1st of Verdant Rain Moon, 1182
The ceaseless rains that satiate the verdant landscape of Fódlan are accompanied by fierce winds and mighty roars of thunder. This abundance of rain, sparkling as it falls against beams of emerging sunlight, is a constant reminder to the people of Fódlan that the nature of war is ever wild and unpredictable.
It didn’t take long for Marianne to learn that when the world collapses around you, you not only lose track of time—you lose track of yourself. She could barely force her eyes open and her hands and fingers trembled as if they alone were caught in the midsts of Leicester’s most dangerous tremors. She hated this feeling—and yet, she loved it.
To her, all the late nights spent writing to Adrestia were heavenly, even if her body was wracked with more than enough pain to make the toughest of soldiers to succumb. It was more than worth it in her eyes.
As the morning heralded dawn and the sun’s light shone faintly, obscured by her blinds, Marianne sighed a deep sigh that gave her a distinctive taste of the dryness that lingered in her mouth. The realization that she had pulled another all-nighter didn’t worry her, though—she was far too used to it by now—it was more or less the fact she hadn’t slept in two days.
She cursed under her breath, and fumbled with the blank pieces of lined paper on her desk, scattering them about until she found it. The letter she had received from Emperor Edelgard just last evening. So badly did she feel the urge to press it against her chest one last time—but she settled for reading it instead before she’d have to place it in the lockbox with the others.
My dearest, Marianne,
I know it has been one month and two weeks since we’ve spoken last. I was hoping that I would be able to write to you sooner, however with the rallies within the Empire caused by those who have allied with the Kingdom, I’m sure it’s understandable to the reason as to why I have been absent for so long. I hope you’ll accept my apology.
Regardless, how are you and Margrave Edmund? I do hope you both are in good health. You’ve told me that relations within the Leicester Alliance Roundtable are also a bit tense. Is that true? If so, we should find a better way to communicate. It won’t be long until they’re checking the content of our letters.
Honestly, I wish we had the time to speak more, and face to face as well. I miss our conversations on the academy bench about all the different species of birds you’ve met in Leicester. I hope that despite everything that’s happened, you’ve still found some time to enjoy life. You’ve worked so hard for me and I do, truly, respect that.
Regardless, there is something I wish to speak to you about when we meet face to face, and hopefully, that’ll be soon. Our group simply isn’t the same without you here with us, and in fact, Petra has been begging to see you again.
However, I won’t keep you for too long. I’m sure you must be more than a little busy. Please write to me as soon as you can. I would love to hear from you sooner rather than later and spare no details about the current political affairs within the Alliance.
With love, your dearest, Greta.
Marianne reread that first line again—My dearest, Marianne. She thought it was amazing how a mere comma could change an entire sentence, and how a mere sentence could make her face so red.
She knew that Edelgard’s use of it was to make it seem as if it a whirlwind romance had blossomed between her and an Imperial citizen with whom she had attended Garreg Mach. There were more upsides than downsides if her letters were read upon entry of Leicester. That, and it was generally a better look than her talking with the very same emperor many a citizen deemed as history’s worst tyrant. It was just a shame that they weren’t around one another long enough to learn some type of code.
Yet, the idea that Edelgard would ever see her that way—as crazy and impossible as it seemed—was more than satisfying, even if it was a simple fantasy. Clinging to those quixotic daydreams entertained her in a way she wasn’t quite sure of.
She always admired Edelgard, but more so the moment she declared war on the Church of Seiros. Such a display of power and confidence was… enthralling, to say the least. She always knew that Edelgard had the power to change the world, but to do it in such a tempestuous way was always something that Marianne adored about her.
She couldn’t wait to see her again.
“Marianne,” called her adoptive father, “are you awake?!”
With her eyes acquiescing to gravity, she yelled, “I am,” and proceeded to rub them tiredly. That was just like him. Breakfast at dawn, with the four years she had spent with him, she still wondered how he managed to catch glimpses of sunrise without fail every morning.
She sighed, stood up from her desk, then took a moment of pause. She felt the effects of fatigue on her body, and for a moment, considered submitting to them, before shaking her head and walking over to her bathroom.
As she looked in the mirror, she saw the monster staring back at her. Marianne swore she had never looked more awful in her life.
The things that ensnared her attention the first were her eyes. The dark circles that played around tawny irises marred her face with what may as well have been a body-concocted tar with how dark they were. She had them yesterday, but they were ten-times worse today.
In addition, her hair was strewn about like loose pieces of hay, her skin was pale, and on her face, had begun to hang loosely beneath her eyes, giving a once-pretty young woman the visage of a hag. She hated it—but she dreaded the fact that the only way to fix it was sleep. There was always so much to do.
She fixed her appearance the best she could, but combs, brushes and skin cream could only do so much. She considered herself lucky that she was able to reach something presentable within only twenty minutes, and hurried downstairs. She was immediately met with the smells of sizzling bacon and sugary coffee.
She found her father tending to the stove. They usually made breakfast together, but she wasn’t surprised to find him doing it herself. She was late, after all, and he probably had some important meeting with the Leicester Alliance Roundtable to scurry off to—he usually did.
“Good morning, Father,” she greeted from the doorway, smiling and placing her hand beneath her bust as she bowed—even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “I’m sorry I was late. I spent a lot of time getting ready… My deepest apologies.”
“Yes, you did,” he laughed, “but it’s not an issue. Take a seat; breakfast will be ready in a minute or two.”
She obeyed, seating herself at the mahogany table and placing her hand atop it, waiting patiently. She scanned the room but an accidental glimpse at his face pulled her attention. He had a gash. It was healing, but visibly still fresh.
“Father,” she started, concern clear in her voice, “that awful cut… How did you get it?”
He raised an eyebrow but soon caught wind of what she was talking about. He raised his thumb to rub it, then chuckled as he shook his head.
“This old thing?” he asked. “It’s nothing. A wound from another squabble at The Roundtable.”
“Oh… You all are resorting to violence now?”
“Possibly,” he answered, giving a half-hearted shrug.
She blinked rapidly. “P-Possibly?! Father, you must understand my concern. If anything were to happen to you, I’d…”
She paused, ultimately silencing herself. She couldn’t deal with further fueling those pestering thoughts. She knew that The Alliance was slowly collapsing in on itself, but for this… It was frightening. Even though she knew she probably wanted this...
Despite living in Leicester, Marianne had labeled herself one of the biggest Empire allies—she did have the privilege of talking directly with the emperor, after all—but she didn’t want harm to come to her father above anything… She knew if she ever did properly join the Empire, she’d have to battle the classmates she had for an, albeit, short time in the Golden Deer before she transferred to the Black Eagles’ class, and she had long since made peace with that fact, but her father was another matter.
“Marianne, I’ll be fine,” he chuckled. “You should know better than anyone how such political affairs work. We all need one another. A death caused by a heated debate would benefit no one. The Alliance needs all five of us to function or the war will consume us all.”
“That’s true… I… apologize for worrying.”
“Don’t. You still apologize over nothing these days. It completely fine to be worried about your father, dear. At least it’s better to see you’ve gotten more vocal these days. I swear, before you had gone to Garreg Mach, you’d speak a total of twenty words a week. Look at how far you’ve come!”
As another one of her father’s boisterous laughs echoed throughout the room, Marianne couldn’t help but turn her head as her cheeks reddened. She hadn’t given it too much thought most of the time like she used to, but she knew he was right. She had made progress; good progress.
And yet, for some reason, Marianne felt as if she was inadequate—like she was nowhere near where he talked about. She wasn’t sure why; she was never sure why. What she did know was that she still had work to do.
Her thoughts were cut off by a loud yawn that may as well have nearly caused her jaw to fall to the ground. She didn’t think much of it at first, she too fatigued to care, but once reason and awareness returned, so did embarrassment.
Covering her lips, she softly squeaked, “Sorry…”
And her father laughed. “No sleep again tonight, Marianne?”
Her gaze turned to the tiled floor; her hands found their way folded in her lap. “I’m sorry, Father…”
“You shouldn’t apologize to me,” he said. “You should apologize to yourself. What you’re doing isn’t healthy to your body, Marianne. What would you do if you collapsed one day…?”
The savory smells of eggs and bacon hit Marianne’s nose the moment her plate touched the table, delivered with the brightest of smiles, despite his comment. His breakfast was always the best, and even after years and years of the same meals, she couldn’t help but look forward to them every time.
Marianne’s lips curled into a smile, but she was suddenly pulled out of her delectation when her father suddenly asked, “What would you do then? The Edmund family would lose their only heir, but not only. Your friends would miss you; I would miss you. I wouldn’t want to lose you over some poems.”
Poems, Marianne repeated in her mind—then bit her lip.
She always felt guilty whenever he said that. She always hated lying to him, but she knew she had to—for the good of the Fódlan. One white lie was worth the Empire’s cause; the cause she believed in.
“T-They’re important to me,” Marianne said. She paused for a moment to concoct another lie before she continued, “The one I wrote last night was one about a note to my past self.”
“When you attended Garreg Mach?”
As she nodded, a nervous smile overtook her lips. “Yes! Exactly, Father. I worked quite hard on it…”
“Oh?” He blinked. “I would love to read it sometime. Unless it’s personal, that is?”
An unanticipated knock on the door suddenly came. It was in that moment, Marianne thought, once again, perhaps the goddess did exist because she thought she was far too lucky for that to be mere coincidence.
The sound of her gulp was drowned out by the confusion she and her father both shared as their eyes moved to the door, and then, they shared curious glances, as if to ask the other, Do you know who that is?
“I-I’ll answer it,” Marianne stuttered, slamming her hands on the table a bit too hard and accidentally making the dishes and cups shake.
Her father’s response was a mere haphazard shrug as his fingers snaked through the handle of the teacup and he raised it to his lips to take a sip.
Marianne was admittedly more than a bit anxious; she always was answering the door nowadays. She always felt as if an Alliance soldier would turn up at her door with accusations of her supporting the Empire.
One did; her jaw nearly fell agape as she opened the door.
Eyes wide, Marianne exclaimed, “C-Commander Goneril…?!”
The woman only pouted, placing her hands on her hips in a fashion she had grown accustomed to. “It’s ‘Sergeant Goneril’ now, actually. And you’re still calling me that? I’m in common clothes, sheesh! Just call me by my name. Say it with me now—Hilda.” With a giggle, she chanted, “Hilda, Hilda, Hilda,” softly, a snicker following soon after.
It was in a way Marianne remembered from a time when innocence salted the earth. It made her… smile. Even though she hadn’t seen Hilda in ages, she was happy she hadn’t lost her cheerfulness, even if her arrogance still came as compliments.
“Well, Hilda, you’re… certainly in a good mood today… It’s nice to see you again, but it’s a surprise. I haven’t seen you in six months… Um, color me more than a bit surprised…! I’m not entirely sure what to say…!”
Her hands found their way in front of her, her fingers brushing the end of her peach-strewn blouse. “It’s funny, that. That you’ve gone six months without seeing me and that you don’t know what to say. Same old Marianne, I see. You should smile more.”
Anxious, Marianne raised her index fingers to the sides of her lips, then she actually frowned, confused by Hilda’s words.
“Am I not smiling?” she asked. “I-I thought I would be… I’m sorry…”
“Sheesh, and still easy to mess with too.” Her smile spread wider and she lightly punched Marianne in the shoulder. “Never change, Marianne… Though, you should sleep more. Your eyes look awful.”
Marianne lightly rubbed her shoulder, her smile gradually turning less shy as her anxiousness faded; that’s when realization set in. She was talking to Hilda. Comment about her eyes aside, nine times out of ten, she acted this way because she wanted something.
Doubt settled in her mind—but she knew she couldn’t ask outright. She didn’t doubt the fact that she was happy to see her either, but something just didn’t add up.
“I haven’t been sleeping well recently, but that doesn’t matter. So, what has you so cheerful today…?” she asked, clearing her throat soon after. “Why are you here?”
“It does matter though, Marianne…” She frowned. “Sleep is important. Regardless, I’m happy to see you. I wanted to invite you to tea.”
“Tea? At an hour past dawn…?”
“Yup. Is that really so strange? I haven’t seen you in such a long time. I thought I’d come to you when I’d have some time on my hands. With Empire and Kingdom dastards trying to kill me and managing political affairs, it’s a little bit easy to see why I’m so busy.”
Marianne looked back and shot a glance at her father, who had been completely silent up until now, a glance that he immediately returned. As he raised the cup to his lips once more, she saw it. The doubt that they shared.
She was relieved, at least she knew it wasn’t her paranoia taking the reigns of her thoughts, but that sense of comfort was short-lived. Maybe her thoughts about that Alliance soldier weren’t too far from fact…
Still, Marianne deemed it unlikely for Hilda to lead her into an ambush. She knew she could be rude, even perhaps a bit nosy, but one thing Hilda wasn’t was malevolent. She weighed her odds carefully, and curiosity begged her to roll the dice, so she did.
“All right…” Marianne sighed. “I’ll come to tea with you. It would be nice to catch up… At what time would you like to meet…?”
“Is right now okay?” she asked with a coy smile.
“Right now?!” Marianne blinked a few words, letting the validity of Hilda’s words settle in her mind. Even though part of her saw this coming, she still was in disbelief that, yes, Hilda Goneril did, in fact, invite her to tea before one in the afternoon. “W-Where would we even get the tea now…? Will we walk over to your residence…?”
“You’re so silly. Don’t you know ‘going to tea’ is a saying by now? We’re not actually going to have tea. More like a picnic. Edmund has excellent beachside. It would be a shame if I didn’t catch another glimpse before,” she sighed then groaned, “more paperwork.” She stretched. “I really need a break.”
Margrave Edmund cleared his throat. “Hilda, dear, you know it would be a shame if I cooked all this breakfast for no reason. I was looking forward to having a nice breakfast with my daughter. Why, all this food will go to waste!”
“It’ll be fine,” Hilda said. “She can take it with her. It’s just a few minutes walk, after all. I need to talk to her about something really important. Can’t you help a girl out, Mr. Edmund? I promise I won’t keep her out for long. And, I’ll put in a good word for you to my father.”
Margrave Edmund stroked the grey hairs of her salt and pepper beard and closed his eyes in faux consideration. “Well,” he started, before pausing. “I suppose if you really could… It would prevent me from getting another bruise… If so, I’ll let you have her for an hour or two…”
“Great!” Hilda clapped her hands together. “You heard the man, Marianne. Let’s get going!”
“Oh, but the food will get cold…” she said as her eyes looked to the floor, somber as midnight rain. Then they flicked back up to Hilda, then to her own clothes. “Oh, and I’m still in my nightgown too…! Oh dear…!” Marianne blushed—sighing as she began to switch her feet, her body begging for movement. “I’ll hurry, then… I’ll be back soon…!”
As much as Marianne didn’t want her breakfast to become cold and hard, she decided to resign to her fate, regardless. She was more than a little anxious to get it over with—all of it. Skipping the futilities of conversation the way she did gave her time to prepare—for the best, and the worst.
She couldn’t help but wonder, though, what Hilda had planned. And that feeling only satiated her thoughts when, in the midst of her fleeing sprint, she heard Hilda whisper to herself, her tone sullen.
“Yup… Same old Marianne… Never change…”