The dining hall was more packed than usual for the Tuesday lunch hour. It seemed like everyone from each of the houses was either sitting at a table eating, or waiting in line to eat. There was no special occasion or recipe to speak of; word around campus was that the food was especially good.
Monica needed the extra energy after finishing her promised practice duel with Ferdinand following the end of Byleth’s latest lesson. Monica conceded that he had grown a lot better with lances than she was at her peak, but he complimented her on her steady improvement with swords.
Ferdinand was called to Byleth’s office before he had a chance to see what all the fuss at the dining hall was about, so Monica wound up going by herself to sneak a slice of pie out to one of the benches. It was too crowded inside and too nice outside for her not to take advantage of it.
As Monica went outside to the garden, she noticed Edelgard and Claude sitting across from each other under the gazebo. Claude was savoring a bite of fried fish he had recently eaten, while Edelgard looked lost in thought as she ate a spoonful of soup.
“Every time I see you, Princess,” he said, “it always seems like you’re thinking about something. Sometimes I wish I could figure out what goes on in that head of yours.”
“I could say the same of you, Claude,” Edelgard retorted. “I hope you didn’t come to chat with me in a thinly-veiled attempt to get me to reveal my battle strategies.”
“It’s not like that, really! We don’t get many opportunities to chat after classes or missions. Heck, I rarely see you talk to anyone outside of the Black Eagles.”
“Forgive me. It’s true that I have a lot on my mind, and that hasn’t given me much time to socialize with others. As the future emperor, there is much I need to consider. Not just for today, but one, two, five…even ten years ahead. I’m sure you and Dimitri must have the same concerns.”
“Okay, you got me. I’ve been known to do a fair bit of strategizing myself. I’m probably not thinking as far ahead as you are, though.”
“‘Strategizing’, you say? That’s an interesting way of putting it.”
Claude chuckled as he saw the look on Edelgard’s face. “Was that a grin I just saw? So the princess does show emotion every once in a while.”
“Forget you saw that,” said Edelgard, using the napkin by her plate as a way to wipe the smile from her face, as well as the drop of soup beneath her lips.
Claude peered around the hedge behind him and spotted Monica listening to the two lords’ conversation intently. “Looks like we’ve got company,” he said. “It’s a shame there are only two chairs here.”
“True… One of us would have to give up their meal in order for all of us to hang around this table,” said Edelgard.
“That sounds like a problem with an easy solution,” said Claude as he hurried to finish off his fish.
With one of the chairs freed up, Monica took her pie plate and sat down in the chair across from Edelgard. “Thanks!” she said to Claude. “You didn’t have to do that for me, though… I was just sitting at that bench, enjoying the view…and this pie…and…”
“Waiting to occupy the best seat in the house?”
“Uh…sure. Let’s go with that.”
“I’d love to stick around, but I’m off to get some more of this delicious fish while there’s still some left.” He gave both Black Eagles a quick salute and started to walk back into the dining hall with his plate in his hand.
“If you’re still hungry,” said Monica, “would you like some of my pie? It’s really good.”
“No thanks,” he said, “but I appreciate the offer.”
Monica then turned to Edelgard and gave her a playful grin. “Establishing inter-house relations, Edelgard?” she asked.
“It didn’t start out that way,” said the princess. “I came out here to eat alone and get some fresh air, and then Claude showed up.”
“You didn’t turn him away, though. It sounded like the conversation was about to get interesting.”
“I’m sure he’ll want to pick up where we left off after our squad claims victory at Gronder Field.” Edelgard quietly sipped the last of her soup and set her spoon down in the bowl without it making any loud clanging noises. “I’ll forgive your eavesdropping on me for now, Monica. Since you’re here, I want to congratulate you on receiving your official certification. Now it feels like you’re truly one of us.”
“I know!” said Monica, trembling with excitement.
“Your father would be especially pleased to hear how well you’ve progressed in the last month. Have you spoken to him lately?”
“Actually, I just got a letter from him yesterday. He said he wanted to come down to visit us by the end of the next moon to deliver a birthday present to me.”
“It must be a pretty important present if he’s coming all the way to the monastery to deliver it in person…or at least a pretty big one. I just hope that the roads are still safe by then.”
Monica held her fist up almost to eye level, pretending that she was holding up her sword to prepare for battle. “No need to worry. Any bandit stupid enough to challenge my father to a fight won’t live long enough to regret their mistake.”
In all the excitement about getting promoted and digging into a slice of her favorite mixed berry pie, Monica realized she forgot to pick up a napkin at the counter, so Edelgard let her borrow a napkin from her pile so she could wipe her face clean.
After they finished their lunches, Monica led Edelgard to a corner stall in the market behind the general goods store. She looked around for Anna, but the merchant was nowhere to be found.
“What did you want to come down here for, Monica?” asked Edelgard.
“A gift,” said Monica.
“For me? No, wait!” Edelgard suddenly flashed the same grin at Monica that she gave to Claude earlier. It was for only a fraction of a second, but Monica was amazed to see such an expression from her leader, who was usually cool and unflappable on the battlefield and in the classroom. “I think I know who this is for… You’re thinking of buying something for Constance, aren’t you?”
“Y-yeah!” There was little Monica could do to conceal her surprise that Edelgard guessed correctly on the first try. “How’d you know?”
“You practically spelled it out to Ingrid when we went to visit your father,” said Edelgard. “And, of course, when Constance came out to help us fight that wild demonic beast, the two of you spent quite a bit of time hanging around each other.”
Wait a minute…did Edelgard see Connie and I holding hands?
“In that case, Edelgard…can I ask a favor of you?” asked Monica as she scanned one of the traveling merchants’ wares.
“Can you help me pick out something nice to give to Connie when I meet her tonight? There’s so much to choose from, but I don’t have the first idea of what to buy! I just got lucky giving her money for that book! What if I pick something out and she doesn’t like it?”
“I doubt that one bad gift will ruin your first date, as long as everything else goes smoothly. If you’re that worried about what to buy for Constance, you can almost never go wrong with a flower.”
Monica took a second look at the shelves in the merchant’s stall. On the top shelf above a stack of books and board games, she saw colorfully-wrapped vases filled with roses, lilies, and other delicate and beautiful flowers. Without any advanced knowledge of her date’s floral preferences, Monica closed her eyes for a few seconds and tried to recall Constance’s appearance. She swore to Edelgard she was only hesitating because she wanted to buy something that matched the colors of Constance’s attire, and not because she wanted an excuse to fantasize about the young noblewoman’s golden curls, or her bright blue eyes, or the elegant silver dress that fell down to her knees.
The merchant at the stall cleared his throat, interrupting Monica’s brief moment of bliss. “What’ll it be, ma’am?”
“I’ll take one of…those!” she replied, pointing randomly at a bouquet of blue lilies of the valley.
“A fine selection,” he said as he handed Monica one of the drooping blue flowers in a small, translucent vial in exchange for a handful of gold coins. “Be careful how you handle that.”
“I will, sir. Thank you!”
With her gift for the evening secured, Monica was ready to treat herself for a job well done. “Wish me luck!” she said.
“Wouldn’t you feel better if I told you to ‘have fun’ instead?” asked Edelgard.
“Yeah, that makes more sense. Thanks for your help, Edelgard! I sure hope everything goes well tonight…”
That evening, Monica ate a hearty steak dinner that stopped just short of Caspar turning it into an eating contest between them. Dorothea noticed Monica getting up from the table quicker than usual, and watched as she left out the door leading to the fishing pier while carrying her gift for Constance in a bag.
“Hey, Caspar,” said Dorothea, gently nudging her hungry housemate with her elbow. “Who do you suppose Monica’s going to meet tonight?”
“How can you tell that’s what she’s doing?” asked Caspar.
“Let’s just say I know from personal experience. Sure, she could just be going into town to make a delivery, but if that were the case, then why would she go through the trouble of hiding that bag of hers?”
“Maybe we should follow her…you know, to make sure she isn’t about to get into anything dangerous.”
Dorothea looked around with mild concern. “Let’s not be too hasty. We don’t want to follow her too closely.”
To give their fellow Black Eagle some space, Caspar and Dorothea waited a few minutes until Monica had left so they could follow her without being noticed. Their search led them to Monica and Constance’s designated meeting spot by the front gate. Neither of the two observers was in the mood to shop, making it difficult for them to look inconspicuous. Caspar heard some chatter while he was observing the weapons behind the blacksmith’s workshop, and turned around to whisper to Dorothea when he saw Monica about to hand off her bag to her companion.
“She’s meeting with…another girl?”
Dorothea put a finger to her lips to signal for Caspar to be quiet. They both watched as Monica gave the bag to Constance with her hand tightly covering the top to prevent anyone from seeing what was inside. When Monica’s hand lingered on Constance’s for a few more seconds after the hand-off, Dorothea’s mouth went agape when she realized what was happening. “I knew it!” she whispered. “Monica’s not in any danger! She’s just going out on a little date.”
“That’s a relief…” said Caspar.
Dorothea winked at Caspar and tugged on his sleeve, slowly dragging him away from their observation spot. “Let’s give them a little space then, hmm?”
They only got two feet away from the stall before Monica heard their footsteps and turned to face them. “Uh…hi, guys,” she said. “Is there a reason you two are suspiciously close to the blacksmith stall without your weapons?”
“Well,” said Caspar, “we saw you walking off toward the gate by yourself, and we wanted to make sure you were safe.”
“Thanks, Caspar, but I think I’ll be okay out there tonight. I’m just going to visit Connie’s house for an hour or two.”
Dorothea mumbled to herself as she tried to think of a different nickname for Constance, but resigned in defeat after a few tries of not coming up with anything that didn’t sound silly or rude. “I forgot to thank you for your help the other day,” she said, not wanting to copy the nickname Monica had given her.
“You are quite welcome,” said Constance. The sun was setting off to her left, so she felt comfortable talking to everyone in her normal tone of voice. “I should also commend both your efforts in that battle. It is good to know that Monica has strong and capable companions in her class. Might I ask you for your names before we depart for the evening?”
“I’m Dorothea, and this is my friend, Caspar.”
“Well met, Dorothea…Caspar… Such dignified names you have!” Constance raised her head up high and uttered a jovial laugh that echoed through the evening air. “I am Constance von Nuvelle. May we meet again on another lovely evening such as this!”
“You two take care now!” said Caspar.
“And have fun!” Dorothea added.
After separating from Dorothea and Caspar, Monica followed Constance to her house close to the edge of town. A large oak tree towered over its slate-gray roof, providing an adequate level of shade for its owner. Even with the tree’s thick trunk, Monica worried that a strong enough storm or a freak lightning strike would send it crashing into any of the surrounding houses.
The interior of the house reminded Monica of her own home. The common room had a single wooden table in the center with two finely crafted wooden chairs, a pair of floor candelabra lighting the room from opposite corners, and a bookshelf full of books dealing with Crests and advanced magic theory. A simple white cloth was draped over the table to give the room a hint of elegance, and the center dish stacked with strawberries, red grapes, and jelly-filled sugar cookies begged for Monica to reach out and eat one of them.
“Would you care for some tea?” asked Constance.
“Sure, that’d be nice,” said Monica.
“Feel free to look around while you wait. However, I must ask that you refrain from entering my bedroom. I am in the midst of an important personal project, and I would ask that no one touches anything inside until it is complete.”
Monica nodded and waited for Constance to enter the kitchen before getting up to visit the washroom and double-check her hair. On her way out of the washroom, she saw a brief, bright flash of orange and yellow from the kitchen, and raced out to the common room to check on Constance. “Is everything okay over there?” she asked, her heart pounding with fear.
“Worry not, Monica! I am fine,” her host replied, “as is the water. It’ll only take a few more minutes.”
Monica wasn’t fully convinced, but she waited patiently at the table for the telltale sound of a tea kettle whistle. A gust of wind whipped the kitchen curtains around, even though the windows themselves appeared to be closed. By the time Monica calmed down from the kitchen scare, Constance arrived with a kettle full of hot water and poured some of it into each of their cups. “What blend of tea did you get for us, Connie?” asked Monica as she inspected the small pouches sitting to her right.
“The one on the left is bergamot tea,” said Constance, “and the one on the right is a blend of berries imported from Albinea.”
“Ooh! They both sound tempting, but I think I’ll try the one with the Albinean berries. I used to love eating those back at home. They probably don’t taste the same in tea leaf form, though.”
Monica and Constance picked out their teas and began to drink them after they had cooled slightly. From Monica’s perspective, the table arrangement appeared to be the same on both sides, so she assumed Constance was drinking the bergamot tea. Adding a little sugar to her own cup helped bring out the flavor of the Albinean berries that Monica remembered and loved.
“So, Monica,” said Constance, “I see that you’ve assembled quite a colorful bunch of classmates…”
“Tell me about it,” said Monica. “Two princesses, a singer, a guy who sleeps a lot, another guy who eats and fights a lot, an artist who spends a lot of time in her room, and two guys who are such polar opposites I’m surprised they can stand to be in the same room as each other… And yet, I’ve grown to like hanging around them in the short time I’ve been here this year.”
“Did you say… two princesses?”
“That’s right. There’s Edelgard, whom you’ve already met, and then there’s Petra. She’s from Brigid.”
Constance blinked in surprise, almost dropping a grape on the table. “Brigid, you say? I remember hearing that they mounted an assault on House Ochs some years ago. You’re the daughter of Baron Ochs, are you not?”
Monica nodded, and then lowered her head in sorrow. “Yeah…My grandfather – the previous baron – was involved in that war. He vowed to defend Ochs Castle to the death and, well…let’s just say he got his wish.”
Constance gasped. “Oh my! I had no idea… What about your father? Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” said Monica. “He wanted to lend a hand, but Grandpa told him that if he died too, then I’d be without a true guardian, and House Ochs would fall even further into ruin.”
“That sounds a lot like what happened to my house. Nuvelle was once one of the great trade hubs in all of western Fódlan. Then the invasion of Dagda happened, and those days seem much like a distant memory. My mother, my father, and my brothers…they all perished.”
Monica looked on with worry as she saw Constance retreat inside herself, just as she did when they fought the demonic beast together in the brightness of the sun. Monica found herself unable to think of anything to say to cheer Constance up and take her mind off her plight. She decided to sample a few of the cookies on the central tin while she gave her date a moment to compose herself.
“Though I may no longer technically be a noble,” said Constance, “I have not given up hope. I swear that one day, House Nuvelle will once again assume its rightful position of prestige in Fódlan! I will not allow my family’s legacy to fall by the wayside!”
As Constance began to pick herself up again, Monica wondered how such chilly eyes could have such a fire to them. The young mage sitting across from her was steadfastly determined to fulfill her goal, no matter what it took.
“I’m curious about something, Connie,” said Monica. “What drove you to ask for my help at the market?”
“It’s quite simple. When I noticed the uniform you were wearing,” said Constance, “I figured it would be best to ask for help from a fellow academy student. It seems my judgment was well-placed.”
“Well, you know me…I’m always ready and willing to lend a hand.” Monica added a playful giggle, hoping Constance was clever enough to pick up on the hint.
To her surprise, Constance placed her right hand atop the back of Monica’s left hand and gently stroked it with her index finger.
She slowly shifted her attention to Monica’s right hand. “Or this one?” she teased.
The warm, tingly sensation Monica felt from drinking her tea served only to make her more responsive to Constance’s touch. “Whichever one works best for you,” she said.
With their tea and snacks mostly depleted, Constance turned her attention to the bag on the table, slowly lowering it from the bottom to ensure that the buds on the flower inside remained intact. “This is such a lovely gift!” she cheered. “You have fine taste in flowers, Monica. Thank you!”
“I’m glad you like it, Connie.”
The light of the sun had stopped shining through the windows of Constance’s house. Monica sensed it was time for her to return to her dorm, but she remembered that she had another story she wanted to tell. “Speaking of my father… I ran into this group of bandits when we traveled to the mountains to visit him. I think they were the ones who had attacked the caravan containing Anna’s shipment because their leader had a magic tome almost like the one you wanted to buy.”
“How unbelievably crass, to prey on innocent couriers and merchants!” said Constance, trying as hard as possible to stop herself from disrupting her elegant tea party setup. “If I had the time to travel with you, I would have force-fed those ruffians a taste of their own medicine!”
Monica had no doubt Constance could back up her threat, given her display against the demonic beast. “And that’s not all… We found out that they’d been hoarding most of their loot in a nearby cave, including a bunch of letters.”
“Letters? I’ve heard of bandits stealing gold, jewelry, weapons and the like before, but…letters?”
“Weird, isn’t it? The strangest thing about that is that a lot of those letters were written by my father, and addressed to me!“
“That seems unusually specific for a pack of random bandits…”
Monica took a moment to try to gather all the facts she had. What did a group of bandits need with a bundle of letters written from a minor lord living out in the middle of nowhere? Why did they choose that specific junction to attack? She wanted to believe their encounter was only a coincidence, but the more she thought about it, the more likely it was that someone was out to get either her or her father. Without a motive or any solid evidence pointing to that conclusion, Monica decided not to say anything else to Constance about it out of fear of being proven wrong later. She hoped she would get some more information after the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, and then convene with Edelgard to figure out what to do next.
“Whatever their purpose was,” said Constance, “most of their members are either dead or locked away in prison now. I’d say that your involvement in that incident made that part of your homeland a little safer.”
Monica slowly rose from her chair, concerned about the lecture she’d get from Seteth if she stayed out too late. “I should probably be on my way now,” she said. “Thank you very much for inviting me. The tea and the cookies were delicious!”
“It was a pleasure to be your hostess,” said Constance as she stood up to walk her guest to the front door. “We should do something like this again soon.”
“All right, but next time, I get to be the host.”
“Shall I hold you to that agreement?”
“You have my word. Of course, I wouldn’t mind you holding me, either.”
“Why do I suddenly feel as if you were waiting all night to make a joke like that?” asked Constance, feigning annoyance. It was hard for her to think about getting mad at Monica for misinterpreting her offer for a second date. She was enjoying the back-and-forth game they seemed to have going. Though she anticipated the day she would get to come back to the monastery and meet Monica again, she was reluctant to let her guest go forth onto the torch-lit streets of Garreg Mach without giving her one last parting gift.
Just before Monica started to open the door, she turned to hug Constance and gaze into her eyes. The glow from the torch behind Constance only made her radiance more impressive, even if she didn’t like standing out in the sunlight. Spurred forward by her quickening pulse, Monica pulled Constance closer and placed a soft kiss on her lips. Constance returned the gesture in kind, holding onto Monica a few seconds longer. “On the other hand, I certainly wouldn’t object if more of our private outings ended like this one,” she said. “Please take care of yourself out there, Monica.”
“You take it easy too, Connie. Good luck with your project!”
Monica broke her embrace from Constance and headed outside, following the most well-lit path back to the monastery while trying to avoid running into any Knights of Seiros who were out on patrol. She tried to take deep breaths as she walked to get her pulse down to normal. Even the appearance of abnormal behavior at such a late hour – singing, humming, whistling, breathing heavily, or even walking down the street too quickly – was sure to elicit a lot of unwanted questions, even if the cause of such behavior was sharing a first kiss with her crush.
Monica felt more comfortable letting her emotions run wild when she returned to the safety of her dorm, but even then she had to muffle her laughter with her pillow to avoid waking her neighbor. After calming down and changing into her night clothes, she fell asleep almost instantly with a huge smile on her face. There was no need for her to pray to the goddess for pleasant dreams that night.