“Duke Ludwig von Aegir is trying to turn me into his next puppet and that cannot be allowed.” Edelgard stated, calmly, evenly, with none of the bitter feelings welling beneath her tongue.
Yet she wasn’t able to totally hide her agitation, as she paced the small confines of her Garreg Mach dorm private quarters. Hubert on the other hand held himself with flawless composure, standing perfectly straight beside her desk with the letter in hand. It was fortunate that early on in the year he had managed to secure the room beside her own, as it made them meeting in secret much simpler. Although the room had originally been assigned to a different Adrestian student— just who she couldn’t recall, besides them having been some noble child born to wealth and privilege.
The thought naturally drew her back to the matter at hand, or rather than man who once again sought to ruin her life. The missive stamped with the official seal of Adrestia’s Prime Minister laid open on her desk, where she had first opened and read the terrible news, and now where Hubert allowed it to fall with a disgusted look on his face.
“I should’ve anticipated something like this, foolhardy and full of disrespect.”
Edelgard didn’t indulge her urge to laugh, but did allow for a smile. “It certainly is presumptuous for them to assume they can arrange my marriage without any input from me.”
The missive had detailed an unconventional motion that had passed the Council— an imperial marriage was to be arranged and carried out forthwith. One page had simply listed the approved prospects, all House names that belonged to noble families with sons and daughters that could boast impeccable pedigrees, and all either in the Prime Minister’s pocket or well-known weak-willed dolts who’d easily cave to manipulation. It might’ve been funny, if there hadn’t been the weight of official orders behind it.
“Many of the Ministers supported this motion for me to take an imperial consort.” Edelgard let loose a sigh, not disguising how tired she felt in that moment.
Hubert’s gaze was still fixed on the letter laying upon her desk, as if he could glare at those responsible through the paper and ink. “Undoubtedly orchestrated by Duke Aegir, with Duke Varley and Marquess Vestra’s support. Yet Count Bergliez and Earl Hevring were not mentioned, thus must’ve been opposing votes?”
She didn’t doubt that the Minister of Domestic Affairs and the Minister of Military Affairs would look out for their best interests by aligning with her goals, even if she’d never truly trust the men themselves with how they’d betrayed their current Emperor. “Even if they were, Duke Gerth was absentee and sent no representative while Lord Arundel abstained from casting a vote. Lack of numbers caused the motion to pass.”
Hubert’s brow furrowed tightly. “For what possible reason would your Uncle let this happen?”
“I’m unsure… maybe they hope the union would produce another Hresvelg successor.” The faces of her brothers and sisters, older and younger, all ten of them… they’d grown hazy in her memory. There was always talk of the future, of the children she’d one day have, but that wasn’t something she could currently allow, to bring a child into the world as it was.
She noticed Hubert sending her a strange look, and shook off such musings. “Whatever the reason, those Ministers are the ones we know won’t support me as a true Emperor. With so many of them paying attention, I doubt this is something we can delay and simply wait out… Perhaps the Council could be persuaded to delay the motion until after I’ve graduated?” After their plans will have begun, and those old men have been swept off their thrones.
Ever the pragmatist, Hubert didn’t hesitate in disagreeing. “Unfortunately, that won’t work. Duke Aegir was canny enough to tie this proposal to your eighteenth birthday. Come the twenty-second day of Garland Moon they’ll drag you before the altar to stand beside their witless toadie, with the eyes of all Adrestia watching. It’s likely even waiting that long is simply a ruse to keep you quiet and complacent.”
Edelgard couldn’t help but scoff, “It’s insulting they think I’d go along with this. Do they really think I’m so harmless?”
He gave a cynical smile. “On the contrary, I believe the Prime Minister proposed these sudden nuptials because Ludwig von Aegir has finally realized you have potential to be a threat.”
But doesn’t know she already was one, especially to that treacherous stuffed shirt of a man— though this time she might’ve done the underestimating.
“We’re so close, but not prepared just yet.” Edelgard gave a measured exhale, pushing aside the habit of mentally cataloguing how much more there was to do and instead focused on how to solve this problem. “The deadline’s only a few weeks away, what a mess. Yet I can choose…” Edelgard finally ceased pacing, her eyes going to the tall man as an idea began forming. “Can even get married before my birthday, can’t I?”
“My lady, none of the candidates are worthy to walk beside you.” Hubert’s scathing tone added onto just how little he thought of the listed prospects that’d been included with the missive.
“I know, Hubert. I’m not thinking about any of them but of my own choice. My marriage was always to be political, but to choose… yes, I want to choose my spouse.”
There was something fixed in the way Hubert kept his smile, she could tell from the way his stormy eyes flashed that he didn’t feel calm in the least. Yet he was tucking neatly into a bow as he said, “You are without peer, Lady Edelgard. Any man or woman would be a fool not to be honored by a proposal.”
A smile curled her lips as she had to keep herself from giving into laughter. “You’re correct, but I have no interest in fools.” In several strides Edelgard stood before her oldest and dearest friend, already having decided. “Hubert, I need you to find a way for me to wed the person of my choosing, within recognized law. It needs subtlety, so as not to be detected and stopped by the Council.”
“At once, Lady Edelgard.”
❊ ❊ ❊ ❊ ❊
In what seemed like no time at all, Hubert had found and offered a solution to her problem. An old priestess lived in the easternmost village of Interamna near Garreg Mach was rather infamous for indulging Academy students overcome by starry-eyed romance and marrying them in secret with no regard for parental permissions. It had apparently been a source for quite the scandal a few decades back, when the last carrier of the Lamine Crest married the heir to the now-fallen House of von Martritz rather than her prearranged betrothed. Yet despite that, the priestess had never been defrocked. Hubert had visited in person, impersonating a lovestruck fool, and had received assurances from the woman that she still performed marriage rites for the desperate.
It was rather ironic, that an element of the Church could aid Edelgard in avoiding a different thorn in Adrestia’s side. There was also a minor Kingdom noble’s armed rebellion that month which had the Knights of Serios conveniently distracted. Which meant, it’d been simpler than usual to sneak outside the monastery undetected and arrive at the otherwise unremarkable village without hassle even with just a couple of hooded cloaks for disguise. The two of them had arrived, and she noticed how Hubert kept scanning their surroundings with increasing frequency.
When he did so for the twenty-second time, Edelgard asked, “Is something wrong, Hubert?”
“Yes, I’m only seeing the local villagers.” His shoulders were tense and gaze glinting angrily as he glared into the horizon. “Where is your future spouse? Surely you’d informed them the hour and day to meet us.”
Edelgard had felt light on her feet all day, but his innocent confusion filled her with a fizzy sort of satisfaction. With a light-hearted smile, she caught his hand and said, “Why, he’s right here beside me.”
Touching him as she was, Edelgard felt the way Hubert went perfectly still for a beat before a tremor traveled through him and that tension was released with a long sigh. “My Lady, I… I must protest.”
“Oh? You disapprove of my choice?”
“Yes. My House cannot offer you lands or chattel, while our wealth and influence is already at House Hresvelg’s disposal.” Hubert gave a sad smile of his own. “Not to mention my personal reputation is already stained with ill-behavior and rumors. I make for a poor bridegroom.”
His statements didn’t shake her conviction: Hubert was the perfect solution to her problem. Edelgard gave his larger hand a gentle squeeze as she clarified, “You are thinking far too traditionally, Hubert. If this was some political arrangement your logic would apply, but what I need is a spouse I can trust. Someone whom I know won’t try to take advantage of their connection to me or try to interfere with my plans. You already know what must be done, have agreed to it, and there’s no one I trust more than you. You’re my choice, Hubert.”
His stare had grown intense, confusion and some other emotion warring in his eye. The tendons in his neck stood out as he swallowed then said, “If that is your wish, I cannot refuse. Although I do not wish to be parted from you, it’d… my work would serve you better if I stuck to the shadows.”
“We can keep the marriage a secret from the public if that is your worry,” She nodded, pleased that they’d quickly reached a compromise. Hubert was a high-standing Adrestian noble heir, so there could be no claim that he was unsuitable. With a lawful husband she will have obeyed the Prime Minister’s ultimatum even while circumventing his intentions— and there’d be no need to worry about actual marital duties.
Smiling again, she bid Hubert take them to the parish without delay and he did so without hesitation, even if his expression was a tad dazed. They walked the entire way holding hands, something that would bolster their claim to being lovelorn students hoping to elope, but also because having her hand enveloped by his was warmly pleasant. At the small church building, the elderly priestess took one look at their uniforms and interwoven fingers and hurried them inside the doors without question.
The wedding ceremony itself was performed just as quickly, with only the bare minimum of time spent to collect the necessary sacramental objects. Edelgard barely gave mind to the rote vows they repeated, knowing both of them cared nothing for Serios’ teachings or the Goddess Sothis. More than that, she found herself watching Hubert’s face— how very serious his expression was, how a blush had crept into the pale skin stretched over his high cheekbones, and how his eyes seemed almost feverishly bright as he spoke the oaths of adoration and fidelity.
“Have you the ring?”
The strangely creaking voice brought Edelgard back to the present. It had been the old priestess, Valens, who’d spoken. Yet her own eyes remained glued to the man standing across from her. Edelgard felt almost spellbound as she watched him reach long fingers into a pocket and withdraw two golden circles, one crowned with a green stone the traditional color for long-life and luck.
Without prompting, Edelgard raised her left hand with fourth finger extended. Hubert’s hand had a fine tremor as he slid the jeweled ring into place and repeated the final vow. Then it was her turn, touching his bare pale skin as she slid the golden ring into place as she also said, "With this ring, I thee wed. And with it, I bestow upon thee all the treasures of my mind, heart, and hands ‘til death do us part."
Priestess Valens pronounced them husband and wife, finishing the ceremony with, “You may kiss the bride.”
There was no veil to lift from Edelgard's face, they’d both come in their uniforms with only an additional traveling cloak. For an astonishing moment she witnessed Hubert fumbling, unsure what to do with his hands. So she took his ringed hand in hers and smiled at him, silently acknowledging the strangeness of the situation. She nodded to let him know he had permission, and after a shaky inhale Hubert bent down to brush a kiss against her closed mouth. It was chaste and dry, just the fleeting touch of skin on skin, and for some strange reason as he withdrew she wanted to pull him back in for another.
❊ ❊ ❊ ❊ ❊
They didn’t wear the rings afterwards, not on their fingers or chains around their necks. That would’ve risked discovery and questions, so it was simpler to leave the jewelry in a box well out of sight. Yet Hubert von Vestra could be called von Hersvelg instead, as he was now her husband and consort. No one knew aside from Priestess Valens and Adrestria’s noble Council, the latter because she’d sent them all officially sealed letters informing them that there’d be no need to take another spouse so soon as she’d just taken one and tradition gave them a year to be newlyweds. Although she’d gotten some sternly worded reprimands in print, her plan had worked and the Prime Minister had backed off.
Little had changed between herself and Hubert, his loyalty was as entrenched as his friendship and they both were occupied with bringing her destiny to fruition. However, more so than before she’d taken to thinking of Hubert as hers, and this tendency could manifest at peculiar times.
Part of Edelgard had expected Hubert to assert his position, to claim her first and last dance at Garreg Mach’s Ethereal Moon Grand Ball, showing their connection without so many words. But he only inserted himself to scare off the cowards and lowliest, while letting her dance with other, smiling strangers. Although she waited what seemed like all evening until it was deep into the dark of night, Hubert never took her onto the dance floor himself. This irked her, enough so that once she had complimented and thanked her latest forgettable partner for the dance, Edelgard excused herself and left the ballroom altogether.
She let her feet carrier her through the empty alleys until she’d reached a place far from prying eyes, then found a comfortable seat and waited. Edelgard didn’t have to wait long before he found her, seemingly melting out of the shadows and moving on cat-quiet feet. “My lady,” Hubert spoke softly so that his voice wouldn’t carry beyond this tucked-away alcove. “You left early.”
“Was something amiss?”
Edelgard leveled a look at Hubert and took the opportunity to admire his appearance. He was wearing finery for the ball— red dominated by black with a form-fitting cut. That particular shade of red matched the fabric of her own wine-dark gown, and marked him as hers in a way. With that thought in mind, she said, “Indeed, you avoided dancing with me.”
Hubert looked taken aback. “I… I’d never presume-”
“It’s hardly presumptuous for a husband to want to dance with his wife.” Edelgard stood, tucking one arm behind her back while extending another— the traditional pose for asking to dance.
After another moment of shocked stillness, Hubert’s stiff posture relaxed and he gingerly laid a hand palm to palm with her own. Smiling, Edelgard pulled the man into position, raising their joined hands and circling her other arm at his waist, then led them into a Morgaine Waltz. Despite his loftier height and longer legs, Hubert didn’t fight her lead instead followed her steps and matched her pace to the one-two-three rhythm. It reminded Edelgard of far-gone days spent with etiquette tutors, where Hubert had ever served as her practice partner. The man in question said nothing, instead seemingly content staring back at her as they moved together.
Once they’d made the final spin, they didn’t quite separate, hands instead remaining entwined. Even more than the effort of the dance moves, Edelgard felt breathless as she watched Hubert dip his head and bring their hands up. The kiss against her bare skin was just as fleeting as the one that’d sealed their marriage, yet this time from the hunger in his gaze it seemed her partner was the one wanting more.
❊ ❊ ❊ ❊ ❊
Finally, the first big step to make her dreams reality had been made.
The Imperial succession was complete, Edelgard von Hresvelg was now Emperor of Adrestia and soon all of Fodlan. Ludwig von Aegir had been stripped of his position as Prime Minister and his House's titles and noble status revoked, never again would the Hresvelg line suffer under his grubby thumb. All that was left was to face the newly summoned council and be ordained by its members, which was a certain thing as they’d already taken care of those who would’ve impeded the process. However, when Hubert appeared to escort her to the council room her father requested that they linger a moment.
“So i-is it true?” Ionius IX managed through a bout of coughing. “Is he married to you, El?”
The entire day, Edelgard had kept her mental defenses strong, wearing a paper mask of her own face: two versions of the same woman, layered one on top of the other. She had to be unquestionable in her confidence, unshakable in her authority. Yet her father’s question peeled back the mask and drew a softer, more genuine smile. She doubted he’d known about Ludwig von Aegir’s plan to marry her off, but she’d written to him about her elopement— peppering the diction with implications she’d done it for love. It was the closest to letting their secret slip as she’d permit herself, to bring her ailing father some measure of happiness.
Aloud, Edelgard answered, “Yes, father. I secretly wed Hubert this past Garland Moon and took him for my husband.”
The former emperor’s darkly-ringed, sunken eyes darted over Hubert’s form, as if he’d never seen the younger man before. Although he had to, considering that he’d been with Edelgard since she was the tender age of four. Hubert himself appeared nonplussed by the inspection, even respectfully dipping his head and averting his gaze.
“You are Marquess Eustace’s boy.”
Edelgard almost flinched at the mention of Minister von Vestra’s given name, knowing how her old friend resented his father. Hubert’s voice, however, was smooth and even as he replied, “Yes, Your Majesty, though I am now the head of House Vestra and have taken on the duties therein.”
Ionius IX blinked, then gave that weary smile which had appeared many times today. “Ah, I see. A man already. Then I hope that you will both make each other happy.”
“I am ever my lady’s servant, at her beck and call.” Hubert finally raised his head, though his gaze was fixed upon her and her alone.
❊ ❊ ❊ ❊ ❊
Since seizing Garreg Mach and founding the strike force, the years had rolled by swiftly. Edelgard commanded not only the Empire’s throne but also Adrestria’s armies, while Hubert was her most capable general and strategist. Hardly a day passed where they weren’t within arm’s reach of each other, both on and off the battlefield. It was no surprise that rumors had spread, of just how close the Emperor and her right-hand man were to one another. Yet they only speculated that he was her lover, rather than the true title of husband.
Not that the former was completely untrue. Edelgard could still recall the first time the tensions and frustrations of a particularly trying day had Hubert suggesting she put hands on him and vent. Only she knew how deep a red his gaunt face flushed while taken by pleasure, how his head tipped and back arched into her hands when she raked her nails over it. In turn, Hubert was the only man who’d touched those soft spots on her scarred body where a gentle caress could make her incoherent. When they came together, it was more of a whim than a constant, stolen moments of passion in some secluded place. She was a wife of five and a half years but could count only fifteen nights where her husband slept through it in her bed.
Because they both placed other vows ahead of their marriage, that of ruler, that of vassal, their shared goal of a new world order took the majority of their energy and time. A worthwhile sacrifice, though some small part of Edelgard began to resent that she couldn’t take more personal moments away from the rest of the world as she slowly realized just how thoroughly Hubert had devoted his life to her.
He truly belonged to her, and she’d begun to covet him.
“Why did you do such a reckless thing?!” The words fairly burst from her, undoubtedly carrying beyond the walls of her private quarters.
Hubert stood where she’d pushed him against the wall, trapped between her arms. Despite the bandages covering the right side of his face, he unflinchingly held her gaze as he answered, “If I hadn’t, you would’ve put yourself in even greater risk. Someone had to make the move in order to secure victory, and I am more disposable.”
“You’re wrong!” Edelgard stifled the urge to shake some sense into him, instead pressing her hands against the stones of the wall. “This is why I’m on the frontlines, to draw the enemy’s attention and force openings. I can weather it, but you-” The sight he’d made glowing with magical energy, completely surrounded by the enemy— it’d stolen the breath from her in more than one way. “If I lost you, Hubert, I don’t know how I’d go forward.”
“You would. Nothing can stop you if you set your mind to it, Edelgard.” His tone wasn’t chiding but rather absent of doubt, reflecting his complete faith in her.
The thought of doing so, without his voice there in criticism or encouragement, had her closing her eyes. It seemed impossible now to picture a life without him in it; Hubert had always been at her side, had grown irreplaceable, and he didn’t seem to realize what he meant to her. Not for the first time Edelgard felt older than her years.
“I chose this path, and you wanted to stay beside me.” She reminded him, a tad more sharply than she should. "It was my choice, but you are also my choice. If you throw your life away, Hubert, even for my sake, I’ll never forgive you!”
A gloved hand gently cupped her face and had Edelgard’s eyes opening. Hubert hardly looked rattled over her outburst and threat; gaze almost tender while he smiled at her. The soft tone of his voice was almost a caress as he said, “Do not doubt me, my lady, I’m not so fragile as you fear. I have no intentions of leaving you alone, even should death come-”
Both moved and irritated, Edelgard pulled Hubert down and stole his remaining words away with a kiss.
❊ ❊ ❊ ❊ ❊
There was so much to do… or rather, was it that she’d already done so much? It seemed Edelgard mixed the two up these days. She didn’t remember a lot of things, as she grew older—ridiculous, how it was as if she were eighty instead of forty —the memories she had retained steadily grew fuzzier. Though a handful of key things stayed clear.
She knew that her time as Emperor had ended, that the torch had been passed and that the new generation must come into their own. She was not in Embarr, instead they’d traveled far from it and into the quiet countryside. Without her brilliant gowns and crowns, it seemed like none took note of a petite, white-haired woman… or the tall man with dark hair shot through with grey.
They currently stood before a rustic-looking counter for a reason she couldn’t recall, but it felt like it wasn’t the first time. As Edelgard had lapsed into internal musings as she was prone to do these days; there had likely been someone else and they’d been left to their own devices. Hubert stood quietly beside her with his eyes fixed on the distance outside a window, abstracted like he’d gotten when deep in the arithmetic for the castle’s accounts.
Without conscious effort Edelgard found her fingers trailing over the faint scars on his right cheekbone, bared as it was with his hair pulled back. Hubert didn’t flinch but did blink in surprise, coming back to himself and looking at her curiously. “Pardon, my l-” He caught his near slip of the tongue clearing his throat. “My love. I was remiss, do you need to sit?”
“I’m fine Hubert.” Though she wanted to keep touching, maybe explore his crow’s feet and laugh lines, Edelgard belatedly noted this was a public place and let her hand fall. “What were you thinking about?”
Hubert caught her lowering hand, cupping it in his own, the gold band on his fourth finger as warm as his skin. “These accommodations are rather humble. I’m unsure if they’ll offer the cakes or biscuits you prefer while taking tea.”
This time Edelgard blinked, surprised by the mundanity of the topic. But thinking further it was the right time for that… for them to settle down with a freshly brewed pot and simply idle the hours until night truly fell. He never partook in the confections, but always tried to have some for her to sate her sweet tooth. It was sometimes difficult to secure them on the road, but there were no pressing matters to interrupt so she didn’t really mind.
Before she could say so, a stout young woman approached the other side of the counter with a key in hand. A tad out of breath, she grinned and chattered, “Sorry about that wait! Had to get my brother to do some heavy lifting, but now we’ve a couple rooms ready. Would you like a single or a double bed?”
“Our thanks, Mistress Maya, we’ll take the single.” Hubert accepted the offered brass key with his unoccupied hand. “Please have a room cart with tea and refreshments sent soon.”
The woman nodded, then grinned. “Single bed, eh? You two together?”
“Yes,” Edelgard answered without hesitation, “This is my precious husband.”
Hubert’s eyes shone like they had on their wedding day, unwavering and intense, but his smile was soft as he accepted her claim. Edelgard didn’t know how many years remained ahead of her, but she wanted to live them with Hubert openly acknowledged and by her side. She’d happily be called his wife.