Bronze-stained plate armor, red billowing fabric, an embossed Adrestian eagle signet. The great knight was standing over a prone figure. Green hair dripped blood into the snow, bruises violently purple were raised on her exposed skin.
Byleth was lying still like her body was a skin she could afford to shed. And if he could get there in time—he had to get there in time—he could stop the killing blow.
Each footfall seemed to be drawing him further from his target. A paradox he attributed to the cold and the panic. All the while, the lights were going out of her eyes, ceding her to the harsh grey of a winter war.
He threw himself before the great red knight. Each sword stab upward was a prayer, the only catechism he had bothered to learn.
His jabs were enough to fend the knight backward, but he could not break through. On his third strike, he spied the problem: he held a rusted blade. Red grew on the sword like lichen across a moss-riddled rock. It was no more a sword than a club.
The knight raised his axe.
Felix thrust the rusted blade toward the neck gap in the knight’s armor. It was too far. Felix’s reach overextended, the knight was able to swing away, and Felix slipped. Ice under a layer of snow, a destabilized heel; the fall knocked the wind from Felix’s lungs.
He expected to find himself stunned in the cold, winded breath whistling between his teeth, snow biting into his hairline and the gaps of his armor.
Instead, he was warm. Linens wrapped his body and held feverish sweat against his skin. He wiped his eyes, pinched the inner corners, and reached out to find Byleth. Emptiness on the other side of the bed. All the sheets were crinkled around himself.
Felix darted up with acrobatic accuracy. Eyes still bleary, tangled hair sticking out on one side, he ran through the stone-walled chamber with his bare chest flushing in the cool air.
He found Byleth seated in the next room. She was reading correspondences by her favorite lantern, with a steaming teapot and her eyebrows narrowed down to annoyed V’s. She sipped her tea but gagged on the state-business. So it goes.
Felix cleared his throat, and she immediately looked up. Sheepish quirk in the very corner of her mouth like he had caught her putting on an act. It was almost enough to bring him to collapse. Byleth was awake. Byleth was fine.
“Felix.” She leaned an elbow on the table. The elegant lines of the archbishop gown curved against her muscular back. She was beautiful in white, yet Felix missed the black of her armor, weathered to that unique muddy wear-and-tear that could only come from skill. “Do you plan to take tea in your underwear?”
A blush spread across his chest and up his neck. His urgency seemed foolish when Byleth was awake. Byleth was fine. Byleth was cracking jokes.
He refused to look down at his underpants: deep blue, fairly tight. Byleth, of course, wasn’t doing him the courtesy of not looking. They might call her an archbishop but she could be about as uncouth as a sailor on shore leave.
“What does it matter what I wear?” He asked, groggy frog in his morning voice.
“I’ll take you in anything,” she said practically. “But I have to meet with Seteth in an hour.” She gestured at the paper in front of her as if it were the green-haired advisor himself. State business. Felix’s eyes squinted and flicked away from her. “One more meeting,” she sighed. “Then it’s the holidays and I get four days to be a normal person.”
“I had a dream,” Felix said softly. That you were wounded in the snow and I fell before I could protect you. “My sword was covered in rust.”
“I have those too,” she said slowly. He knew. He heard her in the night. “Seteth says it’s anxiety. We’re not the people we were. We have to find new ways to offer protection.” Byleth’s honesty was a bitter herb and Felix swallowed it like medicine. He wouldn’t have her any other way.
She rose from her seat. Her hand brushed the hair from his temple, fingernails skimmed his scalp and began worrying at the tangles. He leaned into the touch of her fingertips. “We’ll train today after my meeting. I won’t let you rust.”
He bent his head and let his lips rush into hers, kissing away the cinnamon tea. She could smell the linens so recently pressed against him, clean and somewhat domestic. Her fingers traced up his bare back.
“After your meeting then,” he breathed against her lips, “find me at the training grounds.” Felix’s bare skin was firm and silken under her hands. She kissed him to stoke a flame, breathe his air, trade the oxygen they both needed. Sometimes, she willed the dizzy dazzling world to suffocate them together.
When he pulled back, eyes wide, gratified, she found him turned all to pink. Each blush was a brave warmth, a secret of intimacy to carry him back to his own duties and the parts of his life that had nothing to do with being the archbishop’s lover.
— — —
: The Archbishop’s Regalia
Textile : Raw silk dress and cape, pure silk shift and undergarments.
Dye : The dress is a pearlescent cool white,
over it rests a cape dyed a deep blue from Almyran murex shells.
Texture : How does one expect to feel embracing the goddess?
Style : Golden embroidery, each stitch a bit of history.
Seated in Seteth’s office, Byleth's mind replayed that morning. Felix shrugging his way through the door with that familiar black turtleneck warming his neck right over the spot Byleth had planted her last kiss.
She fretted with the eyelet buttons that held and molded her body into her Archbishop’s regalia. Unconsciously, she rolled her shoulders in the tight sleeves, and her agitated fingers over-thought the intricate embroidery of the cape. Every line of thread was a symbol imparting inherited meaning to the life that she had fallen ass-backwards into.
She was looking forward to the Solstice holidays when the Archbishop’s office would instate a new tradition. They had organized a feast of fools that would elevate the lowly and make the highest positions of Fódlan commoners. Four days for nobility to lose its meaning and Crests to be little more than the martial power they imparted.
To Seteth, it was a test run for some of the reforms that the Archbishop’s office was hoping to instate throughout unified Fódlan. To Byleth, it meant wearing comfortable clothes and spending the holiday sneaking her hand into Felix’s pocket without getting one of Seteth’s famous PDA lectures.
While Seteth blathered on about visiting nobles, Byleth fiddled with a button on her sleeve. They would need to tread carefully around those who had been censured for their part in the war, Seteth was saying. Yet Byleth couldn’t help being distracted by thoughts of her hand wandering up the back of Felix’s sweater. She would lay him down on the stone portico in the light of the fireworks and pull the sweater up over his ribs...
“Byleth, are you listening?” Byleth’s fingers unintentionally tightened around the button. With a snap of thread, it popped off and the silk-wrapped metal ball rolled to settle halfway between the two of them. Seteth scowled: “I was saying, I’m concerned that some of the Adrestian nobles will balk about the holiday role reversals. After losing the war, will it not bother them to divest more of their status? Even if it is simply a game.”
“It’s a few days of firework shows, singing, dancing, and spending their treasuries on gifts from the marketplace. You really think they won’t be able to handle it?”
“The holiday is about more than drinking and merriment, Byleth. We are working to unify Fodlan and honor its Goddess.”
“I have it on good authority that what Sothis would want most is to see her people dance and be joyful. As for me, I plan to go out, visit taverns, and be among the people you’re trying so hard to unify. And I want to wear warm sweaters.” She plucked at the opening in the sleeve that she had created.
Wear warm sweaters? Where had that come from? Oh yeah, Felix. That was another Felix thought.
“Everyone here has been through a lot. You included. We could use a release.”
Seteth ran a hand over his eyes. The thought of relaxing was so horrible he couldn’t look at it. “If you feel that this is the will of the Goddess, I will help to see it through.”
Byleth pumped her fist in the air and left the room in a flutter of white silk.
Claude was waiting for her when she stepped from the office. “So?…” he asked, excitement outweighing his trained nonchalance. Solstice traditions might be more of Fódlan’s religious malarkey, as far as Claude was concerned, but they were useful, and the new King of Almyra was as keen as Seteth to unify Fódlan.
“So?…” Byleth echoed him.
“So, is Seteth letting us move forward with the festival?”
“Weren’t you listening at the keyhole?”
Claude grinned and rubbed the back of his neck: “Yep. I’m glad you could talk him into it, Teach.”
As their steps took them through the exterior porticos, Fódlan winds carried Winter chill across the colonnades. Byleth hugged her arms for warmth. It would be a welcome four days of ridding herself of her archbishop’s insignia and regalia, but she hadn’t thought much further than that. What would she wear in the downtime?
“What’s on your mind, Teach?” Claude asked. Automatic adjustments were carrying them toward the training grounds.
“Sweaters.” The word was off her tongue before she could think about it.
“Sweaters?” Claude echoed.
“Felix has a signature sweater that he wears all the time,” Byleth said carefully.
“That same old turtleneck, right...” he chuckled.
Claude had known about the archbishop’s relationship with her swordsman, ever since she had taken a stomach wound during the Battle of Myrddin. Felix had rushed half-feral into the medic tent, ranting about not protecting her and stubbornly insisting that he be permitted to stay by her side. Claude had then staked out the tent until he spied the money shot: a passionate kiss that confirmed every one of his suspicions.
“Well, I want one. Something warm and festive.”
“We’ll have to get you a sweater then.”
Snowy footprints were already leading from the entrance hall to the marketplace outside of Garreg Mach. They made a path for Claude and Byleth to follow into a crowded square where merchants and townspeople milled under the bright twinkling of glass bulbs, set by mages to levitate and glow. For the first time, the clangs of anvils were drowned out by singing carolers. Individual craftsmen vended gifts: carved figures, wood-worked furniture, blown glass, and the tiny automata of clockwork marvels.
The thin layer of snow dusting the ground was marked up with hoofprints and boots of all sizes. According to the weather scholars, there would be more to come riding in on the solstice.
Byleth didn’t need scholars to know that a blizzard was on its way. Any mercenary worth their salt tracked weather by experience. Since boreal winds from the upper regions of Gautier and Fraldarius drove the snow down to Garreg Mach, Byleth could tell they were coming by the smell of the air. Fetid, a little decay amidst the bright sun; it was the smell of swamps that surrounded the Tailtean Plains. Smell the bog, and it was likely to snow.
Claude led Byleth through the market. Past the stalls where the leather-tanners’ fumes were so pungent, she could almost see scent lines in the air, past stalls of broadcloth and heavy woolen outerwear, to a small corner of knits. What knitted garments weren’t on display were bundled and tangled into wooden troughs freshly fetched from the cart. Byleth dug into the wools with relish while Claude considered the socks.
Just like with armor, it seemed that a person’s choice of sweater said something about their character. Claude sometimes wore a yellow and black one in the evenings when even the fireplaces throughout the monastery couldn’t stop his shivering.
“This is it, this is the one.” She lifted a sweater from among the many options in the trough.
It had more fluff than most of the cats around Garreg Mach, was imperfectly bleached off-white probably through indirect sun exposure, and it was generally shapeless.
Claude looked from the sweater to Byleth’s face and back, trying to sense the joke, the lie, the teensiest kernel of indecision. But Byleth was looking at the sweater the way some pet owners can look at the foulest, smelliest mongrel of a dog and still love it with their entire heart.
“Um… it has character,” Claude said.
Byleth didn’t even haggle for it. She purchased the hideous thing with its stray hairs and zero form-fitting at full price and immediately put it on. The booth keeper’s eyebrows floated upward centimeter by centimeter until they disappeared into the hair cresting the top of his forehead.
Claude shrugged to the man, his normally silver tongue finding itself very much tied: I don’t know what to say.
The shopkeeper sent Claude a grin that roughly said: My wife made that ugly sweater and I hadn’t the heart to tell her no one in their right mind would buy it. Now she’s won the bet, I’ll have to make dinner for a week.
Claude flashed the man a smirk: You win some, you lose some
Byleth patted the sweater down, satisfied with its bulk. “I have to get to the training hall!” she called leaving an astonished Claude in the marketplace dust.
As she passed the entrance to the Garreg Mach dining hall, she almost ran headlong into Sylvain who was carrying a spool of copper wire and a mischievous glint on his face.
“Professor!” Sylvain said, bracing Byleth, as the end of the copper wire tangled into the knits of the large fluffy sweater. “What are you wearing?” He worked to pull the wire from the sweater, trying his hardest not to snag it.
“It’s my new Solstice sweater. Do you like it?”
It’s unclear why Sylvain said what he did next. Perhaps it was a holdover from appeasing any number of bizarre flirtations. Perhaps it was because Byleth’s eyes were shining like pale early sunlight through a thatch of baby pine needles. For whatever reason, he made his voice jolly: “I love it! It’s really cute on you!”
Byleth grinned as they untangled the wire without any snags. Not that it would have made much difference. The fluffy monstrosity already looked like one giant snag. “By the way, what are you up to?” She asked, eyeing the end of the filaments in his hand.
“Well, Claude’s given me permission to tie him up in copper wire and portable mage lights. I swear, it won't be that dangerous.”
Byleth gave him a shrewd look that was only marginally undercut by the absurd sweater currently making her torso about as spherical as a snowman’s. Then, a smile ticked up the corner of her mouth: “Carry on, then.”
— — —
: The Yeti Monstrosity
Textile : 50% highland sheep of Gautier,
30% fjord goat from Fraldarius,
and 20% long-haired Dagdan rabbit.
Dye : Soaked in distilled morfis plum acid and left in the sun until white.
Texture : A little fluffy like a cat and soft to pet. Loses stray hairs due to the rabbit fur.
Style : Shapeless. Fits the body like a blob.
Sounds from Felix’s warmups concealed Byleth’s quiet footsteps as she entered the training ground. Having come a long way from splintering practice dummies with Faerghan brute strength, this more experienced Felix was a creature of finesse. From the colonnades, she watched his flow, each movement deliberate from the tips of his fingers to the ends of his pony-tail.
He was practicing an upward thrust, the sort that might be used to jam the weak spot of a knight's neck armor from a lower vantage. It had been many moons since they fought armored knights. Byleth wondered what brought on this drill.
For the onlooker, Felix’s training resurfaced old memories: His callused hands gripping twin blades, a dual-wielding surprise to test her mettle that first time they had sparred once she rose from the dead. The shocked-hot excitement that always passed over his face when their deadly dance escalated to the point that Byleth had let her blade-whip fly.
Byleth recalled that first time that lust had gotten the better of her while training out in the woods on the way to Ailell. Normally so careful while sparring with Felix, she had extended her sword and manipulated its whip to wrap around his shoulders.
Tied up in the bones of the goddess, Felix’s eyes had flashed red-copper as she reeled him in. Closer and lovelier, eyes winged wide, she found his lips and felt him kiss her back. His tongue was a finesse blade in her mouth, lacerating her with need from the inside out.
I’m sorry , she had muffled into the deepening kiss. I can’t resist , she moaned incoherent phonemes across his palate.
Yet, he was the one who had grabbed her. Lower arms free from the bone-blade’s binding, his hand fisted around the bottom of her breastplate and he pulled her roughly against him. Sorry , he echoed as his mouth pursued hers every time she drew her lips aside for a breath. They were both so, so sorry.
She had retracted the whip, releasing the bonds made by the Sword of the Creator to hold him with her own hands. But the damage was already done. She had wrapped him up in the bones of the goddess and he would remain in that bondage for the rest of his life.
Byleth pushed aside the memories. The solstice celebration gave her leave to stow the Sword of the Creator along with her mantle of archbishop. Today, she would simply use a wooden training sword and fight like a mercenary.
“Finally, you came,” Felix said sensing her presence. He stalked back and forth across the arena. “Wars begin and end, but this place never changes. And you don't change either.”
“That’s not true.” Byleth stepped from the columns.
“Hmph... If there's been any change, it's just that you're so busy,” he took her in for the first time, eyes orbiting around her fluffy white torso, “…your sword has grown dull...” He trailed off. “By, what are you wearing?”
“It’s a sweater for the Solstice.” Byleth grinned and bounced on calf-raises over to the rack of wooden practice swords. “Do you like it?”
“No. Not at all. Why are you wearing it?” His eyes trailed her movement, drawn to her erroneous fashion-judgment like a slow-motion carriage-wreck. “If you’re that cold we should train.”
Byleth crossed her arm over the shapeless wool. “I’m wearing it because I wanted a sweater.”
“Look, I—I have something important to ask you.” His hand fiddled with something in a trouser pocket.
Byleth smiled encouragingly.
Felix opened his mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. He looked at her face, then his eyes traveled down her sweater.
It was the worst once-over she had ever been given.
She was no stranger to men leering at her chest. It was amusing. A way to mark the fools from the worthy opponents who were wise enough to focus on her sword hand instead.
Yet, she had never before looked so amorphous and ill-defined. She stood before him, a giant fluffy cotton ball on two well-formed legs that were still decked out in those lacy black tights. The very picture of holiday whiplash: naughty and nice. Utterly bizarre.
“I’m sorry,” Felix said, feeling the edges of his own vanity. “I can’t look at you in that sweater. We’ll have to talk about this some other time.”
“But Sylvain said it was cute.”
“ Tch ,” his glance tread the line between scorn and pity. “Sylvain is well-practiced in telling women they’re cute when they’re not.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” A dangerous edge entered her voice. Her eyes were two spiked morning-stars, their menacing chains aiming straight for his gonads if he didn’t say something nice soon.
Felix forced himself to consider that there were different kinds of cute.
There was Byleth’s usual sexy-cute: capable, ravagable, completely intoxicating.
And then, there was her current state of cute: round and white snowball-looking thing with angry eyebrows narrowed to a V across her forehead and huge eyes telling him how much he was going to pay for not liking her sweater.
Yes, there were different types of cute, but that didn’t mean he had to validate all of them.
She stared directly at him; he looked away obliquely. She gave him another minute to find something nice to say.
When nothing came, she humphed, “Just for that, I’m not taking this off.”
“You’re the most stubborn…”
“Raise your sword, Fraldarius,” she said, already beginning her lunge, her balance on-point as it always was.
He hissed; an evasive twist away from her. He jabbed a flutter of fast slashes. Byleth’s blade perfectly anticipated his movements. Parry, parry, riposte. Her counter-attack swung wide and Felix ducked under the blade. Quickly, he recouped his aim and jabbed again.
This time, the sword blade became stuck in the wide weaving of the sweater, which was acting as a half-effectual woolen chainmail. Felix tsked and yanked the sword back leaving a splinter among the wool.
Clearly, the sweater was a liability.
Byleth narrowed her eyes and crouched lightly on the balls of her feet in preparation for one of her fast-paced combinations.
This time, however, as she twirled toward him, gaining momentum with each tight spin, her own blade became tangled in the sweater. Felix barked out a laugh. He lunged into her opening. She pulled the sword free just in time to parry.
Felix pressed in. Quick recovery was the name of the game since those entangling sweater fibers seemed to be unavoidable.
Feint right. Swipe left. Stay on balance. Byleth’s parry didn’t destabilize him, but his next jab right into the excess weft of the sweater did. “Dammit,” Felix growled as the sword-point lodged stubbornly into the wool yet again.
Byleth was too grumpy to laugh about it. She swiftly raised the wooden blade to his collar: “Do you yield?”
“Fine. That’s enough, fine.” Felix grunted, finally freeing his blade. He racked it and was moving toward the exit without glancing back to see if she was following.
“Wasn’t there something that you wanted to talk to me about?” Byleth called out behind him.
“Not now.” He stopped, looked at her cagily, and then glanced away. “Not like this.” She attempted to smooth the sweater over her body, but even as she pressed it against her chest and stomach, it remained as broad and fluffy as it always was.
Still, Byleth was as good as her word. She didn’t remove the monstrosity until bed. Then, as she began to drift off, with Felix’s chest pressed against her bare back and his mouth curved down toward her neck, she wondered again, what it was he needed to ask her?
— — —
Textile: 100% fine wool handspun from Daphnel angora rabbits.
Dye: Hand-crushed blue plant dye and carbon black.
Texture: Fine-fibered knit lace.
Style: To be honest, it kind of looks like a negligee.
To Byleth, summoning Hilda to help her search for her next sweater was a calculated risk. Hilda was notorious for criticizing Byleth’s wardrobe and pointing out mud stains on her clothes.
Whatever talk Hilda talked, however, her sweaters walked the walk. Lacy, impractical, and undeniably elegant, Hilda’s knits drew long lines from her petite form. They were seductively made of lace and gaps that showed off her gauzy undershirts below. Byleth was hesitant about that level of openly sensual elegance, but after she had biffed it with the yeti monstrosity, she was willing to give it a try.
“Here to help, Professor. As long as you don’t make me work, I’m happy to go shopping as much as you want.”
Byleth shook her head. No matter how often Hilda insisted that she was allergic to work, Byleth found it hard to believe. Allergens weren’t really Hilda’s style. If the girl broke out in hives it would be a tragedy tantamount to the dawning of a new war.
The winter market had grown overnight. Locals and tourists called loudly over the sounds of a hundred-or-so boots crunching down on snow and those persistent holiday carolers. The mob roved under the twinkling mage lights, from the taverns to the streets seeking entertainment and last-minute gifts.
“I’m so excited about the feast this evening. I’ll eat so much, I won’t be able to fit into the corset I brought for watching the fireworks.” Hilda’s chatter required little participation from Byleth aside from the occasional nod. “The lace is forgiving, but I’ll have to get someone to help me loosen the ribbons. If that happens. Oh, let’s be real, it probably won’t happen...”
Hilda moved through the crowded marketplace like a fish through water. Byleth, however, stopped at every weapon stall to gaze at the swords. Silver ceremonial blades with silk-wrapped handles. Martial broad blades naked below the hilt and ready to be dressed to the wielder’s needs. Each time she halted, Hilda gave her the measure of five foot-taps and two exaggerated eyerolls before dragging her away like a stubborn cart-mule toward a garment stall.
Byleth would pick up a sweater, then the somewhat shorter Hilda would grab it from her hands, scrutinize it for a minute with undisguised disgust, and put it back down, quipping something up at her former commander like, “Wow, Professor, why are you so determined to undersell yourself?”
It happened. Every time.
“Professor, that looks like someone already threw up on it.”
“Professor, I think that sweater was ripped to shreds by a barn cat during transit.”
“That one’s okay, Professor… but I don’t think red is really your color.”
Whenever Byleth found something she liked, she would hear a cackling call of: “Professor, you’re right—that is the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen. Thanks for pointing it out!”
Finally, Hilda dragged Byleth into a booth that held mostly jewelry. On one of the narrow wooden shelves was a small array of knits. Hilda pulled one out: Soft fine wool from Daphnel angora rabbits , as the placard announced. It was dyed black and blue in a simple pattern, and lacy enough to be mistaken for a negligee if the wearer didn’t pair it right.
“Now here’s something,” Hilda mused. She looked the garment over for snags before holding it up against Byleth’s chest. “This, over top of that silk undershirt you wear with all your archbishop stuff, and he won’t be able to take his eyes off you.”
With Felix, Byleth knew, his eyes wouldn’t be the problem. It would be his hands that couldn’t stay away. She smiled and decided to keep that detail to herself.
Hilda took care of the purchase. She refused to let Byleth throw the sweater into her old leather shoulder bag as the mercenary often did. Instead, she insisted that the booth keeper wrap it in fine paper like a special gift.
By the time Byleth cracked through that paper package and changed into the new sweater, fifteen centimeters of pristine snowfall lay between the revelers and their perfect holiday fireworks.
This feast was intended as an outdoor event: tables laden with pheasant dripping in berry sauce, rabbit meat skewers, individual servings of onion gratin, Daphnel stew, veggie stir-fries, and fish straight from the pond. They were supposed to eat with their picnic blankets thrown merrily on the lawns and their necks craned to see Claude’s fireworks shooting overhead.
Now, who in their right mind would want to sit on freezing cold snow-wet blankets to watch a few colorful explosions?
Yet again, the event was rescued by the innovative Lysethia and her gaggle of mages who placed heating spells to warm the stone and tile flooring throughout the monastery’s various porticoes and patios. Crisis averted. Claude was pleased not to have his show canceled and the merry-makers were already congregating on the heated tiles and pouring their drafts in the late morning.
Claude’s firework experiments had begun one night with the creation of a flare that probably saved his life when he and the white wyvern were stranded in the mountains around Fódlan’s throat. Nonetheless, what begins as survival and necessity will often find its most popular form in entertainment, and fire flares were no different.
By the time Claude had expanded his repertoire of chemical explosions into tricks, no one complained about his hands smelling of carbon and saltpeter, or that he was always collecting odd chemical compounds. He found the formulas spelunking in the Abyss libraries. This one’s for red, he would say, shaking a vial of silver and white strontium salts at Byleth, as if that meant anything. And copper actually makes blue , he added pulling an identical vial from who-knows-where on his person.
Many of the holiday festivities were optional. Fireworks were not. Suffice to say that if Byleth missed the fireworks show, it would put a wrench in the interpersonal support between the King of Almyra and the Archbishop of Fódlan for at least a week. Pranks would ensue, to say the least.
So, when Byleth showed up in the outfit Hilda had picked for her, with the provocative lacy sweater drawn tight just below her breasts and her silken undershirt accentuating the curves of her body, Felix’s eyes flickered a panicked vision from her throat down to her chest. Holy hell. Look away! Look away!
He gulped, “What are you wearing now?”
“New sweater,” Byleth said coyly. “This one’s better, right? You like it?”
As if pulled by magnets, Felix’s hand snapped to brace her back. His thumb ran upward into the material to rest against the silk. It was everything he could do to not sink his fingers into the lace eyelets and rip it all off.
“This one’s better,” he admitted. Pushing on her back, he led her to a reserved spot on the heated portico outside the officers academy. “But you don’t seem too comfortable in it.”
“What do you mean?” Byleth asked, illustrating his point by itching part of the sweater back into place. She settled in between Felix and one of the columns.
“It doesn’t seem like you.” Felix was looking from Byleth to the lace as if memorizing the pieces of a puzzle he needed to solve. His fingers worried at something concealed in his pocket.
“Didn’t you want to ask—” she started, but Felix rose abruptly.
Graceful and fluid as ever, he was already stalking away and calling back, “I’ll get dinner.”
Byleth picked at the entirely carnivorous plate of food Felix had brought her. As the night darkened, they watched Claude’s fireworks make silver chandeliers in the sky. A small band played music, and a few merry-makers were dancing parabolic trails and tightly ringed swirls through the snow.
“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Byleth mused quietly. Confiding in Felix was as simple as breathing, as effortless as the muscle memory of swinging a blade. “I’ve never had winter traditions before.”
Felix hummed a nonverbal response. The darker it grew, the more license he gave himself to run his hands over the lacy sweater. Over and under. He held Byleth's body and bones between his hands, creating static storms where they skimmed and warmth where they rested.
“What traditions did Faerghus have during the winter?” she asked leaning into his touch.
“We would strip off our clothes and have competitions to see who could remain in the snow the longest...” his voice trailed off. They watched each sparkling luminescence leave its ghost in the air.
“Absolute heathens,” she gritted through a puff of hot breath and chattering teeth. Felix pulled her closer and sheltered her between his legs.
Each explosion in the sky left a hazy quiet. The fireworks went up, spent their light in a majestic heat that reflected off the falling snowflakes, and then, like something shedding its skin, each firework turned to gray bones and smoky tendrils against the stars.
“No longer,” he breathed, watching wind blow another firework on its path. “Faerghus won’t be like that anymore.” It was the first time he said it out loud.
Even without Seteth there to riddle out the human condition for Byleth, she could tell the significance of a few words spoken amidst lilting waltzes and explosions of light. Perhaps Felix was hoping that the past would sublimate with all the smoke in the air and carry his burdens away.
She covered one of his hands with hers where it was warming against her stomach. “I don’t want to sleep tonight,” she said. “Stay up with me? Through the night?”
Her concerns had stumbled their way onto yet another old Faerghan custom: the snow vigil.
Traditions often originated in darkness. Vigils to honor those who kept watch in the night. Vigils for those who ran to the aid of burning towns. Vigils for soldiers who would not leave their posts even when spectres came calling in the dark.
They could dress the customs up—with enchanted lights and reflective foils, with ornate candles and golden filaments, with the silly wool of an ugly sweater worn half in jest—but they would always be there as a shelter from dark nights that needed a light.
Felix thought of soldiers on the hillside holding the snow vigil out of necessity. He thought of when he and Byleth had been soldiers, short moons ago. His lips trailed down her neck until he buried his face against her shoulder. Another vigil with her, this time in peace, could be just the winter tradition he needed.
— — —
The Cause of Sorrow
Textile : It’s very unclear.
It might actually be cat fur from a domestic longhaired breed
or the undercoat of a winter wolf.
Dye : Just everything. Berries, bug-guts, crushed flowers,
oxblood, spilled wine, carbon ink, demonic beast venom...
Texture : Soft in that overly familiar, worn-ragged kind of way that hand-me-downs get.
Style : What style?
The blizzard had descended in full force overnight, and even as the sun rose it was continuing to transform Garreg Mach into a sparkling white palace. Frosted and slippery walkways led between buildings. The brave tried to build snowmen which were buried up to their second segment before the sun was high in the sky. In other words, it was a lovely day to be inside sipping on mulled wine and watching the high winds blow flanks of snow from one roof to another.
As he had promised, Sylvain was waiting for her in the atrium. He was decked out in burgundy cables, wool spun from the densest-haired sheep of the Gautier highlands. It was just the material you could dig your fingers into. The cables formed complicated braids and twists that reminded Byleth of the covert coded string communication they had used for wartime messages.
Knots could be more than a simple yes or no. The number of intersections and overlaps in a knot could tell distance, direction, location. A braid could tell any number of stories from inklings of enemy ambushes to wounds sustained by important officers. Sometimes, Byleth still found herself looking at Sylvain’s cable-knit sweaters and trying to read them like memos.
“Sylvain,” Byleth addressed the redhead. “You’re my last hope. I need a sweater that Felix would like.”
“Have you tried not wearing a sweater or any clothes at all?”
Byleth stifled the urge to punch his crooked grin. “He keeps starting to ask a question and then stopping,” she confided.
“Oh, that? It has nothing to do with sweaters.” A thoughtful, almost solemn expression straightened his face. "I know one place you haven't looked, Professor. You've been so fixated on finding a sweater to make you into a different person. Why not get one to honor the warrior you are?"
"You mean a military sweater?"
"They packed all that stuff into the Knight's Hall. I bet we could find you something in there. If it's not too macabre, that is."
"We don't really go into the Knight's Hall," Byleth said slowly. She didn’t need to tell him that. The place had become an ossuary of life before the war. Ruins, relics, and lost kings.
"We don't have to.” Sylvain grimaced, just then realizing what he was asking. All for what, a silly sweater she would wear once?
"No, I—" She raised her hand as if it could signal all the things she didn't know how to say. Then, she dropped it by her side for a simple: "Let's go."
Inside, the Knight's Hall was a cobwebbed labyrinth of displaced chests and storage containers. To Byleth, it was more like exploring an ancient ruin than the familiar den of strategic wits it had once been. The chests coated her palms with gray dust. Phantom scents rose to greet her: sweat, days of horseback riding, beechwood sanded and oiled for lances.
She knelt in front of a familiar chest that had once sat in the second-floor office belonging to the Captain of the Knights of Seiros—Jeralt’s office. She creaked open the ash-wood lid and found her own chest tightening; breathing in dust, sucking down the saltwater of old wounds haphazardly healed.
"Professor?" Sylvain said warily.
Byleth dug through papers and old notes. Her father had kept prolific ledgers though few had ever seen him sit to write. Finally, at the bottom, she found a small bundle of his possessions from when he was a young man.
Her fingers caught on the tightly woven and thread-worn wool of a military sweater, wide-necked and slightly lumpy from years of use and abuse. Long-term exposure to the ash-wood chest stole away whatever stink it originally carried. The scent that replaced it might have been worse: stale airless storage.
"Maybe this was a bad idea, huh Professor?" Sylvain ran his hand back through his hair.
"No." Quiet voiced in a world that seemed only to be limpingly spinning around her, she had found another ugly sweater. This one, though, was a good idea.
She carried it out of the tomb-like air of the Knight’s Hall back toward the Mess, where they could get a good look at the sweater. Sylvain whistled, “Is that an ale stain?”
A silent conflict warred across Byleth’s face. On the one hand, this sweater had seen some shit. It was misshapen and splotched. It was once orange, they could tell. But the rest was a mystery melange of stains. On the other hand, it was the only sweater she had ever inherited.
“This isn’t very festive, is it?” she asked, simply to clarify.
“Well, it certainly doesn’t scream ‘holiday spirit’ if that’s what you’re asking.” Sylvain took the sweater from her and held it up for scrutiny. “It’s chaos,” Sylvain said, “even a little bit like battle.”
“As your strategic officer, I resent that,” Byleth snapped. It was hard to argue with, though. You could plan and maneuver and gambit and calculate all you wanted, but the realities of war once you were on the field were myopic chaos. She looked down at the sweater. Perhaps this stained and tattered knit was indeed like wartime.
“I dub this sweater, ‘The Cause of Sorrow.’” Sylvain quipped.
He thought for a moment that he had made Byleth cry, as she ducked her head in her hand and started snuffling. Then, he realized that she was laughing so hard her eyes had sprung a leak. “It really is so ugly,” she said, holding her sides from the uncontrollable laughter. “I can’t believe he wore this.”
Sylvain turned the sweater around front and back. Then, as if a lightbulb went off in his head, he turned to Byleth, “I have an idea to make it more festive.”
Byleth scowled. Sylvain didn’t flinch. For someone who had grown up with Felix, fielding murderous scowls was old hat. “All I need is copper wire and those small blown glass baubles,” he mused.
“You’re going to string mage lights on the sweater?”
Then it would be lumpy, tattered, and it would light up. What could go wrong?
When Sylvain was done with her, Byleth was wearing a ragged old military sweater whose original color of yarn was all but indiscernible. On top of it, Sylvain had strung garlands of glowing glass bulbs. Sometimes, the lights chased each other in a wave. Other times, they blinked at random.
She truly was a sight to behold.
“Teach!” Claude found them in the dining hall. Sylvain had a stack of spellbooks three deep in front of him while Lysethia glared from the other table. “I know we said you needed to liven it up a little bit, but this…”
Sylvain shook his head subtly at Claude: watch what you say .
Byleth’s lights twinkled while Claude quickly changed tracks: “Your sweaters have been doing a good job of making people laugh.” He rubbed the back of his neck.
Sylvain tugged a loose thread on his own burgundy sweater. “We could all really use the laughs,” he corroborated.
“You should do something for yourself, Teach. Planning holidays shouldn’t be like planning wars, and you look exhausted. Sneak off from the feasts tonight. Enjoy the evening with Felix in peace.”
“We’re not always much for peace,” she said, recalling Felix’s words from just a few days ago, We fought to bring peace to Fódlan, but peace is so boring… His eyes had been darting over hers in a silent plea to agree with him. The thing was, she mostly did.
“Ahh, well, a magical evening like this?” There was warmth in Claude’s voice as he straightened a green-lit bauble on her sweater. “It might surprise you.”
“Claude, you’re surprising me talking about magic. What happened to your logic?”
“Get in the mood, Teach.”
“Or we’ll have to force you,” Sylvain added.
Byleth remembered Hilda in her red and green lace corset. She thought of Sylvain stringing Claude up in mage lights, of Lysethia using her deadly reason skills for warming spells. Some parts of the holidays were magic, if only to bring out a little joy.
There was no need for force. She smiled at Claude, and her hand drifted to pat his cheek and watch those shrewd eyes grow soft.
“That’s the spirit,” he said quietly.
By the time Byleth left the mess hall to find Felix, the sweater had been perfected into the platonic ideal of a bright-obnoxious-light-up catastrophe.
She marched up to Felix in his clean cape, dapper furs, and thigh-high boots and dared him to say something. She watched his eyes flick from the blinking lights to a stained patch of the sweater.
“It was my dad’s.”
This time, though, he just ran his hand across his hair, shrugged to accentuate the ribbing in his own sweater, and laughed: Fine, if this is what you want. Fine.
Okay, well he couldn’t help getting in at least one jab. He planted a kiss on the top of her head. And the words he whispered down were, “You look absurd.”
“What does it matter what I wear?”
He threaded his arm in between hanging baubles of lights to wrap around her back as they walked to the banquet hall: “I’ll take you in anything.”
A few moons of peace were nowhere near enough time for the denizens of Garreg Mach to grow blasé about the monastery's replenishing pantries. They devoured feasts with gusto. The King of Almyra sat across the Archbishop of the Church of Seiros. Beside them, the nobles of former Faerghus and the heroes of the former Leicester Alliance, all for an evening having set aside their titles and duties, partook in a common meal.
At the highest tables, surrounded by the most ornate lanterns, reflective baubles, and cheery levitating mage lights, were the common people. Townspeople and merchants, shopkeepers and merry children—treated like kings.
The longer the festivities went on, the louder the guests became, as ale passed from hand to hand. Itching to be on their own, Felix and Byleth cut out before the saghert and cream hit the tables.
Many things may have changed since the war ended, but as a pair, Byleth and Felix still had one major skill to their names: sneaking out of mandated activities. Even in a sweater festooned with dancing lights, Byleth managed to stealth along, half-hidden in Felix’s cape, from the feast hall without anyone being the wiser.
Outside, the sky was growing dark despite the early hour. Mage lights twinkled yellow-toned in the distance like little points of gold that would lead them home through the blizzard.
As they made their way from the feast, they found a wildness in their steps, which crunched down eight centimeters of snow without finding the ground. Every step toward the archbishop’s chamber in the white-out snow was an opportunity to enisle themselves beyond time, out of range of the ghost-ridden past and restrictions of a peaceful future.
Had they really changed so much? Memories and experiences weren’t an array of sweaters purchased from the Fódlan winter market. They went deeper than layers of wool and leather, deeper than armor. They were in the skin, below the dermis. They were the bits of Felix that she touched in the morning to reassure herself.
Their steps crunched. The winds ripped. The distant feast was growing more silent. He watched Byleth shiver despite pulling the sleeves of Jeralt’s sweater down her hands.
Something hard-wired in Felix ran even deeper than the skin that Byleth could touch and hold. Along the spine, it spiked his instincts: fight more than flight; protect. Wars might begin and end, but people didn’t stop needing protectors.
As he wrapped his arm around her to share warmth, Felix had so many questions.
“What’s with the terrible sweaters, Byleth?"
“I like your sweaters. They’re warm, and they’re you, and they’ve been with us through everything.” Byleth’s shivering became more violent.
“It’s just a garment.” He pulled his cape around the both of them to wrap her tight against him. Even through his wools and leathers, he could feel Byleth’s muscles vibrating to keep her warm.
“These clothes mean something,” she said. It was difficult to hear her voice above the wind. He could barely see her lips move for all the puffing condensation that was coming from her breath. “About who we have to be now.”
“The sweater is a metaphor?” It lit up. First red, then green, then that warm white light that the mages used to turn Garreg Mach all to gold.
“You know I don’t do metaphors, Felix. The sweater is a sweater.”
“You—” he fitted the cape’s fur lining around her neck. “You’re afraid you’ll lose yourself now that the war’s over. You’re afraid we’ll drift apart into different lifestyles. You think if you find the perfect sweater, it will protect what we have now?”
“Felix…” There was a pain in her voice that was more than the cold in her windpipe. “It’s just a sweater.”
“And dreams are just dreams, but you’re afraid to go to sleep. A sweater won’t fix that Byleth, no matter what sheep you spin it from.”
Her fingers were so cold and numb, the nerves seemed to be retreating back up her hands. She hadn’t been this cold since her last winter watch when the sun went down and the shadows stole all the warmth from the air.
Back then, she had leaned against a tree, the Sword of the Creator ominously creaking its own ossified shell at her side. The chill had crept in from her spine, upward through her limbs, numbing her to the base of her neck. Just Byleth and the night watch, unsleeping, while the lives she was protecting rested all around her.
“For me,” Felix was saying, “the only thing that fixes it is to have you by my side.”
She put her fingers against Felix’s chest, a silent plea that he ignite her again. He was right. It was more than a sweater. It was the way Felix then grabbed her frigid hands. It was the look of frustration that crossed his face, annoyance with himself that he had let her get that cold. He was pulling open his vest and stuffing her hand upward against his skin under his sweater onto his core where he built the most warmth.
Her fingers brought him the ice of the night watch, the ice of Faerghan winters he tried to forget. She felt him shudder against her. Her other hand wrapped the back of his neck to tuck below the edge of his hairline into the top of the turtleneck.
“What you’re searching for,” he began again through chattering teeth, “we already have it.”
“I have something to ask you.” He blazed his eyes into hers. The rare eye-contact warmed them more than either of their combined body heat. “I want to be your husband.”
Byleth stared up, frozen in place. His hand was fiddling in his pocket again while she was groping warmth from his chest.
“Byleth?” he said, as the wind stilled around them. “Marry me?” He brought the ring from the pocket and held it in the small space between them. Green like the lights on the sweater, like the verdant lights of her eyes still in contact with his. “Please say ‘yes.’”
“Yes!” It was a sound like cracking ice. A blessing: “I love you. Yes.” She stepped even closer into the encircling cape to kiss him.
“Really?” he hummed against her cold-bitten lips.
— — —
Textile: 100% Fraldarian cashmere
Dye: It’s a blue so deep it appears black.
The merchant intends to take the secret of this dye to their grave.
Texture: Knit ribbing—practical for breath-ability.
A cuddleable slice of home, no matter the location.
The two betrothed made their way to the archbishop’s residence while the night conspired to hide them from prying eyes. With barely any feeling in her frozen hands, Byleth was wrapped up in Felix’s cloak, while he, in turn, was wrapped up in that unimpeachably handsome turtleneck sweater. Half-entwined as they were, it was a holiday miracle that they managed to make it to the third floor.
Felix dripped snow onto the floor while Byleth immediately set to stoking flames in the fireplace. He only had his back turned for a moment while he unclasped his soaked cape when Byleth stripped away the rest of her clothes and pulled on one of his spare turtlenecks from the bag he had perpetually settled by the side of the bed. Maybe now he would feel comfortable moving in, making his position in her chambers permanent.
She pulled it over her damp hair, slipped her sodden pants to the floor, and lounged across the bed in the fire-glow while she watched Felix take down his ponytail. As the soft cashmere draped across her chest and the hem fell over her underpants, she realized that this was the sweater she had wanted all along.
Nerves returned to the tips of her fingers; sensation retook her body. Felix was standing before the fireplace. Embers threw dancing reflections across the hair relaxed at his shoulders. He flexed proud fingers in the heat.
“I found the perfect sweater.” Byleth rolled onto her side and traced a hand from her rib down to her hip in the black turtleneck. Firelight caught and reflected the facets of the green stone in her engagement ring.
“That’s my sweater...” he said, tone dropping low as he watched her tease at the hem. He lunged to claim the warm space she was making in the sheets.
“You’ll have to take it off me then.”