Ferdinand stood in the private study, mere inches away from where he had found his closest ally… his best friend… leaning up against the wall dead only a week ago. It was the first time he had returned to the space since that tragic morning and he probably should not have returned at all. The room no longer smelled of burnt molasses and rotting flesh, but it also did not smell of dark alchemy and exotic coffee like it should. The air felt stale and suffocating. Plants had wilted and dried, and a thin layer of dust coated the bookshelves. The room had always felt comforting in a way, despite the dark deeds that took place within it, but now, it just felt hollow. Perhaps it was the memories that made it comforting in the first place and now, they were nothing more than memories and no more could be made.
Despite this, he felt a need to be here, almost as if the room itself had been calling out to him. Maybe there was something he had not seen, something to give him an answer to his questions. Or perhaps he just wished to see a ghost.
After serving the Emperor of the now unified nation of Fodlan for thirteen years, at the age of just thirty-three years, Hubert von Vestra, Minister of the Imperial Household, was laid to rest in a private cemetery within the palace grounds. There was no funeral, just a quiet, private burial. Even so, the entire Black Eagle Strike Force had visited to pay their respects and attempt to console Her Majesty. Some offered their prayers aloud, while others shared stories of their time spent together, but through it all, Ferdinand and Edelgard remained silent, both too grief stricken to relive such memories.
Throughout the whole affair, Ferdinand could not erase the images from the morning he found Hubert from his mind, he doubts he ever will be able too. The smell, the stains, his white skin, it was all too much. He had fought in a war and aided in another, seen many men die before him, some at the end of his own lance, but he never could have been prepared for this particular death. Hubert always seemed so untouchable, so unreasonably unscathed by every battle, and now he was gone. To have held his dead body in his arms, cold and unmoving; it was a feeling he could never describe and a feeling he never wished to feel again.
His morning had started out like any other in the palace. After visiting the stables and greeting Her Majesty, he went about preparing his morning tea and Hubert’s coffee for their shared breakfast hour in Ferdinand’s office. Hubert was running late, but it was not the first time, so Ferdiand thought nothing of it. That was the case until nearly half the hour had passed and Ferdinand had yet to at least hear from Hubert, or even a messenger. Hubert usually over worked himself, but if he was unable to attend their tea times, he would always let Ferdinand know somehow.
Perhaps he had just worked himself to the point where he passed out in his office. It would not have been the first time; it was a rather common occurrence during the war and a lengthy period after it. However, it was strange that it would happen now. As far as Ferdinand was aware, there was not much to be done as of late, nothing more than the usual. If Hubert was overworking himself with tasks that he could be helping with, he would need to give him a proper scolding. Since taking up the position of Prime Minister, Ferdinand insisted that Hubert ask for aid when there was an abundance of work that needed to be done. He wished to see Her Majesty succeed as much as he did, meaning he would be willing to help with anything she would need. Sure there were still some tasks that were much more suited for Hubert and Hubert alone, but he knew there was no such task that needed to be executed, and if there was, Hubert would have left a letter like he always had.
Ferdinand decided the best course of action was to go down the hall to Hubert’s office and wake him. Upon reaching the room, Ferdinand knocked twice before opening the door to find the room vacant. There were documents scattered across the desk, but nothing out of the ordinary. Puzzled, he left the office in search of Her Majesty. Surely she would know where Hubert was.
He found Edelgard sitting in the palace gardens sharing tea with her wife as she did most days since she wed.
“Your Majesty, my lady, please excuse my intrusion,” he said with a bow.
“Ferdinand, there is no need to trouble yourself with such formalities,” Edelgard stated. “Is something troubling you?”
“Have either of you seen Hubert this morning? He did not join me for tea and when I went to his office to check on him, he wasn’t present,” Ferdinand questioned.
“I have not,” Edelgard said, followed by Byleth shaking her head. “I had just assumed he was with you,” she added. “He didn’t tell me he was going to be away today.”
“Perhaps he’s sick,” Byleth suggested.
“I can go check his private quarters for you,” Edelgard offered as she rose from her seat. “If he is suddenly ill, especially ill enough that he could not even pretend to not be, he likely would not want anyone to see him, not even a messenger.”
“Ah, do not worry yourself,” Ferdinand said, putting a hand up to stop her. “I will check on him myself. Thank you,” he added before bowing a second time and taking his leave.
Ferdinand made his way to Hubert’s quarters, anxiety bubbling in his gut. This did not feel right; something was wrong. It was not like Hubert to not show up to work, even if he was ill, especially without letting someone know. He would have left a note. He was a man of the shadows. If he did not wish to be seen, he would not be seen.
He knocked on the door of Hubert’s quarters and received no response. As he had suspected, Hubert’s quarters were locked when he turned the doorknob, but he had a key, a privilege not even Her Majesty was bestowed. As Ferdinand entered the small foyer that was standard in the private quarters in the palace, he called out to Hubert, who still did not respond. Ferdinand’s anxiety only worsened when he reached Hubert’s bedroom and still did not get any sort of response. Hubert should have been telling him to shut up by now, especially if he was sick and resting. Hubert was not a heavy sleeper in the slightest. He opened the door to Hubert’s bedroom without knocking this time. He did not care. He needed to find him. He needed to know he was okay.
It felt like a hoof to the gut when he entered the bedroom and found it empty. “Hubert!” Ferdinand yelled out without thinking. Something was definitely wrong. It looked like Hubert had not even been in the bed the night before, the bed was made and pristine save for his overcoat tossed on top of the covers. He never went anywhere without his coat so Hubert had to be here and there was only one other place he could be; his secret study.
Unlike the other private quarters in the palace, Hubert had a personal study attached to his bedroom hidden within a wardrobe. Only one person other than Hubert had ever entered the study before, and that person was none other than Ferdinand. Like his quarters, Ferdinand had a key to said study too. The two had spent quite a bit of time together in the study, whether it be for tea or to merely vent away frustrations in a place where no curious ears could listen upon them. It was the only place in the palace that was truly private and Hubert used the space for various activities that were linked to the more shadowy side of his affairs within the empire. Even so, the room still acted as a secret rendezvous for the two to seek comfort in one another, a place that was only theirs .
Ferdinand unlocked the hidden door with shaking fingers. As he slowly pushed open the door, terror washed over his entire being as he was hit with the overwhelming stench of death and dark magic. Even after fighting in two wars, he had never experienced such a sense of fear in his entire life. He threw open the door and found Hubert sitting on the floor, propped up against the wall. His back was facing the doorway and his head was ducked below his shoulders.
“Hubert, are you alright?” Ferdinand gasped as he rushed over to the man and dropped down to his knees. There was a slimy, sticky, black substance on the floor around him and down the front of his shirt. This must have been what was producing the foul smell. Lifting Hubert’s head up with his hands he found the same substance coating Hubert’s mouth and chin like he had vomited it up. He brushed Hubert’s hair from his eye to reveal his skin was pale, even paler than usual. Hubert’s face felt cold and stiff, and his entire body was surrounded in the static feeling of an oversaturation of dark magic. Ferdinand’s heart sunk to his stomach as he shook Hubert in an attempt to wake him, to which he got no reaction.
“No no no, please Hubert,” Ferdinand pleaded as he pulled Hubert from the wall and into his lap.
He checked to see if Hubert was breathing. Not breathing.
“Come on, Hubert...”
He felt for a pulse. No pulse.
He put his ear to Hubert’s chest and listened for a heartbeat. No heartbeat.
“No no no no no...”
“Don’t do this to me...”
This could not be happening.
“Goddess Hubert, please, please . This isn’t funny,” Ferdinand begged, choking back his tears, but it was for naught.
Hubert was already dead.
Edelgard was by far the strongest person Ferdinand had ever met. Regardless of how hard things became, he had only ever seen her cry on two occasions; once at the victory of the battle that ended the war against the Church of Serios, and the other on the day she married the professor she loved so dearly. He never imagined he would ever see her fall to her knees and wail as she held her beloved retainer to her chest. She rocked back and forth as she pleaded for Hubert to awaken, to come back to her. Edelgard was inconsolable, despite their former professor and Ferdinand’s best attempts to sooth her. It took well over an hour to finally convince her to let go of Hubert’s body so he could be prepared for a burial, her majesty then hugging herself tightly instead. Afterwards, she refused to speak to anyone, her wife included, and locked herself away in her private quarters. Out of respect, she was left alone until the burial was ready.
After Hubert’s burial, Ferdinand tried to return to business as usual, but it just felt wrong. He no longer had tea in the morning, opting instead to just go straight to work. He insisted he take over Hubert’s responsibilities as well as his own for the time being, despite his friends’ many protests. It was not that he wanted to do the work, but rather he felt he needed to do it. Hubert had only ever trusted him when it came to his work and he could not bear to betray that trust. Not while the wound was still so fresh. Hubert would not have wanted anyone going through his work anyway, and if Ferdinand was being honest with himself, he did not want anyone going through Hubert’s workspace either. A part of him just wanted to pretend Hubert was away for some shady empire business and would be returning eventually. Hubert never liked when he returned to find people had been touching his belongings.
Ferdinand had not realized how much Hubert meant to him and how surreal it would feel without him until he was gone. He felt so lonely, and it was unlike the loneliness he felt in his childhood. He knew they were close, but he never could have imagined the void within his heart he was feeling after he was dead. Hubert had been a part of his daily routine, a part that he enjoyed very much. It was as if a part of himself died and was buried with Hubert. He felt he was lost and longed for some straightforward way to gain his footing again.
Ferdinand stared at the spot in which he found Hubert just days ago. It was still stained black and radiated the static sensation of dark magic, though it was significantly weaker now than it had been days ago. He should not have died here. He did not deserve to die alone and in the dark on the floor of a secret office, coated in what can best be described as magically charged tar. What could Hubert have possibly done to himself to result in such an end? Why did he not seek help?
Ferdinand still had a hard time even believing it happened. Hubert seemed fine the night before. He was not even acting out of the ordinary. The two had taken a walk through the palace gardens mere hours before he could have died. How could Ferdinand not have realized something was wrong? Surely Hubert tried to give him a sign and he did not see it. Hubert had walked closer to him that night. Was that the sign? Did he try to reach out? Was he silently pleading for him to notice something was terribly a foul?
Despite his best efforts, Ferdinand could not stop himself from sobbing. It hurt so much that Hubert was gone and nothing could be done about it. There was no way to undo it. He wished he could go back to that night. Wished he could stay with him all night and hold him close, whisper in his ear that everything would be alright. He wished he could have been there to rush him to a healer and save him. He wanted to do anything to change the events of that night.
Ferdinand pressed his forehead against the wall above the black stain and hugged himself as he cried harder. It was not fair. He did not care how childish it was to say. He had already given up so much in his life; his title, his land, his nobility. Why could he not have just one thing? One person to have by his side until the very end. He had taken everything the goddess had willed for him with a confident smile on his face. He did not deserve this, no matter how selfish that sounded. Surely his good deeds would have been enough to atone for all the sour ones Hubert had committed, at least long enough to spend the rest of his life with him.
“Ferdinand?” a voice said softly, startling Ferdinand from his thoughts. He stepped away from the wall and turned around to see Edelgard standing in the doorway of the study, a set of books in her hands. The leather covers were worn on all three of them, but some more so than others. Even from across the room, Ferdinand could tell they were used often.
“Lady Edelgard,” Ferdinand said with a jolt, quickly wiping the tears from his face. “How long have you been standing there?”
“I have only been here a moment, but I figured you still needed some time,” she replied. “I was told you might be here.”
A deafening silence fell between the pair. Edelgard had never seen such a sadness within Ferdinand before. The bags under his eyes and the oil shining in his hair that was thrown up into a quick, sloppy bun indicated he had not slept nor washed in days. His clothes were wrinkled and he was without his coat or cravat that he wore everyday. He had not been seen in the stables or out on horseback. His shoulders slouched and his eyes were glassed over. Although not a new feature, his beard was ungroomed and far too long for his own standards. He no longer looked like the proud and prestigious Ferdinand von Aegir and it broke Edelgard’s heart just a little more.
If it had not been for her wife, Edelgard was sure she would be in a similar state, but the empire needed her to be okay, even if it was just a front, so she would appear to be so for them all.
“Pardon my poor manners but was there something you needed from me? I feel I would rather be alone right now,” Ferdinand finally said, bringing his gaze back to the black stain on the floor. He could not bring himself to look Her Majesty in the eye, not yet. He knows he is letting her down.
Edelgard walked towards Ferdinand, but stopped a few feet away from him. She wanted to reach out to him, to pull him into her arms and tell him things were going to be alright, but she knew in her heart that she could be sure about that. Everything was thrown off balance the day Hubert died. There was a large amount of uncertainty that lingered throughout the palace, and perhaps all of Enbarr, that came with his sudden absence. As much as Hubert disliked it, the people of F o dlan knew who he was, and they liked him. He and Ferdinand made quite the pair and now, with Hubert being gone and Ferdinand in the state he is in, the people are worried.
Since the day of Hubert’s death, Ferdinand has cancelled all of his meetings indefinitely and has not shown himself to the public eye intentionally. He had tried to keep up with his and Hubert’s work, but as the week progressed he did less and less of it, not that it truly affected anything. It just worried Edelgard to no end. She offered Ferdinand time off so he could return to his private estate to mourn, but he insisted he would be fine and did not need to stop working. That was an obvious lie. He clearly has been suffering, but why did he choose to do so on his own in silence? She and Byleth would have offered him comfort. Dorothea, Lorenz, Constance, they all would have helped him too. Ferdinand has never turned away aid from his friends before and that was what probably worried Edelgard the most.
“I don’t think you should be in here,” Edelgard said softly as she reached out to put a hand on Ferdinand’s shoulder.
“I was just…” Ferdinand started but stopped himself with a sigh. “I don’t know.” She was right, like always. He should not be here. The room brought forth so many emotions that he himself could not comprehend. It was overwhelming and yet, he could not will himself to try and stop feeling them.
“The people are worried about you Ferdinand,” Edelgard continued softly. “Your friends, your students.” She sighed. “I’m worried about you. I’ve never seen you in such a state before.”
“I will be fine,” Ferdinand said without looking up from the floor. “I just…” he sighed again, “I think I just need to return home for a while like you had suggested in the first place.”
“Of course. I think that would be a good idea. You could use the time off,” she said with a sympathetic smile. “However, I think you should take these with you,” she added as she held the books out in Ferdinand’s direction.
Ferdinand took the stack of books and asked, “What are they?”
“They're journals,” she replied. “Hubert’s journals.” She paused for a moment. “His personal journals.”
Ferdinand’s eyes grew wide. “But why me…?”
Edelgard opened the cover of the journal at the top of the stack, which was the least worn of the three, and pulled a sealed envelope from inside it. Upon further inspection, the envelope was addressed to Ferdinand and was written in Hubert’s handwriting.
“I found them in his quarters a few days ago. I was just going to burn them for his sake, but my curiosity got the better of me and I read them and found the letters. One written for me, and one for you,” Edelgard said as she now looked at the black stain on the floor. “He had been keeping a journal since he was a child. These three are only the most recent, but I could not bring myself to destroy them before offering them to you.”
“Why?” Ferdinand questioned.
Edelgard looked back up at Ferdinand’s face. “Because… he wrote about you… very often.” She paused for a moment. “He wrote about you more than anyone else I’d say. Well, anyone except myself, but I’m sure that is to be expected.” She placed the envelope on top of the stack of journals. “You don’t have to read them or the note if you don’t want to, but if you do decide to, I would recommend you read the journals first. I think they will help explain Hubert’s strange way of thinking.”
Ferdinand ran his fingers over his name written on the envelope. “Did you…?”
“No,” Edelgard responded before Ferdinand could even finish his question. “I only read the letter addressed to me, but I can guess what the letter might say.”
Ferdinand gripped the journals a bit tighter in his hands unconsciously. For just a moment, he felt like Hubert was here again, ready to tell him what had happened.
There was a brief moment of silence between them before Edelgard spoke again. “Even if it didn’t appear so, I’m glad you two became so close,” she said. Looking up at Ferdinand, she continued. “For so long, it was just him and I. We were the only ones who could trust one another. A part of me felt like I was betraying him when I got married. I felt like I was leaving him all alone again, but then I realized he had you.” She paused for a moment to offer Ferdinand a small smile. “You were very special to him.”
“A story for another time,” Edelgard responded. “I can tell you everything he never got a chance to tell you himself.”
Another bout of silence filled the room. Had it always felt this awkward when it was just the two of them? Or was this because their iconic trio was now only two?
“Why didn’t he tell me something was wrong?” Ferdinand asked into the silence, whether it was to himself or Edelgard he did not know.
Edelgard sighed. “Hubert would never tell anyone he was ill, especially if there was nothing we could do to help him.” She did everything in her power to prevent herself from crying. “He knew he was dying Ferdinand,” she said in a voice so soft that had they had been anywhere else in the palace, he would not have heard her. “He was always so stubborn. He let himself die all alone in some valiant attempt to make it hurt us less.” She sounded angry, but Ferdinand knew it was just her grief showing.
Ferdinand could infer that Hubert had not told her anything either, as surprising a thought that was. Her reaction made him feel a slight comfort, as strange as that may be. Edelgard had not reacted much outside her initial breakdown since Hubert’s death. Well, at least she had not shown much reaction. Edelgard was never one to just freely show her emotions, much like Hubert, and it brought him some joy that they had both trusted him enough to show him these more emotional sides of their characters. Of course, seeing Edelgard so upset only made Hubert’s death harder. “I’m sorry you lost him,” Ferdinand said in some kind of odd attempt to console her.
“I wasn’t the only one who lost him,” Edelgard said with a sigh. “Hubert meant a lot to you as well.”
“Yeah,” Ferdinand said, his voice just above a whisper.
“Let us take our leave from this place,” Edelgard said after a moment. She grabbed Ferdinand’s arm and flashed him a sad smile before leaning her head on his shoulder. “Could you please escort me to my bed chambers? I’d rather not be alone right now.” Her statement was not completely true, but she felt she needed to get Ferdinand out of Hubert’s study. It was not good for him to linger there any longer.
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
As they walked out of the hidden study, Ferdinand looked back over his shoulder one last time, knowing it would soon be sealed off and never seen again, just like its late owner.
Returning to the Aegir estate had never been an easy time for Ferdinand, especially after any extended time staying in Enbarr and the palace. Although he had a residence within Enbarr, he felt it would be best to return to Aegir territory away from the capitol’s news and gossip. He inherited the large manor after his father’s exile and his mother’s passing long ago. He had no siblings (that he knew of), so he had no one to even share the manor with. No matter how much redecorating he or any of his friends had done, nothing could erase the memories of the devious past of the Aegir family. He had once held so much pride and honor towards his family name, but now, after what the war had taught him, he did not know how to feel. What he did know was he was going to change the Aegir legacy into something worthwhile.
The estate was empty, like always, but this time it felt exceptionally so. Perhaps it was just the emptiness in his heart that made him feel this way. Servants had not been at the estate in years, close to a decade, so the manor smelled of dust and abandonment. Ferdinand could not find it in himself to care however. He no longer found any comfort in the manor he and his family had grown up in. After a while, he stopped even trying to make the estate feel like his home again; it was never going to happen. He had toyed multiple times with converting it to a school for the public. He preferred living in Enbarr anyway. It was closer to the emperor and his work. It was a sentiment he and Hubert had shared, discussing details over tea or dinner or even walks through the palace gardens. They had a solid plan to do it, there was a collection of files in Ferdinand’s desk in his office at the palace. He had the connections and support to get it done, but now, Hubert would never get to see it come to fruition.
It almost felt selfish to think that sort of way, but Ferdinand knew he would not abandon his people. Hubert would not be happy if he did. As much as Hubert claimed to not be a people person, he truly did care about them. He would make sure his and Hubert’s plans and reforms would be brought forth one day, but right now, he was just going to grieve.
He made his way to the grand kitchen to make some tea. After the long carriage ride to Aegir territory, he wished for nothing more than to wash up and go to sleep. While he heated up the water, he carefully pulled Hubert’s journals from his pack and set them on the round table within the kitchen. Something about them felt so fragile. These were Hubert’s personal thoughts from the past ten years; from the last ten years of his life. If something happened to them, Hubert was gone for good.
Maybe he should not even read the journals. They were so personal. Hubert wrote a note addressed to him. He wants him to read that, not his personal journals. Hubert kept things secrets for a reason. What right did Ferdinand have to read them? But Edelgard read them. She knew Hubert better than anyone. If she could decide it was alright to read them, surely he could too. Hubert was dead, he could not care.
Hubert was dead.
Hubert was gone
Hubert was never coming back.
And then, Ferdinand was crying again.
After finishing his tea and a long, hot bath, Ferdinand prepared to retire for the night. He changed the old, unused sheets in his childhood bed, put on his sleep clothes, and slipped under the covers. He did not know if he would even be able to sleep in the silence of the estate. He had grown accustomed to the sounds of the capitol and palace, even when they were not necessarily loud. He could not remember the last time he had truly been alone.
He was almost certain he would be without sleep this evening, despite the tiredness he was feeling. He would be alone with his thoughts all night. Perhaps he could pass the time by just…
He reached out and picked up the oldest of Hubert’s journals and just held it in his hands. It was a simple, leatherbound book. No one would have been able to figure out its importance if they never opened the pages. The same could be said about the other two journals as well. It was likely Ferdinand had seen the journals in passing before in Hubert’s study without knowing because they were so simple in appearance.
Ferdinand opened the journal to the first entry dated the twenty-fifth of the Ethereal Moon.
[25 Ethereal Moon, 1184
As if it were some cruel twist of fate, it seems our former professor has returned to us. Her Majesty would like to see it as a turning point for the war; that the professor is the key to winning now. I however, must remain cautious for both Her Majesty and the empire. Where had the professor been all this time? Her Majesty told me she claimed to have been sleeping this whole time, but how is that possible? To sleep for five years and return in perfect health? And why return now? We are so close to finishing this war. To risk the professor being a mole after we have come this far is foolish. I do not wish to upset Her Majesty, but I do feel she is too overwhelmed with the joy of seeing our former professor to think critically about the situation. I guess that is just another matter I will need to take into my own hands. Should the professor choose to betray Her Majesty, it would surely crush her. It could throw all of Her Majesty’s hard work out the window. I can not allow that to happen. If the professor does choose to betray Her Majesty’s trust, it will be the last decision she will ever make, I’ll make sure of it.
The event has raised morale, I will admit. Everyone seems to be happier now that our professor has returned, especially Her Majesty. I can not tell if they all have the same enthusiasm towards winning the war like Her Majesty, but everyone being in higher spirits will likely help us in the long run.
I just hope my suspicions are proven wrong for everyone’s sake.]
Hubert’s way of writing was so… formal considering this was essentially a diary entry. It was not surprising to find out Hubert had his suspicions about their professor returning from the dead. Ferdinand would be lying if he said he had not had similar feelings, though likely not as intense as Hubert’s.
Considering the timing Edelgard had said these journals had been written in, it made sense that Ferdinand would have been there for the events Hubert wrote about. It would probably be a common theme in other entries. In a way, it was exciting to know how Hubert felt about the events.
Flipping through the pages of the journal, it seemed Hubert wrote every few days. All neatly scribed, dated, and formatted. Leave it to Hubert to take such an organized approach to a personal journal. Seeing Hubert’s hand writing on the pages brought Ferdinand both comfort and sadness. Hubert would never hand him a handwritten note or draft again. He would never write him another tax report or letter. For now however, Ferdinand could seek solace in the writing before him. He just looked at the words on the pages, not really reading them, thinking about Hubert’s hand holding the quill as he wrote them. That was until a single phrase caught his eye.
[I am in love with Ferdinand von Aegir.]