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The Winter Lady of Fraldarius

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1159 - Lambert Egitte Blaiddyd, Castle Blaiddyd

 

It was already two hours past midnight but the celebration for the founding of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus was still in full swing. His love had asked to be excused, never one for such rowdy crowd, and he escorted her to her personal quarters. It might have been risky but he had waved away their guards for the day. Everyone should be able to celebrate today to their heart’s content, after all. And now, the King of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus was walking the empty dark hallway back to the party in the ballroom with only the moon’s light as his source of light.

If he does get attacked right now and live to tell about it, Rodrigue will surely have his head. Rufus might even cry because then he’d have to be the one stuck trying to listen to the court without being able to make his hunting dog attack any of them. 

Lambert chuckled at his thoughts as he walked at a relaxed pace. He was sure their guests wouldn’t mind if he took his time to get back. They probably expect him to accompany his queen to bed. His court wasn’t exactly subtle when they talk to him about the ‘future of the kingdom’.

It wasn’t like they weren’t trying… not that the court seemed to understand that.

He stopped walking when he noticed that the next door to his left was slightly open. It was the door to his private office. 

He sighed and shook his head.

So much for a relaxing walk…

He put his hand on the handle of his sword and quietly walked towards the door. He pressed his side to the wall right next to the opened door and leaned in slowly, looking inside the room.

Someone was sitting on the chair in front of his office table. His private office was a simple small room he used when he needed to take care of a lot of reports and documents. Every evening, before dinner, he would take those stacks of papers and place them inside the locked drawers of the office table.  

But whatever the mysterious figure was holding in their hands was definitely not those pieces of paper. 

It was moving.

What in the Goddess’ name?

Lambert pushed the door open slowly with his left hand, making sure to keep it from creaking. Once it was open enough for him to slip through, he took a step inside.

The floor creaked against his weight.

“And that’s why you failed the Assassin certification.” The figure sitting inside sighed and he froze.

He blinked as the figure turned around to look at him, a fond little smile on his face.

The king immediately let go of the handle of his sword and walked inside as he greeted with a bright smile, “Sir Jeralt!”

Jeralt, a knight of Seiros he had the pleasure of meeting during his academic days, stood and nodded slightly, “Your Majesty.”

The younger man chuckled and shook his head before he said, “Come now, my friend. There is no need to be so formal with me. Call me as you used to when I was in the academy.”

“If that’s what you want.” Jeralt shrugged before he greeted with a smile, “Brat.”

He chuckled and patted Jeralt’s shoulder as he said, “How nostalgic. I haven’t heard anyone call me that in years.” 

Jeralt shook his head as he commented, “Normal people would be offended, you know that right?”

“Yes, I suppose so, but, for me, it is refreshing. But I must say, you haven’t changed at all, Sir Jeralt.” The king gave his friend a once-over as he continued, “You look exactly the same as when I was-”

Lambert’s words died when he finally saw what Jeralt was holding in his arms. 

In the large knight’s arms was the smallest baby he has ever seen. The baby was staring at him with big blue eyes that reminded him of a bouquet of cornflowers and, if he hadn’t known that it was an actual living baby, he would have thought he was looking at a beautiful porcelain doll.

Realizing that the king’s attention has been caught by the baby in his arms, the knight leaned closer, showing the younger man the baby in his arms as he introduced, “Byleth, this is Lambert. He used to follow me around when he was a student.”

A pink hue appeared on Lambert’s cheeks at those words but kept quiet as the older man continued, “King Lambert, this is Byleth, my daughter.”

“Your daughter?” He had to repeat, unsure on how to process such information. He didn’t even remember him being interested in anyone in the monastery and the child, Byleth, did not even look like him. However, the soft expression the older man had as he stared at the small baby in his arms was genuine. So instead of questioning the validity of his claims, the king simply leaned towards them, smiling at the baby as he greeted softly, “Hello, little one.”

The baby blinked at him and reached out a chubby hand. He held out his index finger and she grasped it. He shook his index hand in a mockery of a handshake, giving a small grin when the baby simply let him do as he wishes with the same doll-like expression. 

He felt her hold his index finger as he raised his head to look at her father as he asked, “So what brings you here, Sir Jeralt? I assume it is not because of the celebrations?”

The older man’s eyes grew dark and he sat back on the chair. He nodded his head towards the chair next to him as he suggested, “I think you better sit down for this. It’s… a long story.”

Lambert obliged Jeralt’s request and sat on a chair next to him, waiting for the man to start.

 

What he heard was not what he was expecting. By the end of Jeralt’s explanation, he had opened the bottle of mulled wine he had been hiding in the last drawer and he was on his third glass while the knight… former knight of Seiros was already on his fifth. 

He had so many questions. One of which was more information about the child’s mother because “Rhea’s handmaiden” was a vague description at best. He didn’t even know that the archbishop had a handmaiden. There had been a nun close to the archbishop if he remembered correctly. He remembered her because she had always worn a veil and was clad in a garb more similar to the archbishop’s clothes than the other nuns and monks in the monastery. The other was the fact that Jeralt had apparently only named his daughter a month ago and had been calling her kid before that. He wanted to ask if the name Byleth was a spontaneous name or if it meant something. 

However, he realized that he should focus on the most important part of all.  

Lambert looked at his glass as he said, “Please correct me if I am wrong with any of these but you are saying that you’re more than a hundred years old? And the archbishop is most probably older than that?”

“You don’t have to believe that part if you want.” The older man shrugged as he finished his fifth glass. He poured himself another glass as he said, “That part isn’t really important.”

Oh, Lambert bet it wasn’t. 

“Oh yes. Because the important part is that the archbishop, the most influential person in all of Fodlan may be conducting questionable experiments or rituals to unsuspecting people which includes your daughter.” The king drawled, turning his head to stare at the former knight, “Dear Goddess, can you just imagine the chaos this will bring to Fodlan if it proves to be true?”

“The church will lose all of its credibility!” Lambert exclaimed, “The empire will definitely move against the church if they find out and we…”

Jeralt turned to look at him when he stopped talking. Lambert returned his gaze back to his half-full glass, watching the mulled wine inside swirl as he moved his wrist into a counter-clockwise movement. Lambert watched his wine as he asked, “So now what? You tell me the church may be corrupt and the archbishop is most definitely not in her right mind but we have no evidence to corroborate your claims.”

He turned to look at the sleeping child in Jeralt’s arm as he added, “A baby without a heartbeat is hardly damning evidence and I, for one, do not wish to use an innocent child as evidence. It would simply be too cruel.”

“I want to find out what Rhea really did to my daughter.” The older man admitted seriously, “I thought about leaving Fodlan or maybe becoming a roaming mercenary but… I just know that there will come a time when the church will find me and I’ll be forced to return to the monastery with her.”

The king frowned at that but he could not deny it. No one will be able to deny the church what it wanted, especially not a knight who had abandoned his post. 

“If Rhea sees her, she’ll know. No matter what excuse I make, she will know who this kid is as long as I’m with her.” The older man stared at his daughter and held her gently as he whispered,  “The only way to protect her is for me to stay away from her.”

“Sir Jeralt.” Lambert called out, finally realizing why the older man was waiting for him in the first place.

“I don’t know a lot of people and the people I do know either work for the church or is too weak to go against the church.” Jeralt turned his head to stare at the king of Faerghus as he added, “Except you.”

He couldn’t help the loud surprised chuckle that escaped his lips. He placed his glass to the table as he reminded Jeralt, “I am the king of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Our very existence is chained to the church and its teachings. I and my kingdom should be the last person you can trust with your vendetta against the archbishop.”

Jeralt nodded before he mused, “That’s true but, before this kingdom was granted its independence by the church, it, and by extension the Leicester Alliance, was a band of northern lords who were loyal, not to Adrestia, but to the Blaiddyds, the unofficial ruler of the north.”

The younger man, of course, knew that his companion was talking about. Loog may have been the one to push for the kingdom’s independence but, even before the great hero Loog, the northern lords of Fodlan had been loyal to the Blaiddyds. It was one of the greatest secrets kept in the north. 

“Adrestia may rule over Fodlan but the north follows Blaiddyd.”

There was a reason why the legends concerning the hero Blaiddyd would always describe him as a regal but independent knight who bowed to Seiros only and how the loyalty of Gautier and Fraldarius was to him and him alone. Some even say that the elites’ leader had been Blaiddyd during the war against Nemesis but Lambert never believed that one and considered it just an embellishment made by the people of Faerghus.  

“The Leicester Alliance may have pulled away but the people of Faerghus are more loyal to the Blaiddyds than to the teachings of the Goddess.” Jeralt continued, “And you have never been the religious one.”

The king shrugged as he admitted casually, “I always did hate choir practice.”

He didn’t bother to correct the former knight’s assumption. Sure, most of the common people were loyal to the royal family but Lambert has already caught whiff of the growing chasm between the nobles loyal to the royal family and those who are more interested in furthering their own interests. There was a reason why he felt like he could barely listen to his court and tried to keep his queen away from the politics of it all. He could count on one hand the nobles in his court he could trust not to stab him in the back given the chance. 

The former knight chuckled before he continued, “Also, I remembered your sense of justice back then. You never backed down whenever you see an injustice.”

Lambert leaned back to relax in his chair as he mused, “Yes and Rodrigue would scold me afterward.”

“Smart kid, that one.” Jeralt commented with a nod before he asked, a clear challenge in his tone, “So, Your Majesty… you tell me.”

“Should you help me or not?”   


1159 - Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius, Castle Fraldarius

 

The Duke of Fraldarius knew something was up the moment he heard that his liege has arrived unannounced and was now waiting for him in his private office. It had to be serious as the celebration of the Founding Day had just been a few days ago. This would mean that the king had left Fhirdiad most definitely the day after the celebration and the kingdom was currently in the hands of his wonderful but quiet queen and the royal court who would most definitely be nursing their alcohol-induced headaches. Not to mention, he only took his Lionguards with him which meant the journey was done in secrecy and haste.   

He was, however, not expecting the words that came out of Lambert’s lips.

“You want me to raise that child who happens to be Sir Jeralt’s only daughter as my own while her real father is out finding evidence of the archbishop abusing her power?” Rodrigue couldn’t hide the disbelief in his tone. He couldn’t deny that his closest friend and king would sometimes have the strangest and most reckless plans. There was a reason why he tried to keep a close eye on his king as often as he could. 

Rodrigue wished he was sitting right now instead of standing close to the king in the middle of his private office while two of his Lionguards were standing on both sides of the door silently. It was during this time that he wished that the Lionguards would actually comment at what was happening right now. He was sure that they didn’t approve of this plan.

Or, at least, he hoped they didn’t approve of this plan. 

Dear goddess, he wished he had a glass of the strongest Mateus mulled wine. He had a feeling he was going to need it as he listened to his closest friend and king. 

“That’s right.” Lambert replied with a small smile on his face as he stared at the baby in his arms.   

The duke could feel a headache coming.

“Lambert.” He said as he pinched the bridge of his nose, making the king raise his head to stare at him in surprise. While Rodrigue was, without a doubt, his closest friend and only second to his beloved queen as his most important person (Rufus knew he was third, just like Lambert knew he was second to Rufus’ beloved hunting dog Maximilian), his oldest friend rarely call him by his name. So anytime he hears his name on Rodrigue’s lips, he knew it was serious. The dark-haired man looked a bit hesitant as he asked, “Have you considered that perhaps Sir Jeralt is lying to you?”

“Sir Jeralt will not lie to me.” Lambert immediately defended, turning to the baby in his arms as he cooed, “Don’t listen to your other father. He’s just a bit jealous.”

“Other fat-” Rodrigue stopped himself from finishing that sentence.

Dear Goddess.

This man… he swears…

Rodrigue closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes, saw his king cooing at the silent baby in his arms and closed them again before taking an even deeper breath. Once he was sure that he could talk to Lambert calmly, he opened them and tried to reason, “I am just saying that perhaps Sir Jeralt was not telling you the whole truth.”

“Of course he wasn’t.” Lambert agreed easily, poking the baby’s nose lightly. His lips curved into a small grin as she scrunched her face.

“Ye- Wait, what?” Rodrigue was momentarily surprised by that admission, making Lambert roll his eyes. 

“Please, Rodrigue. As much as I look up to Sir Jeralt-”

“Adore would be a more accurate term.” The duke couldn’t help but correct. 

If Rufus was here, he would probably correct it as ‘fond’ or maybe something more scandalous. 

“I know he is not saying the whole truth. There are many missing details he should know when he talked to me.” His king continued as if he hadn’t said anything.

“Then why agree to help him?” He asked with a slight frown on his face.

Lambert stared at him silently for a few moments before he stated solemnly, “Since the foundation of our kingdom, we have been bowing down to the will of the church.”

“What else can we do?” Lambert asked, sounding as if he was talking to himself, “We are bound to the church. The very existence of our kingdom is tied to the church by both honor and gratitude.”

“Lambert… are you…” 

“But now, a former knight of that very same church may have just given us the key to unlocking our chains to the church.” Lambert mused and stared at the baby in his arms, “If we can uncover evidence that the church, that the archbishop, has been abusing their power and performing despicable rituals to innocents without their consent, well…”

Lambert turned to his friend as he asked, “It wouldn’t be honorable of us to remain sided with such despicable people, isn’t that right?”

Rodrigue stared at his king for a few moments before replying solemnly, “Of course not, my king. The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus will not stand by such atrocity.”

Lambert nodded at those words before turning his attention back at the child in his arms, “Besides, regardless of how much truth Sir Jeralt has told me, the fact remains that something has been done to this child.”

The king’s eyes darkened as he said quietly, “I cannot stand by as innocents are trampled on by those in power, even if it is by the will of the church’s Goddess.”

Knowing there was no way to change his majesty’s mind now that he understood where he was coming from, Rodrigue sighed and said, “Very well. I am yours to command, sire.”

Lambert faced him with a boyish grin as he said, “I knew I could count on you, my friend.”

“However.” Rodrigue raised his hand to stop his king and asked, “I would like to know why you think this child should be under my care.”

“Because you both have blue hair.” Lambert replied immediately, all the while smiling at the blue-haired man in front of him.

“We do not-” Rodrigue stopped and corrected himself, “Yes, we both have blue hair and it is a well-known fact that we Fraldarius usually have blue hair but we don’t even have the same color of blue. Ours is obviously darker than hers.”

“Ainara has fair hair.” Lambert noted, making his friend stare at him with a look that he has known from experience and time with the dark-haired man as ‘you’re an idiot but you’re my friend and king so I will only judge you silently’. 

“I do not think that’s how it works, Your Majesty.” Rodrigue deadpanned before he reminded his liege, “Also, Ainara just gave birth to Glenn a year ago and she had a hard time back then. It would definitely be too soon for her to give birth to another child.”

“Exactly.” The king replied with a nod. He leaned towards his friend so he could show him the small baby in his arms as he said, “Ainara never grew big with Glenn so we can easily say that she had been secretly pregnant because you both believed that it was too soon and feared that the child will not make it. It’s a surprise to both of you that she was able to safely give birth last Garland Moon.”

“Garland Moon?” The duke repeated and frowned as he commented, “Forgive me, your majesty, but she certainly looks too small to be a baby born during Garland Moon.”

“Of course, she was born a few days before the fire of Garreg Mach so I assume she was born on Horsebrow Moon.” Lambert explained with a nod, “However, we cannot simply use that month or any other month after that. That could easily get the church’s attention now, wouldn’t it?”

“So you are making this child’s birth earlier and using Ainara’s condition to explain why she is smaller than a baby that should have been born in Garland Moon?” Rodrigue had to admit it was a brilliant plan.

But he was not going to say that out loud. Goddess forbid, Lambert starts making more of these outrageous plans.

Lambert’s eyes softened as he admitted, “I know this is a huge burden to you and Ainara but you two are the best choice this child can have, given our circumstances. I cannot take her as my own due to my position. If she becomes a princess of Faerghus, the church would certainly take notice. Rufus has made it clear that he does not wish to have any children when he secretly had Doctor Abraham perform that surgery to… remove any possibility of conceiving from his side… and simply enjoys the carnal pleasure he receives from the act itself. While we can make it so that this child is a product of Rufus’... casual encounters but that would be a cruel fate to have and she does not deserve that.”

Rodrigue frowned at the reminder. The Grand Duke had kept it a secret, of course, but he had hated how he had been treated by the court and the other nobles as a crestless Blaiddyd and that made him almost aghast over the idea of having children of his own. The court doctor, Abraham Gauis, had secretly performed surgery at his behest and he had only told his younger brother about it. Rodrigue knew about it because his king had told him, unable to keep it a secret from his closest friend.

“I had thought of asking Gustav but… he and his wife have been trying for so long. I fear if I was to ask this of him, they will take it the wrong way.” Lambert continued with a slight frown, “And among the court, I thought of Count Gellum as he is unmarried but his loyalty to us Blaiddyds is unquestionable. This will also keep her in Fhirdiad where I could keep an eye on her and provide her with a name that shall offer her both protection and opportunity. However, his sister is married to an Imperial noble and, well, I prefer not to risk getting the Empire involved in all this.”

“I would assume that, considering we are planning on removing the church’s influence in our kingdom, allying with the empire which has had a very strained relationship with said church for years now would be something you would consider.” The dark-haired man commented with a raised eyebrow. 

“A removal we plan to do in secret.” The blond-haired man reminded his friend, “Being seen as getting quite friendly with the empire would probably catch the church’s eye now, wouldn’t it?”

“A fair assumption to make.” Rodrigue conceded, sighing as he mused in all seriousness, “So that only leaves me.”

“Yes.” Lambert nodded solemnly.

No one bothered to mention Margrave Gautier or Countess Galatea. Margrave Gautier, while loyal, has shown he wasn’t a good candidate with how he had treated his firstborn Miklan who was of the same age as Glenn. Countess Galatea, on the other hand, had her hands full trying to govern Galatea and she already had two sons to take care as well even with the complete support of her husband.

The duke stared at the baby in his friend’s arms. She had remained quiet all this time, staring at them with her big blue eyes. The blue color of her eyes reminded him of the cornflowers he once gifted to his wife. Gently, he took the baby from Lambert, cradling her the same way he remembered doing to Glenn when he had just been born. The baby didn’t seem to mind and Rodrigue leaned forward. The baby raised her chubby hand to grasp a few strands of his hair. She didn’t tug it, seemingly satisfied by just holding it in her grasp. 

“What’s her name?” Rodrigue asked softly.

“Byleth.” Lambert replied, stroking the baby’s fuzzy blue hair.

“Do the church knows that’s her name?” Rodrigue asked, gently pressing his finger on the baby’s hand. She let go of his hair and grasped his index finger instead.

“No. Sir Jeralt seemed to have named her just a month or so ago.” The king whispered back.

“She’s been left unnamed for months?” Rodrigue asked with raised eyebrows.

“I am sure Sir Jeralt had more pressing matters to think about than what to name his daughter.” Lambert defended with a slight frown.      

 “Of course, Your Majesty.” Rodrigue drawled, rolling his eyes at his friend’s immediate defense over the former knight of Seiros. The dark-haired man lowered his eyes back to the small baby in his arms and whispered, “Hello, little one. I will be your father-”

Lambert cleared his throat and Rodrigue corrected at the same soft voice, “Your other father while your birth father is away. We might not be related by blood but, I promise you, I will protect you, my dear daughter.”

“My dear Byleth Gwyn Fraldarius.”