An array of bright colours danced on the marble floor, right under the huge, stained glass windows. The choices of golden patterns, statues; and red flags gave a warm ambience to the ballroom, where people were forbidden to enter unless for an important event.
But Hubert had been there many times; as a child, to play, and as a gentleman, to plot. He stepped under the light, waiting for the familiar tingling on his cheeks the heat caused, however nothing happened.
Enbarr… How had he come here?
Echoes of steps and giggles reached him, which belonged to some random children. Exasperated, he turned back to scold those kids in a sense of duty as they were in a forbidden area. However the scene that greeted him was none other than a memory.
It was his younger self and Edelgard, running carelessly, laughing while playing tag. She still had dark hair, marking the times when they had known no sorrow.
At the corner of the room, another kid stood. Hands clasped behind, warm brown eyes hidden under the waves of a shade of copper. Being excluded showed its effects with the hints of a childish sadness and hesitancy on his face.
“Back then, you didn’t like him.” A voice spoke, but the owner of it was nowhere to be seen. Slowly, Hubert nodded.
“It was a childish jealousy at first; I didn’t want to share Her Majesty’s friendship with anyone else. Then… After the things she had to face, it turned into a form of hostility.” Somehow speaking so openly of those matters relieved him a little.
“However, things could not stay the same forever, as the only thing that doesn’t change is simply, itself.”
Soon, the familiar figure of his mysterious dream on the verge of his conscious emerged right in the middle of the room out of the dust. She was looming in the air, her face still was obscured by the strange mist.
Right, his regret was making its visit to torture him more.
“Yes,” He began to talk again, as to not yield to his mind’s propaganda. “Him and I… Got closer.”
The next words were sung in harmony by the bystanders: “The war has that effect.” The echo of their voices made the little kid giggle.
A mischievous tone could be heard in the regret’s voice: “But it would be belittling your feelings if you just say you got closer, no. You came to care deeply of him. You, loved Ferdinand.”
Suddenly the fire of fury lit up in his chest, making him clench his fists and squint. A strong desire to deny those claims was burning his heart, however no words came out of his tightly pressed lips, yet even reached to his throat. The girl mockingly laughed at his poor effort that went in vain.
“Rage, gloom, and doubt. All emotions, stemmed from one way of act: Betrayal. You are angry at him because he let you down. You’re sad, because your love couldn’t compete with his ideals. And your almost non-existent trust is shaken, as he wounded your open, care free heart. Now, now. Such a monster, isn’t he?”
She was flying in circles around the room, waiting for an answer. When none came, simply loomed over him, her eyes couldn’t be seen but at that moment, Hubert was sure they were judging him from behind the pitch black fume. When the voice began to talk again, it was colder than the nights of Faerghus, making clouds cover the sun outside and scaring the remaining children:
“But you didn’t give him much choice to begin with; imprisoning his father, taking his lands; his pride, making him fight a war that never meant to be his and kill his friends, in your name. Asking for his loyalty, but when were you supposed to compromise as well, Hubert? Or, was it easy to love an emotionless, obedient puppet that you could shape as you desired?”
Hearing those words felt almost like taking a punch to his throat, it hurt and made him hyperventilate. Breathlessly, Hubert woke up, immediately covering his sweaty brow with his hands.
A gentle voice called for him, from a close angle: “A nightmare, huh?”
Drowsiness made him nod unconsciously, then however he realized the odd situation: He should be in a tavern, laying on his bed, alone. Then whom-
Snapping his head with a little more force than necessary, Hubert faced the stranger that had snuck up on his mattress. Seeing mint waves with matching amused eyes made him flinch from the bed and fall onto the floor.
“What are you doing here!?” he shouted, trying to get up from the mess of blankets he got himself into.
“Laying.” she answered, nonchalantly. Hubert, managed to stand up finally, checked her in pure rage.
“This is an invasion of personal space. I will-”
“What? Sue me? I am the law itself, darling. I am the Archbishop.” Those words gained a literal snarl from him. Menacingly, he started talking in a low voice:
“You are so lucky that I have this rune on myself, Professor, or you would have already met your father that you’ve wished to see again so badly.”
She grimaced at that. “Ouch. But that means I’d also be seeing Edelgard.”
Furiously, Hubert showed her the door. “Get out!”
“This is my room actually.” A disgusting grin formed on Byleth’s face. “I’ve warped you here.” Pride flowed from her words.
Hubert groaned loudly, then saw himself out. Just to make things worse, he came across old Griselda while trying to get back to his nest.
The woman had an unreadable expression on her face, a few seconds later Hubert learnt it was a money related issue: “Just because you slept in the same room,” she paused, and blinked a few times, “I am not going to pay you back the fee for the other one. Got you clean sheets and water already!”
That’s not my concern, you fool. Hubert passed the woman without any comments, and arrived at his destination in a terrible mood.
After what felt like a few minutes, they were ready for their departure, meeting downstairs. Byleth was busy with loading their things on the saddle, while Hubert just stood there with his most menacing aura. A bitter feeling still burnt his chest due to the stunt the whore had pulled earlier, and it seemed like the flames of it were not going to fade soon.
Soon they were on the horse together; Byleth on the front, and Hubert at her back. It was when the Saints disappeared in the mist, Hubert spoke:
“You said we would leave before the first lights.” Not had they missed the first lights, it was almost the morning when they started their journey.
“I did, but you were sleeping like an angel.” Was she humiliating him, or simply didn’t have any dignity? To his horror, Byleth revealed something: “You were muttering in your sleep.”
Eyes widened, Hubert had a reminiscent of his earlier nightmare: The girl, the ballroom, Enbarr, Edelgard…
“What did I say?”
“Ferdinand.” Eyes shut, he took some sharp breaths. Great, Byleth was definitely the worst person for him to share things with, yet he had done. Brows wrinkled, Hubert tried to clear the image of the warm, brown eyes from his memory, yet the bitch didn’t seem to let him to do soon:
“Do you miss him? I can arrange a meeting-”
“I don’t,” For a second, he let the air fill his lungs freely to calm himself before talking more: “Want to talk on this matter, dwell on this matter nor to do something about it. And it would be better for you to not to speak of him too unless you wish to get on my nerves.”
Where he expected her to tease him more, she was comically thoughtful: “Understood.” Not before too long though, Byleth broke the silence before it could strike its roots: “Hubert, why are you holding the reins with me? Don’t you trust my riding skills?”
Ah… His hands also were also on the belt, simply because Hubert didn’t know where else to put them as he avoided directly touching the woman. “I am sure you have the most excellent riding skills Professor, however-”
“You don’t want to touch me.” the woman completed. “But I can’t ride it like this.” she then said, with a tone that clearly showed her annoyance.
“Well, I can’t too.”
“Please don’t be childish.” Byleth pleaded, with a groan. Hubert, whose muscles were also tired, sighed in defeat and enveloped the harlot’s tiny waist. Strange, even though how strong and intimidating she looked, now all he could feel was some sort of fragility in his arms. Was the Blue Lion’s dear Professor always this small? Also, was she always this soft when she was the head of the enemy armies?
Upon climbing a hill, her back made full contact with his chest, and her bottom… Nested right on his crotch. The familiar tingling brought back the memories of their duel, painting his cheeks and ears in red. Hubert cleared his throat, and called her:
“Perhaps I should have been the one to sit on the front.”
Byleth shot him a confused look over her shoulder. “And why is that?”
“I find this position… Inconvenient.” Hubert answered, meeting her eyes, gaining a snort from her.
“You can’t. You’re simply too tall for that.”
“Maybe you are the one who’s too short.” As to punish him, Byleth rolled her hips right on his lap, making Hubert desperately try to get away.
“Now you’re doing it on purpose!” She giggled at that, happily, and lively.
By the night, they were at the woods that covered the region between Galatea and Charon. Here the forest grew thicker, and the light barely touched the ground. They decided to call it a day and set up a camp as the closeness of the river was ideal.
When the tents were prepared, Hubert went to pick up some wood while Byleth was busy with hunting. In the end, she managed to catch some rabbits and Hubert convinced himself to not try to run away.
It was when Byleth fired the logs they both sensed movements around the trees. He straightened up to take a good look of the area while the wench slowly unsheathed her sword. The footsteps were everywhere, which meant they were surrounded. Involuntarily, Hubert gripped his lance, cursing silently as the possibility of him engaging in a real battle without his magic played in his mind.
“It’s not bandits.” Byleth whispered after seconds. “So calm down, and let me do the talking.” A snort escaped his nose, out of the two of them he should be the one to do the talking.
“Good reflexes.” A man called from the northern side. Shortly after, all of them were stepping out of the shadows. Those were men, with bows in their hands, pelts covering their belts and shoulders. So the local hunters, Hubert thought. He wondered if they were working for House Charon, or the Galatea.
“Good evening, gentlemen.” Byleth called, as she sheathed her sword back in its scabbard. Hubert followed her and retracted his own weapon.
“Good evening to you, ma’am.” Blond hair grew both on the scalp and the face of the man who was talking. His ice coloured eyes studied them, then the encampment a little, before speaking again: “I have to ask you what it is that you’re doing here. This lands belong to House Charon.” And surely, they did not want any bandits in their borders.
Thanks to the cloth that covered Byleth’s hair, no suspicion regarding their real identity raised: “We are hunting.”
“Oh.” The man’s brow knitted. “Are you working for House Charon as well?”
Another guy spoke: “I have never seen those.” Hubert tensed due to the amount of the bows readied to be fired. He shot an uneasy gaze at Byleth’s side, hoping she wouldn’t mess this up.
“No, sir.” Her voice was calm, and confident. “We are just passing by. Selling the pelts around the towns.”
Eyebrows raised, the man asked another question: “Do you have the permission to do that?”
“Indeed we do.”
“Liars! Old Erik never lets people to wander around the region.” one of his companions called. Now, all of them were raising their voices:
“Yes, they are too heavily armoured for a simple hunt!”
“No way Old Erik would let them.”
Byleth too raised hers in order to be heard clearly: “Alright gentlemen, but we are acquaintances with Erik so no need to dwell about it.”
The blond man who seemed to be the leader of the group silenced the others, and faced them again: “But you should have sought the permission of his daughter, Alva too.”
Byleth responded, looking a bit exhausted: “We got that too.”
Suddenly, Hubert lost his balance by an unseen force that came from behind, next, his right arm began to burn. It was a wooden arrow that pierced his skin. The leader’s laughter rang around them after these words: “You could have sought her permission if she was alive.”
So the bitch messed it up. When was she going to give up on that little game and reveal their identities for their sake he wondered, and got his lance readied. Or were they doomed?
However when he turned to face the other group, everyone looked so calm like nothing happened. Confused, Hubert checked his arm, where there should have been an arrow, ugly scar and pierced red cloth, was nothing to be seen. No burning, no ache, everything was perfectly normal.
“…No way Old Erik let them.”
“Alright gentlemen, but we are acquaintances with Erik so no need to dwell about it.” He shook his head as the conversations repeated. Could it be a vision?
“But you should have sought the permission of his daughter, Alva too.”
Quickly, Hubert opened his mouth to answer, but Byleth was faster:
“We could have asked if she were alive.”
That seemed to settle the matters, as the men retreated convinced and satisfied, leaving a confused Hubert behind. Hand flew to his right side immediately, checking, looking for something but couldn’t find anything no matter how hard he rubbed. Never in his life had the man experienced something like that, and was even more bewildered to see the change in Byleth’s answer. Was the wench having the same visions too? He approached her cautiously, as she sat and began to hide one of the rabbits she caught. The flames lit her pale skin, and exposed her expression where Hubert looked hard to see something off.
Perhaps testing the waters first was a better idea: “How did you know about his daughter?”
Byleth answered, without meeting his eyes: “I was a mercenary, remember?” Ah, yes. She and her father were travelling around almost in her entire life.
“We are lucky that you met with him then.” he said, sending side glances. The woman raised her head from the work.
“I told you I would handle the things, didn’t I?” Maybe only he saw that thing, and it was just about a possibility of the future. Regardless, Byleth seemed clueless.
And her fake reasoning was enough to trick Hubert. The memory was put to the back burner to revisit later.
Soon after, they were eating the meat Byleth cooked. Honestly, the taste was quite unpleasant but Hubert had had worse during the war. Also, he was not a man to simply complain about food like a child, so he endured.
They of course, had some delicious food packed by Griselda. However their arrival to Aviris probably would be around midnight, so those needed to be saved for later. Come to think of it, the muscles on his legs were faintly aching due to horseback riding.
When she finished her meal, Byleth calmly asked: “Would you like to take a bath?”
Hubert’s face was wrinkled. “In the river?”
“Yes. We can’t bathe tomorrow, and the day after I want to start to investigate as soon as possible.” That marked five days for him without washing.
“Fine,” he mumbled, then suddenly wondered: “Are you going to wash yourself as well?” Byleth nodded in response. “We are taking turns then. I’ll go first.”
A glass jar the wench enchanted light in was taken by Hubert upon his leave. Funny, normally he had never needed such tools for himself as a wielder of great magical power. Day by day, Hubert felt worse about this, like he was crippled, as his wings had been cut. Maybe he should have been already accustomed to the situation, however the desperation only grew more.
The current of the river looked a bit wild, and it was only normal in winter. Soon, the rain shall take the place of the ceaseless snow. If they were in Enbarr, he wouldn’t tremble this much while getting naked, however here, on the borders of Faerghus, the cold harshly bite his skin and made him shiver.
Thanks the spirits the water was much warmer, making him almost moan at the contact and relax. When Hubert arrived at the centre of the stream, he dipped his head fully to wet the raven black locks. Finally the young warlock was alone after this long day, which meant he could take his time to think about the vision that had been bestowed earlier.
Breathlessly, he reached for the surface, making the water droplets flow on him. His pale hands made their way to the curls that fell on his brow, sweeping them back.
However a whistle coming from the woods interrupted his time and made him flinch. Byleth was in the shore, clapping: “Such a beautiful display.” she said while stepping out of the shadows. To his horror, the fool was almost drooling like an animal in heat.
“What are you doing in here!?” he yelled. Now she was right next to the river.
Her response came in a playful manner: “What could you mean by that? Of course, I will wash myself too!”
Teeth gritted, he shouted another thing: “And who’s guarding our camp!?”
“Ah, come on! You saw those hunters. They wouldn’t let people come in and go easily!” After the grey cloak slid from her shoulders, a panic grew on Hubert’s chest. Quickly, the man swam next to a boulder, covering himself like he was under enemy fire.
“A-are you serious right now!?”
“Of course.” she said, giggling. “Oh you’re being adorably shy. Haven’t you ever seen any naked woman?”
“I’ve seen but none of them was trying to jump on me!” Hubert leaned his back to the sturdy surface, desperately wishing to disappear. Oh how he was in need of the warping magic…
“That’s their loss!” Splashing sounds reached to his ears, as the woman dove in the water. Her next words came from a place much closer to him: “Hubert.” It was hard to not to mistake her voice for a siren.
“Do not come any closer! This side of the rock is mine and you’re going to stay in yours.”
“Ah, come on! Don’t you want to have a peek on my boobs?” Images of her naked, wet mounds played in his mind, setting his cheeks on fire.
“Do you not have any dignity!?”
She hummed a bit before answering: “I don’t think so.”
Still hugging the rock, Hubert started to sink into the water. Even though she wouldn’t be able to see any part of his body the mere idea gave him goose bumps. “Must you be always so vulgar?”
“I am just honest with my feelings.” Afterwards, some water was splashed above the boulder. “Fine. I am not coming there!”
A few attempts to engage conversations made by her then, but the man couldn’t hear a single word as he was buried in shame. Feelings, she had said. What feelings? The feelings that took a sadistic joy over torturing him? Ear tips all red, Hubert couldn’t motivate himself to move one inch and simply waited for her to leave, even though he knew it was bad for his health to stay in the river so long in this weather.
“Won’t you get out?” Byleth called to him. He indeed wanted that, but also was quite sure that the woman only sought a show where he was going to get dressed before her eyes.
“You go first.”
Amused, she teased him more: “Oh, so you are looking to see me naked?”
A snarl came out of Hubert, who did she think she was? “Never in a million years.” The answer he got was a snort.
He faced the other side of the woods till he was sure she left. That damned woman. That stupid woman. The humiliation made him feel so pathetic. He was nothing more than a slave, an entertainment source, a thing to be mocked, a collared dog and the fact shamed him to no end. Nothing of the young, successful warlock was left. Did she laugh at him when he was not around? Took pride over how she ruined his life with her bare hands? And now she was taking him with her to this meaningless journey, like a little girl showing off with her favourite toy around. Hubert bit his lip and fought back the tears that tried to make their way out. No, he was not going to give in.
At the time the man came back to the encampment, pale green eyes caught a little flicker in the logs. Byleth sat before the tiny fire she created once again, and her hands were in her mint waves, probably trying to dry them with magic. When Hubert’s footsteps were heard, she turned by him and flashed one of the most genuine smile he had ever seen, contrasting the thoughts that had plagued his mind before.
Could she be sincere in her feelings?
A place next to her was taken by him, to be close to the flames and get warm. Curiously, she made a remark: “Your hair is still wet.”
“Yes, because someone has taken my magic away.” Her hands made their way to his hair in an instant, caressing, and tousling a bit like a caring mother’s. The warm magic that radiated from her not only dried his hair, but also soothed the anxiety that took over him. Now feeling calmer, Hubert shut his eyes and enjoyed the sensation for once.
It was when she put out the campfire with a single movement he made a move to retreat back to one of the tents, however Byleth’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. With confusion Hubert’s chin raised, eyes met the cream toned face which was washed under the moonlight, creating almost a halo around her. She looked a little bit concerned and hesitant at the same time.
“Can we sleep together?”
Hubert’s answer was curt: “No.” Though when he tried to get up again, Byleth’s fingers clung tighter.
“I… Am afraid of the dark.” Quickly he turned by her again, one of his eyebrows raised. “It was after Zahras.” she began to explain. The time she got her divine powers, right. Now to think of it, the woman always had lots of candles lit and light balls conjured around her when she was asleep.
“Can’t you conjure some wisps?”
“I can but it is risky when we are asleep. I don’t want to gather unwanted attention on us.”
Hubert took a sharp breath, and began to think. It was not like they were going to sleep in the same bedroll, and even if he rejected she would high likely pull a stunt like in the morning. So he sighed, then nodded, and seeing her so happy made him a little sick on the stomach.
Thanks to the amount of soldiers Garreg Mach had, all of the tents’ sizes were big –for if sharing was needed. Hubert found a spot which was the farthest from Byleth, and prepared himself to sleep.
But of course, the wench was not feeling like that: “Shouldn’t we be closer?”
“This is the most you can get.” he blatantly answered.
It could be understood that she was pouting from her voice tone: “But this distance is too much. It almost feels like you are in Enbarr and I am in Fodlan’s Throat.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. If you keep complaining I will go back to my tent.”
“Alright, I am shutting up!”
Though the harsh nights of Faerghus were not something even the strongest hearts could fight against, so they ended up snuggled up to each other unconsciously, seeking the other’s warmth in their sleep.