It was an outcome that Ferdinand had known inevitable. No amount of healing magic could compensate for the toll that the Crest experimentation had taken on Edelgard’s body, or Hubert’s ruthless disregard for his own well-being since childhood.
It is also, he believes, for the best. Edelgard had lived to see too many loved ones dead already; Hubert, for all his outward harshness, would find no path worth walking that must be walked alone. It is better that Ferdinand be the one to survive the others. If he can bear the burden, then he ought to. That is his duty and privilege. That is how nobility should be, and nowadays he is one of the last living nobles in Adrestia.
He bears the burden well. Fifty years after the war, his health remains excellent, his limbs strong, his hair the color of autumn tinged with frost. He keeps a small but renowned stable, and rides twelve miles through the countryside every day, weather permitting. After decades of reforms, the title of Duke Aegir grants no more authority than an honorary seat in the Regional Council, but the locals are fond of him. Parents point him out to their children as he rides past. He stops by if they call out to him, and asks after the parents' health, helps the children braid wildflowers into his horse’s mane.
His name will end with him, but his small personal estate will go to family, and that is enough. He teaches his grandchildren horse and lance, though he hopes they will never need the latter, and demonstrates to them the steps and flourishes of the sword dance.
He maintains a lively correspondence with old friends. Lorenz remains alive and well, and they send each other samples of unusual teas. Petra writes wistfully of visiting Fodlan once more in an unofficial capacity after she abdicates, provided her health can support the sea journey. Linhardt occasionally remembers to send him a rumpled one-page letter; Ferdinand truly does welcome news from him, and always replies at length, accepting that his response will most likely go unread.
Every Unification Day, he braves the journey to Enbarr to stand in the ceremonies, one of a dwindling number of the old guard. He takes lunch with former coworkers and mentees, tea with the Emperor—no longer Edelgard’s successor, but Edelgard’s successor’s successor—and offers what advice a veteran statesman can.
He visits the Imperial Mausoleum, where he lays wreaths upon two tombs.
He loves them still. Edelgard, her hair faded to the true silver of age, her hands stained with paint instead of blood, relishing a shorter retirement than she deserved. Hubert, still laughing at him from his sickbed, reminding him that he would be the first Minister of the Imperial Household to die of natural causes in three generations.
Ferdinand writes his history for them.
He is honest. He does not know how to be anything else. He was ever forthright and unflinching in front of Edelgard; can he fail her now in his account of her reign? He writes of purges and assassinations. He writes of red battlefields and the smoking ruins of cities. He writes of dark decisions made in private rooms, bad decisions made with good intentions, rashness, mistakes, fears, foibles, arguments, unhappy concessions.
There are enough hagiographies of Emperor Edelgard the Great; he will not insult her with another. They were mortals, they who remade a world for mortals. They would not want to be remembered as anything else.
Every morning, after breakfast with his grandchildren, he sits in his study and puts on his spectacles and writes until tears blur his vision. As Duke Aegir, former Prime Minister to two Emperors, for forty years the preeminent statesman of the Adrestian Empire, he must bare the truths that only he can. That is his privilege and duty.
He writes of peace restored and corruption stamped out. He writes of cultural exchange and technological advancement. He writes of infrastructure, reform, justice, prosperity, equality, freedom, of creating not only a world that is better, but a world that strives, always, to be better yet.
And if one day a single reader's heart is roused as his is when he looks at the streets of Enbarr, where no orphans huddle under the eaves and those with Crests walk indistinguishable next to those without--thinking, this is our life's work--
Then he has done his duty to the dead.