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The Emperor and the Goddess

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“Oh Edel, I just love getting to spend time with you!” Monica’s arm grazed the princess, causing Edelgard to recoil. She had been summoned for another of the imposter's pointless library “meetings,” and had completely lost patience with her tormentor’s antics. By now, it was clear that Monica's sole purpose was to be a disruptive force at Garreg Mach. Edelgard was not amused.

“Call me Edel again, and I’ll remove your head from your neck,” growled the Flame Emperor, hand twitching.

“Whatever you say, Edel.”

Edelgard idly wondered what the meeting would be about this time. Monica’s previous plan had involved an elaborate assassination of Flayn, who Monica was convinced was spying on her. Edelgard had flatly dismissed the idea, which had been replaced by an even more outlandish scheme to murder Professor Hanneman.

All of Monica’s plots, in the end, were about senseless carnage and violence, usually relying on a vast overestimation of her own abilities. Edelgard had initially hoped to extract valuable information from the loose-lipped girl, but it had become quite evident that Thales and Solon considered Monica an unimportant pawn.

As they entered the seemingly empty library, Monica turned to Edelgard and snickered. “I’ve got a great new idea, Edel…you’re going to-“

“Quiet.” Something was wrong. Edelgard’s eyes scanned the rows of dusty tomes, looking for what was out of place. Discovery at this point would be disastrous. Until she obtained support from Bergliez's military forces, she would be dependent on Thales for any military campaign. The princess suspected Monica's presence was a failsafe to keep her under this control, which chafed at the princess daily. She finally discovered the source of her unease, eyes closed and head resting against a stack of books. A gloved hand shook her fellow Black Eagle awake.

Linhardt rubbed his eyes in annoyance. “Must you disturb me? I’ve been very intrigued by these texts on the Adrestian Empire’s genealogy. Did you know that-“

“I think I would be aware of my own family’s history, Linhardt.” Edelgard’s foot tapped on the floor rapidly. “And isn’t that section prohibited to students?”

“Yet another individual standing in the way of the pursuit of knowledge,” sighed the young noble. He stood, and began to stretch his arms out sluggishly. “Tomas hasn’t been here much lately, so why should I-“

“You should care because Monica and I reserved the library for a private study session. Now get going, or I’ll tell Professor Byleth about that place in the stables you sleep in when you’re cutting class.”

The young scholar sighed. “Very well. But I just don’t understand why Monica needs your help so much…She’s-“

“Oh, Edel and I are very, very close,” grinned the demon as she appeared over Edelgard’s shoulder. “Why can’t you just let two old friends catch up?” It took every bit of resolve the Flame Emperor possessed to stop herself from choking the life out of Monica.

Linhardt shook his head, muttering something under his breath as he left the library. The princess watched him go with regret, and not a little concern. He was smart…quite possibly the most intelligent student at the Officer’s Academy. Under all his laziness, his sharp mind could cut through falsehoods like no one she had ever encountered. If he began to suspect…

As they sat at the table, Edelgard scowled. “I take it Solon won’t be joining us?”

“I don’t think so. He said he’s got some ‘project’ he’s been working on.” Monica stuck her tongue out in annoyance. “They never tell me anything! It’s all ‘kill this guy, Kronya!’ ‘stab her, Kronya!’ It’s like they don’t trust me or something!”

Edelgard rolled her eyes. “I wonder why.”

“Don’t laugh at me, you little snot, or I’ll-“ Kronya whipped a dagger out of her pocket with terrifying ease, and held it to her classmate’s throat.

Edelgard refused to flinch, gaze remaining locked on Kronya’s unsettling red eyes. “Do what? Kill the weapon Thales and Solon spent years creating? Go ahead, stab me.” She pushed down Kronya’s dagger with her arm. “I’m sure Thales would be very understanding.”

Terror flashed across the would-be assassin's face. She backed away for a moment, looking unusually vulnerable, until a hateful glare reemerged. “You can’t scare me! I’m important, Thales told me so.” There was a madness and agitation in Kronya’s cheerful voice that was unsettling to witness.

"No matter how many of us they made, I knew I was going to make Thales proud of me! They put us all in a room, and left a knife on the floor. Thales said the winner got to see the sun... and I walked out. Because I'm the best!” Kronya leaned toward Edelgard with an ugly sneer. “I’m never going back into the dark, Edel…And if you try to stop me, I’ll kill every single one of your stupid friends… and I’ll make you watch.”

 


 

El screamed and thrashed in her restraints as the mage’s knife cut into her skin. “P-please...stop!” she screeched, voice raw from the terror and pain she felt.

The mage’s hand was on her throat in an instant. “You kicked me, you little brat! Do you want to end up like your siblings?” He held the knife to the petrified girl’s throat. “Do you?!”

El slowly shook her head, a feeling of profound despair overwhelming her. Where was Father? The door to the room opened, and El’s heart leapt. Father was here! Father was going to save her!

Ionius shuffled slowly down the stairs, accompanied by Duke Aegir. El realized something was wrong immediately. The Emperor never walked so slowly, with his head down so low. Ionius always moved with a purpose, his stride demonstrating authority and dominance. There was a meekness in his appearance that made him almost unrecognizable.

“F-father?” El cried, a small flicker of hope in her heart. “Help me, please! They’re hurting me!”

Ionius did not say a word, and turned away from El’s gaze. Duke Aegir began to laugh uproariously, the jowls of his fat cheeks shaking. “Don’t you have something to say to your daughter?” When the Emperor failed to respond, Aegir slapped him in the face. “How does it feel? You tried to cut me out, after everything my family had done! To spit on the very name of Aegir! And now look at you!”

The Emperor's hands balled into fists, but he otherwise failed to respond. El felt something inside her shatter, as she watched her protector submit to this humiliation. Father could not help her. The Goddess could not help her. El was alone. The desolation that she felt well up inside her at that moment was more painful than any torment she had endured. She might escape this dungeon, and these chains, but the awful reality she had just learned would remain with her. She would be trapped in this terrible moment, always living in the shattered ruins of her faith, forever.

Aegir sneered at the Emperor, hand placed mockingly on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’re going to take special care of her...would you like to know why we let her live?” Ionius failed to respond, only for Aegir to slap him again. “You’ll answer when spoken to.”

"W-Why?”

“Because Arundel wanted a child who already had a Crest-and the other two were boys.” Aegir grinned in satisfaction. “They were useful test subjects…But a girl…A girl presented…possibilities.”

“Please…please don’t hurt El…” Ionius whispered. “She’s…all I have left.”

Aegir smiled deviously. “Of course not...I need her. Your daughter will be our puppet, a weapon to reunite Fódlan under the banner of the Empire.” He rubbed his fat hands together. “And once she does...my heir will be at just the proper age to take a wife. Emperor Aegir has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”

“I’ll…I’ll kill you for this, Ludwig.”

“No, you won’t. And just for that, I’m going to make you see the look in your daughter’s eyes. You’re a failure, Ionius.” Aegir turned to the mage. “Continue.”

As the mage advanced to El, she closed her eyes, and began to scream, “Fa-father-“

 “-please!” Edelgard awoke with a start, gasping for air. The princess held her hands to her head, trying to block out the world, escape from the awful prison of her mind. After her frantic breathing began to slow, she paced in her room, attempting to work off the terror welling inside her. She looked out her window, and reached her hand out to feel the breeze. It tickled her bare fingers, sending a calming sensation flowing throughout her body. Father…Ingrid’s words the other day, along with Kronya’s threats, must have unsettled the princess more than she had realized. But there was nothing to be-

Edelgard’s lilac eyes settled on Byleth’s letter, sitting under her agreement with Count Bergliez to meet after the Battle of the Eagle and the Lion. Byleth had promised to protect her, to keep her safe…Was it too soon? Perhaps. But in that moment, Edelgard could not bear to face the burden of her memories alone.

 


 

The princess hesitantly crept through the hallway, careful to not wake the other nobles on the floor. She did not want to disturb Felix or Claude, for vastly different reasons. As she made her way downstairs, and out into the open air, the princess looked around rapidly.

The monastery at this hour was quiet, with only a few stray knights occasionally patrolling the darkness. Edelgard walked confidently toward her teacher’s room, knowing that none of the Knights of Seiros would be willing to confront the future Emperor on her nocturnal activities. Edelgard made her way to the door, and stopped.

Should I really bother her? The princess’ anxiety rushed over her like a wave, as she twisted her hands into knots. She’ll probably be annoyed. How could you be so clingy? Edelgard breathed deeply, trying to dispel the lies her mind was telling her. She made you a promise. It’s all right. She began to fiddle with the clasp on her cloak, and pushed a loose strand of white hair off of her forehead. With trembling hands, she reached for the door…

“Edelgard?” came a quiet voice, from behind the princess. At the unexpected noise, the princess gave a small shout, hands covering her heart. When she turned, she saw Byleth, standing behind her with a concerned expression on her face. “Did something happen?”

“I…I’m so sorry to bother you again, my teacher…I just had-”

“Trouble sleeping?” Byleth frowned. “I was just finishing some paperwork.” She grabbed her student's hand, sending warmth flowing through Edelgard’s body. “Let’s go get some fresh air.”

The princess and the mercenary had taken a long loop around Garreg Mach, passing the greenhouse, the stables, and the graveyard. Neither woman spoke a word. Byleth’s easy, relaxed stride was only occasionally disturbed by quick glances in Edelgard’s direction. Seeing through her student’s cold exterior, Byleth reached out and gently squeezed the princess’ shoulder.

Edelgard had studied the object of her affections for many months, mentally cataloguing hundreds of little details. Each one made her fall more heavily in love with the strange woman who had tumbled into her life. When Byleth was posed a particularly challenging question in class, she would run a hand through her wild, untidy hair. When gardening, she would stick her tongue out in concentration when placing a seed in the soil. If nervous, she would fiddle with the medallion that sat on her neck. Each detail so perfectly…Byleth.

But the most important thing Edelgard had learned about her teacher, her wings, was that she communicated her emotions not through expression, but through touch and gesture. When excited, she would pump her fist; when disappointed, her head would shake vigorously. As Byleth had become more…human, this had only become more obvious. Now her teacher would laugh and stomp and even shout. It made Edelgard’s heart soar.

As they walked across the great bridge of the monastery, the princess stopped. The cathedral loomed over the two women, and the Flame Emperor was loath to venture any closer. Byleth sensed her friend’s agitation, and to Edelgard's gratitude, stopped and sat on one of the bridge’s pillars. For a long time, the two women waited in silence, watching the occasional bird or bat fly overhead in the darkness.

Finally, words crawled up and out of the princess, tearing and ripping through her cold exterior, revealing the vulnerable, lost soul underneath. “Have…have you ever felt a sort of…longing for the outdoors?”

Byleth laughed and shook her head. “I lived most of my life outside with Papa…sometimes, I just wanted to sleep in a bed.”

“I suppose everyone values what they lack…” smiled Edelgard knowingly. “I love the warmth of the sun, the feeling of a sweet breeze on my face…” She sighed, and trailed off, staring into the distance. A few minutes passed, as Edelgard’s loneliness and fear waged a brutal war in her mind. The battle was so intense, she was taken by surprise when Byleth squeezed her fingers tightly.

“Whatever happened, Edelgard,” she said with a small smile. “I’ll listen.”

The princess smiled at her teacher’s simple gesture of compassion. “Do you remember…what I told you the other night? About… my past?”

“Your siblings...”

“I love the breeze, but it always comes with a deep sense of regret. My siblings never had the chance to experience such simple pleasures. To lead the sort of life they deserved…an ordinary life.” Edelgard held her right hand to stop it from shaking. “We were…kept underground.”

Byleth’s head tilted in confusion. “Underground…I don’t…”

Edelgard leaned forward on the pillar, eyes vacant. “The dungeons under the palace…They wanted to endow our bodies with the power of a Major Crest.” Her already pale skin was extraordinarily white. “I inherited a Minor Crest of Seiros, from the Hresvelg bloodline. However, many of my siblings bore no Crest at all.”

Her teacher turned, and looked at the princess. “What did they…do?” Her voice was placid, but her hands were curled, her normally tranquil features marred with distress.

Edelgard glared at Byleth, as if daring her teacher to challenge her. A part of the princess expected Byleth to shake her head. To refuse to believe her. To cast Edelgard back into the darkness. “They wanted to create a peerless Emperor…one that could rule Fódlan. So they violated our bodies. Cut open our very flesh. All to bestow on us the power of a Major Crest.”

The mercenary put her hand to her mouth. “They…your siblings…”

“Sacrificed,” said Edelgard coldly. “And so many other innocents, who were used as test subjects, never even understanding what they were dying for.” She turned to Byleth, and threw out her arms. “And now here I stand! The proud fruit of that endeavor: Edelgard von Hresvelg!” The princess said her name with an astonishing hatred, disgust seeping into every word.

Byleth had been pacing while Edelgard revealed her most dangerous secret. As the princess concluded, the mercenary turned to Edelgard, an icy anger in her blue eyes. “Who?” Her hands gripped the Sword of the Creator. Edelgard simply shook her head and stared at the great expanse below. Byleth walked toward her, and grabbed her shoulder, forcing her student to turn and look. Her body were rigid, as if she was locked in combat with an invisible enemy. “Who did this to you, Edelgard?”

Edelgard felt her legs give way. She slid down, reclining against the pillar, before cradling her knees to her chest. “Duke Aegir, and his gaggle of nobles. They had the Empire under their thumbs…and my father, he tried to stop them…so….” Her hands were balled into fists, as a righteous fury overwhelmed her body. “So they made him watch.”

Byleth was pacing frantically, large eyes darting around in search of an untouchable enemy. “But your father…he was the Emperor…how could-?”

“My father was nothing but a puppet on a string by then…a figurehead.”

Byleth was used to dealing with problems directly. If there was an enemy in the way, she eliminated them. If someone was sad, she made them happy. Now, the mercenary was adrift, pulling at her hair with frustration, until she stopped and turned to her student.

“Aegir…but…”

Edelgard sighed. “Yes, Ferdinand and the parents of most of my classmates. I have never told them. How could I?” The princess shook her head despondently. “And what good would it do? Ferdinand is the best of us. Ruining his life won’t bring my family back.”

Byleth slumped down, and sat next to Edelgard. The teacher stared up at the stars, as if pleading for a sign from the heavens. Finally, she reached out and gripped her friend’s hand tightly, powerless against the uncaring cruelty of the universe. Edelgard turned and looked at her teacher. “There’s something I…must show you.” She hesitantly stood, a quiet resolve building on her face. “I’ve kept it hidden from you all this time…but…” She extended her arm. “This is the power of my second Crest.”

A shimmering purple color materialized from her fingertips, crossing and weaving until an intricate pattern formed. Byleth looked at the symbol and gasped. “The Crest of Flames…”

“When it manifested for me, I swore a silent oath.” There was no vulnerability in the princess' voice. No compassion. Only a quiet hatred that had grown for years, festered and eaten away at everything that had once been kind and gentle in Edelgard von Hresvelg. “For the sake of my family…and all those poor souls that were…traded for my existence. I will…” The princess looked repulsed.

Byleth stood, and walked toward the princess, grabbing her arms. “What will you do?”

“I will build a new world. One where such meaningless sacrifice is never again sanctioned.” The unquenchable fire that burned in Edelgard’s lilac eyes was that of a zealot. “As Emperor, I will change this world. I swear it.”

As soon as she finished speaking, Edelgard’s body deflated. Her shoulders slumped, and the strength she had just projected was replaced by a heartbreaking vulnerability. The princess gripped Byleth’s hands desperately, terrified that she would run away in fear and leave Edelgard alone. “Now you know what I am, my teacher…I’d…understand if you…”

Byleth looked at her student sadly for a moment, before shaking her head. “I’m not leaving you. I promise.” She grabbed Edelgard’s hand and gently guided her back to the floor of the bridge, before pulling the princess’ head onto her shoulder. Edelgard’s rapid breathing began to slow, as she gripped her teacher’s arm tightly.

Byleth turned to her and smiled. “Thank you for telling me.” She extended her own arm, and shimmering lines danced and weaved until they also formed the insignia of the Crest of Flames. She turned to her student and smiled. “Remember what you told me that day we were cooking with Ferdinand? How we will just have to be different together?”

Edelgard gave a small smile and nodded.

“Everything in my life was so…empty, before...” said Byleth sweetly. “And now I’m learning that I like cookies and cats and the smell of lilies and all these wonderful things…it’s like I was living in a world without color, and now I can see.” She smiled shyly and looked down. “Now when I think about my Crest, I won’t think about being alone, or different.” She began to blush. “I’ll think of you. You’re my heart, Edelgard.”

Edelgard and Byleth leaned toward each other, feeling an irresistible magnetic pull. It felt as if time itself had stopped, an invisible current dragging the two women together. Edelgard reached her hand toward Byleth’s face-

“Who is there? Reveal yourself!” A harsh male voice called from the bridge’s entryway. As Edelgard and Byleth turned in surprise, they could see a guard making his way down the path quickly. If they were found in this position… The only path was to retreat toward the cathedral. Luckily, the gate remained open at night, for monks or other believers who wished to offer worship. The two intruders crept behind a wall, waiting to see what the guard would do.

The knight planted himself at the entrance, and folded his hands. “There’s no way past me!” he yelled into the darkness. “Come out and we’ll handle this quickly.”

Edelgard sighed. “It appears we’re trapped, my teacher.” She turned to Byleth remorsefully. “It’s my fault you’re here, I’ll tell him that we-“

The older woman shook her head, a twinkle in her eye. “I have a different idea…” She gave Edelgard a massive grin. Byleth raised her hands to her mouth, took a deep breath, and called out in a haunting voice. “Why have you come here?”

The knight gripped his spear tightly, head darting back and forth nervously. “S-show y-yourself! This…t-this is a trick!”

It is I…the Goddess. Why are you disturbing me?” Byleth was shaking with silent laughter, as animated as the princess had ever seen her. She could barely believe this was the same woman who had failed to identify the taste of sugar months ago. The pure, visible joy on her teacher's face lit a flame in Edelgard.

The knight began to back up, jumping when he collided with the brick wall behind him. “I-I don’t believe you!” he said hesitantly.

Edelgard smiled and turned to her teacher. “Let me try.” She raised her hands to her mouth, and spoke in a deep growl. “If you do not flee now, I shall rend the flesh from your bones!” The women were forced to hold theirs hands to their mouths, in a desperate attempt to stifle their giggling.

The knight feigned bravery. “O-oh? And w-who are y-you?”

Edelgard leaned back, fully committing to her character. “I am the ghost of Nemesis, and if you do not flee now…doom shall come to you!”

At this ridiculous statement, the cowardly knight turned and ran, metal armor clanking as the sound bounced off the walls of the cathedral. The timing was fortunate, because Byleth and Edelgard had completely lost control, and were doubled over, unable to retain their composure a second longer.

If any of the Black Eagles had seen the stoic professor or the distant house leader, they would have found them unrecognizable. It was as if all the laughter they had been denied for so many years was released at a single moment.

After they finally began to calm down, Byleth turned to her student, wiping a tear from her eye. “We should go.” The two women ran, the sounds of their joy echoing long after they had left the cathedral behind.

As they finally stopped outside the dormitories, they sat on the steps outside. Edelgard glanced at Byleth, causing her to giggle again. “I…I can’t believe you did that, my teacher!”

Byleth smiled warmly. “It was…a friend’s idea. She always gives me really good advice.”

“I’d like to thank this friend of yours…Do I know her?”

The mercenary shook her head. “No, but…she knows you. Sometimes, I talk to her about you, and the other Black Eagles.” Her eyes twinkled. “She calls you ‘the arrogant one,’ and is always worrying about you. You’re her favorite.”

“Well, tell your friend I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.” Edelgard looked away shyly. “I used to do silly impressions of all the nobles in court for my siblings…I hadn’t…since…” She laid her head on Byleth’s shoulder. “You told me earlier tonight that your life was empty before you met me…well, the same is true for me, my teacher. You’ve brought a… a light back into my life.”

For a long time, the two women leaned against one another, under the sparkling lights in the night sky. There was a feeling of deep peace and serenity that enveloped them both. Whatever happened, whatever horrors awaited Edelgard, this night would always exist. It was a night so perfect and wonderful it made Edelgard’s blackened heart sing. For just an instant, she had beaten destiny. For a precious moment, she was once again El.

 


 

Edelgard slept in late, utterly exhausted from her late-night adventure. After a quiet morning finishing some research for her class, she was disturbed by a rough, heavy knock. When she opened the door, the princess was surprised to find Jeralt standing in the entryway, with Byleth standing behind behind him. Both Eisners were weighed down with buckets, poles and other equipment.

“Jeralt…What brings you to-?”

Jeralt waved his hand. “We’re taking part in that fishing contest the monastery’s putting on for Flayn…By and I have a private spot we always go to, and we thought you’d like to come along.” Byleth waved excitedly from behind Jeralt's shoulder.

Edelgard fiddled with her hands nervously. “I…I am not sure how useful I would be, as-“

The knight gave a bark of laughter. “You clearly haven’t fished before, princess. Fishing’s all about relaxing and enjoying yourself, and occasionally… the fish interrupt.” His eyes exuded the same quiet gentleness as his daughter’s. “You’ll be good company, and that's all that matters.”

As the Eisners and the last of the Hresvelgs made their way outside the walls of Garreg Mach, they came to a gently moving river, nestled under the shade of a handful of sturdy oak trees. It was a bucolic scene, similar to the peaceful days that the princess dreamed of when her title weighed heavily on her soul. The two experienced anglers set up the equipment mindlessly, questioning the princess about minor pleasantries, recounting Jeralt’s latest mission and the like. Edelgard stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do, until Jeralt handed her a rod with a smile.

As the two Eisners baited their lines, the princess reached behind her head, trying to mimic Byleth’s easy casting, only to feel her momentum stop. She turned, and found that she had hooked her line on a small brush behind her. Jeralt turned at the noise, and smiled at her fondly. “Sorry, Edelgard,” he chuckled to himself. “That was mean of me, just expecting you to pick that up somehow.”

The princess tried to hide her reddened cheeks with her hands. She was outwardly confident, but that external poise was not about pride. Instead, it was born out of her deep fear of rejection. It was a means to set herself apart, avoid the awful and terrible flaws of being human. Of course, Jeralt and Byleth could see right through it, to the lost girl underneath. Jeralt patted the ground next to him. “Hop over here, I’ll show you.” Edelgard tentatively made her way over, and Jeralt reached out to grab her hands. The princess unconsciously recoiled, arms flailing.

“I apologize. I…startle easily.”

Jeralt looked at the princess sympathetically, an awful dawning comprehension on the experienced mercenary's face. “No worries. Let’s try that again, shall we?” He touched her hand lightly, with a kindness that was incongruous with his rough appearance. “Now, you’re going to want to use your wrists, not your arm. Just a simple easy flick….okay?”

The princess pulled back, and the line flew out into the deep blue of the river with a satisfying *plop!* Edelgard turned and looked at her companions excitedly, pointing at her small victory. “I did it!” She watched her line, drifting absently on the water’s surface. “So…what do I do now?” Byleth and Jeralt gave each other a knowing smile.

“Now…” said Jeralt. “We wait.”

They loitered on the green banks of the river for hours, Jeralt regaling the two women with stories from his mercenary days. Byleth turned to her father after a particularly thrilling tale, confusion on her face. “Where are you from originally, Papa?”

He put his hand behind his head, and began to laugh nervously. “I’ve never really told you, have I? I’m from Faerghus, originally. Used to be a squire in Fraldarius territory.”

Edelgard's interest was piqued. “Why did you leave? Your talents would always be in deep demand in the Kingdom.” She hesitated momentarily. “And forgive me for saying this, but for a Knight of Seiros, you’ve never struck me as particularly…pious.”

Jeralt slapped the princess on the back, clearly amused. “See, this is why I like you, Edelgard. You just say what you mean…Goddess, it’s refreshing.” He turned and looked out over the gently rolling water. “A long, long time ago, I believed in all that honor and loyalty crap they spout over in the Kingdom. I was going to be the greatest knight they’d ever seen.”

Byleth put a hand to her chin. “What changed, Papa?”

“The lord I worked under sent me out to assist one of his buddies, help him put down a peasant rebellion. Turns out, the noble had been using his position to fill his own pockets." Jeralt's face darkened. "The peasants were starving to death, while fighting knights with hoes and sickles. It was a slaughter. They realized they were going to die either way, and decided they’d prefer the quick death of our blades.”

Edelgard shook her head. “How repulsive.”

“That’s the world we live in,” said Jeralt grimly. “But like you, I couldn’t handle it. All those oaths about protecting the commoners didn’t mean a damn thing when they stood in the way of what a noble wanted.” He scowled with disgust. “I fight to save people, not to defend a title and a coat of arms. Being a mercenary let me choose my jobs, and help the ordinary people who needed it. And then I met Rhea, and Sitri…” He trailed off, lost in his memories.

Byleth pulled another fish out of the water, before giving her father a confused look. “Sitri?”

“That…was your mother’s name.” muttered the knight, clearly eager to avoid delving further into that topic. He turned to Edelgard. “How’s your old man, anyway? I met him a long, long time ago…helped him clean up a big mess in Hyrm territory. He was an impressive guy.”

“My father is very ill,” she said flatly. “His power was stripped from him, leaving him unable to protect those he cared for.” She brushed dirt off of her academy uniform. “As his successor, I have sworn a vow to reclaim what was taken from him.”

Jeralt turned, and cast a line out to the river. “And…would you happen to be one of those people he failed to protect, Edelgard?” He asked the question quietly, a father’s concern evident in every word.

“Yes.” The princess’ shoulders slumped. “I love him more than anything. But I have…avoided him since. I am nothing but a living reminder of all he has lost.”

“I see,” said the mercenary thoughtfully. “Can I give you some advice, as a father?”

Byleth looked up from her fishing pool nervously. “Papa-“

“It’s fine,” muttered Edelgard. “I value Jeralt’s counsel.”

“I know you can’t help but feel hurt, and you have every right to, but trust me…” He turned and rustled Byleth’s messy hair. “The mistakes I’ve made, the pain I’ve caused my daughter…it eats me alive. Your dad needs you, probably even more than you need him.”

“Jeralt-“ Edelgard’s voice began to falter.

He shook his head. “Trust me, he’s got a lot to be proud of-he raised a kid like you. Girl in your position? It’d be very easy to turn a blind eye to the problems in Fódlan.” The knight smirked as he cast his line. “Maybe with people like you and By, there’s some hope for this continent after all.”

Edelgard turned to look out at the river, absorbing Jeralt’s words, until she felt a tug on her line. She turned to her companions in a panic. “Wh-what do I do?”

Jeralt approached her, projecting an aura of calm. “Make sure you give it some slack. Don’t let the line get too tight.” He placed a hand on the princess’ shoulder. “Now…slowly reel it in.”

Edelgard fought for a moment, trying to fight her catch with a small fraction of her prodigious strength. Her rod nearly broke from the tension. Byleth's arm gently grazed Edelgard's and the princess felt herself relax, as she began to breathe deeply, following Jeralt's advice. After a few rounds, the fish began to tire, and she slowly maneuvered her catch to the shore. It was a relatively small white trout, but the princess held her conquest aloft as if it were the banner of the Adrestian Empire.

Byleth clapped excitedly. “Nice work, Edelgard! I knew you could do it!”

Edelgard began to blush, and looked sheepishly at the buckets of fish her companions had caught. “Thank you both…to have this chance-“

“First rule of fishing: No sentimental crap.” Jeralt wagged his finger teasingly. “After everything you’ve done for By, it’s my pleasure.” He turned to Byleth and smiled. “Hey, I think we’re going to need another bucket, kid. Could you grab one from my room?”

Byleth nodded, and ran through the woods, back up toward Garreg Mach. For a while, Edelgard and Jeralt lazed in the comforting warmth of the sun, until Jeralt abruptly spoke. “So, when are you going to tell her?”

Edelgard froze, dropping the handle of her fishing pole. “T-tell…tell her what, Jeralt?”

“Oh, come on!” Jeralt laughed heartily. “I’ve never seen two people more crazy about each other than you and By. I’m old, but I haven’t lost all my senses.” He chuckled. “You think she invites all her students out on fishing trips with her dad?”

“I…apologize. As her student, it would be…”

“Okay, first of all, I’m the expert on inappropriate romances, and you’re nowhere close to the crap I pulled. Trust me.” His laughter was contagious, causing even the princess to give a small smile. “But listen, I’ve got to tell you something, before she comes back.”

Edelgard nodded, trying to hide her rapidly beating heart.

“When By was born, I had lost Sitri…and some…things happened. As a baby, she never cried, never laughed.” He put his hands to his forehead, deeply agonized. “I kept thinking, ‘Goddess, what did I do to this kid? What should I do?’ I’d be sick every night, terrified about what was going to happen to her.”

“She’s incredibly kind, Jeralt. You should be proud of the daughter you’ve raised-“

The knight’s head whirled toward Edelgard. “You don’t get it. I’d bring her on missions, once she was old enough, and she’d kill people without blinking. She’d just clean off her blade, and ask what I wanted her to do next. She never laughed, or complained, or...or anything.” He slapped his hands together. “I didn’t know what to do…it was a nightmare.”

The princess thought back to the growth that her teacher had showed over the past few months. She could only imagine the anguish the knight must have felt.

“And then, she met you, that night in Remire. And now she’s got friends, and hobbies, and she’s head-over-heels for you, even if she doesn’t realize it,” said Jeralt fondly. “She told me a joke, Edelgard. Do you know how many years I prayed to the Goddess for my daughter to smile, just once? To see her laugh and be happy? That’s all a father ever wants.”

“Seeing her happy is all I want, as well. It's what she deserves,” said Edelgard, eyes downcast. “But my world is ugly, and cruel, and complicated. If someone that pure walks my path, and I take the light out of her eyes? I couldn’t live with myself.”

Jeralt shook his head. “Trust me. You’re the reason that light exists in the first place. Just...take care of her, all right?” He shrugged his shoulders. “I think you both need each other. If I hadn’t found Sitri, I’d have drowned myself in booze.” He gave the princess a sly smile. “They still holding that dance in a few months?”

She nodded, quickly catching on to the knight’s meaning.

“I told you before, kid. Life comes at you fast. Don’t let the ugly stuff keep you from something wonderful.” He looked up at the peaceful blue sky overhead. “It's like Sitri used to say-a flower’s only beautiful because it doesn’t last forever.”

At these words, Byleth arrived, bucket clanging against her leg. "I got it, Papa." Her head moved back and forth between her student and her father. "What were you talking about?"

"Just our different responsibilities, and protecting those we love." Edelgard met Jeralt's warm smile with one of her own. "In the end, that's all that matters."