Byleth awakens to an empty space to her side where her wife should be. It’s still dark, but outside she can hear the birds practicing their melodies, clearing their voices for the morning chorus that was soon to follow. Rolling onto her back, Byleth stares upwards. The darkness is empty, pulled over her vision like a shroud. Byleth spends a minute blinking rapidly at the ceiling looming high above her until her eyes adjust enough to make out the indistinct shadows and shapes of her and Edelgard’s room. After a few breaths she pulls herself up and off the bed, unsteady on her feet.
As she pads down the halls the birdsong fades into nothingness. Byleth wipes her eyes blearily, yawning loudly and stretching her arms over her head as she goes. A small lights flickers from behind the door furthest down the hall to the light, a dim beacon in the dark.
Taking great care to push the door open slowly and quietly, Byleth peers into the candlelight room. Edelgard sits slouched in the old wooden chair in the far corner of the room, one infant propped up against her chest securely. The other was swaddled on their back in a modest sized wooden crib across the room. The older servants in the palace had been aghast when Edelgard had declined to use the royal nursery, instead insisting a small wing of her own chambers be outfitted for the twins.
Byleth shuffles in the doorframe. “El, you’re awake again?” She could count the number of nights Edelgard had slept through the night in the past two moons on on one hand. Edelgard had, not unsurprisingly, resumed her duties as Emperor less than half a fortnight after giving birth. Byleth knew arguing with her wife to take more time for herself was akin to arguing with a wall. What had taken Byleth by surprise was Edelgard’s obstinate refusal to delegate even occasional care of their children to a nursemaid.
It would be more admirable if it weren’t running her wife ragged both physically and mentally. Even Ferdinand had picked up on Edelgard’s mounting exhaustion, if his sudden uncharacteristic agreeableness during their weekly meetings was anything to go by. He had even brought it up with her, going over the long and overly detailed traditions of the reliance of Faerghan queens and noblewomen on wetnurses. It was far more common in Adrestia for mothers to be the primary caretakers of their newborns, even those in positions of power. But few women had ever had quite the breadth of responsibility Edelgard did at the moment, and sticking with traditions for traditions sake wasn’t exactly how her wife had uprooted a thousand year old theocracy.
“I am. Infants require food and attention very often, Byleth.” Edelgard’s voice is sharp and laced with exhaustion. Byleth takes in a deep breath and steels herself for the argument that’s probably about to follow.
“Dearest,” Byleth begins, squaring her shoulders. “You’re… you can’t keep running yourself ragged like this. Certainly there are other people who can take care of the children at least sometimes, even if it’s just once a twice a week-”
Edelgard glares back at her in the same way she does to a neverending slew of former Empire nobles she parleys with almost daily. A look hot enough to melt steel. “I won’t. They’re my children, Byleth, and I won’t have them being raised by another.”
“They’re our children El. I know I’m not the one who gave birth to them, but I love them too.” And Goddess knew- perhaps literally- how much she did, even if she struggled to find a way to show it to a pair of two moon old infants who could barely lift up their own heads. “I also love you, and I’m not going to let you keep doing this to yourself.”
Time ticks by quietly for a long few heartbeats. Edelgard looks from Byleth to their children and back again, sitting up straight. Her eyebrows furrow tightly and for a moment Byleth thinks she’s overstepped some invisible boundary, pushed things just a bit too far. Edelgard breathes in sharply, and as she exhales the rigidness of her shoulders slacks and the furrow of her brow relaxes.
“I… I just. I don’t want them to grow up thinking I value my duties as Emperor more than I do them. I want to be a mother to them, not just in title. But I also can’t just step away from the world I’ve worked so long for. Not when it's so close- after all that has been sacrificed for it.”
Byleth inches closer to Edelgard, resting a hand on her shoulder and brushing her hair back into place. “I know. But you can’t do this to yourself any longer. I want… all of us want to help you but you’ve barely let me or anyone else do anything for you or the children. Goddess, even Hubert offered to take a turn watching them the other day.”
Edelgard pulls herself to her feet and carefully walks across the room to the crib, placing the twin she had been holding back next to their sibling, now close in size and wrapped in identical red cloth. Byleth still struggled to tell them apart unless they were dressed differently, though she kept this sad little secret to herself. “If…” Edelgard starts, her back to Byleth as she stares down into the crib. “You and Hubert can find a nursemaid you both agree on, I’d be willing to allow them to take over nighttime care. Occasionally.”
“There has to be someone out there who’ll fit our standards,” Byleth teases, lacing her fingers with Edelgards. “Come back to bed before the sun comes up, just for a little while? I miss you when I wake up.”
“My days start before the sun rises, my love.”
Byleth holds fast, tugging Edelgard’s arm gently and refusing to unlace their fingers. “Please? Think of it as a gift to me.” Her wife's refusal to take care of herself was practically chronic, so Byleth would just have to leverage her from another angle. Sometimes her correspondence with Claude came in handy in the most unexpected of ways.
Edelgard sighs besides her, leaning into Byleth’s side in conceit. “Very well. Only because you insist, dearest.”
“I’ll be fine. Go on.” Byleth assures her wife, for the third time that morning.
Edelgard stares down at her from horseback. The convoy of knights and politicians that have amassed outside the gates of Enbarr for the long journey north is almost comical. Grizzled old veterans sit astride with balding would-be counts and senators. The Byleth of last year would have ridden side by side with the Emperor to Fhirdiad, proper conduct be damned. However the Byleth of this year has two children under a year old to watch over.
Edelgard had been discontented to leave the children. The yearly journey to Fhirdiad and back would last for just under a moon. It was a custom Edelgard had started and purported throughout the years following the war. Fhirdiad was, as of last Byleth had seen the year previously, finally on the mend. Rhea’s flames had crumbled a majority of the cities market and residential districts. The number of displaced refugees in those first moons had been staggering. In a twisted way Rhea had dug her own grave in more ways than one that night, because the people of Fhirdiad had been more than willing to accept the help of the army who’d put out the fires than the ones that had set them, no matter what banner they flew. Sylvain had been an invaluable liaison between both Faerghan and Adrestian and common and noble peoples in those few first tumultuous months. Edelgard had offered him a permanent place in Fhirdiad’s new administration, a single spot amongst a council of five. He had declined immediately and vehemently. Byleth couldn’t fault the man for that- with Felix having run off to Sothis knew where, and Ashe settled in Garreg Mach, there was nothing tying him to the old city but ghosts. Last Byleth had heard he was back in former Gautier lands, working on a diplomatic mission with Sreng.
Unlike the lives of her citizens, cities could be resurrected, and Fhirdiad was slowly beginning to draw breath again.
The sleek black courser Edelgard sat atop made a show of pawing the dirt, whickering as it pulled against the reins that Edelgard held short. “If anything goes wrong, the twins’ nursemaid is going to be around all moon. Also I’ve requested Manuela make herself present in Enbarr for the moon, but she’s staying in her old home in the theater district. Hubert is going to be returning a week earlier than I, so if you should need anything-”
“I know. I’ve got this, El. Go worry about Fhirdiad and be safe.” Byleth waves her off as the convoy departs and she takes up position to ride between Hubert and Ferdinand, Caspar trotting a few paces ahead of them. Byleth watches until the trail end of the convoy has been swallowed up by the uneven hills of the horizon.
Byleth heads straight to the nursery. She’s maybe about as excited as she is nervous about the coming moon. It will be her first chance to spend time with her children on her own. The wetnurse would come by for feedings but the rest of the responsibility fell to her. It gives her a feeling a bit like when she had first become a professor, so many years ago, except this time instead of sending some adolescents on the cusp of adulthood into battle she’s going to be changing diapers. A nervous storm swirling in the pit of her stomach. Byleth isn’t sure which seems more daunting. Battling came easy to her. Motherhood… not so much.
The door to the nursery swings open with its usual slow groan. Byleth pads into the room delicately. Both twins are in their respective cribs, wrapped up in identical clothing and layed out on their backs. To her pride Byleth has gotten much better at telling the twins apart. Her daughter is fast asleep and still as the dead, a very unnerving quirk of hers that had put Edelgard on edge more than once. Byleth had comforted her wife with the stories her father used to tell of when she was an infant, over drinks, to whatever ragtag band of mercenaries he was employing at the time. Apparently she had given him a scare more than once with how quiet she had been, and how deeply she slept. Byleth had, in retrospect, had a reason for being such an odd baby. As far as anyone could tell there was nothing wrong with her daughter. She was just quiet.
Her son was a different story. Born smaller and weaker than his sister, he had made up for in loudness what he lacked in size in his first moons of life. He was fussy and demanding and everything Byleth had imagined an infant to be. He didn’t sleep well, nor had he taken to their wetnurse like his sister had. If anyone but she or Edelgard held him he raised hell. Hubert had learned that the hard way.
True to form he was awake already when Byleth made her way over to his crib, hoisting him up gently in her arms.
“Good morning little one.” Byleth murmurs, letting him grasp her fingers in his pudgy little hands. The baby babbles something nonsensical in her ear, a line of drool dripping down his chin. “You’re gonna be big enough to have a name soon. Any suggestions?”
Adrestian customs dictated children not be named before their tenth moon of life. It had something to do with the decree of the third Emperor sometime long ago, who had lost all but one of his six children before the age of one. The rest of the story escaped Byleth but she remembered blood curses being involved. While Byleth wouldn’t consider Edelgard and she a very customary family, they had chosen to keep up that particular tradition in good faith.
Now the twins’ nameday was fast approaching. Edelgard and she had agreed to let one another pick out names for one of the twins. The final name would have to be something they both agreed on. Byleth had easily narrowed down the name of their daughter to a shortlist of three, while Edelgard ran a dozen new names for their son by Byleth at least once a week. None of them were assuaging Byleth’s lack of confidence in her wife’s lack of naming skills.
“I’ll make sure it’s a good one.” Byleth croons, rocking her son from side to side gently. “Keep this between us, buddy, but your Mother? She’s awful at coming up with names. If you wind up with a name like… Bernhard, or Godric? Just know I fought my hardest for you.”
Edelgard returns a moon later. The palace is still standing and the twins are lively as two babies can be. Their nameday creeps up on Byleth like a serpent, until the night beforehand when Edelgard and she run their final picks by one another.
After much, much debate, and one flat out rejection of the awful name Herman, the two of them settle on a pair of names with but a few hours to spare. Marchosias and Arne, firstborn daughter and firstborn son of Emperor Edelgard. A little old lady with round spectacles records their names in a weathered old book, stark black ink dancing across the page with practiced poise. Byleth’s own name isn’t in it since she hadn’t ever actually taken the Hresvelg name. But the twins’ names sit just below Edelgard’s, a new chapter in an ancient tome, one that traces their bloodline back to the days of Emperor Wilhem himself-
And the weight of it hits her all at once. Soon they are going to be more than just her children; little people with lives and thoughts and wills all of their own. But the world will see them as they do all Hresvelg children- vessels of a legacy, entries on an intricate pedigree. Byleth knows her children are more than fortunate. That they will grow up loved and warm, never wanting for anything. Born into a role guaranteed to them before they had even drawn their first breath.
(Byleth knows Edelgard has no plans to hand the Empire down to their children by the merit of their relations to her alone. In time there may not be an Emperor at all, Edelgard had reasoned, across the roundtable from Ferdinand and Hubert, to a gaggle of flabbergasted nobles. But for the time being, with the wounds of wartime still healing, another sudden upheaval in government structure was bound to do more harm than good.
“Winning the war was just the start of the journey. Now, we must build off this momentum to ensure the kind of world where our children and our children’s children can live the happy, peaceful lives that we could not.”)
Byleth will ensure her children have the strength to find their own ways in this new world.