Somehow, it was as if she felt lighter, yet her eyelids still felt incredibly heavy. Breathing slow-- so slow that she felt that she was suffocating. This must be what the Goddess chose. This must be how she would die.
She only knew she was alive when she heard a voice.
“There, there, child.” The voice was gentle and comforting, but it was not speaking to her. “Finally.”
She finally opened her eyes, but her body, tired, screamed at her to fall back into her slumber. The shapes in her vision were blurry, but there was a woman in front of her. “L… Lady Rhea?” Her words were a mere croak. She was unsure if they even left her mouth.
“Oh my. So you did not…”
“Is… is my baby—?"
“Yes. Congratulations.” Lady Rhea rocked the child in her arms. “She is very beautiful.”
She thought that the tears would come, but her body was still so exhausted. She let out a weak cry, one of joy. They had both known the risks when she asked Rhea to do what she did, yet somehow, it had worked out. Both she and her baby— her daughter— survived.
“How lucky were are to have you both,” Rhea said. There was a loose corner of the baby’s blanket. She tucked it back in and drew the child closer to her chest. “Did you have any ideas for names? I do have a suggestion.”
She had wanted to talk over it more with Jeralt, but he had been away on a mission and would still be away for a while longer. While all three of them owed Rhea their lives in some way, it didn’t feel quite right to have someone else name their baby. She and Jeralt hadn’t quite agreed on a name, but there was one in particular that she liked.
“What an interesting name,” Rhea remarked. “We shall raise her well here at the monastery.”
She was too tired to ask what Rhea meant by “we” and right now, she longed for nothing more than to finally hold her daughter. She held her arms out, but Rhea was preoccupied, looking humming and smiling down at the child in her arms.
Rhea looked up.
“May I hold her?”
She was quiet for just a moment too long before answering. “Of course. Be careful though. You still need your rest.” Rhea carefully transferred Byleth into her arm, making sure to support the head.
Byleth seemed so tiny in her arms. She was surprisingly quiet for a baby, but had such wide, wondrous eyes.
It was true that she had been weak and tired lately, but she wondered if she was the only one who found Lady Rhea’s behavior rather odd. It wasn’t strange for her to express her concern for the nuns at the monastery, but it was another thing to help take care of the children. Such things felt beneath someone of her station. She was the archbishop after all and she most definitely had better things to do than to help with a baby.
It was only baby Byleth that she watched over too.
“I assure you. I do not mind,” Lady Rhea would insist. “You and Jeralt have done so much for us that I feel I owe it to you to help. Just take it easy and do not overexert yourself.”
She wasn’t sure if she should believe her. Sure, she had heard the story of how Jeralt saved Lady Rhea’s life many years ago (she still didn’t know how many years), but she was just an ordinary nun.
“Maybe it’s because Byleth is a baby?” Leena, one of the other nuns suggested.
“But it’s not like this is the first time that there have been babies at the monastery. And Byleth isn’t even the only one here now.”
“I guess that is a little strange,” she admitted. “Still, I think that you should feel blessed that Lady Rhea herself wants to help you with her.”
She hummed, hesitant to agree. Worry still occupied her mind when she went to pick Byleth up from Lady Rhea’s room. It was quiet when she arrived. Lady Rhea didn’t typically allow people on her floor of the monastery, especially when she was with Byleth. That enough should have been strange, but no one really thought too much of it.
She immediately noticed that the door was open— just a little bit, but enough to hear Lady Rhea singing from within. She didn’t recognize the the tune nor the language. Eventually, the singing quieted down and Lady Rhea spoke.
“I shall see you soon, mother.”
That was the moment she came to a realization. She was living on top of gunpowder. The only question she had left was, when would it ignite?
A week later there was a fire in the monastery. No one knew how it started, and they would never figure it out. Maybe they would think it was an unfortunate magic mishap.
In reality, it was all her. This was her chance to escape. She had taken a risk by running back into the fire, but it was her best excuse. “Byleth!” she had screamed. “Where is my baby?” Theoretically, they would have been the last ones in the building that had caught ablaze— the building that she had set ablaze. No one had seen them make it out. She had secured another exit beforehand, hiding some supplies away as well.
She cradled Byleth in her arms, frowning when she saw that Byleth sustained some burns. She healed her, but the scars would still remain. She couldn’t help but wince from her own burns. She hoped they would be able to find a doctor in the next town, but for now, these would be scars that they would bear together.
She was about to turn away and run, but she hesitated. This was far from easy, and her heart ached. Did anyone here really deserve this? Did Lady Rhea deserve her betrayal?
Yet all she could think of was keeping Byleth safe.
Before she realized it, she sobbed. Her legs were weak and she collapsed to the ground still holding Byleth tight to her chest. “I’m sorry, Jeralt! I’m so sorry!”
She watched through her tears as her life here burned away before her, the fire she had set lashing against the cold darkness of the night sky.