You will want to prepare within the fortnight. Our scouts have spied Empire soldiers heading towards Varley. They’ll be at our gates soon enough.”

She doesn’t question my loyalty, or ask if the news bothers me. She doesn’t say anything about the state of my father and how my mother--currently holed up in Enbarr--is taking the news that our entire family is being torn apart. She doesn’t mention any of these things because she knows my answers to her questions are complicated. Conflicted.

I’m not even entirely sure how to feel about my father. I am relieved he no longer holds power over harming me, but I am uneasy as to where that puts me. Will I be able to return to Varley? Or will Emperor Edelgard have me thrown in the dungeon for being a traitor?

I remember the day I had asked her to switch houses.

“Oh! You want to join Professor Byleth’s house?” Edelgard had asked, a small frown on her pristinely calm face. “Are you sure, Bernadetta?”

“It’s...I feel like she might be able to teach me many things to take home. To better serve you,” I added in hopes Edelgard wouldn’t become furious over the request.

The heir to Adrestia had eventually nodded. “No, it’s your right, obviously. We’re not all of us restricted to stay in the same house, just because of our loyalties. Frankly, I’m relieved.”

“Y...you’re not angry with me?”

She smiled sadly. “The opposite in fact, Bernadetta. I think...I think it’s the best decision given the circumstances. Everyone has the right to cut her own path and grow out of the tangle of weeds. And for you, well, perhaps the Blue Lions house is your sun.”

“You’re making me sound like a plant,” I had grumbled.

She had laughed. “Aren’t you, though? Plants are resilient, as are you. And I hope…” Edelgard paused then, shook her head. “No. I know it will be a change for the better. For you.”

Maybe she will give me clemency. I hope she will. If I am caught in this war, and if I die…

No, it’s better not to think about that now.

I don’t respond to the professor right away, but when I do, she gives me a meaningful look. She stands and makes her way to the exit, turns around for one last glance. “Look, Bernadetta. It’s not too late to go to Edelgard. I’m speaking to Dorothea, Ferdinand, and Petra tonight. I know Rhea isn’t letting anyone out, especially former Black Eagles members, but I can make arrangements…”

It’s no use wondering whether Dorothea, Ferdinand, or Petra will take the offer. I know in their heart of hearts they will refuse it.

And I know in my heart of hearts that I will, too.

“That’s okay, Professor,” I say quietly. “I...I would rather stay here if you don’t mind.”

“There’s no knowing what will happen if you stay loyal to the Kingdom.”

I grimace. “Frankly, professor, there’s no knowing what will happen to any of us either way.”

I don’t tell her that it would kill me now to abandon the monastery. I don’t tell her that I would rather burn in the fiery depths than to turn away from Sylvain, who taught me how to hone my lance skills on horseback; from Ashe, my fellow archer companion; from Dedue, who no longer looks menacing because I know how he treats the greenhouse plants; from Ingrid and Annette and Mercedes, strong, stalwart girls I would call sisters if I could; from Dimitri, a future king who has already lost so much.

I don’t tell her it would absolutely destroy me if I abandoned Felix. How it would haunt me for the rest of my days if he died in a war created by the nation I grew up in. How it would utterly tear me apart to see a world without the existence of Felix Hugo Fraldarius.

It is a secret I will take to my grave if I must.


War is upon us and Garreg Mach is in complete chaos. There is fighting all around us now, and the Archbishop has disappeared into a plume of smoke and fire, replaced by a creature none of us knew still existed.

The dragon--immaculate and majestic and the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the skies--takes flight, rending its enemies to complete and utter ruin. But it is not enough. Nothing is enough to stop the tide of the Empire marching through the mountains. Of Edelgard’s Demon Beasts stampeding through what is left of the village.

Not even Professor Byleth has a chance against four of the beasts, alone below with just the dragon as her ally.

I stand at the ramparts, horrified, as I watch our professor fall into the abyss. It is funny how things register in slow motion, and in this case, it does. Everything comes in complete focus from afar. The dragon roaring, speaking in a tongue even Ashe and I can hear at the monastery’s tower. The professor slicing with the Sword of Creator, felling one beast after the other, only to succumb to the broken earth beneath.

She falls, and the once Archbishop stumbles, is overtaken by the beasts that are left.

Ashe and I remain numb for some time, and we do not hear the screaming from above. Ingrid and Sylvain descend on the tower with their flying steeds. Without ample opportunity to mourn, Ashe and I are tugged away from the rampart walls, away from the heat of battle and toward the stairs. I do not know where we head, because everything is a haze, and images of the professor falling is the only thing coursing through my head.

The first wave of fighting is over, but the battle still rages on before us, and it will be a matter of  hours before the entire monastery will be under siege.

Edelgard had not stayed idle in Garreg Mach. It must have taken her moons of planning, but she had many of her troops mobilized and ready for an attack.

“She used Varley,” I say breathlessly, after I realize we are in the war room, standing beside what Kingdom and Alliance generals are left within the walls. Seteth, Flayn, and our two remaining professors are also in the room, and I am snapped out of my grief. “She...Edelgard stationed them with my father’s permission, and right before she deposed of him, she…”

I cannot continue, not without completely incriminating my entire family name.

Professor Hanneman shakes his head. “That is not your blame to take, Bernadetta, and you know it.”

He is right, of course. I am not to blame for all this. What I am to be blamed for is my lack of oversight. I stayed in my room for too long. I let the world move around me. I closed my eyes to what was happening in Varley, and my only concern was that my father would not find anything wrong with what I did at Garreg Mach. That he would not force me to return home, to marry some unpleasant minor lord and become a good, submissive wife.

I will never return to that.

But right now, my father is the least of my worries.

“Still, Varley was unexpected,” Claude grumbles, “We heard nothing on our end. Normally, to get to the monastery, you’d have to cross the Great Bridge, which is in Alliance territory. You then head west into the mountain pass. Coming from the south would mean trying to get through the narrow pass, and that would have been noticeable.”

“Unless you’ve mobilized an army at the foot of the cliffs already. In Varley.” Dimitri peruses the map, slams a frustrated hand on the table. Everyone stares as his fist breaks through the wood, and the room grows tense at the Faerghus prince’s palpable anger. “It’s a smart move, and the Empire has every opportunity to mobilize troops from the south.”

“Where does that lead us?” Professor Manuela speaks up, the kindness in her voice gone, replaced by grim determination. “Not all of the monastery residents are combatants. We have refugees from Remire as well as the border village to think of now. Not all our students are trained as well, and save for the Officers Academy…”

Seteth raises a hand, silences the protestations. “We will, of course, evacuate. North would be the obvious direction, but the mountain passes will make that difficult for non-flyers. It will be best to split our retreat two ways. Able-bodied civilians down the pass towards Alliance territory, the children and the elderly north on as many wyverns and pegasi as we can muster. Your Highness--”

“No,” Dimitri says. “I will stay and fight.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Sylvain snaps before Ingrid can stop him. Dimitri’s face pivots toward Sylvain, a growl emerging from his lips, his eyes flashing with anger. Sylvain is not cowed. In fact, it fuels him further. “You are the sole survivor of the Kingdom monarchy, Dimitri. You can’t stay here.”

“I have a job to complete.” Dimitri makes as if to attack Sylvain, but Dedue grabs his arm, and the prince stays in place.

“Your job is to Faerghus,” Sylvain continues, his own face as red as Dimitri’s. “You have a responsibility to the people.”

“I have a responsibility to the dead!”

“What about the ones you care for? How about the living ?!”

“I HAVE NO ONE LEFT. MY BELOVED IS DEAD.” We are struck by the anguish and breaking of his voice. Ferdinand winces and stares up at the ceiling. Annette’s eyes brim with tears, but she stops herself from making a sound. Even Ingrid is shaken by the statement, and we know-- we all know --who he has added to his list of dead. Who he treasures most of all.

Dedue puts a comforting hand on his shoulder, and Dimitri shakes it away, still seething.

“ENOUGH!” Seteth practically bellows. The fighting between the two friends is halted, and we all turn to the Archbishop’s right hand. “Prince Dimitri, please listen to reason. Sylvain is right. You are needed north. Your best chance of survival is to return to Blaiddyd lands, to Fhirdiad. Muster as much troops as you can for a counterattack. You cannot die today. Not even...not even for the beloved.”

“I will. Have. That. Woman’s. Head .” Each word is punctuated, like a snake spitting out venom. It alarms me that there is so much hate in Dimitri’s words, and I turn to Felix, whose eyes narrow. He sees my glance, and mouths the word “boar” at me.

Don’t put too much trust in him, Bernadetta .

I shudder at the unraveling of the prince’s temper.

Someday his bloodlust will come back. Perhaps he’ll turn that towards the Blue Lions, and where would we all be?

It is Claude who actually breaks Dimitri’s trance. Claude the strategist. Claude, with careful words and easy friendship to Dimitri, speaks up, firmly yet gently. “Something doesn’t add up, Dimitri. I think Edelgard wants us to take the fight to her. She has a plan, I bet, and she knows you enough to be aware that your first instinct is to fight her head on.”

Dimitri--whose pride is worn on his shoulders, whose anger is so evident it hurts us to watch--deflates from Claude’s words. He turns away. “Then what do you suggest we do?”

“Hate to admit it,” Claude says, “but we make for a strategic retreat. The best way to stem the tide is to exhaust her forces. Find her weakness.”

“Turn tail and run ? That is your master plan, Claude?” Dimitri barks out, laughing hoarsely. “Of course it is. A coward will always be a coward.”

Claude looks unruffled by the statement. Instead, he matches Dimitri’s glare with a cool stare. “And this coward will live long enough to sow seeds of discontent between the Empire forces. What good are you if you die here and now? How is the Kingdom to recover? How is Duscur--”

“Don’t bring my people into this,” Dedue pleads silently.

The Riegan heir shakes his head, but doesn’t continue his last statement. “Don’t you see? Edelgard will win if you fight her today. Edelgard will win because she knows how furious you will have become. She hit us hard with Teach--”

“Stop,” I say, look at Claude, who pauses. “I think he’s got the point, Claude.”

The prince of Faerghus remains silent, and he turns to the rest of his house, to Sylvain who is still seething, to Ingrid and Annette and Ashe. One by one, they turn away, and Dimitri’s gaze falls last on Felix. Felix, who doesn’t turn away.

“You would have me retreat. Strategically ,” he spits out. “You would agree with...this plan.”

Felix ponders this thought, watches his prince before him. Eventually, he nods. “I would, Boar Prince.”

“Unbelievable,” Dimitri laughs. “Even Felix agrees, and he’s wanted me dead for years. So be it. I shall return to my chambers. Plan if you must, but I will not have a part in any of this ridiculous banter.”

The prince walks out, leaving us in stunned silence. Dedue nods at Sylvain and Felix, takes a small bow, and follows his prince out the door. A few of us let out our collective breaths.

“Thank you, Riegan,” Felix mumbles, loud enough for the entire room to hear it.

Claude gives out one of his infectious winks. “Not so bad yourself, Fraldarius.”

The planning continues, and it is decided that Flayn and Seteth will take the wyverns and pegasus knights north, while Claude and Dimitri will lead the rest of the civilians into Alliance domain. Sylvain and Ingrid will join Seteth, and the rest of the Blue Lions generals will also make their way east. Once the civilians are safely deposited in nearby non-Empire villages, we are all to congregate to the north, to Fhirdiad.

Some of us have other plans, however.

“It would be against my nature to leave Garreg Mach without a fight,” Ferdinand finally says. “I request to stay behind with a contingent of troops. Just until everyone has made their way safely away from the monastery’s walls.”

“I will also be fighting,” Petra says. “Brigid stands against the Empire.”

“And you’d be hard-pressed to keep me from protecting Ferdi and Petra here.” While not her usual self, Dorothea’s pale and haggard complexion is better now, and she faces the problems head-on. “I...need to be where I can help.”

To my surprise, they turn to me. As does Felix. I swallow the lump in my throat, knowing that what I will say next will be the most important decision I will be making for some time.

“I’m staying, too,” I say. For once, there is no quiver in my voice, and I look at each of my ex-Black Eagles friends. “It’s only right. I owe it to the professor.”

I owe it to the professor to fight .

“Humph,” Felix says, shifts his feet. “It might be the smarter strategy, to keep a contingent of forces to stall Empire movement while civilians flee. I will fight with them.”

“Felix,” Sylvain warns. “Don’t--”

“I am not dying today, you idiot,” Felix snaps. “I know my promise.”

The redhead bites his lip, then nods. The two look at each other solemnly, and an understanding seems to pass between them.

We talk over the plans for a few more minutes, and Ashe eventually volunteers to let Dimitri know where they need him. One by one, we file out of the war room, intent on heading back to our quarters to prepare one last time.

Me? I have nothing to prepare. My weapons are on my back, and my armor is as sturdy as it’s going to be. I head to the greenhouse instead.

I sit on a bench overlooking my flowers. I had cultivated my seedlings for moons, and now I’m sadly realizing that if Garreg Mach falls, they will be one of the first things to be destroyed. I try not to cry at the thought, but I cannot help it. My vision becomes blurry.

“Everything really is changing,” I say to a blooming bed of pitcher plants.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

I dash my sleeve across my face. I am too tired to be surprised. “Hey, Felix,”

He sits beside me, stretches his legs out, truly a cat easing himself on the bench. I sniff, and he looks at me, a question on his face. I shake my head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Better if you don’t,” he answers, visibly relieved. “I don’t have any advice for you.”

The statement makes me laugh. “I don’t want your advice.”

“...Would you like me to leave?”

“I…” Did I want him to leave? I sigh. “No. Stay. Please.”

So he stays. We watch the flowers, me occasionally sniffing, him fiddling with the buttons on his shirt. Eventually, he sighs. “It will be a grim fight. You are aware we are about to die.”

He doesn’t frame it as a question, and I am grateful for it. That means he’s not treating me like an idiot. Like I’m useless, stupid Bernie. “I am.”

“And my chances are just as good as yours. In surviving, I mean.”

“Better,” I say. I don’t live in delusions. Felix is an expert warrior. Between the two of us, he’s the most likely to get out of this conflict alive. “Besides, you made a promise. If you die now…”

If he died now, what would Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius have to say? I think this, but don’t say it aloud.

He seems to read my mind anyway, and he snorts. “You’re right. I don’t need my father making more idiotic statements on my behalf. And Sylvain will find a way to make my afterlife miserable if I so much as break our promise. So I’ve made it my mission not to die today. Problem solved.”

“Congratulations,” I say, though there is no malice in it. In fact, I swear I’ve quirked my tone into a teasing one. “Blades, blood, and battle, right?”

“Heh. You remember. And since I’ve decided not to die today,” Felix says with an almost cheerful fervor. He turns to me, a hand brushing at the tips of my hair. “I’ve also decided that my entire mission in Garreg Mach is to keep you from perishing as well.”

“Whaa--”

“No arguments, Bernadetta.” Felix looks at me with that odd expression he gets when he’s truly intending to do something silly. “Just take it as you will.”

“I…”

He brushes the side of my face with his fingers, tilts my chin up to look at him. “We’ll both live through this, mark my words. And then…”

I don’t ask him to finish his sentence. I just stare, dumbfounded by this sudden show of affection. He doesn’t seem to be aware of it himself, and I wonder--truly wonder--what brought the whole situation along. Before I say anything, though, he drops his hand from my face, turns away to look at the bed of flowers again.

I never did get to find out what the end of his thought process was.

But I do know that when Felix Hugo Fraldarius promises something, he delivers.

Chapter Text

Interlude

Curiosity isn’t really a trait one would attribute to Felix Hugo Fraldarius.

It was more Sylvain’s purview than his. The damnable man and his constant questions exasperated him to no end, and if things had played out differently, Felix was sure Sylvain would have made a better right hand to Dimitri than the Fraldarius heir. Sylvain was definitely more curious, and definitely all too eager to turn over every stone. Felix got by without the need to dig too deeply, not when he had spies and scouts to do that for him. The Sword of Faerghus need not be curious , per se, so long as he is efficient.

But when he’d uncovered a set of journals from his Bernadetta, ones he hadn’t read before, ones that had been sent specifically for him , Duke Felix Hugo Fraldarius, posthumously, anonymously, mysteriously ...well. Of course he’d damn well be curious.

The day before he’d set off without a word, he’d pored through the two journals sent to him. They’d been interesting enough of a read, and they’d been written on those years where he’d lost track of her. If there’s something Felix knew about past history, it’s that they were bound to show up again. Annoyingly, he was right every single time.

History and Felix didn’t exactly have a good relationship, but he dealt with it as it came. Now one of the things he would need to deal with was the contents in the journal.

Contents that spoke of conspiracies afoot and cities lost to the past. Contents that started with the Tragedy of Duscur and led to the birth of the Flame Emperor. To the eradication of the Empire and Alliance. To the aftermath of the Fodlan Unification. To the secret organizations still lurking in the depths.

Bernadetta was a good writer, and Felix had been proud of the fiction she wrote. He wasn’t a big reader, but he did often listen to her musings as she grappled through a couple of scenes. He’d pointed out to her where things fell through unrealistically in her realistic but fictional environments. Yet when it came down to it, everything she’d written--save her journals, which she would have never published--was fictional.

These journals were different. They were most certainly not fiction.

And who the hell would send these to him of all people?!

“Is there something the matter, Your Grace?” asked a dignitary, who’d talked Felix’s ear away for the past half hour. Felix had listened to him for the best part of ten minutes, but his thoughts had wandered back to the journals on his desk. “You seem distracted. Should we postpone our talks to a later time?”

He looked at the dignitary. It was not lost on him that many of the nobles squirmed whenever he stared too long at them. Felix would never admit, however, that he does it for the express reason of making them uncomfortable.

It’s certainly worked enough times to chase most of the mundane requesters away. Goodness knows how many of them come up on a daily basis.

“Er...Your Grace?” squeaked the dignitary.

After several more seconds, Felix responded. “No need, Count Nuvelle. I will put the matter of your trading contracts with Albinea in front of His Majesty. Have somebody deliver the documents to me with your seal, and I shall pass it along to Fhirdiad.”

“Ah, thank you, Your Grace!” the dignitary bowed. “It shall be done!”

“Now, if there is anything else?” Felix’s form of dismissal had been honed as well as his blade. His question was not meant to be responded to with a second request, and most of the dignitaries who dealt with him knew this.

Unfortunately, Count Nuvelle was not one of those dignitaries. “Well, there is the matter of annexing the Brionac Plateau--”

Felix rubbed his forehead. “Count Nuvelle, the Brionac Plateau is a Church matter, for which I have no jurisdiction over. I believe we have time and time returned to this topic.”

“Yes, but you could put in a good word to Her Esteemed--”

Perhaps you could , Felix thought sourly, shove your trading contracts down your throat . “No, Count Nuvelle. Her Esteemed Archbishop has an entire Church to run, and border disputes are the least of her problems. Consider the matter heard once again, and rejected. Once again. That. Is. All .”

If the dignitary hadn’t heard Felix’s subtle dismissal the first time around, he certainly did this time. Count Nuvelle bit his lip, bowed, and backed away from the room. The guard in front closed the door after the count’s exit, and Felix slumped into his chair. He sighed.

Almost two decades ago, he’d been in his prime, a swordsman of renown, the Sword that cut down His Majesty’s enemies, beasts and warriors alike. On most days now, he’d be hard-pressed to find any worthy adversary, and not even the occasional bandit attacks excited him. But with Bernadetta’s journals--which were undoubtedly hers if not by her tone of voice, but by her handwriting--perhaps things will prove a challenge to him.

He looked distastefully at the papers on his desk, papers that needed to be signed or discarded, some to be shipped to Fhirdiad for further perusal by the king. Perhaps the paperwork would have been lessened, had he stayed in the capital with the royal council and his highly trained secretaries, but matters in Fraldarius also needed tending to, what with his daughter gallivanting north with Ingrid. Paperwork was the part of his job as Dimitri’s right hand that was the most grueling.

It bored him almost to tears.

More than once, Felix asked himself how he wound up in this mess in the first place. He had antagonized Dimitri for years . And yet, when the Unification War ended, it was Felix who Dimitri sought out to be his right hand. Not Sylvain. Definitely not Dedue. Felix Hugo Fraldarius.

“Why?” Felix had asked long ago.

“After all that we’ve seen and done, do you really need a reason?” Dimitri responded. “Felix, deny it as well as you can, but you are a Fraldarius through and through. Rodrigue and Glenn--”

“Leave my father and brother out of this.”

“Shut up and listen, for once!”

“Not until you can curb that temper, Boar.”

“I--” Dimitri paled and he stopped talking then. That alone stopped Felix in his tracks, because if Dimitri were indeed the Boar Prince he so very much despised, this man before him was a bit more subdued. It...surprised Felix more than anything. “Look, I need someone combative. Someone who isn’t afraid to take me to the side and chastise me for acting brashly. That’s you , Felix.”

“Sylvain can do the same thing.”

The newly appointed King of Faerghus had shaken his head. “He can, but he’s a soldier . He’s more valuable to me as a general than an advisor.”

Felix had looked at him incredulously. “And you want me as council? I’m a swordsman , Dimitri, not one of your noble-minded bureaucrats. Get Ferdinand, then.”

“Felix, please .”

Felix heard the begging in Dimitri’s voice. Now that really surprised him. “Goddess, you are truly serious about this.”

“If I wasn’t, I’d have never asked,” Dimitri had said softly. “You’re my foil, Felix, and you know it.”

Felix had snorted. “Don’t let your soon-to-be-queen hear that. She might get jealous.”

Dimitri had beamed. “So you’re accepting?”

“So long as I am still allowed a hand in fighting a number of battles on the field. You can’t completely take my blades away from me,” Felix had said.

“Done. Felix, I...thank you.”

Felix blinked a few times, threw his hands up in frustration. Blades, blood, and battle, he had once said. Now he could add bureaucracy into that crazy mix. He groaned. Perhaps he just needed to blow off steam.

That was how he found himself walking to the training grounds.

The Fraldarius training grounds was a far cry bigger than the one at Garreg Mach Monastery, and that was largely due to Felix’s insistence on the constant need to be ready for conflict. Each section of the training grounds had been designated to a weapon specialist. It prevented mixing disciplines and giving focus to one area after the other. For mixed weapons training, Felix had sequestered an arena not unlike the one at Garreg Mach. This was where he went.

The arena often had its fair share of soldiers. Some watched sparring sessions on the sidelines, and others took part in mock battles. When Felix walked in, he was greeted with a few waves and brief nods. There was no doubt that the reigning Duke of Fraldarius had entered, but there was no pomp or ceremony. No stuffy nobleman looking to talk bureaucracy with him. It was Felix’s favorite part of his holdings.

“Come for a round, Felix?” Riesling was one of his warmaster generals, a tall, burly man built powerfully like Dedue, with a head of red hair and a pair of amused brown eyes. “The boys were just finishing up.” With a salute, the two young grapplers moved away from the arena, chatting cordially with each other after their match.

“One bout, yes,” Felix said. He could never pass up a sparring session, especially when he trained much less these days.

“Weapons of choice?”

He grinned. “Bring them all in. Maybe I’ll surprise you.”

Riesling laughed. “As you wish, Your Grace.”

The two removed their doublets, with Riesling bellowing for a squire to bring an assortment of weapons to them. Felix placed his own swords down, choosing instead to handle a bow. He hefted the weapon back and forth, adjusting his stance to the weight, plucking the bowstring with gloved fingers. Normally, his weapons of choice went to the sword and axe, to the Crest magic coursing through his veins. But he was feeling nostalgic.

“Interesting choice, sir,” Riesling said, raising an eyebrow. “Got a lot on your mind today?”

“The usual.”

“I disagree,” his general said, plucking a lance from the weapons pile. “I’ve sparred with you long enough to know your moods by the weapon. The sword is your usual , and magic is a close second. Heck, when you start going at me with your bare hands, I know some old blue blood’s got your cloak in a twist. But the bow?” He taps the ground with the lance and assumes a defensive posture. “You’ve got your lady in mind. Don’t get distracted, Felix,”

Riesling didn’t wait for a curt response. He ran forward, and Felix readied the bow for striking at close range.

The two of them kept at it, attacking and defending, strike after strike, and Felix--as distracted as he’d been--gave as good as he got. Few people these days could match Felix’s prowess in combat, and Riesling came very close to doing so. With a bow, even the Duke of Fraldarius was at a sore disadvantage.

But they were at the arena, and in the arena, all is fair in thrusting and parrying.

Lightning burst forth from Felix’s fingertips, ending the bout before Riesling could land a final blow. The warmaster general bowed. “Excellent form as usual, Your Grace. Though next time, I ask that you try really hard not to singe my beard.”

Felix chuckled. “Only if you try not to intentionally impale me with a lance.”

“Och, can’t blame a man for getting carried away. Besides, harder to do when you’re a few steps ahead of me. Nice footwork, by the by.”

“Thanks for the session,” Felix said, wiping the sweat from his face with a towel one of the squires brought for him. “I needed it.”

“Looks like you needed much more’n that,” Riesling said. “What’s on your mind, Felix?”

He shook his head. “Too many personal things, Ries. Preferably I would have liked to have spoken with my daughter about such matters.”

“Ah, but the little duchess is away,” Riesling mused. “Gone until the next moon, I think.”

Felix nodded. “In any case, it can’t be helped. I won’t be long in Fraldarius Territory, so likely I won’t see her before she arrives. I’ll make sure to get her some new sword or dagger when I return from the capital.”

“Another weapon?” Riesling raised an eyebrow. “You sure she wants any of that now?”

“Have you seen her? I swear she collects just as much weaponry as she does Ferdinand.

His general chuckled. “Would you have preferred she collect books, then?”

Felix grimaced. “Those are definitely less expensive. But what’s the point? Our library is extensive as is. Courtesy of my late wife.”

“Fair point.”

“I suppose I should bring back something for that Almyran husband of Fey’s,” Felix grumbled. “Where is he, anyway? Haven’t seen him all week.”

Riesling shrugged. “You know Curan. He flies back and forth between here and Riegan these days. With the little duchess away, he’s in Derdriu, mayhap giving the Lady Judith a terribly difficult time.”

“I see. I suppose it can’t be helped.” Felix stood, shook Riesling’s hand, and made for his chambers.

He looked at the journals on his bed, pondering his next steps. The bag he had taken with him for his trip from the capital had hardly been opened, and most of the extra clothes and armor was still packed away. Felix knew that he could leave at any time and be ready for any amount of journey.

So he packed the journals, ordered a servant to provide him dried meats and water. Once the sun had set, once dinner had been served and the halls thinned of visitors and friends, Felix slipped out of his chambers, climbed the steps to the upper floors, and saddled his wyvern.

He took one parting glance at Fraldarius territory, at the clouds that signalled rain, at the sky that would have been dotted with stars if not for the approaching precipitation. Then he rose to the sky and flew. Not west, not back to Fhirdiad like what Riesling and the other servants had thought.

Felix Hugo Fraldarius had one stop to make first, so his wyvern headed south.

That may have been a mistake.


Felix groaned as he woke.

His head throbbed violently, and everything in his body screamed in complaint as he tried to sit himself up. He licked his parched lips and tasted a coppery stickiness on his upper lip. He tried to remember the events of the last few days.

Or was it last few moons?

His eyes adjusted to where he sat, and he noticed the unnaturally luminous glow of the light at his feet. Markings scrawled along the border of the lights, and in the distance, he could see a door. The room looked like it had been carved smooth by unnatural magic, and the cold obsidian floor made him shiver. More than once he wished they hadn’t taken his cloak from him.

Who were his mysterious attackers, anyway?

He leaned his head on the wall, closed his eyes in order to piece what he could from his own memory.

Arrival at Varley in the dead of night. He hadn’t intended to stay long, just long enough to sneak in and procure journals from Bernadetta’s old rooms. He hadn’t let anyone know of his whereabouts, because honestly, he needed the damn privacy , which he never got anymore. When he found the journals wedged away in floorboards, he’d taken them out and began cross-examining them along with the two that he’d brought with him.

Perusal of said journals. He’d gotten so absorbed in Bernadetta’s accounts of the Duscur region that he hadn’t picked up the slight noise at first. When he finally did, he emerged from Bernadetta’s old room and made his way outside, sword and Aegis Shield in hand. He cursed himself when he made it outside.

In his hurry to investigate, he’d forgotten his second Relic in Bernadetta’s room. That sword may have helped a bit more when he got ambushed.

But then again, it may have not. The roar of a Demonic Beast alarmed him, as there’d been little mention of them since Lord Arundel had been killed years back.

One Beast would have been beatable. But three and several masked gremories?

Someone had planned all this, he thought, as the gremories cast their spell, and the next thing he knew, there was darkness all around him.

Felix groaned again.

“Where am I?” he said aloud, though to whom was another matter entirely. The room--cell?--he found himself in was massive enough and too dark to see anything but the small area illuminated around him.

A hoarse laugh. “You. You’re not from here.”

Felix swiveled his head, searching for the voice. A hunched bundle of black feathers and black robes rose from the corner. “Who’s there?”

“No one you would know,” said the hoarse voice. Felix discerned that the owner was an older woman, though from the veil that covered her face and the low voice she’d addressed him with, it was difficult to see and confirm. “Another sacrifice to the great plan.”

“The...great plan.”

“The world made new. Agartha rises once more, a flame bursting from the darkness.”

“Lovely,” Felix murmured. Of the one person who could illuminate him on the situation, he’d gotten stuck with someone sputtering stuff and nonsense. “And why haven’t you joined your...Agarthan friends?”

The dark bundle coughed, laughed again. “I...am not satisfactory enough to fight with my brethren. Instead I play my own role here within these tombs.”

Felix tested his arms and legs, and found that there was a chain running from one end of the wall to his wrist. He tested the weight of the chains and found that it was just as smooth as the floor. Again, made of almost the same material as the walls and the floor. Obsidian? No. Something close. Agarthium, he thought. One of the rarer metals, but he’d never seen so much in abundance.

Not even Dimitri’s best blacksmiths use Agarthium on a regular basis. And yet, here Felix was, sitting in a chamber made of the stuff.

Just who were these Agarthans?

More than once, Felix wished he’d been as well read in his histories as Annette and Lysithea, or Claude even. Any of those three would know what to do and say in this situation. Instead, he was the one floundering in a place completely alien to him.

“Are you...are you here to guard me, then?” he asked. Other than the Agarthium metal around his wrist, Felix didn’t seem to detect any other sentries around him. He guessed whatever role this woman was filling, it wasn’t very important.

And if the Agarthans wrote Felix off as useless in a trapped environment, they would be sorely disappointed. Already he began running situations in his head, choosing which sort of reckless or cautious behavior to take to escape from his binds.

The woman let out what Felix thought was a snort. “Why would I be made to guard you ? You, who are inferior to the mighty Agarthan people. No. I do not need to guard you.”

“Huh. So you’re a prisoner, like me.”

“I AM NO PRISONER.”

The shrillness of the Agarthan’s voice had a tinge of fear to its anger, which Felix found particularly interesting. He smelled the challenge, and he couldn’t help but grin at the thought. “You don’t seem too sure about that.”

“You are mistaken , lowly filth!” the woman continued. “I will rise like my brethren. My role has been written in the heavens!”

“Says the prisoner, who’s stuck here with lowly filth , when the rest of her so-called brethren are elsewhere,” Felix responded, putting as much sarcasm in his tone as possible. “Perhaps they’ve forgotten about you.”

The Agarthan raises herself up, hisses, and makes to move toward him. “Pittacus is never to be forgotten!” She failed in getting very far, though, and it was Felix’s turn to laugh when he heard the chains rattle. She, too, was bound to the wall.

“I rest my case,” Felix said. “You’re no better than I. It seems that’s something Agarthans share with my kind. There’s always a hierarchy.”

A crackling in the corner. Within the second, a shot of light headed toward him, deflected only by the sheer force of magical will that Felix had managed to bring up. His Aegis would have completely nullified the attack against him, but then again, Felix had been taught by the best mages in Fhirdiad’s School of Sorcery. And, it turned out, his magic was still intact.

“What in Nemesis--”

Felix didn’t even wait for the Agarthan--Pittacus--to act again. He made his move, and his hands crackled with the energy that he’d been amassing since the conversation began.

Lightning illuminated the prison cell for a brief instant, and a screaming from the Agarthan reverberated around the cell. Somewhere nearby, large objects moved and thundered toward Felix. He would have to deal with those at some point, he supposed.

But he didn’t care. All he saw was an opportunity for escape. And he took it.

He shot the lightning toward Pittacus one more time, making sure it engulfed the woman, black feathers and all.

The shrieking stopped almost as quickly as it started.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Garland Moon

Her Esteemed Archbishop,

I write on behalf of Uncle Syl to thank you for the chess set that was delivered to Gautier some days before. It was just fortunate that I was there when he opened it; especially because I was blocking the Lioness’ sight of it.

Who knew even the Archbishop would have some humor? He hadn’t expected the crudeness of the pieces, but I pointedly reminded him that the Archbishop had to have some sort of humor considering how hefty her job is. Still, I congratulate you for the cleverness. I wonder who you managed to get to carve naked figures for each piece? I may have to commission them for Curan’s benefit.

Suffice to say that Aunt Ingrid is never seeing that chess set ever.

On another matter, I hope the journals I sent to you give you some clarity. Uncle and I perused them, and we certainly saw the need for Father to head to Varley for the rest of her journals. He was trying to piece a mystery together, and I do think he was close to uncovering something. Unfortunately, he must have been interrupted.

The Sword of Moralta glows under my hand, but it’s duller than I remember. I think it still waits for its actual owner. We also couldn’t find Father’s Aegis anywhere, so that gives me hope that Father is alive and well. Or, at best, alive and fighting to stay so.

Mother never really talked about those five years before your reappearance, Aunt By, and from the looks of it, she barely wrote in her journals, either. However, she did keep tabs on several of her friends, and wrote letters regularly to them. Most of them were unsent. I think that had a lot to do with the war and the fact that the Empire had an embargo on messenger birds.

She wrote my father several times for the first few years, though that number eventually started to dwindle. Mother had become too comfortable in seclusion, and she’d started her research, while Father...well, busy can’t even describe what he was doing for those years during the war.

I leave the letters in your capable hands, and hope you appreciate the journals as much as I do. If not as a source of information, but of insight.

All my love,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Gautier Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan


Felix,

I hope this finds you well. I know that’s a silly thing to say, with a war going on, but I still hope, and that’s what counts, right?

Anyway, I never did thank you for what you did at Garreg Mach. It was...not easy navigating out of the monastery, and whatever you did to ensure that neither of us were caught...it worked.

I have heard back from Dorothea, and she is also safe. She returned to Enbarr in hopes of finding ways to help the commonfolk survive this war. The Emperor doesn’t bother her, because, well, Dorothea hasn’t really done anything to warrant being arrested for. Honestly, Edelgard has bigger worries up north.

Petra has not written back. I have every belief she made it out of Fodlan and back to Brigid, though. It was certainly a near thing, her escape on the pegasus, and I could have killed Caspar myself when he tried shooting her pegasus down with his crossbow.

Thankfully, Linhardt had the brains to stop him. It wasn’t worth it, raising a hand to a friend. Not then.

Now, I don’t know...the reality of this war changes people. I suppose that should be expected. Even I find myself thinking differently on matters that used to be black and white.

Don’t worry about me. I know you’d been hesitant to leave me in Varley, but I find it’s a bit more peaceful here, with my father gone. He’s still under close scrutiny in the capital. Edelgard sends me letters and soldiers in hopes that I--as the new head of House Varley--will join her cause, but she doesn’t push or force me. I think deep down--and you might disagree with me here--she’s still got some humanity left.

Please write back. I would like to know if you made it safely back to Fraldarius. To your father. Or Dimitri.

Bernadetta

P.S. Have you heard from Ferdinand? His plan had been to head north, but I’m not sure if he meant towards Kingdom or Alliance territory. With how things ended for him and Hubert, I imagine he’d want to be as far away from the Empire as possible.


Bernadetta,

Things are not well in the capital.

My father intercepted me before I made it to Blaiddyd Territory. It appears that Fhirdiad has been overrun with Empire supporters, Cornelia being one of them. She’s managed to assassinate the Grand Duke, and rumors have it that she’s blaming this assassination on Dimitri. I could believe many atrocities being the Boar Prince’s fault, but this murder? It’s not in his best interest. Not even for revenge.

Dimitri has been imprisoned and under heavy guard. I don’t know where Dedue is, but if he’s around, I would like nothing more than to conduct a prison break. As is, Father needs me in Fraldarius territory. Gautier and Fraldarius must stand strong against this supposed Dukedom that Cornelia is proposing to Edelgard. That means taking on responsibilities I long thought would never come.

Ferdinand did indeed make it north. I’ve sent him on to Gautier. Sylvain needs von Aegir’s skill with the lance more than I do. It is strange, to be commanding forces and friends, but I suppose war does make for strange bedfellows.

Should your situation change, and Edelgard becomes more forceful in her actions, please send word immediately. I will send several wyvern knights if I have to.

I am glad you are safe. See that it stays that way.

Felix


Lady Bernadetta von Varley,

I am deeply gratified that you asked about me! In truth, I was unsure whether to send you a letter at all. Felix had tried to dissuade me, insisting that further missives might compromise your situation, but sometimes he becomes overly surly over certain matters.

All the same, I’ve sent this through the most secure route I can. Through the Alliance’s own network. Rest assured that Claude is more than happy to assist on that matter.

I have news of our friends, though many of them have scattered since Dimitri was condemned to death. It pains me to say, but his execution is fast approaching, and none of us have any plans--or means--to spring him free.

Resources are thin, and with Faerghus’ divided loyalties, it is down to the three great houses in the north to prevent Cornelia from utterly dominating its subjects. Gautier and Fraldarius have held their own, and Galatea has risen to the challenge. I believe Ingrid is to thank for bringing her house to the fray, though the Count is certainly no daisy, either. He’s helming most of the wyvern forces, so I hear.

Annette and Lysithea have been training the mages in the north to fight back. They do so in secret, because many of them have been sent back to Fhirdiad for some reconnaissance work. I do not know the specifics, but Sylvain and Felix are working on some sort of plan.

Mercedes returned to Daphnel to find some truth about the Death Knight. Ignatz went with her. I believe his plan was to see her safely into Alliance territory prior to going back to his family to work. War is, after all, a booming trade.

Ashe has vanished. My guess is Ashe has returned to House Rowe in search of answers. The events surrounding Lord Lonato has bothered him since. Catherine has disappeared as well, so my theory seems truer by the minute. As for Dedue, there are more rumors flying by the minute. Some say Dedue is dead. Others say that he’s been imprisoned with the king. Still others say he’s run off west, toward Kleiman, to find Duscur soldiers who can still fight.

Whatever the case, this is all I’ve gathered. The Alliance sends some support, but with Claude ascending to his role as the new leader, he has more on his plate than most. There are changes afoot, Bernadetta, and I will try to keep you apprised of them when I can.

Thank you for thinking of me, and I hope this letter finds you well.

Yours truly,

Ferdinand von Aegir

P.S. I know it’s too much to ask, but what is the news at Enbarr?


Felix,

Thank you for sending the letter from Ferdinand on! He’s desperate for news here, though I have a sneaking suspicion that’s a blanket statement for asking about specifics on Aegir and, well, Hubert, I imagine. Don’t scowl, nobody can help who they end up loving. Not even in war.

I can’t tell him much else. I’ve sequestered myself inside Varley. I have, however, sent Dorothea a small letter, and she’s most likely received some news of what’s been happening in the capital , hint hint, wink wink.

Oh, who am I kidding, things aren’t good. I hate to say it, but there are a lot of Empire loyalists. What I can say is that there has been a number of activities happening at Garreg Mach lately, and I’ve heard that Ladislava is back. You don’t know her, but everyone in the Empire does, even me. She’s become part of the Emperor’s personal guard, and is formidable. No, don’t even think of fighting her right now.

Don’t panic, but Edelgard has sent more troops to Varley. It’s not to recruit me, I will tell you that. She’s requested that I keep the troops here as lookouts. Randolph von Bergliez--Caspar’s uncle by marriage--has been put in charge. I think she wants him to keep track of movements within Garreg Mach. So please be careful, and let the other Kingdom supporters know that they’re being watched.

The Empire troops don’t bother me otherwise. They know I send letters out, and I have a sneaking suspicion that once or twice, they’vee snooped through my mail to see if I’m sending anything to the Alliance or Kingdom supporters. No such luck on their end. All my letters are hidden inside embroideries, after all. All they think I’m doing is sending out parcels of patched clothing to Empire troops across Fodlan. Hah. Way to pull that off, Bernie.

I don’t hear much of news from you. Are things well? Please make sure you’re getting some rest. I know it’s a war and all, but if you’re not at your best, we’re going to get one cranky Felix and a lot of dead bodies. Heh. Sorry, that came off badly!

But admit it, someone dying around you is highly probable. Especially if you haven’t rested.

When next you write back, please try not to send your overcoat as the clothing to be patched. It’s becoming suspicious if I’m sewing through the same custom-made overcoat over again. And it kind of makes you look like someone who can’t keep his clothes on. No, strike that. Gah!

Bernadetta


Felix,

Is everything okay? You have not written in moons. I have not heard any news in moons . I’m beginning to think things are going really, really badly.

Tell me you’re still alive. Send me a sign. Anything.

Please.

Bernadetta


Bernadetta,

Dimitri is dead.

The news came to us through one of Annette’s mages. He was sentenced and killed in his prison. Like an animal. A Boar Prince.

Frankly, it was not the death I envisioned for him. Now we are without a king.

Sylvain still holds out hope, since the news came to us secondhand. I wish not to dwell on either truth or falsehood. I just know that we need to keep moving forward. King or no king, what the Empire is doing is still unacceptable. Father and I will continue to fight, as will the other two houses. Blaiddyd may have fallen, but Gautier, Fraldarius, and Galatea have not.

Felix


Felix,

Oh Goddess. I’m so sorry.

Bernadetta


Lady Bernadetta von Varley,

My dear Bernadetta, I know you were expecting a letter from Felix, but things are escalating north.

Edelgard’s forces are being stretched thin, but her numbers are still high. While she continues to fight a battle on two fronts, we in the north are trying to muster forces however we can. It becomes difficult now that we have no king to stand behind.

Thankfully, the Church has roused itself, and Seteth has made his way to us. He is intending to fight. Mostly, I think he is looking for Lady Rhea. She has been missing for over a year now.

Felix has left Fraldarius. He found Ashe, and both of them have been taking on scouting missions across what is left of the Kingdom Territory. I foresee this will be a long war, and it might take much longer to hear from him. I hope you understand. He was very adamant that I tell you this.

Dorothea has sent me her own letters, so I thank you again for putting her in touch with me! It saddens me that news is no better south of here, but we do what we must. Perhaps in another life, there is a better situation for all of us.

Stay safe, as always.

Ferdinand von Aegir


Felix,

There has been news of a mysterious and monstrous man roaming the Kingdom, killing off Empire soldiers in various places. They’re calling him the Phantom Lion on account of how gruesomely he leaves his victims.

Half of me thinks this is frightening, but the other half also thinks that this might be good news for all of you.

Do you think it’s Dimitri?

Bernadetta


Bernadetta,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I hope whatever trouble you’ve gotten yourself into hasn’t been too much. I did appreciate you sending me your last manuscript. I’m always so touched when you’re finally letting me read your work!

One day I’ll find the time to critique it again, like the old days. Don’t you miss those?

Anyway, I’m sending this to you to let you know that it’s almost the Millennium Festival. Remember that promise we all made to Dimitri back when he was still a prince? It’s a little weird to want to dredge up that particular part of the past, but the Festival would be in a few weeks.

I plan to go, as does Ingrid. I think we need to honor something, anything . This war has taken its toll, and I am tired , Bernadetta. Tired of endlessly fighting with no hope to gain anything from the other side. I know it’s selfish of me to complain, especially with all the death around me. But you understand, don’t you?

In any case, I think Felix also plans to go back to Garreg Mach. I think we all do.

It might be too much to ask, but I know we’d like you there with us, too.

Sylvain Jose Gautier

P.S. Your Phantom Lion theory might not be wrong. I’m half afraid it is Dimitri gone mad, but having a king is what we need to bolster forces.


Bernadetta,

Headed to Garreg Mach Monastery. You know when. It’s dangerous, but I’m not asking you to stay hidden away in safety. I’m asking you to do the opposite.

Felix


Ethereal Moon, 1185

There is a danger to all my letters being found, and it becomes increasingly so the more I write. So I stop them.

I know that if I don’t leave Varley now, I will never be able to know whether they’ve all gone to Garreg Mach. I will never be able to know if the Phantom Lion is who I think it is.

I also know that if I don’t go now, those going to Garreg Mach will be blindsided by the troops Randolph has stationed in Varley. It’s a silly logic, but I act on that.

So first, I need to see a man about a wyvern.

Chapter Text

GUARDIAN MOON, 1186

Reunions are a funny business. It becomes increasingly strange when the place you used to call home has changed. And for the worse.

I arrived at Garreg Mach soon after many of the Blue Lions did. From the looks of things, they were still gathering the bodies of dead and burying them in an outside extension of the graveyard. 

I grow nervous over the amount of dead soldiers within the monastery. Most of those I see had been long dead, decaying even, and the smell is the first thing that sends me reeling.

“Lady Bernadetta!” the gatekeeper waves. “You’ve returned! Shall I send a sentry to the interim Archbishop?”

He must have seen the look of confusion on my face, because he chuckles. “Ah, sorry, I thought that was why you came back. I figured you’d heard the news. Professor Byleth has returned!”

Clearly now I’m looking at him like he’s grown two heads, because he is beaming at me as though he’s relishing my supreme confusion. “It’s true! She returned during the Millennium Festival. As did most of the Kingdom troops. If you want, I can--”

“No! Uh, no thanks. I think I can make my way to the receiving room. There is still a receiving room, right?” A thought strikes me. “And the training grounds? That still exists, right?”

“Of course! Much of Garreg Mach has seen a little wear and tear, but you’ll be glad to know that most of the space on the dormitory side have been preserved. As have the classrooms. Not even the bandits occupying this area have had any use for the library.”

I sigh with relief. “That’s good to hear.” The best news I’ve heard all day, really.

“Uh...Lady Bernadetta, if you will,” the gatekeeper says, hesitant at first. His mirth is all gone, but he nods. “I would steer clear of the chapel for now. It’s mostly rubble now, and...well, Prince Dimitri has expressly commanded us to keep away from him.”

Okay. I drew the line ages ago with Professor Byleth, but Dimitri is here, too?! Goddess.

I school my emotions this time, and I nod, thanking him before heading down the entrance hall. When I reach the entrance to the mess hall, I hesitate. After making my way this far into Garreg Mach, it dawns on me that I’m not quite sure where to go. Do I visit the old classrooms? Do I head to my old room? The greenhouse?

Do I look for Professor Byleth? For--

“Bernie!”

There is joy and surprise and relief in that small tone, and I turn to see Dorothea before she tackles me to the ground. The red of her gown matches the red jeweled choker that’s staring me right in the face.

I am smothered by hugs. If I didn’t already die from the risk of getting to Garreg Mach, Dorothea will have definitely killed me.

Up until I get pulled out of my predicament by another pair of hands.

“Dorothea, perhaps you should be waiting to greet her like that after she has time to be seeing you.” Petra is brushing me down and examining me. “You are looking well, Bernadetta!”

“Petra!” I say, unable to contain the glee in my voice. “I am so glad to see you both!”

“Say, you do look amazing, Bernie!” Dorothea has the chance to examine me now, and I’m not sure whether to blush or be pleased. “I love what you did to your hair. And your clothes. And, well, just generally everything .”

“Heh, years in seclusion gave me some time to craft my own wardrobe,” I mumble, pleased that Dorothea of all people notice the changes.

And you made your own outfit, too? I’m in love again!”

I can’t help it. I giggle. “I missed you too, Dorothea.”

“You must be having stories to tell!” Petra says. “Shall we be hearing them as we eat?”

I shake my head. I know exactly where to go from here, and if I sit down and eat...well, my stomach is already twisting and turning in knots. “Eating can wait. I’ve got someone I’m looking for.”

“Truly?”

Dorothea glances at me and winks. She takes Petra by the shoulder. “Oh, I can guess . Come on, Petra, I’m hungry, so we can catch up, too. It’s been a long journey for you as well!”

The two of them head over to the Mess Hall, and I find myself walking further away, towards the northwest corner of the monastery.

I pass many people by. I make it to the courtyard and see Ingrid having a conversation with Ignatz, who waves as he sees me. Annette squeals when she turns the corner, and she also has no compunctions about throwing herself at me for a hug. I am pleased to see that she is still her bubbly self, though from the looks of it, the war has taken its toll on her, as it did to many of us.

I don’t stay long chatting with Annette. I do have a purpose, and I continue to the training grounds.

I find who I’m after, and thensome.

Sylvain, Ferdinand, Professor Byleth, and Felix are inside with a new training master. As I enter, the training master is setting up a match between Sylvain and Felix, with Professor Byleth--who is definitely alive and looking like she hasn’t aged one iota--and Ferdinand--who grew out his hair, which looks pretty good with his red cloak--watching on the side. I can’t help but be transfixed as the two men draw their blades; a lance for Sylvain, a sword for Felix.

The two begin their sparring by circling each other. Just the way they get into their stances is familiar, and it strikes me that they’ve done this more often than not. It makes sense, because they’ve been fighting together since the war began, and the two must have sparred often in the north.

Change took over us all during the last five years. Sylvain is a little less unkempt, but his messy red curls are still there, albeit shortened and made more prominent in his darkly-colored armor. He looks to be in his element, dancing around the arena, the lance in his hand an extension of his body. He moves swiftly for a man in armor, and I can’t help but be amazed at the practice he’s been getting.

Felix, on the other hand, opts out of wearing any form of visible armor. In place of a knight’s chestplate and vambraces, he has his blue overcoat and cape shaping his form, with a warm black tunic underneath. The look is further enhanced by the belt and jumper he is using to strap his swords to the side.

I cannot stop looking at him and feeling pleased. Back when I had put his outfit together, I thought it might have looked too big on him, and before the war, I had planned on making adjustments to better tailor the outfit to the person. I am now glad I didn’t have to, because he’s wearing the darn thing and looking great .

I try not to blush, and I back away, more interested in the bout than I should have been.

The two continue to exchange blows, and the sparring starts to move more swiftly. They seemed almost on par with each other, with the slight difference of height and speed. Sylvain truly does know what to do with the lance, and at first glance, it is clear he has an advantage on reach and defense.

But let it not be said that Felix can’t work around that.

The swordsman gains the attention of the rest of the training hall, and soon a few soldiers gather, hollering at one or the other, cheering them both on. Byleth and Ferdinand murmur together, up until they both see me, and Ferdinand beams.

“Bernadetta von Varley! You have finally arrived!”

If I hadn’t been watching the sparring so intently, I might have missed the slight stumble in Felix’s attack. But I don’t, and it’s clear he hears Ferdinand, too.

Sylvain also stumbles, puzzled by Felix’s movements. However, he recovers a little later than Felix does, and it’s enough to end the bout. Sylvain’s lance gets knocked out of his hands, and the swordsman swoops Sylvain down to the ground in some kind of elegant sword movement. I can’t even describe it, it went way too quickly.

I decide that it would be even more awkward if I was still staring at them, so I force my eyes away and head toward Ferdinand and the professor.

“Bernadetta, I’m so glad you came to join us,” Professor Byleth began. She looks unsure about the protocol in greeting me, but decides finally to pat me on the shoulder, just as Ferdinand approaches and gives me a quick peck on both cheeks.

“Professor, hi!” She is alive. So very alive . “I--you’re alive .”

The excitement is punctuated by Sylvain and Felix approaching us, and I stiffen somewhat when Sylvain grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me up for a bear hug. I squeak, then laugh. “Bernadetta, my lady! I am so glad to see you. And can I say how well the years have treated you? You look absolutely stunning!”

I roll my eyes. “Dorothea and Petra beat you to that . I’ve heard it already.”

“He’s not wrong,” Felix says.

Sylvain grins. “I get things right from time to time, you know. And I appreciate that you see things my way for once, Felix!”

Damn it, Felix, I do not want to hear flattery from him in front of everyone!

The swordsman eyes me up and down, and whatever confidence I manage to gain from all the endearing words takes a bit of a hit. The scrutiny doesn’t last long, though, and he shifts his feet, nods. “I am...glad that you made it safely here. Things have gotten dangerous outside of the monastery.”

No kidding. “I saw the soldiers being buried outside. Those were your doing?”

“You flatter me,” Felix says flatly. “You can blame that thing for most of it.”

“What thing?”

Sylvain made to respond, but Professor Byleth shakes her head.

“Felix, enough,” Professor Byleth says, clearly exasperated. “We can regale Bernadetta with your complaints later. For now, I think she needs some seeing to. I believe your quarters are still available, if you want that? And as for meals, we’re tightening our rations, but it hasn’t gotten bad enough as far as supplies go.”

Oddly enough, being in Garreg Mach now is like coming home, as though the years before had just been some sort of intermediary wait for a better situation. “I...would like to put my stuff in my old room, yes. If it’s okay, can I just meet you guys at the Mess Hall? You can all tell me about how the Millennium Festival went. And I--” The thought of Randolph and his sentries in Varley come to mind. “I do have a number of things to talk to you about, Professor.”

I bid my goodbyes for now and head toward the dormitories. It doesn’t take me long to realize Felix is following me.

He is silent until we reach the door to my room. I open the door, and I turn to him. “You um…”

“I half expected you to stay in Varley,” Felix admits, looking down.

I frown and match his gaze. “Whatever for?”

He shrugs. “You’ve locked yourself up for so long, I didn’t think you’d actually want to come out of hiding. Not even for…”

“Not even when you asked?” It strikes me then that he’s still, and his hand is gripping one of his swords tightly. What did he have anything to be nervous about?

He raises an eyebrow. “So you came because I asked? Is that it?”

“And Sylvain,” I point out. “And Ferdinand. And Dorothea. I came because you all asked, and I remembered our promise to Dimitri and the professor.”

“Ah.” Even after all this time, I still can’t quite discern the tone in his voice. “That’s something.”

“You didn’t follow me all the way here to interrogate me about why I’m back, did you? Do you think I’m an enemy? That I would sell you guys off to Edelgard? Oh gosh, you do, don’t you? You think that I’d debase myself after all these years just so I can get in good graces with an emperor who started--”

I don’t get far with this particular rambling, because Felix has me enveloped in a massive hug, and my nose is pressed to the crook of his arm. The feel of his overcoat is soft and warm, and I close my eyes, comforted by his heat and the smell of steel and snow and Felix.

We stand like that, wordless, and I make no move to push him away. It seems a natural order of things, to be greeted by someone who’s saved your life time and again. Whom you’ve written several times in the last five years.

Felix lets go, and I turn back to my room. It’s now me clenching my fist at something as I open my door further. I look back at him, and find that he’s still standing by the doorway. “I…”

“Get settled, Bernadetta,” he finally says. “We’ll talk later.”

As if talking is ever going to be the same now , I groan to myself as I close my door.

Chapter Text

PEGASUS MOON, 1186

“I can’t believe how long it’s been since I left home,” I murmur, sipping my tea and staring past the professor’s luminescent hair. “Since I was dragged out of the house, I mean. Five whole years. It’s weird to think about.” Even weirder to voice it aloud without flinching.

The professor tilts her head, stares at me in that scrutinizing way. I admit at first that the stare always gave me a bit of shivers, especially back during her first year at Garreg Mach. But now I know she means no harm by it. In fact, I find that it’s one of those things she does when she’s absorbing what someone has said. “Do you want to go back?”

I widen my eyes and almost spit my tea back out. “No! I…” I put the tea down. “But if you’d asked me that five years ago, I’d have said the opposite.”

I spread my arms wide, indicating everything beyond the garden cafe. “I...have friends here, and I have you to support me. The monastery’s become a home to me. Back then, I never would’ve dreamed a day like this would come.”

Professor Byleth gives me one of her rare smiles. “I’m really happy for you, Bernadetta.”

I smile back. “It’s really all thanks to you, you know. In a way, you’ve given me a second chance at life. If not for you, I never would have gotten used to leaving my room, let alone the monastery. All those teatimes and outings you’ve made me attend throughout our days in the academy...and, well, maybe the battlefield’s dulled my senses, too. I’m much better with strangers and new places now. I don’t panic nearly as much as before.”

“I have some independent work for you, then.”

“Now hold on a minute,” I grimace at her. “ Independent ? As in, alone ?”

The idea of going out alone doesn’t bother me as much as I thought, but it’s still a scary prospect. “That...sounds like a tough assignment. Where did this come from all of a--” She starts to laugh and I know she’s just keeping a front. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?! Please don’t joke around like that anymore! It’s torture for me!”

“I...can’t commit to that,” she finally says.

“Come on , Professor! I’m begging you! Promise me you won’t do that again. Friends respect each other’s feelings, don’t they?”

“Friends also call each other by their names,” Professor Byleth says. “If I promise not to tease you too much , you’ll call me Byleth, yes?”

“Wh...what?”

“That’s my name. Byleth. Besides,” she says, steepling her fingers, this time her eyes move away from me. “I’m not your professor anymore. Haven’t been for five years now.”

“Still, that’s a bit much to ask. But...I’ll try, Pro--Byleth.”

The response elicits another rare smile, and I know it’s going to be easier to go forward from here.

We sip our tea in comfortable silence, and for a time, there is no worry in the world. However, the morning passes by, and I find that I can’t keep the information with me for too long.

“There’s still the matter of Varley and the presence of soldiers there,” I finally say. “I...escaped them quickly enough, but one of Randolph’s scouts will have already returned to Varley to let him know Garreg Mach has been repossessed by the Kingdom.”

“Randolph?”

“Randolph von Bergliez,” I shudder. Not so much because he’s a scary man--which he is--but that he’s Caspar’s uncle, and the thought of Caspar showing up to help Randolph lead a siege on the monastery is disturbing. “His family home is east of mine, and Edel--the Emperor has ordered him to remain at my home as lookout. But from the looks of it, he’s going to attack sometime soon.”

Byleth frowns. “Is there a way around fighting them? I have no quarrel with the Empire, save for those who are truly responsible. And I know we’ll have to defeat Edelgard eventually. But if we have to fight, we will. I just...I worry for…”

She doesn’t need to finish the sentence for me to guess who she worries for. I understand now why Felix is walking around the monastery pleading for Byleth to deal with that thing in the cathedral. No one quite knows how to approach Dimitri at the moment. As the gatekeeper suggested, I make it a point to avoid him. Which is fine, because I don’t think he even notices who’s in the monastery anymore.

Maybe he notices the professor, but if he gives any indication that he’s soft on her, I don’t see it.

“I worry for a lot of my old friends,” I say, close my eyes and think of the Black Eagles house, of Edelgard’s wary smiles and Hubert’s maniacal but strangely infectious laughter. I think of Linhardt’s constant laziness and bouts of brilliance. I think of Caspar’s eagerness to please and over-zealous approach to battle. “But I’ve resolved to fight back. Even if it hurts them. I think...I think Dimitri is the same way. Only, he’s lost his path.”

The professor sighs, leans back. She rubs her face with her hand, and nods. “You’re right. It’s been a terrible moon, and I’m not quite sure how to bring him back to his past state.”

To be honest, I don’t think the professor will ever be successful in bringing Dimitri back to his past state. If his childhood friends have yet to succeed now, what else could Byleth do, really? “I don’t think you should hinge on the past so much, Pro--Byleth. Whatever the man he used to be is mostly gone. But I think there’s something in him still worth...” Saving . “Fighting for.”

I am reminded of the conversation I had with Sylvain five years ago. He’d voiced similar concerns about Miklan, and was convinced there was no saving him.  I can’t help but feel this is the same case for the professor and Dimitri. Only, I don’t say the same things. I can’t.

Dimitri has to be saved. For his sake, and for ours.

“No, you’re right.” Byleth makes to stand. “Thanks for the tea and the wisdom, Bernadetta. I’m going to have to speak to Seteth about this upcoming invasion. I don’t want any of us to be blindsided by it.”

I stay seated in the garden, watching couples speak to each other with ease. It’s funny that you see more of them whispering sweet nothings to each other, now that there is urgency in finding love before death. I savor the rest of my tea, thinking about whether or not I did the right thing.

Perhaps it was better off if Randolph had managed to surprise us. Perhaps it wasn’t.

When you’re now just thinking of survival to the point of betraying another human being, does that make you inhuman?

I down the rest of my tea and leave, still pondering this thought.


We are not blindsided by the invasion, and Randolph dies as a result.

It should not be surprising. Death is the inevitable daughter of war, and the losing side has the most numbers lost. Yet I still regret what happened.

I am not present when Byleth and Dimitri walk back into the monastery grounds after the battle against Empire troops. I am not present when Byleth and Dimitri have a heated argument in the cathedral. Mostly, those who were nearby have been filling me in with what was said between the two. None of it was good.

I am present, however, when Byleth gathers us around the war chamber so that she can tell us that she made the executive decision to kill Randolph and not take him in as a prisoner.

That thought chills me to the very core. So much for being desensitized to death.

“Not...he wasn’t to be ransomed?” Randolph von Bergliez was an army general , a valuable one to Edelgard for his staunch loyalty and ability. Killing him gave the Kingdom no leverage against the Empire. If anything, it gives the Empire more kindling to its fury.

Byleth shakes her head. “He left me no choice.”

Felix is beside me, and I can feel his anger in waves. It surprises me; Felix is almost never angry at Byleth. “Which he ? Randolph von Bergliez or the monster who should have been king? Because this whole situation smells of wild boar to me.”

Randolph gave me no choice.” The voice the professor used is steel and fury. She does not like being questioned, not even by someone who has every right to do so. “But therein lies the problem. He mentioned a sister before he died, and I’m wondering if his sister is an army general as well.”

I shake my head. “No, she’s a soldier, not a general. I didn’t see her at Varley with the other troops, so she’s probably back at the Capital.”

“Ah,” Byleth says. She glances at Seteth. “You would need to write a missive to…”

“Fleche,” Ferdinand says softly. “She’s a clerk in Enbarr. After Caspar’s father took the family name and title, Fleche and Randolph chose to take on trades at court. It might explain why Randolph worked to get the recognition as an army general.”

Dorothea scowls. “Typical of nobles to disregard those siblings once they no longer had a name to themselves.”

“That is unfair, Dorothea,” Ferdinand argues. “Both were still of von Bergliez, albeit further in line to inherit the family lands. And besides, I have great respect for both as people!”

“Regardless of how anyone feels on the matter,” Byleth interrupts, “A missive needs to be written to this...Fleche. Send her back Randolph’s armor and sword, and any other possessions he may have had. We are not monsters, so we will treat his death with respect .”

No one speaks afterwards. Something must have happened during the Empire’s unsuccessful siege, because Professor Byleth is on edge and ready to pick fights. Dimitri is nowhere to be found, though our guess is that he’s returned to the ruined abbey inside the cathedral.

“Byleth…” I say before I turn to leave the war room. “Is...are you…?”

“I’ve killed so many people already,” Byleth begins, unmoving, staring up at the ceiling. “I’ve killed so many and I did not weep for any of them. Killing is what I know to do, Bernadetta. So why... why does this one death bother me so much?”

I stare. I know it’s not my business, and I know she’s probably just airing out her grievances, but I approach her and sit to the seat on the left. “Is this about you killing Randolph?”

“He was going to torture him.” It alarms me then how the professor looks. She is clenching the arm rests, her fingers pale. She is breathing too uneasily, shaking almost every other breath. “Dimitri, he...he was going to torture Randolph. And I couldn’t let him. I couldn’t let him be more of a...a monster ...so I ended it. I ended Randolph’s misery. I did it to stem the growth of a bigger darkness.”

It completely explains why she gets in an argument with Dimitri. It completely explains her conscience and need to set the record straight. “I’m so sorry, Byleth,” I say, unable to think of anything comforting to say.

“It’s just,” she takes a breath. “This isn’t...I should never have disappeared five years ago.”

“That’s hardly your fault, you know.”

She shakes her head. “I know. But all the same. If I could have turned the hands of time that far, I would have. I would have just to save Dimitri from all of this.”

It occurs to me that she isn’t shaking because she feels bad for Randolph. It occurs to me that all of what she’s done in the past few weeks, in the past few days, has been to rouse Dimitri from his mania. Even now, she thinks of saving the ex-prince of an almost-ruined kingdom.

I’m not exactly sure whether to be in awe of her determination or saddened by it. I’m not sure whether to tell her to give up or to keep on trying.

“It’s fine,” she finally says, turns to me with a slight curl of her lip. “This isn’t your burden to bear, Bernadetta. Thank you for listening, but that is all.”

I suppose I didn’t need to say anything. She’s long made up her mind about what she wants to do with Dimitri, and in some way, I’m grateful that she has. I trust her enough to know she will lead us in the best possible direction. If it’s towards reinstating Dimitri as king of Faerghus, then I won’t argue with that.

All the same, I think Felix’s advice still stands, and trusting Dimitri is no better than trusting Edelgard right about now.

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Verdant Moon

Her Esteemed Archbishop,

Are you familiar with the word Nabatea?

I’ve seen the word mentioned once or twice in mother’s letters regarding Duscur, but nowhere in my mother’s library does it actually show up. Wherever she’d heard of the word, it was not found in books.

Somehow it’s related to Agartha, of which there’s also very little to read about. This word is more familiar, though again, very difficult to find in mother’s collection. I would have petitioned the monastery library directly for copies of books on Agartha, but I was warned ahead of time not to bother.

According to Claude, I won’t find any books relating to Agartha in Garreg Mach, either. At least, not in the academy library. In the Archbishop’s and Seteth’s private collection, however…

Needless to say, I’m going to need you to do some digging, Aunt By. It might be too much to ask, but you did offer to do whatever you can to find my father, and it’s been over a year now that he’s gone missing. I would like to believe that he’s fallen into some mysterious magical sleep like you had done decades before, but I’m not one to dwell on such fantasies. You may still have the power of the progenitor god, Archbishop, but Father is human. Crest-bearer he may be, but he will still live or die the natural way.

Agartha, Nabatea, the Tragedy of Duscur, the Red Canyon. I feel like this all goes back to thousands of years of Fodlanian history, and perusing through tales of such magnitude require a more scholarly mind than mine. Curan takes after his father in that respect and has been helping me piece things together, but I’m afraid even he has his limitations. We would require the assistance of an actual scholar in these matters.

I know it may be too much to ask, but do you have someone you can recommend for such an undertaking? After Lysithea...I know of no other expert, and well…

Please alert me if you have found something of note.

 

All my love,

Felicity Glenn Fraldarius, Duchess

Fraldarius Territory, Faerghus, Unified Fodlan

 

P.S. I will likely be traveling before the winter season sets in. I have it on good authority that Father’s whereabouts may be southeast, past the Airmid River and towards the mountains by Hyrm. And by good authority, I mean to say “gut feeling” and “the visions I’ve gotten through the Sword of Moralta.” But both seem unrealistic and fanatical, and I don’t want most people thinking I’m crazy. You, at least, can understand me a little bit.


LONE MOON, 1186

I like my southern heat well enough, but scorching temperatures are a completely different story.

That’s what it is like in the Valley of Ailell. An infernal land where nothing grows, and the only signs of activity are the flows of molten earth.

The heat makes even Petra uneasy. She huffs out an uncomfortable breath, her dark skin breaking into a sweat, hair tied back into one large braid similar to how she had worn it years ago. She’s the most lightly dressed of us, in exotic clothing that leaves little to the imagination, and yet the whole effect makes her more intimidating than alluring. Petra is always in control of her situation, and while she--like all of us--may look overheated, she soldiers on without complaint.

On the other hand, my poor hair plasters itself from the stifling hot air and it is a minor blessing that I am on a wyvern, its cool scaly skin a welcome element in the valley.

“The Valley of Torment.” Ashe and I are similarly armored; cotton and light gear underneath our leathers. He huffs out his own stifled breath and scans the grounds below. He winces at the sight before us. “A land where streams of lava flow freely through the earth, a place where the Goddess’ rage is most openly seen. It’s the kind of place you would imagine existed in fiction. Being here, though...that puts a lot of things into perspective, doesn’t it?”

I nod. We all knew the story by this point. Ailell was like any other valley in Fodlan, until it was said that the Goddess wanted to punish humanity for its crimes. “Only if we believe that these so-called pillars of light existed,” I say uneasily. “The whole thing does ring as fiction, doesn’t it? Pity it isn’t.”

“This place is new to me,” Petra says, her pegasus hovering gracefully in the air. “Never in my years of Fodlan am I encountering such heat. I am expecting--I expected that Fodlan is a colder place up north.”

“Not in this case,” I say. “There’s been enough stories about Ailell standing the test of time. Over one thousand years of civilization, and The Valley of Torment has yet to be inhabited.”

“Yes, what is more--” 

“Hey!” Ashe’s wyvern jerks to the left and almost collides with mine, but is immediately subdued. I fly a little further off just in case. “What is it?”

“That’s--look below.”

Something changes in Ashe’s countenance, and I look down. I frown. Things don’t seem right, and from the looks of things, the people below are not who we are supposed to meet.

For one, I don’t recognize the Shield of Faerghus in any of the units.

“Lord Gwendal,” Ashe says, and something in his tone makes me look at him with urgency. He pulls his wyvern around. “We need to leave. It’s an ambush!”

I don’t question Ashe’s instincts. It’s clear he recognizes the man, and it’s even clearer to me now that he’s wearing Imperial colors. I follow Ashe out of our scouting location and fly back southeast to where the rest of our troops are. Petra flies close by, a blur of white against our dark brown wyverns.

Ashe alights first, shouting for the professor and Dimitri. A number of the other Kingdom troops approach us, including Felix. Where many of them head towards Ashe, Felix comes to me.

“What did you see?” He helps me out of my wyvern, his hands gripping my hips as he pulls me down. I let him do so and notice that his hands linger a little longer than usual. I try not to let it distract me. Try being the key word.

“An army general and soldiers,” I say, patting my wyvern and feeding it pieces of dried meat as reward. I let one of the squires handle the wyvern as I walk towards Ashe and the commander’s tent. “Imperial ones. I don’t know who, but Ashe seemed shaken when he saw who was leading the advance.”

“My father? Was he there?”

I shake my head. “I didn’t see him.”

Felix scowls. He walks beside me, saying nothing. When we get to the front of the tent, he grasps my arm before we can walk in. “Not many people knew we were coming here. To Ailell. If the Imperial army knows where we are, it could only mean one thing.”

I nod. My response is so soft I am unsure whether Felix hears me. “There’s a spy in our midst.” There is an unspoken silence between us, but I know where Felix’s thought process is going.

The spy could be one of us .

I don’t wait for Felix to let go of my arm. I open the tent flap and walk in, pulling the swordsman with me.

He drops my arm as we enter, and to my relief, we miss little of what Ashe is reporting. Petra is already there as well, her face grim and nodding to confirm what Ashe had seen.

“Leading the troops is Lord Gwendal,” Ashe explains. He closes his eyes, takes in a breath, then exhales slowly. He reopens his eyes and points at the sketched map of the terrain. “The Gray Lion, a veteran great knight of House Rowe. He was... is ...loyal to Rowe’s count, and by association, was loyal to my adoptive father, Lord Lonato.”

Dimitri listens attentively, staring at Ashe with his one functional eye, his countenance darkening the more he hears. “Does he mean to ambush us then?”

“Lord Gwendal is an honorable man,” Ashe continues, turning away from Dimitri’s scrutiny. “Perhaps he’s--”

“What colors did he wear?”

“That is--”

“What. Colors?” Dimitri slowly begins to lose his cool, gritting his teeth.

“Red and black, his arms emblazoned with the eagles of House Hresvelg,” I interrupt, stepping beside Ashe. “I would know the emblem from far enough away.”

Admitting this seemed a betrayal to Ashe, and he backs away, refusing to look at either of us. For a brief moment, Ashe reminds me of a skittish cat, like the ones at Garreg Mach. A cat that had stolen a piece of fish and has been feeling guilty ever since. It is the briefest moment, and after the conversation with Felix, it makes me wonder if Ashe was the one who alerted Lord Gwendal’s forces.

How much does Ashe really resent what happened to Lord Lonato? Would he throw his loyalties away now? Or was he playing the long game?

“So they mean to trap us,” Dimitri says, now looking at me. I fidget under his gaze, but I do not turn away. “They mean to murder us in this maddening sinkhole.” He turns to the professor, gives her a scowl, as though they had been engaged in another one of their heated arguments prior to getting Ashe’s news. “And what of Rodrigue? Where is the Shield of Faerghus?”

“I did not see him,” I say. “Perhaps he--”

“I tire of waiting for him.” Dimitri waves his hand in dismissal. “The longer we stay here, the more susceptible we are to this ambush. Better to strike and destroy the enemy.”

Professor Byleth looks worriedly at him, bites her lip. “Dimitri is right. We can’t stay in Ailell in wait. Not if there are soldiers already on the lookout for us.”

Dimitri nods. “Ready the troops. Oh, and…” he turns to each of us, and my stomach drops quicker than a plummeting boulder. “Find the spy who gave our location away. Make certain that he--or she--is delivered to me alive .”

The rage in Dimitri then causes me to step back and into Felix’s front. He steadies me even as he growls back. “So that you could torture the scoundrel? Better just to kill him outright.”

Felix pulls me out of the tent before Dimitri could respond back. When we are at a safe distance, Felix turns to me. “It’s not Ashe.”

“I...wasn’t even thinking it was Ashe.”

“Yes, you were. But it’s not him.”

The certainty and trust Felix gave to Ashe irritates me. Why does Ashe of all people have Felix’s utmost trust? “And how are you so sure? Weren’t you the one who told me that there could be a spy in our midst? Why isn’t it Ashe?”

“He is too obvious.”

It’s about the stupidest statement I’ve ever heard. I let Felix know this when I laugh. “Just because someone is too obvious doesn’t mean he isn’t one! You can’t just trust anyone at face value! And besides, didn’t he disappear west a few years back? What if he found supporters of the Western Church? What if he took on the mantle of Lord of Gaspard and allied himself with House Rowe? Didn’t that occur to you?”

Felix remains unmoved by this, and I am increasingly getting angry at the lack of logic this argument is undergoing. “And if he allied himself with House Rowe, then he would be in the perfect position to report to the count about our every movement. It could explain why we’re being ambushed!”

“Did you look at Ashe?”

The question makes me hesitate. The truth of it hits me then. It couldn’t have been Ashe. The genuine surprise and panic he had displayed as we headed back to camp was proof enough emotionally. The fact that he didn’t even know where we were going until recently was another point in his favor. “I…”

“Did you really look at him?” Felix grips my chin, holds it up to face him head on. “Did you see how pale he was? How he didn’t hesitate to name the army commander? You did. You saw the look of surprise on Ashe’s face, and the only hesitation he made was in determining whether Lord Gwendal was friend or foe. To Ashe, the general is an old friend. But you know as well as I that that no longer matters in war. Ashe will do what he must.”

The pressure of his fingers on my chin tightens somewhat. “You know he’s not the spy. I don’t know why you’re arguing with me or why you’re mad, Bernadetta, but let’s drop the pretense that this is about him.”

Trust. That’s what the whole thing was about. I am jealous of Ashe in that second, the way Felix defends him completely, utterly. But I don’t voice this aloud.

“It could be any of us,” I say, biting back any other retort. My eyes fog up, but I rapidly blink away the onset of tears. “Maybe it’s me and that’s why I’m fighting so hard to blame Ashe. Did you think of that?”

His other hand grasps my shoulder. He pulls me closer. “It isn’t you, either, Bernadetta.”

I shiver. It would be so simple to let him continue to pull me in, to lull me into a sort of safety. But I’m not the Bernadetta he knew from years ago. I cannot afford to be lulled into security. I need to keep a clear head. So I push away from him. “That’s all well and good, but we can’t all be trusting of our friends. Or hasn’t this war taught you that much?”

Felix crosses his arms. To my surprise, he does not look at me resentfully. If anything, his expression looks pensive, as if he’s trying to put pieces of a puzzle together. “Bernadetta--”

“Whatever you two lovebirds are arguing about,” Sylvain says, coming up to us, “It needs to wait. Dimitri is rallying the rest of us. We spied soldiers nearby. Ailell is going to be a battleground, and I need you, Felix. Bernadetta, your wyvern has been saddled.”

I glance at Felix, who is no longer looking at me. He nods, and I do, too. We part ways.

We don’t look at each other, and I’m left wondering what Felix could have had to say with my doubts and my confusion. I’m left wondering who the spy is and what would happen once he or she is caught.

But most of all I’m left wondering over what is happening between Felix and myself.

That thought plagues me even as I ride up into the sky. It continues to haunt me even as I watch--relieved--the Fraldarius banners unfurl in the north, the telltale robes of Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius, Shield of Faerghus, flapping behind him as he gallops like a madman into the valley. Magic and madness, and all around him his soldiers make quick work of the Imperial troops.

Lord Gwendal doesn’t last long after that. The great knight is nothing once the duke of Fraldarius casts his magic, but it is not Rodrigue that gives him the finishing blow.

Ashe lets loose an arrow, and I watch--as though suspended in some horrifying nightmare--as it fells the Gray Lion. The man tumbles off his steed, and I know by his unmoving body that he is dead.

Whatever doubts I had about Ashe disappears then and there. The wyvern rider lets out an agonized wail, and I don’t know if it is of triumph or despair. He did, after all, just kill an old friend.

Ashe will do what he must .

I watch as Ashe flies off into the distance, breaking rank. I don’t follow him. Petra looks at me with concern, but I shake my head. “He will return when he is ready.”

I hope he does, but I am not so sure. All I know is that Ashe will replay the scene before him over and over again in his head. He will watch his friend die, and he will remember that it is he who shot the last arrow. There is no knowing how to recover from that.

In that moment, I understand the name of our battleground. I can see now why Ailell is called The Valley of Torment.

Chapter Text

GREAT TREE MOON, 1186 (Part I)

Even in this unfortunate circumstance, there is no denying that the Great Bridge of Myrddin is a spectacle to behold.

It is the crossing point between the Alliance and the Empire, an important structural piece hovering over the glistening blues of the Airmid River. If I am waxing poetic, it’s because I am taken in by the sight, even as I know we are crossing it to get to the capital, Enbarr.

Invading the capital is a big mistake, an idea that many of the Kingdom troops voice out. With our numbers and our support, it is a miracle that Claude--the Alliance leader--is even acquiescing for us to use the bridge. Better to invade Fhirdiad and retake what is left of the Kingdom before marching forces south.

But Dimitri’s will is iron-clad, and he is not budging on that point. Not even Rodrigue and the professor can steer him away from his one-minded vengeance.

It is a point I do not discuss with Felix, who is increasingly frustrated by the turn of events.

So instead we soldier on, towards Myrddin in hopes of taking the Bridge out of Acheron’s possession.

“It is quiet,” Lysithea says, steadying her pegasus in the air. “And there is very little activity below.”

We are both hovering above the watchtower at the northern end of the bridge. Normally, it’s Petra or Ashe who is with me, but Petra, along with Ingrid and Ignatz, are the messengers sent to Riegan. After the whole spy situation last moon, it makes more sense to send people who are trustworthy.

Ashe is yet to recover from the last mission. The loss of Lord Gwendal rattled him, and Professor Byleth decides to give Ashe his space. Mercedes tends to his wounds and whispers encouragement to him, but it is Annette who rouses him from his catatonic existence. Annette stays behind at Garreg Mach, but Mercedes is called to the front lines of battle, just in case.

“I think I see the Imperial banners at the other side,” I say, squinting. I use the spyglass Sylvain entrusts to me, and I look through it before handing it to Lysithea.

“I don’t--ah! I see them,” Lysithea says. Her lips thin in a small line, and I look at her questioningly. “Lorenz is there, and he brings Gloucester troops. What could he possibly gain…?”

I shake my head. “Claude warned us about Lorenz. He’s out to usurp Claude from Alliance leadership.”

Lysithea sighs. “Still, it’s--hang on. There’s another general. Decorated, from the looks of it.”

There is a chill climbing up my spine. “A woman?” 

“Wyvern rider. She handles a fancy-looking axe. Here.” Lysithea passes the spyglass back to me, but I don’t take it back. I already know who the woman is.

“Ladislava.” Sure enough, when I look through the spyglass one more time, I am greeted with the stern face of a woman whose skill with an axe is superior to many. Where Edelgard can make the axe sing on the ground, Ladislava can dance with the same weapon on the back of a wyvern. Once, long before she became general, I had seen her take a throwing axe and hit her target at almost the same distance as an arrow would. The thought chills me to the core. “We...we need to warn the others.”

“Is she that ridiculously strong?” Lysithea glances at the bow on my back. “Arrows make quick work of wyvern riders.”

“It’s not that simple,” I say as we begin to fly back down. “It’s said that she holds a shield that magically fends off arrows. And she’s almost untouchable with any other weapon.”

“Who’s untouchable with any other weapon?” Ferdinand asks as our steeds touch the ground.

Lysithea hops off, and I follow her lead. “Ladislava’s here, Ferdinand.”

He pales. “Oh Goddess. We’ll need to rid ourselves of her, sooner rather than later.”

By the look on his face, I know we are in for a grueling fight.


When Acheron shows up in the middle of the battle, I know we are in danger.

His forces sneak up on us from behind, and we are pincered in the middle of the bridge. That is when Lorenz and the Demonic Beast make their charge.

I almost panic, flying above. It is already a feat, trying to avoid all the arrows being shot towards me, and it is mostly thanks to Lysithea’s magical shield and deflection abilities that keep us up in the air. But even a mage like Lysithea is bound to tire out, and the strain on keeping both of us alive is clear on her face.

“We can’t keep up like this!” I tell her as she flies near me, close enough that another bevy of arrows narrowly misses us. “We need to dismount!”

“But--”

“LYSITHEA!” My cries are unheard, and I watch the white flyer plummet, a stream of blood in her wake.

My mind begins to run on reflex. I spur my wyvern down, diving toward the falling pegasus. Lysithea becomes separated from her steed, and I go for her, praying to the Goddess and Saint Seiros that I catch her in time. The last few seconds are critical, and by the time I reach her, I am sobbing uncontrollably.

There is blood all over.

For a horrifying instant, my mind shuts down, and I watch Lysithea, eyes closed, white hair disheveled all over her. The pegasus crashes below, and I hear the sound of alarm as some of our soldiers look up. I turn and see Felix and Mercedes running to us.

“She...someone help her!” I shriek. I can’t help it. There is so much blood.

“Lysithea!” Mercedes gasps as we get there. Felix gingerly takes Lysithea from my arms and places her on the ground. He examines her for a moment, and looks up to me.

I am about to burst into another fit of tears, but Felix’s gaze keeps me calm. “Bernadetta, she’s alive .”

“What? How?!”

He stands, murmurs something to Mercedes that I do not hear, and moves toward me. He holds up a hand, and I reflexively drag him up behind me. He positions himself on the wyvern, and with a squeeze of his legs and a short murmur of command, the wyvern rises up again.

“The blood isn’t hers,” he says, his breath by my ear. The adrenaline I am feeling supersedes any discomfort I have of Felix clutching onto me, of Felix’s warmth at my back. “It’s her pegasus.”

I am relieved, and I am about to say something else, but he squeezes me by the hips. “Take me to her.”

“To...who?”

“Ladislava.”

I can’t help it. I turn around to half face Felix, and my wyvern jerks to the side. “Absolutely not !”

“Bernadetta, please ,” he says. My face is close to his now, and he tilts his head to look me in the eye. He wears the expression of fierce determination, and I swear I almost melt into his amber gaze. I don’t, though, because the fear of Ladislava stays my psychotically beating heart.

“I won’t have her kill you,” I finally say, almost as evenly as his plea. I am not allowed to panic. I am not allowed to panic.

“In case you didn’t notice, we are going to lose the bridge ,” he says sardonically. “The boar and Byleth can only do so much below, and there’s a Demonic Beast blocking them from the generals on the other side. Ferdinand and Sylvain are fighting off Lorenz’s troops, and Dedue--”

Dedue?!

For a brief moment, he smiles, and that--on top of his stare-- really gets me distracted. He loses the smile immediately. “He’s alive.”

Dedue is alive! My wyvern jolts up when I pull on the reins too hard. “How?!”

“Those questions can wait until later,” he says. “What’s more pressing is the fact that we will not be able to take this bridge if Ladislava is still alive. We need to get to her before more reinforcements arrive. Bernadetta, you’re the only flyer left right now.”

He’s right. Of course he’s right. But I don’t want to go. Facing Ladislava is bad enough, but I’m taking Felix to that fight. He’s formidable, sure, but he’s not indestructible.

And Goddess help me, but I don’t know what I would do if he dies on my watch.

It doesn’t matter. He makes the decision for me. Felix moves his hands from my hips and encloses them over my own fists. He takes the reins from me, and I am left reluctantly voicing my concerns--less so now that I’m cocooned by his very being.

The wyvern turns, heading straight across the bridge and toward the general awaiting us.

Back when I was still with the Empire, I had heard tales of Ladislava. The Scarlet Warrior, they said about her. The Empire’s own fierce general, a staunch supporter of Edelgard’s ascent to the empirical throne. She was a no-nonsense woman, and along with Randolph, she carried with her a loyalty so fierce that she will stop at nothing to do every bidding her emperor commands.

I know we have to kill her, because Ladislava would never abandon her post on the bridge.

Felix unsheathes his blade as we get closer. He has let go of my hands, and I take the reins now, leading us into what could very well be our final moments.

“They send children to this fight,” Ladislava says, hovering in front of us.

Our wyverns circle each other, hers a monstrous steed compared to mine. I would have lost my nerve if Felix hadn’t been holding onto me. He scoffs at Ladislava in turn. “Hardly. Or do you not know who we are?”

“I don't care who or what you are,” the general hisses. “You are nothing but more walls between my emperor and her path.”

“And you are nothing more than an obstacles in ours,” Felix responds evenly. Leave it to the Fraldarius heir not to be intimidated by the exchange. In fact, I believe he revels in these types of moments.

“To repay Her Majesty’s favor, I will not let you pass!” She lunges.

I maneuver my wyvern away, almost missing the speed with which her axe swings in the air. Now I’m seeing first-hand just how deft The Scarlet Warrior is with her weapon of choice.

There is a clash of steel, and I know Felix is fighting her off behind me. We turn away again, our wyverns doing their own dance.

Concentrating on keeping both of us alive, I am unaware as to how the battle is faring between them. I don’t know who is tiring more frequently as I pit wyvern against wyvern. I just know that if I give up any openings, both Felix and I will die.

Mid-attack, Ladislava flies away from us and further from the bridge. The move means to separate us from reinforcements, and I know she wants us to follow. Despite the bad feelings about this, I give chase to her anyway. There are no more flyers on either side, and the battle is solely now between the three of us. I am not sure why she is fleeing, because she could continue to hammer away at Felix’s stamina. Or perhaps it’s because she herself is tiring at a quicker pace.

It is too late for me to realize it, because by the time I do, I see the throwing axe fly from her grip. At me.

I close my eyes and wait for the weapon to strike.

It doesn’t.

Instead, I hear the clash of steel, watch as the sword--previously in Felix’s hand--falls, along with the throwing axe. Felix curses. “Are you alright?”

“I…”

I do not see Ladislava throwing her second axe, and this time…

This time Felix is too slow to put up his second sword. This time, Ladislava’s aim is true.

Felix gives out a sickening cry, and I smell the blood. Ladislava makes an impactful hit, and I start to see red.

“Ladislava!” I cry out.

Behind me, Felix’s grip is still firm, though he is now slumped at my back. “Get...out…” he rasps. “I’m...okay.”

He is not okay. This is not okay. The heat rushing through me is now of anger. And I turn my wyvern towards Ladislava one more time.

I ready my bow, I aim.

Ladislava grins at me, dares me to fire. She holds up her shield, and I know, by the look of the magical aura around it, that it will no doubt make my arrow bounce away from her. But I also look around her and know that not everything is shielded. That she is wearing armor so heavy that a barrage of arrows would never nick the metal plating, but it doesn’t cover everything .

Like Lysithea and any other flyer, her steed is not fully plated like her. And that’s what I’m counting on.

So I aim for the weakest point of her wyvern, and I fire.

And I fire again. And again. I am unaware of anything else but the flurry of my attacks. I keep moving, keep shooting. Until the Scarlet Warrior--and her steed--crashes into the Airmid River, where there is no one to catch her. Where she will not be able to swim out of her heavy, impenetrable armor.

The water around Ladislava’s fall turns a rose-colored red.

“That...impressive,” Felix rasps out, despite how painful it must be to even talk. I can feel him slowly lose his grip around my midsection, and I know he doesn’t have much time left before he goes unconscious.

I don’t stay to admire my work. I have a man behind me who needs Mercedes just as much as Lysithea does.

So I urge my wyvern back to the other end of the bridge. Past the Demonic Beast still wreaking havoc. Past Lorenz and Ferdinand and Sylvain having a paladin stand-off on the other side. Past Dedue fending off Acheron and his pincer attack. I don’t care at that point, because my job is done.

I leave the rest of the battle to those who give a damn.

Chapter Text

GREAT TREE MOON, 1186 (Part II)

I don’t visit Felix in the infirmary.

I can’t bring myself to. This is no longer like the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, where we faced off our opponents, and at first blood, the players are whisked off to be healed immediately. This is much worse than that.

Here, in this war, there is no telling who will survive. There is no telling who will heal in time for the next battle, or the next month. There is no telling how much the damage is.

“Bernadetta?” someone asks from across my door. “Can I come in?”

I don’t answer. I turn over on my bed and face the wall. I try to tune out the voice, but they are persistent. A type of persistence I only know comes from one person.

“Bernadetta, I’m not leaving,” Professor Byleth says, gently but resolutely, as Professor Byleth would. “We need to talk.”

“No, we don’t,” I mumble under my blanket. I am hugging Dima the Bear close to me, and I shut my eyes.

Bernadetta. ” There is a commotion outside, and I hear Ingrid.

“Do you need me to kick the door down, Professor?”

“Don’t you dare!” I scream out, throwing the blanket off me. “Give me a minute!”

I put something on that doesn’t look like I’ve slept in it, and I lightly brush my hair. I tidy up the bed a bit and put the stuffed bear to the side, back to his normal perch. When the knocking comes once more, I promptly open the door.

“Thank you, Ingrid,” I hear the professor say before the pegasus knight nods and walks away. Byleth turns to me. “You look...well-kept.”

“Yeah. Right.” I let the professor in, and she closes the door behind her.

“You haven’t left your room since the battle at the Bridge. Not even for when Dedue and Mercedes offered to set up a feast in celebration of our victory. I wanted to check on you.”

If this is what happens when you go back to being a recluse, I should never have stepped out of my comfort zone. Ever. Then I wouldn’t have them expecting too much out of me. “And you never have to worry about me, Professor. Never ever. I’m safe and fine in my little room, and you can go ahead and keep enjoying...whatever it is you’re enjoying.”

Byleth sighs. “It’s not as easy as that, and I thought you were calling me Byleth.”

“Sorry, Pro--Byleth.”

We lapse into a bit of silence, and Byleth looks around the room. She catches sight of Dima the Bear, and I immediately regret keeping him in the open. I should have stuffed him under my blankets like a lunatic with a scheme would.

“That’s a nice bear,” she says, trying to make small talk. When I try to respond, I glimpse the interest spark in her eyes. I know then that she’s seen the blue ribbon and the emblem I had embroidered on his front chest. “With a Fraldarius crest.”

“What? Really? Total coincidence,” I laugh nervously. “I just really like the colors. And...the design...”

“Mmhmm,” she says, disbelieving. Clearly the jig is up, but I can’t help but want to lie through my teeth anyway.

I would have kept going, if not for her sullen response. “He’s fine, you know. Thank the Goddess for our flyers. Ingrid, Petra, and Ignatz returned in the nick of time, so they spirited Felix and Lysithea back to Garreg Mach as soon as Mercedes said they were stable enough for the journey. Lysithea’s magic is out of commission for now. She really pushed herself to her limit some days ago. As did Felix.”

“No.”

Byleth watches me, confused. “No?”

“He didn’t tire himself out,” I say. I remember Felix, almost indestructible Felix. I remember the amount of blood and the look of triumph in Ladislava’s eyes. “He got injured . Because of me. He didn’t tire himself out. I was the liability. Stupid, useless Bernie.”

The last word comes out as a croak, and whatever tears I had held back after the Bridge returns, and I am sobbing in Professor Byleth’s arms for a few minutes before she pulls away and offers me a handkerchief.

“You are not stupid or useless, Bernadetta,” she says, and in that instant, I don’t believe her. How could I?

“Two people almost died because of me,” I continue to blubber.

She shakes her head. “Two people are alive because of you. Or do you deny keeping Lysithea from falling to her death?”

“I...no.”

“And what you did to Ladislava…” Professor Byleth takes a breath. “I can certainly say she’s utterly dead.”

“But Felix--”

“What Felix did was give you an opening,” the professor continues, “one that you took. If you were stupid and useless, you would have frozen on the spot and let Ladislava get the better of you. But instead, you got angry. And you fought. And you won . That’s not useless, Bernadetta. That’s impressive .”

That...impressive . Felix had said that before he’d gone close to dying. I shudder, but my sobs stop coming. I dry my eyes with the handkerchief. “I...suppose that was pretty commendable of me.”

Byleth laughs at this. “See? It’s not too bad to show some kind of confidence now and again!”

I smile. It’s the first time I’ve done so in days, and I find it slightly liberating. “I...I suppose.”

“Now, when you’re ready ,” Byleth says, disentangling herself from me and standing. “We didn’t exactly make an entire feast, what with the war going on, and how little resources we actually have. But we couldn’t help but make something celebrating Dedue’s return. He was a little hesitant, but...there’s just so much bleakness, you know?”

I had been in such a stupor for the past several days that I do not notice the bags under Byleth’s eyes, and the way she’s been holding herself up willfully, forcefully. Handling Dimitri will do that to anyone, I suppose, and I immediately feel sorry for being another burden in the professor’s hands. No, not professor, interim Archbishop .

“That does sound like a good idea,” I say. I force myself up as well. “I shall head over to the Dining Hall once I’m better dressed. Deal?”

Byleth is full-on smiling now, and I am gratified to see that she at least hasn’t lost all her joy. “Deal.”


Dedue returns to throwing himself into Dimitri’s path, which reduces the handling that Professor Byleth has to do with the Boar Prince. Dimitri, the One-Eyed Demon, is the name that gets spread across the Monastery, and this little implication is problematic, because who can trust a One-Eyed Demon to rule a kingdom?

Rodrigue, Gilbert, Felix, Sylvain, and Byleth push for the re-claiming of Fhirdiad despite Dimitri’s attempt to march our entire army into Enbarr. Dedue, for all his loyalty to the king, does not argue with him, and I fear whatever work Byleth and Rodrigue did put in will only begin to unravel now that Dimitri has one staunch ally in his corner.

Still, it is good to see the Duscur soldier, and I am glad the war has not turned him into a complete beast like his liege lord. In the days after his return, I often spy him in the garden, watering the plants there and speaking animatedly to Annette over her cooking questions. Even Ashe manages to lighten his mood, now that all of the Blue Lions officers are finally reunited.

The mood in the monastery gets even brighter once Dimitri agrees to send a letter to Derdriu asking to join forces with Claude and the major forces of the Alliance. Lysithea--who is beginning to regain her usual pallor--nods approvingly of the news. “Father and mother will want to know that the Alliance is behind us. Perhaps there will be safety between two worlds after all.”

I still stay mostly in my room, but in keeping Byleth from checking on me too often, I wander the halls as well. I check on Dorothea, who often sits by the maze gardens for hours at a time, soaking in the beauty of the day. “There’s so little beauty to behold,” she says sadly. After the Bridge of Myrddin, she is shaken by the thought that it could have been any of our old colleagues from the Black Eagles on that bridge in place of Lorenz.

I visit Petra, who splits her time between training, reading in the library, and...climbing trees. She still has not heard from her grandfather, but believes that with the increasing pressure on Brigid, there is no doubt that her grandfather will finally reply. He would have no choice in the matter.

I still avoid the infirmary, and when Sylvain tells me Felix is back on his feet and training again, I know to stay away from the training grounds as well.

Mostly, I take tea with Ferdinand.

The month has him a bit despondent, and I know it’s because we are due to head south on his birthday. To Gronder Field in hopes to rendezvous with Claude’s soldiers, more or less.

“I bring treats,” I say to him, holding up a basket of bread and sweets. I can already smell the tea brewing in his room, and we settle ourselves on his lush rug, where he sets up a mat to put our tea and snacks. “

He sets down two pots of tea, one smelling of honey and fruits--which I know is definitely for me--and the other of cinnamon. I raise an eyebrow. Cinnamon is not his usual go-to tea. If anything, it’s one of--

Oh. Oh, Goddess, it’s Hubert’s birthday today.

Ferdinand smiles at me. “Thank you, Bernadetta. I know it is too much to ask, on today of all days, but I would rather not be alone.”

“Of course,” I tell him.

He and I sip the tea and eat the snacks. The warmth of the tea brings some color back into his cheeks, and I am relieved by this. “Even with the fires of war raging all around us, tea never fails to soothe the soul. Do you not agree, Bernadetta?”

“I hadn’t thought about it, but yes?”

“It almost gives a sense of optimism for the future,” he says wistfully. When he sees me watching him, he shakes his head ruefully. “Of course, I think rationally now, so I cannot always fantasize the what-ifs.”

“Do you wonder the what-ifs, though?” I wonder how often Ferdinand thinks about what would have happened had he stayed by Edelgard’s side, despite what she had done to his father. I wonder, because it’s written on his face every day.

It makes me angry, really. Edelgard wasted one of the best noble-minded people in her empire, and now he spends a lot of his time lost. At least now he has a purpose, and it’s to fight back. Even if it means fighting against people--the one person--he loves.

“I will admit I do think too much on days like these,” he says, sips his tea again. “But with you here, it is harder to dwell on the past...well, except for one bit of memory.”

“Oh?”

He grins widely, puts his tea down, and leans forward over the mat. “A long time ago, my parents were in talks to arrange my marriage with a certain young lady. She never set foot outside of her room, and she made little dolls to curse her perceived enemies. Such were the rumors. Frightened, I dissuaded my parents from going through with their plans.”

I raise my eyebrow. It sounds like a familiar story… “I...can see that. She does sound pretty frightening. I relate to the staying in the room part, though…”

“That girl was you , Bernadetta. A daughter of House Varley.”

I blink several times, my jaw going slack. “I...what?! I don’t make dolls to curse people!” I sputter.

“You are a skilled embroiderer, no? I guess I was wrong. You were not making dolls.”

“I did make dolls, but they were cute ones ! Nice little...carnivorous plants...and things!” I do admit saying that aloud does make it seem scary. Mostly strange. I think about how strange I must have been growing up in seclusion and with parents like mine.

Ferdinand laughs, and I am made a little better at his cheerful mood, even at the expense to my general embarrassment. “Aha, yes, adorable . Anyway, if I had actually known you, I would have accepted the proposal.”

“It’s not as if--uh, what? Why? Did you have some scheme in mind?”

He shakes his head, pulls away from the table. “No. I just mean, now that I have gotten to know you, I would have been happy to…”

I snort. It’s a moot point now, considering the turn our lives have gone. I’m not the sort to dwell on arranged marriages, and Ferdinand, well, clearly he’s moved on . But the thought of proving someone wrong is nice.

“It is all to say that I am glad I am able to know you after the fact, Bernadetta. I am glad I refused to marry that doll-cursing princess, because if we had been married, we would not have been able to build such a deep friendship.”

“That’s true,” I say, chuckling. “Honestly, I would’ve given up on the relationship my parents chose for me and shut myself away even more. And look where I am now!”

“So we can be agreed on the matter,” Ferdinand nods. “I am glad I refused to marry that doll-cursing princess.”

I toss a cookie at him. “I never said I made curse dolls!”

“Just teasing, Bernadetta. Just teasing.”


“You’ve been avoiding me.”

My mood takes a turn the week after tea with Ferdinand.

I am in the greenhouse, watering the plants and minding my business, but I hear the rustle of a cloak, and I turn to see Felix. He takes the watering can from my possession and begins to make himself busy. As though he needs an excuse to do something in the greenhouse.

Which is smart on his part, because the greenhouse keeper is eyeing him with suspicion. I don’t blame her. Felix Hugo Fraldarius is rarely in the greenhouse these days.

“I...have not!”

He pauses as he waters the plant-- my plant--and gives me a sidelong glance. “That’s why you make it a point to inquire about me before going into the training grounds. Or the fact that you refuse to head to the second floor because likely I’ll be there making my daily check-up visits with Professor Manuela.”

“All coincidences, I assure you!”

I know the excuse is flimsy, and Felix knows it, too. He grimaces. “I can take a hint, Bernadetta. You are angry with me for something.”

Now he’s wrong about that. I am not angry with him. My sobbing to Professor Byleth is proof of that, but I cannot help being angry at myself.

And on that note, I can’t trust myself around Felix. Not anymore. Not after I had gotten so distracted that he almost died -but-didn’t. If the Bridge had been the first time, I wouldn’t have taken it so harshly. But it was the second time.

To top it off, the impending battle at Gronder Field again brings up memories, and I cannot help but shudder at the thought that Felix would willingly--once again--sacrifice his own well-being so I can get a shot in.

This is not the Bernadetta opera, I want to say to him, and he cannot keep trying to save my life. Instead, I settle for flimsy excuses and short responses.

“I am not angry.”

He puts the watering can down, this time facing me. There is a twitching in his hands, and he covers his agitation by reaching for the sword on his side. “Don’t lie to me,” he hisses.

The push definitely irritates me now. I cross my arms. “I am not lying to you,” I hiss back. This time, the greenhouse keeper approaches us.

“Is there a problem here?” she asks, smiling, her eyes into narrow slits. “If you’re going to continue having some kind of argument, I urge you to do so outside. Don’t spread your negative energy to the plants! Please and thank you!”

I stomp away, refusing to say another word. I know Felix follows me, because by the time we get outside of the greenhouse, he clamps his hand onto my wrist, and tries to pull me in one direction.

That doesn’t agree with me, and I quickly slip out of his grasp, letting my panic mode take over.

Within seconds, I’ve disarmed him and I’m holding his sword--still inside the scabbard--up to the base of his neck. His hands are up on his side, eyes wide. I’m shaking, a little bit of fury mixed in with a whole lot of astonishment.

“Again, how--?”

Now I’m angry,” I tell him, tossing his sword to the side. “Don’t touch me.”

Felix drops his hands, shoulders drooping. I immediately regret saying those words. His entire facial expression contorts in rejection, hurt, pain. I look away. As intended as the words had been, I cannot see him look that way. It is excruciating.

“I...am sorry,” Felix says quietly. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

He gives a quick bow, picks up his sword, and walks to the second floor dormitory.

I stand there, gripping my wrist, where his hand had kissed my skin. The warmth there remains, and I close my eyes.

Bernie is not stupid and useless. But by the Goddess, she is terribly and utterly tactless.


(FGF: This accompanying letter was in between the pages of her journal. I’ve presumed my father has read it by now, but at the time, it was never sent.)

Felix,

You can’t apologize for something that isn’t your fault. It’s silly. And you can’t make promises that I didn’t ask for. That’s equally silly.

What you can promise me is that you don’t die tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next. And what you can promise me is that you don’t die trying to save me . I’d like to believe I’m much more durable than that. I’m still here, aren’t I?

Bernie

Chapter Text

LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP

Archbishop Byleth Eisner Blaiddyd

Garreg Mach Monastery, Unified Fodlan

 

Horsebow Moon

 

Beloved,

I would have much preferred to give you tidings in person, but with the situation in Sreng escalating, I am urged to remain north. The choice to return to Fhirdiad or even make a visit to Garreg Mach is out of the question. At least, until we find out how the Srengi managed to amass a bit of an army.

Somehow I am reminded of our problem with Almyra. Do you remember Fodlan’s Throat? It was after the Unification War. Just as soon as we finished one war, we almost launch ourselves into another. Thankfully, saving Claude was both the right and beneficial act, as his revelations regarding his parentage and relations to both Riegan and the Almyran king proved to be well worth the effort. Besides, the man--as frustrating his schemes are--is admirable, and I would have hated to have lost him as a friend.

Why bring this up? It’s the wyvern riders all over again. Claude has insisted on sending Nader to make inquiries for me, because it disturbs him just as well that there are trained wyverns in the north that he doesn’t know about. Where had they come from? How were they trained? I admit, these questions have been ringing in my head since the news about Felicity and the attack by the mountains.

I refused his offer to send Nader, however. You have to admit, the man is getting on in years. Besides, it is redundant for Claude to send one of his men when we have Ashe. Our Lord Gaspard can manage his way around a reconnaissance mission. And before you ask, yes, I have spoken to Annette. She understands the situation and trusts that I won’t let anything come to pass to her husband. She also expects him back in time for his birthday on Wyvern Moon. I am not sure I can promise that, but I will try.

Have you heard from Felicity? She sends short letters about her whereabouts, but they are often brief and not quite as extensive as her letters to you. I feel like most days she humors me only because her father often does not. But I suppose that was the point in asking Felix to be my right hand. He knows well enough to oppose me on certain occasions.

Please do not worry about me. I believe the separation of Church and State is of utmost importance, so I am refusing your ever-endearing attempts to try coming to my side. My mission in Sreng is not to proselytize or conquer her people. If I can avoid another war, I will. I made you that much of a promise years back. I will reach out a hand to the Srengi war chief just as I did with Edelgard, with Claude. I will have them decide their own paths.

But make no mistake, I will act accordingly.

Always and unequivocally yours,

Dimitri

 

P.S. Please send my love to Mona and Jin. I trust their studies are going well. Please assure them that their father is eating well, and he swears to you that he will return to Fhirdiad in time for the Ethereal Moon.


Harpstring Moon, 1186 (Part I)

The fire at Gronder Field burns for days on end after the battle is waged.

It is ghastly and horrifying. It is the stuff of nightmares. And it is all due to Edelgard’s ambition.

I cannot unsee the devastation. I cannot unsee the the burning bodies. I cannot unsee the chaos that ensued soon after.

Worst of all, I cannot fathom how Edelgard could be so cruel.

It keeps me awake at night even now.


“I don’t want to go,” I admit to Dorothea, who looks pityingly at me as I saddle my wyvern. “I really don’t.”

“Neither does Ferdi,” she says, giving him a sidelong glance. “What a birthday present, huh? Send Ferdi to fight old friends.”

“Easy for you to complain,” I mutter. “ He practically volunteered to go. Even if…” I trail off, because mentioning it now would only make the prospect worse. None of us want to fight Linhardt or Caspar. None of us want to go against Hubert or Edelgard.

Dorothea and Petra are the lucky ones. Even Lysithea and Ignatz are made to stand down.

But not poor, silly Bernie. Oh, no, she just had to be handpicked to go wyvern-riding on quite possibly the most important battle to be fought. And all because one messenger gets murdered.

I shouldn’t be macabre about all this, but that’s all it takes for Dimitri to cry “foul” on Claude. Not even Byleth can dissuade him from searching for complete annihilation on the field.

“Kill every last one of them!” Dimitri shouts as a battle cry.

In the field of battle, it is like any battle cry. We are rallied to his cause, even as the deepest part of our minds object to mass murder.

Still, I try to avoid the archers in the Alliance. Not so much because I fear their arrows--someone recovered Ladislava’s shield, and it really does help against archers--but because I don’t want to have to face down Raphael or Leonie or Hilda.

And it’ll be a cold day in Ailell before I even try to go against Claude.

This time, I do not take Felix with me in the battle. He is to face off the magic-users to the west, towards Edelgard. He is Dimitri’s vanguard. Byleth has me heading south, to claim the center hill. Similar to the strategy in the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, I will try to capture the hill to take advantage of the ballista in the center.

This time, though, I have a queasy feeling about the whole thing. Not so much because I don’t want to face off in battle, but because it seems too easy a strategy now.

After all, Edelgard and Claude trained with Dimitri once upon a time. And they both are aware of how Byleth thinks at this point.

Annette makes her way toward the center with me, Gilbert in tow. The two are almost inseparable now, and they are a formidable team, with Annette’s magic and Gilbert’s practically impenetrable armor. They send their battalions ahead, and I fly behind them, making sure not to leave them too far behind. Gronder Field is a large battlefield, and in five years, the place has barely changed.

It is easy making it to the hill, and I zone in on the ballista just as Annette’s mages get into position. I spy the Imperial archer manning the ballista, and he is occupied with forces to the east. Claude’s forces--with Leonie flying at the helm--is making their own way to the hill as well, and I know we are going to clash soon. All the same, I take in a breath, a moment of calm in the sky, before my wyvern begins to make its descent.

I lock eyes with Leonie, and for a brief instant, I hesitate. Leonie is with the Alliance now, and she fights for her village. I cannot bring myself to try to disarm her, and she seems to sense this, because her mouth twists into a wry smile before she cuts me off with her pegasus. “Sorry, Bernadetta, but the ballista is being taken for the Alliance!”

I try to tell her it’s no use. Annette and Gilbert will be below soon, but she dives down, faster than I can. She throws a spear towards the archer, and I don’t need to look to know it will hit its target.

But nothing hits, because that is when the world explodes and the screaming begins.

The center hill is engulfed in flames, and most of the mages already there perish within moments of the explosion. The knights--who also arrive to give defense to the mages--burn as well, their impenetrable armor now a disadvantage to the scorching magical heat. It is a disaster on the hill, an unmitigated horror that takes so many lives in one fell swoop.

Leonie…

Leonie’s pegasus is torn to shreds by the splintering ballista. Its pained shrieks are deafening as it plummets below with its rider. I see Leonie look up toward me, the grim line on her face widening and changing into shock and fear as she is swallowed up by the flames. She does not make it out.

The carnage below drives me out of my station, and I hover, searching the rest of the hill for signs of Annette and Gilbert. For signs of anyone who made it out of the damned hill alive.

Please, please , I say to myself, like a chant or a prayer. Perhaps I say it to myself like a curse.

And then I see her. Annette, scrambling towards the hill, her magic blasting through the debris. Instead of retreating, she moves toward the fire, and I hurriedly fly to her side.

“Father!” she is screaming over and over, a similar chant to my pleas. She is looking at the burning flames, her robes almost scorched by the heat. At closer look, I see Annette’s eyes, wild and desperate and there is pain, so much pain that it breaks me to see it. I try to find Gilbert as well, but I have a sinking feeling that he, too, has been swallowed whole by the magic at the center hill. “FATHER!”

She lifts her flapping skirts off the ground, and it is almost as if she floats toward the hill. She is ready to use her magic to blast all the debris away, to douse the flames with whatever wind magic she can use.

But I stop her. I land my wyvern in front of her, urging my steed to withstand the heat behind us.

“Out of the way, Bernie!” she says, the tone of her voice as frightening as the fires behind me. “I need to find...I must find…”

“He’s gone, Annette,” I say. I fight against my breaking voice. “He’s...gone. Don’t go in there.”

“He’s in there . He might still be alive , Bernie! GET OUT OF MY WAY.”

Please , I say again to myself, but I don’t know who I’m pleading to now. If the Goddess hears, she doesn’t respond, and I know deep in my heart that no divine intervention will keep Annette from perishing with her father. If nobody stops her, she will dive headfirst into the flames, and I…

No . I will not do this again. I can only mourn Leonie now, can only put flowers in Gilbert’s grave, but I will not watch Annette die. Not Annette.

So I do what I must. I send my wyvern toward her, toward the magic she is about to blast at her obstacle. At me .

I don’t even think anymore. I throw myself at her, and I wrestle her to the ground, my wyvern flying off.

She is sobbing uncontrollably now, and even as I pin her, I can feel the fight leaving her body. I look around, the calm I had felt before now leaving in way of a mounting panic. We are still at Gronder Field, and even with a burning center hill, the battle still wages around us. I have to get Annette and myself away from the hill and back toward where Professor Byleth keeps the reserves.

I question whether Annette and I can fight in our states, but that is when she stiffens in my arms, and I look at her.

“Bernie,” she says silently, the dangerous tone in her voice still there. “Bernie, I’m okay. Let go.”

I lessen my hold on her warily, and she nods at me. “Thank you.”

Annette wipes her tears away, looks at the hill, continually burning. By night, it will be a blackened spot, and I cannot tear my own sight away from it.

“I...I didn’t see it coming,” I tell her quietly. “I was right there, and I didn’t even see who…”

“Edelgard,” Annette says, turning her head southwest. “It was Edelgard.”

My eyes widen. “How did you--”

Annette laughs. It is a derisive laugh, a laugh that could easily return to sobbing. But my mage friend does not return to her sobbing. She rubs her eyes and pulls me toward the direction of the Imperial army. Her grip is surprisingly strong, and I don’t stop her as we make our way down the hill.

“‘ Those fools who went up the hill will pay with their lives, ’” Annette says, mimicking what I think is Edelgard’s voice. “She shouted it when Ashe and the professor got too near her. Ashe...has a token of mine. Something that connects me to him. On certain distances, what he hears, I hear.”

“So you knew it was going to happen?”

Annette glances at me, shakes her head. “I didn’t know what she meant...not until I saw Leonie. By then...by then…” she gulps, takes another breath. “Father had gone ahead, in hopes of taking out the archers stationed in front of us. But by then it was too late.”

I know the feeling, and I don’t say more. She lets go of my arm, and we proceed towards the banners of the Kingdom Army. I see the Gautier knights and Sylvain’s battalion, and I know he’s there.

Sure enough, Sylvain rides his way towards us, the look on his face changing from ashen grief to that of grim joy. “Bernadetta! Annette! You’re both safe!”

“Gilbert didn’t make it,” Annette says, “We couldn’t take the hill.”

“Goddess,” Sylvain said. He dismounts and runs toward us. “Are you--”

“We can still fight,” I say, not meeting Annette’s eyes. I can feel her nodding next to me, but I leave it to Sylvain to decide whether or not to let us assist him.

Sylvain whistles. “Well, I know Professor Byleth and Ferdinand is fending off Claude and the others. Hilda tried to ambush us north, but Dedue has her on a standstill. Felix, Dimitri, and Ashe are making their way to Edelgard. I’m headed there now, but I need you to find the professor. All our forces are headed towards her. If we hit Edelgard and Hubert, and if we win …”

“We end the battle,” Annette continues Sylvain’s train of thought. “What would you have us do?”

The Gautier heir scratches his head. “There’s a--”

“WATCH OUT!”

One of Sylvain’s knights topples with his steed, and Sylvain--with almost superhuman speed--mounts his horse and turns it toward his battalion. “Gautier, to me!” The great knights ride toward us, circling rapidly, fencing us in.

The hail of arrows that follow surge toward the Gautier knights, but they manage to lift their shields up and cover themselves--and us--before the arrows strike.

I also have my shield up, and Annette--even in her grief--brings up a barrier to cover those around her. Her mouth is set in a grim line, and she stomps toward Sylvain, who opens up a path for her.

Within seconds, she hurls a burst of wind and lightning toward the circle of archers belonging to Linhardt, and I know it becomes a battle of wills between them. Sylvain hurries toward her, screaming out commands for his knights to cover Annette while she goes on a rampage.

I turn and whistle for my wyvern. I mount him again, and instead of helping Sylvain and Annette, I head west. Toward Edelgard.

I want to see her one more time. I want to ask her why.

Mostly I want to ask her what would have happened if I was the archer stationed on that hill. Would she have set it aflame as well? Would she have sacrificed my life to destroy a position she cannot keep? Was this just another means to accomplish her path? Or has she truly succumbed to the powers of the Crest Stones and the monsters created within?

I want to ask her all of this, because if I knew the answers, perhaps I...perhaps…

No. There is no forgiving or understanding. There is no justification for the deaths. There is only death. There is only pain.

And I am still here, afraid that those around me will disappear like Leonie did.

In crimson flames.

Chapter Text

HARPSTRING MOON, 1186 (Part II)

Rain begins to fall soon after the battle, scrubbing whatever is left of the flames on the field.

The battle is won, and all three armies fall back to mourn their dead. The Kingdom--what’s left of their forces--stay behind to luxuriate in its glory.

No.

Luxuriate is not the right word. It would imply feeling victorious in this battle we start.

None of us feel that we won. None of us feel that the battle itself is a victory. Too many died for our gain, and not even the rain can wash the memory of flames from my mind.

Hubert whisks Edelgard away before Dimitri can get to her, and the Imperial army disbands soon after. Alliance presence also disappears once Claude and Hilda make their own strategic retreats. It’s only the Kingdom now that stays. Yet I am left with more unanswered questions.

I fly aimlessly across Gronder Field, part of it just to clear my head of the anguish. Another part is to cleanse myself of the grime of battle. Rainclouds darken the sky, and I tilt my head up, letting the water wash down on my face, mixing with the tears I have been shedding for the past hour.

At some point, I can feel my wyvern becoming more uncomfortable in the growing darkness and the steady stream of water, so I land him safely by the raised cliff overlooking the western part of the field.

My wyvern covers himself with his wings, and I perch myself by the edge of the cliff, watching Kingdom soldiers move back and forth across the field, scavenging what is left of those we lost, searching for signs of life. I doubt there is any more, and I choose not to make a move to help. There is only so much I can bear in this war, and staying outside of the battle’s aftermath is more beneficial to my mental sanity.

A part of me thinks about taking a flight to Varley. It is not very far from Gronder Field, and it is an ideal place to convalesce from what has happened. I doubt there would be any more Imperial presence, especially since Randolph is gone. But the thought is fleeting, and I know that thoughts of Varley is just me thinking of excuses to put myself in seclusion once more.

So instead, I watch the rain. I watch it fall with increasing speed as the minutes pass. Almost as though the Goddess is finally looking down on Fodlan and lamenting the state with which she finds it. I’d like to think this rain is the Goddess’ tears, but if that’s the case, then that would imply she’s been watching. And it’s only now that she decides to react.

It’s a messed up case of divine intervention, I think, so I dismiss the notion.

I watch familiar figures further in the field. I watch Ashe circle his wyvern around the camp. I watch Sylvain giving orders to his cavaliers. I watch as Ferdinand joins them, his long hair tousled and damp from the raindrops.

I watch and I see the telltale cloak of Dimitri, his hulking body near the dais where Edelgard had been, before she’d retreated with Hubert.

I watch and see Professor Byleth approach, and I watch the Phantom Lion turn to her, like a flower to the sun.

They are in deep conversation, and for a moment, I become fascinated by their exchange. After five years, Dimitri has become more increasingly intimidating. He towers over the professor, wild and unkempt blonde hair longer and straighter now in the downpour. I can’t see his face from this far a distance, and I can’t make out the words Byleth utters to him.

But I can see their movements, clear even in this rain. I can see Dimitri turning away, can see Byleth hindering him with a stretching of her hand. He turns back to her, and she moves herself closer, pressing the palm of her hand to the side of his face.

Dimitri does not pull away, and he covers her hand with his. They stand there for a long moment, up until Byleth begins to pull her hand away. This time, though, it is Dimitri who stops her, Dimitri who places his gloved hands on both sides of her face.

It is Dimitri who stoops down and kisses her, and the two are enveloped within the boar prince’s cloak.

That is when I turn away, blushing at the intimacy of the moment.

I am not surprised by the turn of events. It has been clear to me that Byleth harbors affection for the shattered prince, and equally clear that somehow Dimitri responds to her, even in his insanity. I am happy for them, and relieved that something-- anything-- positive came out from this hellish victory.

Because if love can flourish in a field of war, through gray skies and thunderous torrents, then there’s certainly hope for all of us at the end of this miserable business.


Rodrigue’s death jars me back to reality.

I don’t hear of it until we return to Garreg Mach. Professor Byleth calls us all in for a war council, and at first my entire body aches from the need to sleep. I almost refuse the call, if not for the fact that Ashe pulls me toward the second floor, tears still streaming down his face. He is unable to speak of what he saw, and I know--by the grim expressions Sylvain and Ferdinand hold--that something is amiss.

Dimitri does not join us in this council meeting. I look around and see that Rodrigue and Felix are missing, too.

The war council doesn’t take long to begin, and it is mostly a recounting of the dead. My mind wanders, and I am unable to fathom how many of the Kingdom soldiers were lost during the Battle at Gronder Field.

But soon, as the list of names halts to an end, Byleth tacks in Gilbert and a girl named Fleche, and I look up at her, frowning. The girl’s name is familiar, and it seems as though I’ve heard it before in the same place. It is Ferdinand who reels back, and I remember now why she is familiar.

Fleche, Randolph’s sister. Why does she number one of our dead?

Byleth finally announces that Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius has also perished in the war against the Empire and the Alliance. That we will have to carry on without the Shield of Faerghus fighting for the Kingdom.

“Dammit!” It is Annette who screams and curses, and we look at her, astonished. “Dammit all to Fodlan’s hell!”

Ashe is still slumped over, and Sylvain has both fists clenched on the table. We all react a certain way, and I cannot help but feel the pinprick of tears at hearing the news.

I cannot stay in the council chambers, and I get up.

Byleth looks up at me, though she does not seem alarmed by the movement. If anything, she gazes with a level stare, and nods. She waves her hand to the rest of the room. “According to Fodlan customs, we will mourn our dead for the month. And then…”

She closes her eyes, reopens them. “And then we will head to Fhirdiad.”


I don’t stay long enough to listen to the rest of the meeting. It has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the strategies of a march up north.

Instead, I walk the silent halls of the second floor dormitory. I pass the first few rooms, some abandoned, others cluttered by weapons and armor. Ferdinand’s old room is ajar, and I can briefly see books and armor strewn all over his floor.

It is not Ferdinand I wish to see, however, and I continue moving down the hallway, all the way to the end, the third to last room in the noble’s quarters.

“Felix?” I say, knocking softly on the door. I lean my head to the side, trying to discern any noise being made from within. There is no reply, but I notice that the door is not closed properly. It’s not even locked. So I push it open. “Felix…”

The Fraldarius heir is not in his usual state of dress. It’s clear he hasn’t done much after arriving in Garreg Mach other than putting on his black tunic and overcoat pants. His swords are thrown to the far end of the room, his shield upside down and tucked in the corner. The rest of his clothes--the overcoat, boots, and jumper--are randomly discarded in various places in the room. I close the door gently and make my way across to pick each item up. I place them in a neat pile on his shelf.

I do this silently, without disturbing him. He lies on his bed, hands behind his head, eyes toward the ceiling. He stirs somewhat to turn to me, perhaps to watch what I am doing, but I pay him no mind. By the time I finish tidying his things, his eyes are closed.

“You are not a maid servant.” The statement isn’t filled with malice or curiosity. It isn’t filled with any kind of emotion. That’s the most heartbreaking part.

“I know,” I say.

“I don’t need a maid servant.”

“I know.” I sit on the side of his bed, by his feet. I play with the linen, blue and embroidered with the Faerghus emblem.

“Then why are you here?” He props himself up with his elbows to glance at me. There is no intense stare, no frown or glare or beginnings of a smirk. It’s just Felix, with a look so resigned, hopeless.

“I…sorry,” is all I manage to say.

“For what ?” There is a spike of indignation, and he sits up fully now, bringing his legs around to sit on the side as I do. “Why are you sorry?”

I shake my head. “It’s difficult to put in words. And I can’t pretend to understand how you feel about your fa--”

“So you’ve heard,” he says. He leans down, rests his head on his hands. “About the old man.”

“Felix…”

“He is not something you of all people need to apologize for, Bernadetta. In fact, the less feeling sorry people get around me the better. He is dead, and the only thing I want to know is how that thing plans to atone for Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius’ sacrifice.”

I sidle closer, close enough to put a hand on his shoulder.

Felix Hugo Fraldarius doesn’t cry. He’s not an emotional person. He sits there, with his hands covering his face, and he stays silent as he ruminates over the things that have happened in the last few days. It’s been over a week since Gronder Field, and we are all still shell-shocked by the damage the battle has caused.

I sit there, squeezing his shoulder, dry-eyed and patient. He does not push me away, and somewhere in the back of my head, I think he’s long forgotten our small argument from before Gronder Field. I hope he has.

“My uncle gave me some of my father’s belongings,” he says, voice muffled through his hands. “Weapons, books...but there was something else that my old man really wanted to pass down.”

He sits up, puts a hand on my one that’s on his shoulder. He looks at me, and slowly, that ice and indifference and cold glare softens slightly. “He wanted me to inherit his mission--ensuring that Dimitri ascends the throne.”

Felix brushes my hand away and turns to lie back down on his bed. “Or so I believe.”

I sit there watching him. This time, I am close enough to reach his head, and I brush his hair away from his face. He stares at me, not so much as a question to why I’m being overly…

What am I even doing here? Bernie, you’re way out of your league.

“Will you carry it out?” I ask finally. “Your father’s mission?”

“You mean, will I make sure Dimitri has a fighting chance of getting his throne back?” Felix grimaces at the use of his old friend’s actual name. It must have been a long time since he’s said Dimitri without an ounce of disdain. “I...suppose I will have to now. It wouldn’t be right otherwise.”

“You loved him.”

He opens his eyes, turns his head, traps my hand beneath the pillow and his cheek. Warm breath blows into my palm, and I try my best not to shiver. “The old man? Hardly.”

“You did,” I insist. “Say what you will to keep up your outward appearance of cold and aloof, but deep down you loved your father. You loved your brother. It’s not a bad thing to admit this. If only I could have been so lo--eep! Hey!”

I really don’t know how he moves himself so quickly, because within seconds, Felix has part of me pulled and pinned to the bed, his face hovering over me with a warning glare, hands on either side of my face. I flush, surprised at the turn of events. My heart beats rapidly, and I’m on the verge of some kind of panic attack. Though the whole thing is not entirely unpleasant…

“You presume too much,” he growls. “If this is what you came here to tell me--”

“I didn’t come here planning to say anything ,” I say back, giving him my own glare. “I just thought--”

“What? That you’d clean up my messes? That’s not how things work, Bernadetta.”

“What does that even mean ?!” I can’t help but whine in agitation. “What things are you even referring to?”

“I…” Amber eyes look uncertain, and some sort of realization dawns on him. I’m pretty sure it goes along the same lines my realization went.

There I am, lying on his bed, his hands to my sides, his mouth oh-so-very-close-to-mine, and what in Fodlan are we both doing ?

He sits up immediately, curses. I don’t know if the expletive is addressed to me or to himself. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t moved away. Frankly, I’m a little confused myself. But I’m also aware that if he had done the opposite--if he had moved further down instead of away--I would not have objected. Too much.

“I appreciate you coming in to check on me,” he finally says. “But I think I do need to be alone right now. You of all people should understand that, Bernadetta.”

Oh, I do. But I’m not exactly the Bernadetta of old, either. And instead of doing the Bernie thing, the “leave you in seclusion” thing, I do the stupid, selfish thing.

I pull him by the arm. He looks at me, confused, but I refuse to look him in the eye. I push him down onto the bed. When he’s back in the same position I found him in, I remove my boots and put them to the side.

“What--?”

Shut up , Felix.”

Mercifully, he did.

Mercifully, he says nothing more. So I climb onto the bed and he scoots over.

Mercifully, he continues to say nothing as I stretch myself by his side, laying my head beneath the crook of his arm. Closing my eyes and pressing my hand on his chest.

It is the only comfort I offer, and I half expect him to ask me again what in Fodlan I am doing there. But he doesn’t. In fact, I feel his breathing get slower, get less agitated. I feel his hand on mine, and the slow movement as he makes himself more comfortable around me.

When I feel his even breathing, when I know he is fast asleep, I fall into my own slumber.

For once since the last few nights after the battle at Gronder Field, I don’t dream of fire.