The heady smell of oak and paper blanketed him with the familiarity of a thousand warm nights. His sister always talked of the ocean, the salt on her tongue, and the shifting sands warming against her soles. She spoke in a voice that betrayed her longing to return, the way the knights would ache for their bed after a long march from war. Sometimes he felt bad for her, but he could never understand her sentiments, not fully, anyway. His home had always been on the second floor of Garreg Mach, among the sanctuary of tomes and notes that nestled the entire history of the continent among them. Linhardt never saw the point of exploring like his siblings did, why waste time and precious energy when you can just explore them through the voices of ones who’ve already tread that path?
Of course, that didn’t apply to paths yet to be cut through. Although the allure of such things still tugged at him sometimes, between his father’s insistence on staying in the Monastery, and his own fatigue, it wasn’t worth exploring.
“Oh, Linhardt, my boy, it’s nice to see you back.”
“Yes. You too, Tomas.”
A serene man, he was, but Linhardt saw no point in indulging him in conversations. The man must have been used to their short exchanges by now, and there was nothing the librarian could point out to him that he didn’t already know himself.
When Linhardt was younger- relatively, (if anything, he was much the same size, though his father insisted on him cutting his hair back then) he remembered Tomas as a bright-eyed young monk. He didn’t know his almanacs from his storybooks but smiled among the shelves like it was where his life was destined. He is much the same now- wiser, yet still kind, still bursting with excitement over any knowledge learned and shared, but there was a tug at his smile that set Linhardt on edge, and he couldn’t pin-point why.
“By the by, I believe your father has been looking for you.” Tomas interrupted in the still of the library, his brows scrunched together (yet it doesn’t look like genuine confusion- why-)
“Is that so?”
“He should be in his office, although I do not see why he wouldn’t just come get you himself.”
Linhardt gave a non committal hum, shutting the book splayed across his lap. An archive of all family members of the Gautier family, with specific notes on their crests and how they passed. He’d looked through it several times now, in the hopes that maybe he could figure out a pattern this time around. (He didn’t.)
“Don’t keep him waiting, he probably has quite a lot to deal with in preparation for the new school year.”
“Yes, yes. See you around, Tomas.”
Best for his own laziness, Seteth’s office was only a few short steps away from the library. When he stepped inside, he wasn’t surprised to find Ferdinand already there, bobbing on the soles of his boots impatiently. Before his younger brother could open his mouth, Linhardt put up a hand to stop him.
“Yes, I know that I am late. Let’s just get this lecture over with, hm?”
Seteth gave him a weary look, (one that he really should not be used to, but has been directed at him so much that Linhardt sometimes wonders if it’d give his father permanent crow’s feet), and sighed.
“With the school year coming up, I’d like to go over certain ground rules with you both—”
“Again, father?” Ferdinand whined, his green eyes shining to match the frown he sported. Linhardt sometimes wondered about the logistics of using his brother’s face to buy himself some favours, so tempting was the pull of Ferdinand’s pout on any decent human being—
“Yes, again .” Well. His father wasn’t a human being.
“Is there a reason Flayn is not with us today?” Linhardt had already sat down on the office desk, playing with the sleeves of the monastery robe.
“Because this is a matter I do not well, I do not expect her to have trouble with.”
“Ah, so you already—”
“Linhardt, please keep your comments to yourself for the moment, this is serious.”
“Yes, brother, it is of utmost importance to—”
“Ferdinand, you are not absolved either.”
Another heavy sigh, one that betrayed the years of suffering of a single father of three. If it wasn’t for the blood that ran through their veins, Linhardt was sure the man would have gone grey by now. An amusing thought.
“Regardless, I would like to let you know that since students are to be joining the Monastery again soon, you two are not to accost them under any circumstances.”
Ferdinand quirked his head. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means, Ferdinand, that you can not go around lecturing the students. You may think you are being helpful, but more than several have sent in complaints about you.”
The offence that passed across his brother’s face prompted Linhardt to snort. His brother may be several years— decades— older than any fresh-faced youth that comes through these walls, but his babyface ensures that no one could ever tell regardless. Proud recitations of the tenets of Seiros, memorized and spoken like a mantra, grated on him well enough, Linhardt couldn’t imagine how irritating the boy must be to the fledgling noble children that barely knew him.
“Well I— I am just trying to set them on the right path! Like you, father!”
“I understand that, but please leave that to me and the other professors. It is our jobs, after all.”
“But is it not a waste to not push them even further?” He stomped his foot, never having grown out of the habit. “Garreg Mach is the cradle of Fodlan, father! All future leaders and the arbiters of history learn and grow among these cherished halls! We have the opportunity to change the course of history with every student we guide. So is it not our responsibility as members of the Church to make sure it is a bright one?”
A visionary, he was, always focused on the world ahead of him. Linhardt supposed that he himself was the one who would come to read the accounts and passages written by the ones Ferdinand guided. Or eventually, maybe. It would be admirable if Ferdinand was even half as worldly as he believed himself to be.
“Yes however—” Seteth pinched his forehead, letting out a breathy sigh that dispelled his budding frustrations. His frown had turned softer at the edges, then: such is the blessing of being the spoiled sweet youngest. “Teaching isn’t simply making sure your students learn, but to connect with them and relate with them. If you can’t establish a foundation of understanding, then wouldn’t it come across as arrogant?”
“I—” Ferdinand shut his mouth, mulling over the words with his lip between his teeth. “...I think I understand.”
“Good. I am sure you will be a wonderful teacher one day, Ferdinand. I am sorry that you have to wait so long for it.”
“Nonsense! For now, I get to learn from the best myself!”
The soft chuckle from Seteth’s lips was one he expected, and Linhardt rolled his eyes. Truly a charmer, that one. If his brother ever saw fit to raze the world, Linhardt could bet a smile and a well-articulated excuse would be enough to have the Gods themselves fall over their feet to apologize.
“Yes, I won’t preach to the students either, I promise.”
“I am not worried about that, Linhardt. In fact, you have the opposite problem.”
“Is that so?” He could already feel the coming of a headache, the dregs of drowsiness creeping at the edge of his temple. He could tune his father out, but it would be a pain to bear another lecture, so pinching his skin, he willed himself to meet Seteth’s eyes.
It was boring, so he ended up focusing on the wall behind him instead.
“Your…. crest research. I need you to stop bothering the students with it. It’s bad enough to have Hanneman running around, but at least he tries to keep his more unusual requests at bay. I swear, he’s been an awful influence on you.”
“I do not see what’s so bad about it.”
“Ha—” Ferdinand cut in, throwing his head back obnoxiously. “You do not recall when you asked that woman last year about a sample of her blood?”
Oh for Goddess’ sake. “How was I supposed to know she was on her—”
“-Let us not bring that incident up again. Ever.” Seteth cut in, so quickly that it would’ve been amusing to see the blush on his cheeks if he wasn’t in the middle of a lecture. “Or let it happen again.”
“Yes, yes, I learned my lesson.”
The footsteps coming forward put him on edge, as did the clasp of a hand on his shoulder. Seteth must have noticed him stiffening, because he immediately retracted it, and brushed his hair back instead. “Linhardt, I know it must be… difficult, to understand the students sometimes, but I need you to show some common courtesy and not simply demand them things for your curiosity.”
Linhard suppressed the urge to fidget, letting out an annoyed sigh instead. “I believe I am being very considerate. I’m saying my please and thank yous, am I not?“
“There is more to their culture than that! You hardly ever leave the library except to ask about the personal history of people you don’t know! I would not be so aghast by it if you were to actually attempt to make any friends!”
“I do not see your point. Once I get my information, wouldn’t it be far ruder to simply leave a relationship I had no stake in?”
“Linhardt, the students here are not simply books for you to peruse at your own leisure. They have their own lives, their own beliefs, their own histories, and their own burdens. I need you to understand that, and treat them accordingly.”
It was a speech he heard many times, Ferdinand beside him on more than half the times. On a theoretical level, it was easy to grasp, but any attempts to apply it was downright impossible. Each year blurred into one another, with the ball, then the graduation ceremony passing with one blink of sleep to the next. Faces came and went with as little fanfare as the falling of leaves. Inevitable, and yet inconsequential and fleeting.
How can he be expected to remember, let alone care, for the lives of people that would remain for but a minute of his own life? He couldn’t see how Seteth managed it.
“I will try my best” he lied.
“Thank you. This year in particular is a critical one, as we have the heirs of the three different ruling powers as our house leaders, so I need you two on your best behaviour, understood?”
The taste of papyrus in the air had gone dull now, and when Linhardt returned to the library, he let his eyelids droop and blanketed himself among the stacks.
The usual punctuation of events between the Lone Moon to the Great Tree Moon, cherry blossoms, inter-house feasts, assemblies held by Archbishop Rhea to usher in the new year; came and went as the bleary fog between his naps. The Great Tree Moon, if nothing else, was the perfect time of the year for naps, and he could spend the entire month in the comfort of sleep if he was allowed to. (His sister always scolded him for sleeping too much, and always made sure to wake him up with her little slaps. It was irritating, but the cocktail of fear and dread that shone behind her turquoise eyes, in her unshed tears, always dulled any harsh words he could possibly have for her.)
The timeline of events that would happen afterwards- the mock battle, another inter-house feast, some mission or another was swept in the winds of— change, if he was allowed to be cliched. The arrival of a mysterious mercenary as a professor would have been a minor change in the usual schedule, and even Archbishop Rhea’s friendly doting on her— (Byleth? Was that her name?) would have been a fun little quirk of an otherwise boring year. It wasn’t until he passed by Hanneman’s office, spotting the dim purple glow out of the corner of his vision, that his eyes snapped open, his heart thudding like he had just ran a marathon. So foreign was the feeling, that at first, Linhardt was sure he was going to die.
A crest. An unknown crest, by the looks of it. Yet something about it felt all-encompassing and familiar. He didn’t even notice himself reaching out for it until he heard the creak of the door open, and whipped his face towards it. The eyes he met look at him quizzically, and he felt like a child with his hands in the monastery sweets pantry.
“Linhardt,” Professor Hanneman quirked a smirk, his eyes twinkling behind his monocle. “I see you are interested in that crest too, hm?”
“...An unknown one. I did not know there were still undiscovered ones.” He tried to step back, dusting his hands on his robes. An illogical course of action, but one he couldn’t help doing for whatever reason.
“It’s an exciting discovery, is it not! I was looking to share it with you right now, in fact.”
“Do you know who it belongs to?”
“The new professor. A strange coincidence, yes? At first she saves our students, the Archbishop takes her as a professor, she’s Jeralt the bladebreaker’s daughter, and to top it all off, she even has a crest that no one has seen before!”
“Fascinating…” Linhardt bit his lips, his brows furrowed. An idea formed in the corner of his mind, and before he could stop himself, he uttered: “What class does she teach, by the way?”
“I believe the Black Eagles.”
“Hmm…” It was an illogical plan, but perhaps if he explained it to his father, use his own words against him, he could— he could. “Thank you, Hanneman.”
Linhardt made sure to have Archbishop Rhea within his presence when he asked. She, like the library, and like the pond out near the marketplace with the never-changing dock, was a constant for as long as he’s stayed at the monastery (several decades, with moments of respite in Enbarr or some other cities. Each time to get lost within the crowds of people, each time returning with a new hairstyle and christened with new names).
Though as constant as she was, something about her felt disconnected, as if she walked on an earth a few steps above their own. For as long as he had known her, she was Rhea. Rhea was kind, and she was gentle, he could remember many a time when she would sing to him, the scratch of her nails against his scalp, the tickle of her hair on his nose. In the human sense of family, Linhardt could perhaps consider her an Aunt.
Saint Seiros existed as an apparition, a being that was at once both Rhea and not. A lofty ideal, a prophet, a complete stranger, yet a walking encyclopedia of everything he could possibly ever want to know.
Though as much as he tried, any attempts to clutch at her truth bore nothing. It was as fruitless as trying to grasp mist. Intangible and ever-changing, she was both a pillar of strength for all the church’s followers, and as ephemeral and fragile as a butterfly’s wings. When Ferdinand would ask about it, Linhardt could never find the right words to explain. He could never explain her tender hushes whenever he asked what the Elites were like. Nor her plastered smile whenever he asked about what evil the Goddess blessed them to fight against. He learned long ago not to expect answers about himself, and so turned to research as solace.
There was a collection of books Seteth had banned up in the attics where Linhardt dwelled, taken before they could be dumped out with the history no one wanted to know. If they were allowed their secrets, Linhardt was allowed his.
Right now, her presence was an advantage, and when he asked Seteth to join the Black Eagles, giving him platitudes of “Your speech has moved me, father, I would like to try and truly bond with the students this time around.” and other such nonsense, Seteth, predictably, was against it.
Rhea, sort-of predictably, with her serene smile and unearthly air, laughed off his father’s arguments like a gale against some kindle. “This is new for you Linhardt, I imagine Professor Byleth piqued your interest?”
Her gaze was too knowing, but he quashed his discomfort, not allowing his chin to dip. “Yes.”
“Then I give you my blessings.” She turned to his father. “Seteth, this is a good opportunity! You go on and on about how the boy could never connect with the students, but you give him no chance to do so!”
“But Rhea—! You do not even know her! I do not feel comfortable leaving my child in the hands of some mercenary from the middle of nowhere!”
“She’s Jeralt’s daughter. It will be fine.”
Seteth grimaced. “You are being far too lenient about this! Consider my situation—”
“And I say he will be fine. If anything befalls him, I will take full responsibility.”
“What are you saying?! I don’t want your responsibility I want my children sa—”
Oh bless the Goddess for Ferdinand’s impeccable timing. His brother stood in the entrance to the alcove, his head cocked with concern. Somehow he always knew when an argument was escalating, and Linhardt immediately latched an arm around his shoulders, smiling innocently.
Ferdinand, predictably, gave him a look like he had just grown two heads.
“If you’re worried for us, how about if you allow Ferdinand to join as well?” Linhardt drawled, squishing his cheek with his brother’s to emphasize his point. “I’m sure between the two of us, we can keep each other out of trouble.”
Ferdiand gawked at him. “Excuse me?”
“Shush Ferdinand, just go along for now.”
“Linhardt, don’t drag your brother into—”
“Yes! A wonderful idea, Linhardt!” Rhea clapped her hands. “It wouldn’t do well for them to simply stand by in the monastery their whole lives, would it not? Experience is a valuable teacher, and I think that it is important for everyone to learn that.”
The steady gaze of three pairs of turquoise must have been Seteth’s limit, and after a beat, he threw his hands up with a defeated groan. “Fine. Fine . But should we not ask Ferdinand if he wants this first?”
Ferdinand blinked. “Er, what are you speaking of, exactly?”
Seteth muttered. “Linhardt here would like to join the Black Eagles. You don’t have to follow him of course, it’s your choice-”
Ferdinand gasped, pupils dilating much like a cat’s. “Black Eagles? The Black Eagles? The House with Edelgard of Hresvelg fame?!”
Linhardt looked at his father with a smirk, letting Ferdinand go to cross his own arms over his chest. His brother was practically vibrating in excitement, and he knew that whatever protest Seteth could possibly have had now all but crumpled. Checkmate.
“She is the future Emperor of Adrestia- and the descendant of Saint Seiros herself!” (Linhardt ignored the way Rhea’s smile tightened, just a bit). “If I could— if I could help someone like that, think of all the good I could do! The lives I could change! Yes. Yes. Absolutely, yes.”
How his brother remembered the names of all these people, he could never know. But Linhardt had never been interested in human politics. Regardless, he got what he wanted, and by the next night, they moved into the empty dorms set a ground below the nobility of the Black Eagles house.
Classes beget learning, and Linhardt learned that his Professor didn’t seem bothered by much. Most people found Linhardt’s unblinking gaze unsettling, and with an actual excuse to examine his subject of research at any time, she had faced his scrutiny as an ant under a looking glass. She never seemed to burn though, gently reminding him to study Reason this week, or to hand him one of the many vulneries she bought for their class.
He had also learned that his house leader was incredibly, incredibly annoying. If his father was a chain around his leg, than Edelgard was an anvil strapped to his neck, scowling at him and knocking on his dorm room every morning to make sure he went to his classes. “I won’t go easy on you just because your father is a member of the clergy!” she always says, and every morning he wonders if he should just quit and laze about in the library without a 5’2’’ upstart hanging off his every action.
But that would require admitting to Seteth that he was wrong, and he couldn’t be doing that now, could he?
Beyond the minor quirks and observations of his classmates, most that he could not remember the names of, nothing he gained felt tangible, or even necessary. That was, until he was thrust into his first mission.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing Linhardt learned was that battles absolutely, most definitely, did not suit him.
Blood is— was, never a problem for him. He collected samples from any student willing to donate, and helped many an experiment of Hanneman’s. He had even made a habit of visiting Manuela’s office for any discarded bandages before his father and Manuela cut out that avenue of research. Permanently.
Blood spilled on a needle or a scalpel, however, was decidedly not the same as blood spilled at the edge of a blade. Or in his case, the edge of a razor wind.
Linhardt didn’t notice himself freezing. He felt a shove on his back— jolting awake, the ruined pillars and Zanado’s cliffs sharpening back into his focus, and for just a second he assumed he had fallen asleep. That theory failed when that classmate, (Cain? Was that his name? He recalled it starting with a C) looked at him with the most perturbed expression he had ever seen on him. It wasn’t until he felt the press of palms on his shoulders that Linhardt even realized he was shaking.
“Hey— are you, um, okay?”
The “Of course” on his tongue just didn’t seem to want to come out.
“Do you want me to get the Professor?” Canas asked, his blue eyes downturned with barely-hidden panic.
Last he recalled, Byleth was leading the charge. It would be a waste for her to come back, so he shook his head.
Not right now. He didn’t want to deal with his brother right now. His brother and his spear dotted with blood, his proclamations of The Church’s justice and such— he grasped for Caellach’s sleeves instead, and it was a fine thing the shorter boy was so strong because standing has become too difficult now.
“Linhardt— hey whoa!” his hands had moved to Linhardt’s back, just barely preventing him from stumbling onto the ruins of a path. “‘S fine, we can just stay here. I guess.”
“...I would appreciate that.” He inwardly winced at how ragged his own voice sounded.
Humans had never been something he focused on, faces blurred in lieu of their crests, of the secrets they beheld in his ever-growing quest to find out the truth of it all. In the stark feeling of the now— gravel scratching his knees, and the azure hair wisping against his cheek, he found that he could learn to appreciate Caspar (that was his name, wasn’t it? He tasted it against his lips, whispering it like a mantra- Caspar, Caspar, Caspar) and the unsteady hand rubbing up and down his shuddering back.
Like finally finding the corner pieces of a puzzle, Linhardt was ecstatic. The weeks of observation and theory (the weeks of fighting and bloodshed— and thank the Goddess that Byleth allowed him to just focus on his healing now), all seemed to come to a head when they stepped foot into the holy tomb.
In the beliefs of the people, it was the resting place for Saint Seiros. Both Linhardt and his brother knew that wasn’t the case, but they’ve been good at keeping mum about this for years now. That said, Linhardt never knew what was actually in the sarcophagus, and with the opportunity to research it, as a class mission , no less, he was more than motivated for once.
Nevermind that their actual goal was to protect the place from getting ransacked. Ferdinand had suggested it as a possible target of their enemies, and Edelgard had begrudgingly agreed.
He was never one for weaponry, that was his brother’s area of expertise, but tales of the sacred relics and their relationship with crests have always been an interesting topic of study for him. Not one he could ever pursue before, with every weapon in the hands of their respective noble Houses, and Rhea’s lips pursing whenever he asked her about it. It was a shame that the blanket of fog made it impossible for him to observe Catherine’s Thunderbrand last month, but the balance of fate had switched to his favour this time around.
The Sword of the Creator— he knew it existed , of course. Theoretically. As Nemesis’ weapon of choice, he knew that Rhea had all but locked it from anyone’s use, and even asking her about it was a gamble he was never willing to take. He was afraid for his teacher at first. The sacred weapon grabbed so carelessly in Byleth’s hands, no crest stone in sight, the light of the lines he saw all those months ago shining for but a second when she whipped the blade against that poor mage. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Rhea had allowed her to keep it, but it only made the questions fester further, the chasm between him and his family ever wider.
In the solitude of the attic above the library and the carpet of open books, he crossed out his previous theories with a smile on his face.
There were a few things he was absolutely certain of.
One was that the Goddess existed. Exaggerated she may have been by Rhea’s sermons and teachings, she existed, and he, alongside Rhea, Ferdinand, Flayn and Seteth, were all irrevocably connected to her. And now, Byleth too.
Second, was that the stories told by Rhea were a lie. He knew it from the beginning. Seteth had always insisted her myths were to keep them all safe— because after all, what would the common people do if they knew of the existence of their species? No, it was far easier to explain away the crests as blessings from an intangible Goddess, instead of the tangible blood of his species running through their veins. It was logical, but something about the way she refused to explain anything more always felt off to him. And curiosity had always been his only motivator.
And finally, with the events recently transpired, with Rhea and Seteth’s pacing more than usual, their unease, the dread that clung onto their every pore, Linhardt knew that the great evil told about in the stories still existed. Whatever they were, and whoever they were, they still existed and held the golden key to every single question that nagged at him for over a century.