Byleth wandered the merchant stalls, taking care not to stray too far from Dimitri. She’s had her eye on a few flowers already, ones she’s certain Sylvain would like. Yet, Byleth wouldn’t settle for anything but the best for her students, especially on birthdays. Growing up with only a father and a band of mercenaries was tough, but if there was one thing they managed to drill into her head, it was to enjoy festivities when possible.
She spotted a modest flower in a stall, carefully arranged by a kind looking elderly woman, one that Sylvain could either keep or regift to one of his nightly dalliances. She bought it with a hint of satisfaction bubbling deep in her chest. Sothis rolled her eyes, ever unhappy about enabling Sylvain’s eccentricities , but Byleth was of the opinion that he should be able to express himself as he wished. The only thing she has had to make clear was the weeks of stable duty eagerly waiting for any red-heads who didn’t make their intentions absolutely clear to every woman they flirted with. He’d clammed up pretty fast after that.
Byleth twirled the flower in her hand, delicately wrapped in paper, and it crinkled softly as she did. The woman smiled, laughing lines gathering in the corner of her eyes. Byleth turned away to not offend her, for she didn’t feel the inclination to smile back. She wondered if she would have those kinds of wrinkles in the future.
“Professor! I apologize for the intrusion, it would have been rude to turn her away completely. She made such a lovely garland.”
Not lovely enough to accept, it seemed, but Dimitri was polite to a fault. Byleth started walking and Dimitri quickly fell into step by her side. She glanced at the prince and tilted her head, a silent question. It was a relief to be alone with Dimitri sometimes, he was so attuned to Byleth’s mannerisms by now that she barely needed to say a word.
“You… aren’t aware of the tradition? During the Garland Moon?” Byleth only hummed, keeping an eye out for any board games, the main gift she’s planned for Sylvain. The flower was only a small gesture she always included, a side dish, if you will. “Oh, well, it’s a tradition meant to be a last farewell to spring. It makes use of the last flowers before the heavy rainfall arrives. Women and girls usually make garlands for close friends and family, or suitors.”
“Women and girls?” she asked, and Dimitri put a hand to his chin, deep in thought.
“Traditionally, yes, but I suppose anyone could make one.”
Perhaps Byleth should try her hand at making some. She could gift one to her father, maybe her students if she enjoyed the process. Byleth made a sound, something resembling gratitude, eyes glued to a promising vendor selling games of all kinds. The prince only chuckled.
Byleth paused and turned to Bernadetta. She was more put together than usual, wearing a casual dress insead of the usual noble uniform, though her hair was still a mess. Byleth was glad, that was what made her Bernadetta, after all. She would have regretted dragging her along into town if she spent the entire day feeling uncomfortable and unlike herself. The girl fidgeted in place and sent little looks at Dimitri.
“Would you like to speak in private?” Byleth asked, and she timidly nodded her head. She was about to apologize to the prince for her own intrusion, but he was already smiling and turning to a nearby stall. Strange, he almost looked tense.
“H- here, Professor. I wanted to- um, thank you. For accepting me into your house- and- not forcing me to talk in class- and- so. Thank you!”
She bowed her head, hiding a burning blush, and stuck out an artfully woven garland. Byleth was no authority on anything beautiful, her tastes were always more spartan and the color black, but even she could see how well these flowers were chosen. Each complimented the other, mostly sticking to light, bluish hues, with the odd yellow or red. Byleth felt her eyes soften as she took the garland, inspecting it with as much care as she could.
She draped it around her neck and allowed the hint of a smile. She decided then, her first garland would be for Bernadetta. “Thank you. I appreciate the gesture.”
The girl fidgeted something fierce, but Byleth could see the smile on her face. She glanced around, shying away from the small crowd passing by.
“A- anyway. I don’t want to take up more of your time- I interrupted too-”
“You’re not a burden, Bernadetta.” Byleth put a hand on her head and gently petted the purple mess. “You can return home if you wish. You can also stay.”
She finally looked up and her embarrassed blush was gone, face smoothed out into a happy smile. They spoke for a short while about the strange plants she found by a merchant from Brigid, aware of Dimitri waiting for her, and parted ways after that. Petra was no doubt bustling around there as well, collecting souvenirs to ease her homesickness. Perhaps Byleth should buy some of those flowers and make a garland for her, too.
Dimitri joined her once again, a strange look about him. “It looks… wonderful, Professor.”
Byleth watched the prince, noting his hesitation, and frowned. She knew that Dimitri, as a rule, would rather train than attend festivities, but he had seemed fine, happy even, to come along with Byleth. Perhaps they should take a short break and spar in the flower field. The girls were probably there making garlands. It would double as a break for Dimitri and a chance to get started on her gifts.
Nodding to herself, Byleth curled two fingers into the prince’s sleeve and gently pulled him towards the meadow on the outskirts of town. Sure enough, students from multiple houses were already there, sitting in circles of friend groups, chatting and weaving or searching for flowers. Byleth also spotted Lindhardt, fast asleep under the soft sunlight, and Marianne off a bit further from everyone, sitting under a tree and reading, content and calm for once.
His Blue Lions waved at their arrival and Byleth nodded in turn. She crouched down and bent a white flower, noting the long stem, ideal for weaving. His students have chosen well. She expected nothing less, especially with perfectionists like Annette and Ingrid in the mix.
She placed Sylvain’s gift by her Lions for safekeeping, and turned to Dimitri, a hand on her sword. “A spar?”
It had the intended effect. The prince perked up and they went through a few drills, letting him warm up and get used to Byleth’s sword. She would’ve brought a lance if she had known.
“Really, Teach? I thought we were supposed to be relaxing today.” Claude strolled up to them as Byleth circled Dimitri, checking over his stance.
“I believe we were actually instructed to do whatever we wanted,” Dimitri grinned. His smile quickly dropped when Byleth jabbed a finger into his side. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt, but he flinched regardless.
“Your side is open.” Dimitri stuttered, embarrassed, and quickly corrected himself.
Claude laughed and the prince sent him some scolding looks, but soon he was focused on getting acquainted with the steel sword. He wasn’t nearly as graceful with weapons other than a spear or a lance, but his form was still admirable. Byleth’s eyes caught on the wide movement, the way his shoulders shifted, the striking look in his eyes.
“Here to make garlands?” Byleth asked, remembering that she had company.
Claude only snorted. “I prefer to admire the flowers. My appreciation for art lies in another genre.”
A charming smile and hips cocked. “You flatter me.”
Byleth didn’t know what to say to that, so she turned away and went through a few stretches. Apparently the conversation wasn’t over, however.
“Who’s the lucky guy?” Claude gestured to her garland, a smirk on his face. It was one of those incredibly smug expressions he made when he knew something you didn’t.
That was a strange way to phrase things, so maybe he did. “Bernadetta.”
He hummed. “Really now? Making her one in return? It’s only polite to give an answer, after all.”
Byleth tilted her head, but couldn’t quite wrap her head around the implications Claude was hinting at. Did the flowers have special meanings? “Of course.”
A few gasps of different varieties chorused from her Lions, then a sharp snap pierced the air. Byleth moved with years of muscle memory, she planted her feet, Creator sword drawn. The blade of her steel sword clattered to the ground. Byleth blinked at Dimitri, who held a broken hilt in his hand. He was frozen in place, a blush quickly spreading across his face and neck. Sort of like a ripening tomato.
“I- I am so sorry, Professor, I will-” He fumbled, picking up the blade. Byleth was honestly more concerned about him cutting himself. “I will take this to a blacksmith immediately . And- and buy a new one, as well- no, two- three- it’s- it’s irreplaceable- I can’t believe I-”
Byleth cut him off with a hand on his arm and shot a warning look at a snickering Claude. Sothis raged in her head. The sword was a keepsake from her youth, one of the first adult sized weapons gifted to her by her father. An anecdote Byleth has only told Dimitri. Not that it was a secret, no one else had asked. A painful little pang in her chest told her that she was sad to see it go, but everything came to an end, didn’t it?
“It’s all right, Dimitri. It’s not your fault.”
The prince made a pitiful sound. He looked very much like a kicked puppy at that moment. “ Professor- ”
Byleth felt the hint of a smile. “We’ll go to a blacksmith together, then. Tomorrow. Today , you will enjoy yourself.”
Dimitri made a face, as he calmed down, leaving only a dusting of pink on his cheeks. He nodded, a sudden determined look on his face. “As will you.”
Just like that Claude was chased away and they sat with the other Lions, following Mercedes’ instructions. Byleth concentrated on her movement, fingers and wrists and arms, copying as best as she could. Taking her gloves off significantly improved her work, she would even say it looked decent.
“It’s all right, Dimitri. You’ll get better with a little practice, I’m sure of it.” Mercedes patted the prince’s hand as he frowned down at his yellow mess of a garland. Half of his flowers were crushed, the placement uneven and colors haphazard. Not to mention it was a tad short to hang around the neck. So Dimitri’s weakness was art, judging by the frustrated tick in his brows.
Byleth reached over and picked it up. It was, admittedly, not the prettiest, but the longer she looked, the clearer Dimitri’s vision became. The flowers were three different shades of yellow, forming vague patterns along the garland. The most prominent swirling design was made with silky, large petals, reflecting more light than the rest. Almost like a halo, or perhaps a crown.
“I like it. May I?” Dimitri nodded numbly, eyes wide.
Byleth placed it on her head and carefully tilted side to side. It stayed on fairly well. She looked up, searching for opinions. Mercedes was the most fashionable one in the Lions, she trusted her opinion on aesthetics above anyone else’s. She smiled her serene, calm smile.
“It suits you wonderfully, Professor.”
Byleth smiled and Annette quickly jumped in with her praises. Ingrid was much more modest, but her smile was just as wide. Dimitri was perfecting his impression of a vibrant red fruit, so Byleth took the initiative to drape her own garland around his neck. It was much simpler, two kinds of blue flowers alternating in rows. She was aiming for a deep, royal blue, the color of their house and the Blaiddyd family, but hadn’t quite found the right flowers.
She sat back to admire her work and decided that forget-me-not wasn’t a bad choice, after all. Any darker and it wouldn’t have stuck out against Dimitri’s blue clothes.
It brought out his eyes, bright as the sky.
Dimitri stumbled upright, straightening like a scolded child. “Excuse me, I must- Thank you- But- Dedue-”
Byleth watched him leave, stunned. That was… unexpected. She didn’t really know what to think. Was Dimitri offended? Did Byleth commit some terrible social faux pas? If so, she had to make sure to apologize the next time they saw each other.
Annette giggled. “His Highness is so cute when he’s flustered!”
“ Annette. ” Ingrid gently thwacked her arm.
“What?! He is!”
Mercedes sighed happily, tied off the end of her garland and held it up to check for any mistakes. “It was very sweet that they matched.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
Annette looked up, eyes wide. “Of course not, Professor! You aren’t familiar with these kinds of customs, you couldn’t have known.”
She turned to Ingrid.
“Yes, that was… very improper.” Byleth nodded and frowned. She’d definitely have to buy some kind of thoughtful gift as an apology.
She picked a few more flowers and added them to her stacks, inspecting the quality of each stem and petal. She threw some over her shoulder, the ones that didn’t meet her standards, Byleth guessed. “Just because the Professor is not aware of customs doesn’t mean she isn’t breaking them. It’s only fair to be honest and explain.”
Mercedes draped her garland around Annette and the girl yelped, intentionally distracted in that subtle way Mercedes tended to go about things. She was a lot more devious than she let on. The garland spontaneously lit on fire and Annette hastily summoned a water spell. It crashed down on her head, but definitely extinguished the fire.
Ingrid scooted closer to her, ignoring the chaos completely. “Would you like a detailed explanation, Professor?”
She nodded and settled in for the lecture.
It turned out that Dimitri had severely understated the romantic aspect of gifting a garland. And by severely she meant, severely. Byleth found Bernadetta a little while later and cleared everything up, both of them agreeing that a sheltered kid of a mercenary and a shut-in shy girl weren’t experts in social customs. She kept the garland, because she liked it and the gesture was innocent. Dimitri’s flower crown, however, Byleth found herself treating it with the care that was usually reserved for her weapons. Sothis teased her for the rest of the afternoon.
The next morning, when Byleth woke and opened her door to head to the communal washroom, she almost stepped on four swords, sheathed and laid out parallel. The most ornate looking leather held her repaired sword. It looked like it had never been broken at all.