What Linhardt had said hardly mattered.
There were a few reasons for that. Firstly, it was no surprise that the Church had their secrets, along with the Archbishop. Secondly, Byleth was not a person to scheme things out of malice, her current intelligence did not seem high enough for that.
The third and the biggest reason of his was, he did not care for the future of Fodlan.
Six years ago those people had made a choice to stand with the Church, demonized his most precious friend, and turned their backs to the truth. Whatever happened from now on was on them. If Byleth somehow brought on the doom as the worst case scenario, Hubert would sit back, laugh, and watch those traitors turn into ashes in the eternal flames.
Even if that meant he was going to burn as well.
As a man of principles, Hubert kept slacking off during his so called work hours. Byleth did not seem to mind, and he found himself more confident about taking strolls since now he had lances and a shield tied to his back.
Spending time in the same room with the woman for hours was suffocating, and it got even more irritating because of their last encounter. Trying to not to think about it was one thing, but being made to face her caused Hubert to remember that wanton memory and disgusting himself to no end.
While an escape route was always welcomed, he was starting to run out of places to drop by and entertain himself. Now that he knew getting rid of this foolish rune was impossible, the visits to the libraries came to a halt.
With Manuela, Hanneman and Linhardt’s departure things became so dull in the Monastery –not that he had talked to any of them however at least they were some fragments of his past, of his old self. Luckily there is Shamir, Hubert thought. While everyone else spared him second glances and agonizing stares, Shamir always kept a neutral face; which made spending time with her easy. She did not pity him, nor empathized with him, nor asked unnecessary questions about the war.
Since Hubert was a mere human in the end, seeking the companionship of others was inevitable if he wished to put some distance between himself and that woman, so he started to share his meals with the archer. Though when Catherine felt like spending time with her Hubert found himself left alone, but at least guards were intimidated by his presence once again.
As it should be.
However Shamir alone didn’t sate the boredom he was in. Never once in his life, Hubert hadn’t passed a day without work. And now being here, with nothing to do due to his stubbornness, seconds started to feel like days, almost weeks.
So he allowed himself to spare some glances over the things the harlot was working on. Of course, this information was going to be used purely for malice, he assured the part inside him burning with guilt.
As a former mercenary, she did splendid work-
No, he was not going to pamper her.
As an Archbishop, she messed it all up.
The finance plan was not bad for beginners, however it could not be called sufficient to lead a kingdom, or an empire, or whatever abomination she did wish to call this country. It simply looked like a poor replica of the old one made by the descendants of the Church. Moreover, for spirits know what reason the proposal was only made for a short span. Perhaps the wench had something else in mind, but how wise was it to make Fodlan wait in this dire state?
If she asked Seteth for help the man would probably be happy to oblige. His face that had taken pride walking alongside Byleth during the war was still clearer than ever in the young man’s mind. What changed, Hubert wondered.
Then pale green eyes darted towards the tattoo on his arm. Could that be the reason of their recent dispute? Linhardt’s words were also ringing in his ears upon thinking about it: Even the former Advisor had been shocked when Byleth brought up the rune.
Yet that was only normal so; Rhea had had lots of secrets as well, and Seteth had been oblivious to each of them.
The beginning of the Lone Moon marked the change of the weather, but also brought another change to Hubert’s life. It was one of the days he was not sure what to do, which was mostly all the time. Crumbles of depression loomed over him since his mind was busy remembering the days this whole charade had started, how eager he had been and Edelgard. Sipping his coffee quietly, Hubert grimaced.
Then suddenly, Byleth barged into the room with her trademark idiotic smirk, gaining some irritated glances from him.
“Get ready!” she announced cheerfully. “We are taking a trip.”
“A trip?” Hubert’s eyebrows arched involuntarily. “Are you leaving Fodlan in this state?” He should be the one who was happy, yet her recklessness pushed even Hubert’s limits.
An offended look formed on the woman’s face. “No, of course not! I’ve already planned a temporary finance plan till our return. Seteth will handle things.”
So it was like Hubert had guessed. However still, he did not understand the basics of this trip. “Where are we going?”
“I had some reports from the villages near Sreng and Eastern Church region. We should go and check what the deal is.”
Hubert frowned, didn’t she even know the first things from the book of being a leader? “Why not inform Margrave Gautier and Edmund? Remind you, you are no longer a mercenary but the head of a state.”
Byleth took a deep breath. “I know but these ones are cases I should handle. Besides I am going to check a thing or two. So get ready, we are leaving in two days.” Hubert had no choice but to sulk.
“Do I have a say in this?” Clearly he would have preferred staying in the Church than clinging to the harlot’s side, ten times over.
“No.” she cut quickly and left the room in the same speed.
Defeated, Hubert began to pack things.
Never in his life had he travelled in small numbers such as two. There were always some guards, some soldiers or some knights surrounding him and Edelgard. Now, he was supposed to take this trip to the far end of Fodlan, without his magic, and with the biggest trouble magnet he had ever known.
She said this was supposed to be a cover up mission, that they were going to abandon their names and identities. How she was supposed to cover herself up with that mint hair was beyond him however, he had no option but to obey.
An alchemy table had been placed in his room, which he had never used and regretted that decision greatly now, hoping Byleth had more potions. A few clean clothes the woman had handed him before, a few armour parts… And done. He prepared a ridiculously light bag.
On the day of their departure, the wench pulled a new trick from her sleeve:
“Do you know how to ride?”
Great. “Of course, is there a noble that does not know how to ride?”
Byleth shrugged. “Plenty.”
If he got to be frank, it was not like he despised animals. No, Hubert had no problem on that matter, and had been quite fond of them as a child, but this affection hadn’t gone more than being one sided. Probably due to his menacing aura, the horses always felt unease around him. The memories of many riding accidents playing in his mind, he spoke: “Not one of my expertises however I know the basics.”
A frown formed on Byleth’s face. “Basics are not enough.”
That was how they ended up in the stables.
For a long time in his life, Hubert had not needed to ride a horse, nor a Pegasus, nor a Wyvern. Warping from here to there, blinking and rematerializing in front of his enemies’ eyes; magic had been the very reason of his confidence at everything. When the energy flowing in his veins had felt insufficient, he just had taken the carriage. Despite riding being one of his secret joys, he couldn’t be patient enough to rectify his relationship with animals, or understand them.
Plus, even if he had overcome this hardship, his fear of heights still lay before him.
He gave Byleth a good show by almost strangling the mare to death. Thanks to his fear of falling down and got stamped on, hands clung to the neck of the horse desperately, and since the animal got scared by his actions they had started to run in circles in the yard.
“Travelling with two horses is out of the question for now.” Byleth said, while trying her best to not to laugh at him. “But we should practice on your riding skills when we come back.”
Hubert muttered bitterly at that: “If we come back.”
When they began their journey, the sun was setting down around the mountains covering Garreg Mach. Hubert’s efforts to learn what was going on had been futile, and his protests did not mean anything; if the woman wished him to come, he was to submit, or she would probably find a way to drag him out. At least a promise to clear things when they had settled down was given to him.
The first point of their destination was The Saints Tavern that had been erected within the valley that lead to the Monastery; the place had been built by a pragmatist merchant one year ago in order to benefit from knights that had looked for warm beds, decent meals, potions and, of course, women. That last part was a total blasphemy considered the proximity of the tavern to Garreg Mach. Yet they ignored the situation.
“So what?” Byleth said when she was confronted by Hubert. “People have needs.”
An answer that was befitting to a mercenary, fantastic.
It did not take too much time walking from the Monastery to the place; the former Professor had insisted to not take a horse with them. Basically, the reason for that decision was how healthy and flamboyant the mares of the Monastery looked. The plan was to buy one from the stable next to the tavern.
It was cold, but not as cold as the distance between them. Hubert, feeling humiliated by being dragged around like a ragdoll didn’t even spare simply “Yes” or “No” to anything Byleth said. Once, he had taken pride in serving, now it was his biggest torture.
The place was not flashy, just as he expected. Tables and shelves were adorned with wooden carvings, and carpets that showed the Crest of Seiros were hung on the walls. The warm breeze that caressed Hubert’s skin made him shiver, and relaxed his muscles which tightened due to the unfortunate weather.
After they entered the hall, a small woman appeared at the front door with logs under her arm. Presumably she was at her mid-sixties, yet when she flashed a big grin the woman looked no older than 30.
“A-ah, travellers.” she sang excitedly, putting the wood to the hearth, racking up the fire.
After taking off her hood, Byleth called out to the woman: “Griselda, hello.”
Instantly her face turned towards them, checking who was the person that had talked. A few seconds later, the brown orbs got wider with the hint of familiarity.
“Ah, little one! I have not been seeing you for ages!”
Hubert frowned, didn’t this woman know who she was?
“The war got the best of us.” Byleth said smiling while walking to her. He also followed the so called Archbishop.
“I wish I was busy too!” Griselda complained, “But we don’t have too many travellers coming here nowadays.” Disappointment was formed on her tiny features. Then, she and Hubert made eye contact. “Oh, is this lad your husband?”
“No.” Hubert snapped quickly as to save the teasing from the wench. However Byleth ignored them:
“Pity. This place used to be so lively.” Hands on her waist, she eyed the hall. “Anyways Griselda, we are here to revive this place. Hey, can you go out and get us a mare?” She turned to him.
Hubert rolled his eyes. “Why me?” It was so cold out there.
“Just do it.” There was an odd determination in those mint eyes, so Hubert didn’t insist. No need to waste time on a war he lost from the start.
So he found himself outside again. The errand boy, who was probably the son of Griselda, was there, waiting for him expectantly. Just how bad was business here nowadays?
Hubert didn’t know that much about the horses, so he left the picking job to the boy, Maurice. He introduced him to an auburn one, looking just like one of his old friends.
Friends that had betrayed them.
“So you’re coming from Garreg Mach or going to Garreg Mach?” the boy asked when Hubert was petting the stupid animal.
“The former one.” he responded, not meeting his eyes.
Curiously, Maurice asked another question: “Have you seen the Archbishop?”
So they don’t know. “Yes.” He had seen both of them, met them and fought against them.
Even though his answer was curt, it made the young lad excited: “What was she like? I heard that she was as beautiful as the Goddess herself!”
Hubert snorted at that. “Have you seen the Goddess?”
“Then?” This was ridiculous. One thing he hated more than the Church was the ones that were blindly following them.
After that fruitless conversation, Hubert made his way back to the inn, Maurice following him. He saw Byleth leaned on the counter, something like paper in her hand, asking Griselda questions.
“…Try to remember.”
“If I saw someone like him I sure would remember. Oh, they came back!” the woman pointed at them. With a frown, Hubert tried to check the contents of the paper in Byleth’s hand however from this angle it was not possible to see. In the meanwhile, Maurice got back to the counter and eyed it:
“Are you looking for him?”
“Yes, have you seen him, Maurice?”
“I did, yes.” With that, Byleth’s face lightened with a childish cheer. Just whom were they talking about? Hubert got closer to her.
“When and where?”
Instead giving the reply Byleth had asked for, Maurice answered the question with another question: “Why are you looking for him?”
Griselda happily warbled: “Is he your husband? He is quite handsome!”
“Griselda, you should stop assuming people are my husbands.” Now that reply brought a faint shade of red to Hubert’s ears. “As to answer, for personal reasons. I will not kill him.”
After hesitating a bit, Maurice talked: “He was in the woods. Like one year ago, maybe more. I saw him hunt. Never in my life have I seen a person use a bow like that.”
“Okay, that’s him.” Byleth said, nodding. Though before Hubert could catch a glimpse of the portrait had been drawn on a canvas, the wench folded it with a cloth. Could it be the picture she commissioned Ignatz for? “Do you know where he went, or… Maybe you interacted with him.”
“No, we did not talk. And I don’t know where he went.”
“Alright, thanks for your help.” The green eyes, covered with disappointment met his. “I fetched us meals. Would you like to eat here, or in our room?” she whispered to him, in a suggestive way.
“Our room?” Hubert was freaking out.
“You see,” Byleth said, trying to get him away from the counter, “There was only one room and-”
“Lady, what are you talking about? Every room is free.” Maurice yelled behind her, ears surprisingly quite sharp. Byleth stared at him for a little time, cursing silently.
“Please secure us two rooms!” Hubert shouted at the boy.
“’Two rooms’ is a luxury.”
“I don’t care,” Hubert said, panicking, “We are either sleeping separately or I am going back to Garreg Mach.”
“Fine,” Byleth replied in a defeated manner. “Fine.”
The little stunt the wench had pulled had distracted him from the awkward conversation he had stumbled on before. Hubert was now sitting on the farthest corner of one of the long tables, trying to put maximum distance between him and her. However wherever he went, whenever he changed chairs with the stew Griselda handed him, the harlot followed right behind. Byleth might be dumb, but not this dumb, so the only conclusion could be she was ignoring his efforts to stay away from her on purpose.
Finally Hubert got sick of this tag game, so he gave up.
“I gave her a list of food and potions that she will fetch for us before we leave –oh and, we will leave before the first light.”
Hubert pointed another matter, irritated: “Are we riding the same horse?”
“Yes.” Her smile could be heard in her voice. Clearly, she found the idea amusing.
Hubert spoke in honesty: “I don’t want to be that close to you.”
“Well you can’t ride-”
The young man inhaled, then raised his head from the meal he was picking at in a very annoyed manner: “How about a carriage?”
“It would just slow us down.” Byleth contradicted, while shoving a whole slice of bread in her mouth at once, horrifying her new Advisor. “It is not suitable for mountains.”
“Mountains?” Hubert frowned. “Don’t tell me we are climbing the mountains.”
“It’s the fastest way to get to the Sreng region.”
Exhausted much, a long breath left his nose: “How about visiting the Edmund territory first? For sparing the hardship, Your Grace?”
Immediately Byleth pressed a finger on her rosy lips, telling him to be quiet. Then she said her next words with a visible concern in her mint eyes: “Don’t call me that! We are on a covert mission, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Hubert answered, rolling his eyes, so done with this meaningless trip of theirs before it even started.
After devouring another few spoons of her meal, she started to talk again: “There’s a butcher in Aviris. They have killed six people up till now. That’s why I am trying to get there first.”
“Six? And what’s the Gautier boy doing?” Hubert said disapprovingly.
“He has already sent there some guards to the area, however the killings are done frequently and the murderer is some kind of expert from what I heard. They couldn’t even get one clue. Sylvain asked me for help.”
The village she was talking about was almost at the border of the Fodlan, the valley which was leading to the Sreng region. Naturally the population was high, being a mixture of people of the Kingdom and Sreng.
Hubert exhaled in a defeated manner. “I think he was asking for your knights Byleth, not you.”
“Nonsense! I am aiding him by sending my best knight.” With that, she puffed her chest in all absurdity. The irritation made his eye twitch.
“And do you have any investigation experience officer Byleth, pray tell?”
“I don’t. But come on, you will be the mind, and I’ll be the brute force of this case!” Now the wench began to show off by flashing her muscles, looking just like a moron while doing so. Hubert pinched the bridge of his nose at that statement.
“How about the Leicester Alliance one? What’s the deal there?”
Byleth’s mouth formed an “o”. “It’s the Silverkeep village.” Now this was interesting, the whole town was an important finance source thanks to all the mines they owned. “They’re trying to cover it, but people are doubting a possible corruption going on there.”
“Then you should go there at once, don’t waste your time on some meaningless heroism.”
Byleth frowned. “Saving people is not ‘meaningless heroism’. I can always take the money they somehow stole back from the hands of the people, but I can’t bring the lives they stole back.”
Hubert snorted, the hypocrisy. “Is this coming from a mercenary?”
“I am no longer that person.” Words were murmured in a cold manner.
“Well no matter how many fancy titles you take, you will stay the same. The emotionless mercenary, who butchers people without showing any hints of sympathy.” A bitter smile played on his features. “That’s what I think, and I will die on this hill.”
It seemed he finally pulled the right strings and scored some points, because the woman looked so annoyed, and she almost snarled her next words: “Well, good luck at that. We are going to Aviris first and that’s the end of the discussion.” After that the wench stood up to leave.
“Trying to atone for the sins of your past, huh? How sweet.” With that, Byleth brought her fist down on the table, startling Griselda and Maurice at the same time, however couldn’t even make Hubert flinch. In fact, he was smirking for real after weeks for the first time.
Later that night, when he finished his meal alone and in peace, and dodged every single question the inn owners asked about the commotion earlier, his feet carried him to his room. Once in a while it was good to not sleep in that cell he shared with that woman. Now, lying on the white sheets he thought how calm the night was and how soothing the lull felt. He could rest-
Well, he could have, if it were not for the knock on his door.
Brows knitted, the man raised from the bed, menacingly walking to see who dared to intervene his moment of break. Of course, it was no surprise to see the mint curls and puppy eyes when he peeked a look at outside. The excitement could be read on her features. With one breath, she blurted what’s in her mind out: “Would you like to sleep together-”
Hubert shut the door in Byleth’s face in an instant.
Couldn’t he have peace in his life!?