10th day of the Wyvern Moon, 1185
Garreg Mach Monastery
Sunlight streamed into the newly renovated room, bathing it in its delicate warmth. Byleth couldn't resist striding towards the open window, enjoying what little time she had with the warm sun before winter claimed its dominance over Fodlan once more. There was already a pervasive chill in the air, she noted, breathing in the sweet scent of autumn flowers. But at least it was not as bad as the weather in Fhirdiad.
Her gaze turned to the wooden writing desk next to the windowpane. There was the usual clutter on it: quills that were long past their prime, their tips already blunt with overuse; intimidating Church ledgers that refused to balance; and, a stack of documents outlining the reforms that she and Seteth have been working on for the past fortnight. But there was something else, something that commanded the attention of her sea-green eyes: a letter bearing the Blaiddyd coat of arms and Dimitri's distinctly elegant handwriting.
My dearest wife, it began, and the simple endearment still sounded foreign to Byleth despite having been married to him for two months now. It was definitely a strange turn of events, them falling in love with one another, but stranger things have happened—her very existence owed itself to such an anomaly. She's just grateful that the hands of fate led her to this path, one where she could tie her life with Dimitri's, first as an instructor, then as a comrade, before becoming his equal in love. She refused to think about the alternative, a world where she had chosen differently.
A world where she wasn't there to be with him when he was at his lowest. Byleth suppressed a shudder at the thought.
Instead, she traced his handwriting, the corners of her lips rising in a soft smile. The letter recounted his day-to-day activities as the new king of Faerghus, and spoke of the progress of their joint restoration efforts across the now-unified Kingdom. It was more of a status report than anything else, but it was so like Dimitri that she couldn't help but find it endearing.
I just hope he's not overdoing it, she thought, making a mental note to remind him in her next letter.
A knock on the door signalled the arrival of her guests. She gave the letter one last look before replacing it inside its envelope.
"Professor, we're coming in," said a muffled feminine voice. A second later, the heavy oak door opened with a loud creak, revealing the newly-minted Countess Gloucester and Duchess Aegir. To Byleth, though, they were simply Marianne and Hilda, former students turned beloved friends.
"Oh, Professor, it's been so long," Hilda exclaimed as she rushed toward her. While Marianne was dressed in a conservative gray frock that no doubt restricted movement, she donned a pink gown with a questionable slit running up to her thigh, letting her advance across the room with ease.
She gave Byleth a quick hug before saying with mock-reproach, "I can't believe you missed my wedding. Not only mine, but Marianne's too! How cold, Professor. Here I thought we were close."
Byleth was used to her teasing by now, knowing full well that the exaggerated pout directed at her was meant in jest. Regardless, it was still true that she had missed out on what could possibly be her friends' single most important event of their lives. She wore an apologetic smile. "Sorry. The orphans and the poor needed immediate aid."
True enough, she and the Knights have spent the past two months establishing clinics and orphanages in Enbarr, Deirdru and places ravaged by the war. This was, admittedly, a small step towards healing, but a step nonetheless.
"Aww, shucks, when you put it that way, I guess I have to let you off the hook."
"But really, Professor, it's alright. We understand." Marianne's gentle voice was barely above a whisper as usual. "Lorenz and I"—she blushed at this—"we're also focused on rebuilding our territories. We're thinking of helping the people re-establish the industries made superfluous by the war. Farmers, milliners, artisans—they could go back to their crafts now that the fighting has stopped, as long as the proper economies are in place."
"I'm impressed, Marianne. You know so much about these things," Hilda said.
Marianne blushed more. "U-um, my adoptive father has been teaching me. Oh, and Lorenz, too."
Byleth motioned for them to sit on the simple chaise lounge that now adorned her eastern wall. "Isn't he meeting with Seteth today?"
Marianne nodded, graciously accepting the teacup that was handed to her. "Yes, along with Ferdinand. Lorenz mentioned about forming a trade council to address the volatile prices across territories."
There was a hint of wifely pride in her statement that didn't escape Byleth's notice, and the former teacher was hard-pressed not to tease her about it. To think that this was coming from the same girl who thought she was cursed and didn't deserve to live, let alone be happy.
Hilda seemed to have noticed it, too, but she merely gave her friend a fond look, before taking a tentative sip of her chamomile tea. "Ah, so that's what Ferdie's been up to. He's been very enthusiastic about his duties lately, more so than usual." She set her cup on the small table beside her. "You know, I think my brother would be interested in joining that council. He's always going on about wanting to help out more. Silly man, that's why people have such high expectations of him."
Marianne's eyes lit up. "Lord Holst would? Lorenz would be delighted."
"Sure, let me recommend that to him next time I get the compulsion to write home. Better him than me, that's for sure. Especially..."
In the process of pouring herself a cup, Byleth's hand stilled. She didn't know why, but she was sure something significant has happened.
"Especially...?" repeated Marianne, her delicate brows meeting in confusion.
Hilda dropped her gaze, almost shyly. "Promise you'll keep this a secret?"
The two nodded.
"You must keep quiet about this, because even Ferdie doesn't know yet." Then, she lifted her eyes, which were glistening with happy tears. "I-I'm pregnant. I'm having a child."
This was met with an uncharacteristic squeal from Marianne. "Oh, Hilda," she sniffed, eyes misting. "That's beyond wonderful! I'm so happy for you."
Reaching over to give her friend's hand a loving squeeze, Byleth offered a warm "Congratulations." Yet as she did, her mind began to unearth questions that have long been buried. The very same questions her father never gave answers to.
What does it mean when people say they became pregnant? How did that happen? How did they manage to put a baby inside a woman's stomach?
She recalled how Jeralt broke out in a fit of laughter at the last question, startling the members of their mercenary group who were going about their own business. After recovering, however, his face wore an uncomfortable expression, and brushed her off, stating that she didn't have to think about such things yet. He would tell her when the time was right. And Byleth did as he said, and never gave the matter another thought; she had no reason to.
Until now. But her father was gone, taking his knowledge with him.
An unfamiliar sense of dread snaked down her spine as a thought hit her. What if she never figured out how? What if she never learned the steps to beget a child? Sure, the idea of becoming a mother never occurred to her, but now that it has... she couldn't turn back. Her entire being rebelled at the prospect of a life devoid of golden-haired, blue-eyed children that she and Dimitri would teach swordplay to, read to, and care for.
It was the first time she felt this yearning. She was unprepared for it and for the unsettling realization that there was something she wanted more than anything—a family with the man she loved.
She eyed her friends, barely listening to their exchange about potential names for the baby. And then, she decided to get her answers.
The lady in question was in the process of taking a bite of cake, her fork pausing in mid-air. "Yes, what is it, Professor? Don't tell me you zoned out again," she teased.
Byleth shook her head. Then, taking a bracing breath, she said, "I was wondering how a person gets pregnant."
The fork fell onto the dessert plate with a sharp clang. Utter silence descended on the room; Hilda's and Marianne's faces were pictures of confusion.
What was it about the subject that provoked such a weird reaction from people? Byleth contemplated with a frown.
It was Hilda who broke the silence first. She looked at her former teacher uncertainly. "Er, what do you mean, Professor?"
"I want to understand how someone gets pregnant, like you have. What did you do?"
Again, an uncomfortable silence fell heavy on the air. Byleth, unnerved by this, added, "Jeralt never explained."
Marianne's face flushed furiously, as though suddenly scorched. "Oh, my," she spluttered, covering her cheeks with trembling hands.
Hilda cleared her throat. "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but... does that mean..." Her gaze flickered at her friend curiously. "... you've never..."
Byleth raised a quizzical brow. "Never what?"
"Er, lain with someone? You know, shared your bed with anyone?"
Byleth blinked. Dimitri had asked something similar that night. Were sleeping arrangements important to the creation of children? "I've slept alone my entire life, except that one time after my wedding. I had to travel back to Garreg Mach the next day. It has been two months since."
"And during the wedding night... what exactly happened?" Hilda probed.
"Stop, we shouldn't pry," Marianne pleaded. It was obvious that the entire situation made her terribly uncomfortable. "Oh, dear, this is embarrassing."
Why was it embarrassing? Intrigued, Byleth answered before Hilda could retract her question. "I was told that the tradition was to sleep together on the same bed, and so we did." There was the issue with her bridal wear, though. The flimsy garment did nothing dispel the chill of the night.
"We talked for a while, before Dimitri blew the candles and bid me goodnight."
That was clearly not what Hilda was expecting if her stunned expression was anything to go by. "That's it? He didn't kiss you, or—"
"Oh, he did. He kissed me goodnight." A sudden wave of awareness warmed her body at the memory of the strange kiss. It had been open-mouthed and wet, and definitely longer than the chaste peck of lips they shared during the wedding ceremony. It gave her the strangest urge to run her hands through the panes of his back and pull him closer. She never had that urge before. How odd.
"And then?" came Hilda's follow-up.
"I fell asleep, and he followed suit."
"That's strange. Lorenz definitely..." Marianne didn't complete her sentence, but threw a speaking glance at Hilda, who nodded in response.
"Ferdie, too," Hilda murmured.
This exchange did nothing to assuage Byleth's curiosity, which was now skirting around the border of impatience. "I still don't understand. What's wrong?"
Hilda sighed in resignation. "I guess it's up to dear ol' me to explain, then." She made a show of smoothing her skirt, as though unsure with how to proceed. "You see, there's a special... er, embrace that a couple needs to do to get pregnant."
Embrace? Was it that easy to get with child?
Hilda continued, her cheeks turning the same shade as her hair. "It involves them being unclothed—"
A choking sound erupted at the last word. It came from Marianne, who has apparently averted herself from their general direction, her hands still shielding her face.
"—then, they embrace each other, skin to skin as an expression of their feelings. You, er, never did this on your wedding night?"
Aware of the deep flush that crept up her neck, Byleth shook her head. Now she understood why it was such a delicate subject—it involved getting naked, of all things. She felt the heat rising up to the roots of her hair as the inevitable image of her and Dimitri naked together entered her mind.
"That's the strange part, though. It's usually the man who's eager to do this, especially when they're in love with a woman."
Marianne finally had the courage to chime in, "And it's obvious that Dimitri loves you deeply."
"So, why hasn't he done this yet?" Hilda tapped her chin pensively. "Though... I suppose there's no reason why you can't initiate it, Professor."
This drew a shocked gasp from Marianne. "B-but that's—"
"What? Dimitri's clearly too much of a gentleman, or too slow for his own good. If the Professor says she's ready, there's nothing wrong with her giving him the proper encouragement."
Byleth didn't know how to respond to this, the mental image of her and Dimitri unclothed was still doing unusual things to her body. Things that she was ill-equipped to identify.
But one thing she was sure of: she wanted to have children. Their children. And if she had to take the initiative, she would.
Leaning forward, she wore the determined look she always had before a battle. "Tell me, what should I do?"
Hilda's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Well, you have no choice but to seduce him."