“In the end, I shall best you Edelgard!”
The rest of the Black Eagles groaned, as Ferdinand rose from his seat with a flourish. His boisterous proclamation had begun to attract attention from the other tables in the dining hall, including from both Claude and Dimitri. Edelgard sighed. Ferdinand’s insistence on their “rivalry” was enough to make the princess question whether to accelerate her plans for the abolition of the nobility.
As Edelgard rubbed her temples in frustration, she overheard Dorothea call out in her characteristically sweet tone.
“Professor, over here!”
Byleth had been standing in the middle of the dining hall holding her dinner tray, and looking awkwardly for a place to sit. Upon hearing Dorothea’s words, she quietly nodded and walked toward the table, before hovering in front of her students.
“Can I sit with you?” said the woman in an unusually timid voice.
Hubert scoffed. “Perhaps it would be better for you to fraternize with your peers.” He gestured toward the faculty table, where Manuela was playing with her food while pointedly ignoring another eager lecture from Hanneman about Crests.
“No, I think it would be preferable for the Professor to sit right here, with her class,” said Edelgard, gesturing to the empty seat next to her. Caspar and Ferdinand agreed with vigorous shakes of their heads.
“Thank you,” said Byleth, and the princess could not help but notice the way the former mercenary’s shoulders subtly relaxed as she sat down. Byleth turned toward Edelgard. “Why was Ferdinand yelling about you? He yells about you quite a bit.”
Hubert, who was in the midst of drinking his coffee, snorted loudly. “On second thought, I am very glad you chose to sit with us, Professor.”
Ferdinand looked at Byleth with an expression of shock and dismay. “Are you not aware of the ages-long rivalry between the House of Aegir and the Hresvelgs? It is my duty as a noble scion of that illustrious line to challenge and best Edelgard, thereby proving my own superiority!”
Byleth put her hand to her chin, clearly confused. “Best her at what, Ferdinand?”
Ferdinand appeared personally affronted. “Why, at everything, Professor! It is my calling to challenge her at all undertakings, honing us both into the superb leaders that Adrestia requires.”
Byleth shrugged. “That seems difficult. Edelgard is very talented at many things.” She paused and tilted her head, seemingly unaware of Edelgard’s furiously blushing face. Byleth turned toward Ferdinand. “What have you beaten her at?”
Ferdinand began to rub the back of his head with his arm. “Well, I have not yet defeated her, but…”
“Ferdie had been trying to beat her at chess, and well… let’s just say it was a full and unconditional surrender,” laughed Dorothea.
“Well, this certainly can’t stand,” said a lighthearted voice behind the group. Edelgard turned around to see Claude, along with a visibly uncomfortable Dimitri. “We can’t let Princess’ ego get too out of hand, after all.”
Dimitri interrupted. “Now, Claude-“
“Oh relax, Dimitri. Garreg Mach’s master of schemes has a new plan brewing that everyone will benefit from. Ferdinand gets his competition, I get entertainment, and Edelgard…”
“Will hopefully get some peace,” said the princess testily.
“True!” said Claude amicably. “Here’s what I propose-a cooking competition!”
The group stared at Claude in silence for a moment.
“Really? Geez, tough crowd,” groaned the Leicester noble. “Just think of it. The Black Eagles get their weird passive-aggressive contest, and in the end, Dimitri and I get some tasty desserts.”
Ferdinand’s eyes began to blaze. “This competition, truly, shall begin the era of Ferdinand von Aegir!”
“Yes, I’m sure future historians will all be very interested in your creampuff recipe,” said Linhardt with half-lidded eyes.
“If it means you all give me five minutes of quiet,” said the princess. “I agree.”
“Wonderful!” said Claude. “Now, Dimitri and I will act as the judges, since we’re both clearly unbiased and in the best position to decide whose food is best.“
“Actually, I may not be the best judge of-“
“Nonsense, your Princeliness,” said Claude firmly. “You’re involved in this, as well.” He paused. “And to make sure that each of our competitors is fully on the level, since as you all know, I deplore schemes of any kind.”-he winked significantly-“someone from outside the Black Eagle house will help our contestants in the kitchen.”
Ferdinand nodded. “I shall be glad to work with anyone you find for me, Claude.”
Edelgard reflected momentarily, took a deep breath, and barged ahead. “I would like to nominate the Professor to help me in the kitchen. ” Edelgard closed her eyes, and when she opened them, saw both Dorothea and Claude’s smug grins greet her.
Ferdinand beamed. “I have no objections. It will be good for the Professor to witness my triumph first-hand.”
Byleth looked at Edelgard, and though her facial expression did not betray any outward sign, her azure eyes shined.
The day of the competition, Edelgard, Byleth, and Ferdinand reported to the dining hall early. Claude and Dimitri were already there, conversing with one another.
“I am very glad you have all made it,” said Dimitri, “I believe a spirited competition like this will be rather… fun.”
Ferdinand searched around in confusion. “Claude, have you managed to find me a suitable partner? One skilled enough to help me with this glorious task?”
Claude looked at Ferdinand sheepishly. “Well, at first I asked Hilda, but she said she had something called ‘housemaid’s knee’, and needed to visit the infirmary. Lorenz told me that handling food was beneath someone of his ‘noble stature’, and Raphael thought it was an eating contest.” Claude shrugged “So…” He gestured behind himself where a downcast blue-haired girl stood quietly praying.
Marianne von Edmund was behind Claude, a look of utter despondency on her face. “I’m…I’m really, really sorry, Ferdinand. Claude insisted.” She hung her head. “Um…I’m going to make a mess of things for you, I-I should leave.”
“Nonsense,” dismissed Ferdinand with a flourish of his hand. “You are the esteemed heir of Margrave Edmund, and I am the legitimate son of House Aegir. Together, we shall be unstoppable!” He flashed Marianne a dazzling smile, which only caused Margrave Edmund's daughter to pray more fervently.
“Well, as fun as all this inter-house bonding is,” smirked Claude, “We should probably get started. You both will have until, let’s say… noon to present your dish to the judges. Begin!”
It was only when Edelgard stepped into the kitchen that she realized what a horrible mistake she had made. The princess was skilled at many things-battle strategy, oration, academics-but her experiences in the culinary arts were incomplete at best. She turned toward her companion. “I must confess that my own cooking experience is rather limited, my teacher. I may be relying on you quite heavily.”
Byleth offered one of her precious small smiles to her student. “I used to prepare game with my father, so I'm happy to help. Thank you for inviting me to participate.”
Edelgard responded with a warm smile of her own. “It is my pleasure. I’m sure someone as wonderful as you constantly has people demanding her time.”
“Not really,” said her professor, shaking her head. “I was very surprised when you and Dorothea said I should sit with you the other day. Most people in my father’s company didn’t spend much time with me. A lot of them would get up and leave when I would try to sit with them.”
Edelgard looked at her companion, outraged. “Why?”
Byleth shrugged, “Papa said it was because I was special, and told me not to worry about what other people thought. It hadn’t really bothered me until I came here, but-” She looked at her student with sadness. “I am a bit…different, aren’t I?”
El sat in her room, carefully arranging her stuffed animals into the perfect configuration for a tea party. She was just preparing to pour some to her favorite stuffed bear, when she heard a knock on the door. “May I enter, dear?”
“Of course, Father!”
Into the young girl’s room strode Emperor Ionius IX, a man whose powerful figure and handsome face made him seem as if he were a king from storybook come to life. He sat down on one of Edelgard’s tiny chairs, and looked toward his daughter with evident fondness.
“May I have some tea?” he asked politely, taking one of the teacups on the table. El giggled and pretended to pour him a cup. The Emperor of Adrestia imitated a drinking motion, before placing his cup in its saucer. “I heard from Agnes about your latest adventure.”
El crossed her arms. “I don’t know why everyone tries to stop me from going to the market and the park alone. I just want to make friends.”
Ionius looked at his daughter sadly. “Can’t you play with your siblings? Or Hubert?”
“Hubert can’t play with me, or his dad yells at him,” grumbled El. “And I just want to have one friend that’s mine. Somebody who likes to just spend time with me, because I’m me.”
“It’s-oh El…” the Emperor placed his hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “I know you want a friend, and to just be like other people. But you are a princess of the Adrestian Empire, and…” He hesitated for a moment. “We are not like other people. Our position means that we are always going to be…different from the rest of the world.”
El looked at her father miserably. “Even if it makes us sad?”
“Even if it makes us very sad. Sometimes, we have to give up the things we want more than anything, the things that we know would make us happy, because that’s what Adrestia needs.”
El nodded glumly. “I understand, Father.”
“Well, I cannot speak for your own situation, but as a future Emperor, I do understand what it is like to be…apart from others. It can be very lonely.” The princess smiled at Byleth. “I guess we will just have to be different together.”
At this, Byleth brightened considerably. “Thank you, Edelgard.” She looked at the book of recipes. “Did you have an idea in mind?”
Edelgard hummed. “I was thinking the peach sorbet sounded rather nice.”
After Byleth showed Edelgard how to chop up the fruit and prepare the other ingredients, the two women fell into a comfortable quiet. Edelgard could feel the tension from the past few weeks-the Red Canyon, her meeting with Lonato-momentarily disappear. For a precious moment in time, there were no plans or schemes, no moral dilemmas, no meetings with arrogant nobles or paperwork to sign. She was just Edelgard.
The princess began to daydream. She thought about a quiet cottage somewhere far away from Enbarr. A place where the words "Emperor" and "Hresvelg" held no special meaning. A small table in the front garden, perfect for sipping tea as Edelgard felt a cool breeze on her face. Of Byleth… Edelgard shook her head to dispel her childish fantasies.
As they added the sugar to the saucepan, Byleth tasted a bit of the powder that had been left on her finger. “Edelgard,” said the clearly perplexed professor, “what is this?”
The princess looked at the mercenary with confusion. “What do you mean, my teacher?”
“This white powder. It’s very good.”
“Professor, that’s sugar. You put it in things like desserts to make it taste better.” She considered her teacher for a moment. “You have had a dessert before, right?”
Her teacher was clearly puzzled. “I may have, but I don’t remember.” She put her hand on her chin pensively. “I always just ate because… because I was hungry. What it was didn’t really matter.”
Edelgard was completely at a loss for what to say. The future Emperor was used to looking at others as assets. As tools that would help her obtain her goals. She knew if she opened herself to others, it would only make things that much worse when she was inevitably left alone. She had closed off her own heart so completely that she had forgotten what it felt like to worry about someone else.
The princess realized something that threatened to undermine the very goals that had defined her life: though she had many questions about the enigma that was her professor, the foremost concern at this moment was for her teacher, and friend.
“Do you have a favorite food?” asked the princess.
“I do not know.”
“A preferred tea blend?
“I don’t think so.”
“What about a favorite flower?”
Byleth did not respond, but looked away sadly. “The only thing I’ve ever really done is fight. It was just a… a fog, moving from one assignment to the next. Some of the mercenaries said I wasn’t human, they even called me-“
“No!” exclaimed Edelgard, momentarily forgetting her carefully calculated royal bearing. “Listen to me. No one is just a weapon.” She thought of Thales’ sneering face and mages cutting into her flesh. “I have to believe that each of us can be something more.”
Byleth appeared surprised at her normally collected companion’s outburst.
The princess smiled, and attempted to regain her usual poise. “My teacher, I have an idea. Why don’t we try to figure out some of the things you like? We’ll make it a regular plan on the weekends. Everyone should have things they enjoy, and it’s the least I can do for all your help today.” She grinned. "Without you, I'd probably be using my ax to chop up this food."
“I’d like that very much Edelgard.” Byleth turned back toward the kitchen counter. “We probably should finish this dessert though. I’m sure Ferdinand is very eager to beat you.”
Edelgard smirked. “I’m sure he’s very eager to try.”
As the professor and the princess carried their dish into the main dining hall, they walked out to see a clearly flustered Marianne apologizing to Ferdinand.
“I don’t know how I managed to make such a mess in the kitchen, Ferdinand.” She refused to meet her partner’s eyes. “You’ll probably lose because of me.”
Ferdinand chuckled. “Worry not, Marianne. I have lost many times to Edelgard.” He placed his hand on his chest, and assumed a gallant pose. “I only need to defeat Edelgard once, and for that I shall continue to strive. Besides,” he said magnanimously. “I would have had little idea of what I was doing, if not for your guidance.”
Edelgard rolled her eyes. “So all of this was yet another waste of time, Ferdinand?”
“I disagree, Edelgard” said Byleth calmly. The three students all turned to her in surprise. “Look at how you learned skills you would have never attempted without Ferdinand’s challenge. Marianne was able to use her talents to help Ferdinand.” She smiled. “And…we all had fun.”
“Now you understand!” exclaimed Ferdinand. “It does not truly matter whether I defeat Edelgard, but instead that our rivalry pushes us both to even greater heights.”
“Goddess help me, that actually makes sense,” sighed Edelgard. “I suppose I am grateful to you, Ferdinand.” She turned toward the Golden Deer house member. “And thank you for helping so much, Marianne. It’s only because of you that Ferdinand avoided setting the kitchen on fire.”
Marianne looked away. “Um…thank you, everyone…you’re all very kind to worry about someone like me.”
“Nonsense! The noble Ferdinand von Aegir does not let just anyone act as his partner! It was a true honor.”
Claude and Dimitri both ate their desserts in silence.
“Well?” said Ferdinand, who was leaning forward, hands clenched.
“I’m actually not really a sweets guy,” said Claude, “but I think I’m going to give this to whoever did the peach sorbet.”
Dimitri rubbed his head self-consciously. “Well, they’re both very good, I thought-“
“Oh no you don’t!” said Claude. “I’m not letting you get away with that. Give us an answer.”
Dimitri hesitated momentarily. “The sweet buns.”
Ferdinand turned to Edelgard exuberantly. “I have never tied you before! Truly, my greatness is beginning to reveal itself.” He turned toward Marianne. “I must give all the credit to you, and your fantastic guidance, Marianne! I shall be relying on you even more in the future.”
Marianne lowered her head in embarrassment, but the hint of a smile could be glimpsed on her face.
As Byleth and Edelgard prepared to leave, they were stopped by Dimitri. “The Archbishop made a request of both Professor Hanneman and me,” he began. “Since your mission this month will involve assisting in putting down Lord Lonato’s shameful rebellion, she recommended Ashe come along, to act as a guide for the area.”
Edelgard thought back to Lonato’s request, and his certainty that the Archbishop would want Ashe to witness his death. She felt rage begin to overwhelm her. “Perhaps it would not be prudent to bring a boy along to witness the death of his adoptive father.” Realizing how emotional she sounded, she quickly attempted to take a dispassionate tone. “He will likely be a hindrance due to his emotional connections, and our house does not need a liability on the battlefield.”
Dimitri’s expression became pained. “You are right, of course. I…know the impact that witnessing such things can…” Abruptly, the shadow crossing his face disappeared, and he returned to his artificially calm voice. “Regardless, as the future King of Faerghus, I would be remiss if the Blue Lion house did not assist in dealing with a problem in our own territory. I insist that you take someone along.”
Byleth put her hands to her chin. “Would you mind if I took a week to decide? I need to determine who in your house would be most helpful for this mission.”
The day the Black Eagles were planned to leave for the Gaspard region, Edelgard had arrived in the classroom early, to discuss tactics with Byleth. The Magdred Way was noted for its fog at this time of year, and the lack of visibility would necessitate a more defensive strategy than either Edelgard or Byleth preferred.
As she entered the classroom, she was surprised to find that another student was already there, apparently engrossed in conversation with the professor.
Byleth smiled at her house leader. “Edelgard, here’s the member of Dimitri’s house who agreed to help out.”
The two students looked at each other. “Hello, Edelgard,” said the Faerghus noble, trying and failing to hide her disapproval. “I look forward working with you.”
Edelgard inwardly groaned. “I feel the same, Ingrid.”