The next morning before he started his shift, Nicolaus went to the girls’ patched-up caravan and handed them their school uniforms. He didn’t want to say goodbye to his daughter so soon after she returned, but he knew that they both had a lot of work to do – the baron with his workshop and Monica with her studies.
After finding a place to change back into their academy uniforms, Monica and her friends departed for Garreg Mach, once again thanking Nicolaus for his hospitality. With the defeat of the bandits, the road was mostly safe for people and carriages to travel. There was still a bit of anxiety over whether any new bandits would attempt to replace the ones they defeated the previous day, so they kept their weapons close by in case something happened.
By the time the caravan returned to the monastery, the week had almost concluded. Monica had missed out on a lot of study time, and her window to pass the Priest certification exam and catch up with the rest of her house before the Battle of the Eagle and Lion was shrinking. She spent most of her ride back wondering what her next lesson would entail.
Byleth and Anna were waiting for them once they entered the market, along with two boys wearing blue- and gold-colored academy uniforms. Monica assumed that they, like Edelgard, were the leaders of the other academy houses – Dimitri of the Blue Lions, and Claude of the Golden Deer. If she was able to befriend Edelgard, then she felt like she might also be able to get along with the other two lords.
“There you are!” said Claude. “Been wondering when you’d get back. Did everything go okay up there?”
“It’s okay now,” said Leonie, “but we met with a little bit of resistance on the way up.”
“It looked like the bandits had been attacking mail carriers along the western roads,” said Ingrid, “stealing magic books and letters.”
“These bandit types just don’t know when to give up,” said Claude. “At least there’s one less group of them skulking about now.”
“I’m glad to see that none of you was seriously injured,” said Dimitri.
“You guys did a great job out there,” said Anna. “Okay, maybe I’m just saying that because I wasn’t actually here to watch you fight, but the boxes of unspoiled merchandise that came in a few days ago are the only evidence I need.”
“Thank you. Uh…forgive me for not properly introducing myself before,” said Monica as she curtsied before Anna and the other two lords. “My name’s Monica. Pleased to meet you all.”
“Monica, huh? I have a couple of things for you…from that blonde girl from last week.”
Anna reached into her satchel and handed Monica an envelope and a small cubic package, both signed in fancy script writing by one “Constance von Nuvelle”. Monica was excited to hear back from Constance so soon, as well as anxious to find out what kind of gift she received.
“It’s kinda weird that the Black Eagles now have nine star students and we only get eight,” said Claude. “I’m not sure what this means for the balance of power for the rest of the school year. Sorry…where are my manners? I’m Claude von Riegan, and the guy standing to my right is Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd. Welcome aboard! Or should I say, ‘welcome back’?”
“Thanks,” said Monica. “I don’t think it’ll matter as long as we don’t have to fight each other a second time.”
“You’ve got a sense of humor, too? It’s nice to know that someone else around here does.”
Dimitri turned to Claude and looked like he was going to shoot him a disapproving look, but instead, he sighed to avoid looking like he took offense. “Er…regardless, I think you’ve all earned yourselves a rest after all that traveling. I just finished a long training session, so I think I’m going to relax in the knights’ chamber with a good book. Would you care to join me, Ingrid?”
“Sounds good to me,” said Ingrid.
“I suppose I could do with a little time off myself,” said Leonie. “Personally, I’d rather be out there sharpening my skills, but I don’t want to tire myself out. See you later!”
As Ingrid and Leonie left the market area to meet with their house leaders, Monica walked along with Byleth and Edelgard to the monastery’s common room. The fancy red carpet and the candle-like lighting on the walls only obscured how intimidating the place looked from Monica’s perspective. The ceiling was way too high for her liking, especially looking at it from the bottom of the stairs where it looked like it would take at least ten regular-sized people stacked on top of each other to reach the top.
The trio walked up to the middle tier of stairs, where they figured they would be reasonably far enough out of the way of the Knights or any other visitors to carry on a conversation.
“It looks like your first mission was successful,” said Byleth. “How do you feel?”
“I was worried at first,” said Monica, “but I’m relieved that I got a chance to see my father.”
Edelgard stepped forward to give her teacher a report on the situation. “It was originally believed that House Ochs had been completely wiped out in the war that brought Petra to us. But now that Monica has been rescued and we had the chance to visit the baron in a village in the mountains, it’s clear that wasn’t the case. Lord Ochs himself is personally overseeing the reconstruction effort. It might be a good idea to try to get to know him, Professor.”
“We’ll see. I might talk to him if he’s willing to come to visit the monastery.”
“There was another house involved in that war,” Edelgard added. “Nuvelle, I believe it was called…”
Monica had done her best to keep the packages she’d received from Constance out of sight from everyone. She had no idea that the young woman with the charming smile she met in the market was also connected to the Dagda and Brigid War. There was a good chance that Constance had lost friends and family to that war, so Monica decided not to say anything about it to her unless she broached the subject first.
“That reminds me,” said Monica. “I need to write a letter to someone. May I be excused, Professor?”
Byleth looked at Edelgard and shrugged, and then turned to Monica and said, “I suppose so. The week’s almost over, so there’s not much for me to teach you today. Do what you feel you need to do, but don’t forget about your lesson plan, now!”
Monica nodded and headed upstairs, looking for the quickest route to her dorm room.
“Monica certainly seems to have quickly acclimated herself to school life,” said Byleth.
“Yes…and she performed quite well against the bandits we fought,” said Edelgard. “Do you think she’ll be ready to fully join the fold soon?”
“It should be no problem, as long as she passes this next test.”
Back in the safety of her room, Monica rested her longsword in the corner next to her closet, reminding herself to visit the blacksmith to have it sharpened for her next battle. She sat down at her desk and prepared a pen and sheet of paper to write her response letter to Constance. The small box Monica got from Anna dared her to open it, but she wanted to read the letter first to see if it offered a clue to its contents.
I am writing to thank you again for your assistance last week. The book you helped me purchase has proven to be a boon for my magical research. I just can’t wait to try it out!
As a token of my gratitude for being such a “doll”, I bought you a “little” something to display on your desk at the academy. I hope it is to your liking.
If you can spare the time, would you care to meet in person so that we can get to know each other better, and perhaps even discuss our latest exploits? I know of a quiet location in town that is just perfect for this endeavor! Please write back as soon as you read this.
The quotes around “little” and “doll” were hard to miss, leading Monica to believe that Constance had bought her a figurine of some sort. There was nothing else in the letter hinting at the exact contents of the package, but she was happy to receive it even if her intuition was wrong.
The last paragraph of the letter intrigued Monica the most. It sounded like Constance was asking her out on a date. Monica’s heart raced at the prospect of being courted – she was still technically a teenager, after all – but even in the confines of her bedroom, she knew she had to stay calm. It was difficult to write an affirmative response letter when she was too busy daydreaming.
She picked up the small package and started to open it when Flayn arrived at her door. “Monica! How are you doing today?” she asked in her usual cheerful tone.
“It’s been a pretty wild week,” said Monica, unraveling the bow on her package. “I camped out, fought some bandits, visited my father, and I got this gift from a nice young lady in the market. What have you been up to, Flayn?”
“My week has not been quite as eventful as yours was, but rest assured that I have not been sitting idly by. I have been helping my brother sort through registration papers from next year’s applicants. It is a wonder he is able to handle so much paperwork all by himself.”
Monica imagined Seteth sitting at the desk in his office, writing and stamping papers from sunrise to sunset. She found the idea a boring, but necessary evil in keeping the academy and the monastery operational. It was the same with House Ochs before its fall, except her father liked to delegate the bureaucratic tasks to other individuals more talented in such things, rather than taking it all on by himself.
“Anyway,” said Flayn, “I came by to tell you that Seteth and Lady Rhea have been looking for you. We should go to the audience chamber at once!”
Monica followed Flayn to the upper level of the cathedral, slowly tearing the wrapping paper from her gift along the way. Inside the box was a statuette of a dark-skinned blond woman striking a battle-ready pose with a sword that looked even scarier than Byleth’s sword, what with its hooks jutting out of the sides of the blade at uneven intervals. Her plate armor matched the armor worn by the Knights of Seiros, but most of them kept their faces and hair hidden by helmets. Not this lady. She was bold enough to go helmet-less and let her enemies know who was about to kill them. Monica thought she had seen her a few times before around the monastery but had yet to learn her name.
When Monica came face-to-face with Rhea and Seteth, she stuffed her knight figurine back into the gift box as quickly as possible before bowing and making a prayer gesture. “Did you call for me, Lady Rhea?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Rhea. “I wanted to ask you how your studies were coming along. Are you getting along well with your classmates?”
“Some of them. I haven’t had a chance to spend a lot of time with everyone yet.”
“Then you should use any free moments you might find to get to know them as well as you can.”
“I’ll do my best, Lady Rhea.”
“How is your father faring at the moment, Monica?” asked Seteth. “I had not heard anything after we mailed our first letters to him. Did he receive them?”
“He did, sir,” said Monica. “He tried to send a response, but some bandits stole it. They didn’t get very far with them, though. I helped make sure of that.”
Seteth didn’t approve of Monica’s smile. It made her look like she and she alone solved the bandit problem. She quickly dropped it when she saw Seteth scowling at her.
“Right… At least now the baron is aware that you have returned safely. We will try to monitor the area to ensure that these attacks do not start up again. You are free to travel outside of the monastery on weekends with your professor’s approval, so long as you keep up with your studies and you do not make your absences too frequent.”
“That is all for now,” said Rhea. “Thank you for your report. Seteth and I must prepare for next month’s mission. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to ask Professor Eisner, Jeralt, or either one of us.”
“Understood, Lady Rhea,” said Monica.
As Monica returned to her dorm with Flayn, she learned that the likeness from her statuette was that of Catherine, the new captain of the Knights of Seiros and acting weapons instructor in the wake of Jeritza’s sudden departure from Garreg Mach. Respected and feared in equal measures for her prowess on the battlefield, she was who Rhea turned to whenever judgment needed to be passed on enemies of the faith.
“I had no idea the Knights were this famous,” said Monica. “Do you think Captain Jeralt has one of these things made for him?”
“It is possible, but it is hard to say for certain until we go shopping and find out for ourselves,” said Flayn.
“The markets at the monastery gate don’t seem to have much in the way of dolls and figurines, at least from what I’ve seen. We may have to go further into town to find some.”
Once again, Monica was reminded of the letter she meant to write to Constance. She sat at her desk and wrote her response slowly and carefully, hoping that she would make a good second impression.
Thank you very much for the gift. I’ll keep this “little doll” on display as a reminder of our first meeting.
I’m usually busy with school work or chores in the daytime, but I’m free to meet at any time afterward. Or weekends, if you prefer…weekends are an open day for everyone. Let me know what sounds good to you. I look forward to seeing you again.
After writing her name on an envelope, Monica prepared to hand her letter off to a courier. While she owed Anna a debt for allowing her to meet Constance, Monica didn’t want to rely on the merchant to facilitate all of the communication between them. If any interesting developments happened with their relationship, Anna probably had her ear to the streets and would pick up on such gossip during her travels anyway.
“Oh…one more thing before I go,” said Monica as she turned around to talk to Flayn before leaving her room. “I’m training to become a Priest to help out my house. Could you help me refine my healing magic so I can prepare for my exam?”
“I might be able to assist you,” said Flayn, “but you will have to be more specific.”
“Are there any spells you can learn to heal yourself?
“Flayn’s eyes popped open when she heard Monica’s request. “There is one such spell…but its effects are quite unsettling. It is not a spell that should be taken lightly, even by experienced casters.”