Chapter 15: Non-Fatal Three-Way

There were no classes scheduled for the rest of the week as the three houses prepared to travel to Gronder Field to partake in the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. Caspar was the most eager to participate because the battlefield site was within his family’s territory.

The houses left early in the morning so that there would be enough light for everyone to see clearly. A fourth group of people, led by Rhea and accompanied by Seteth, Flayn, and Catherine, trailed the students and their professors. The knight-captain stood out among the participants as she was the only one wearing full battle armor, and her Hero’s Relic, Thunderbrand, crackled with electricity even while it rested at her side.

While the house leaders convened with their teammates to review their strategies, the professors met by the hill on the western side of the battlefield, which was reserved for Rhea and her guests.

“Hello, Hanneman… Hello, Manuela,” said Byleth. “How has your year gone so far?”

“About as well as one could expect in these times,” said Hanneman. “I feel like I’ve made significant strides in my research. I never figured that I would find someone with as rare a Crest as yours to study.”

Manuela shook her head, not keen on basking in her colleague’s enthusiasm. “While I’m sure we’d both love to hear you talk about Crests for the hundredth time, what I think young Byleth is asking is what you think of the students.”

“Er, yes, of course. I think every one of these students has the potential to become a great leader someday. My only wish is that there were more Golden Deer interested in studying the art of magic. I can wield a bow pretty well like Claude and Ignatz, but my reflexes aren’t what they used to be, even when I’m not comparing myself to them.”

“My wish is that we could fight alongside our houses again,” said Byleth, “like we did in the smaller-scale mock battle at the start of the year.”

Hanneman took off his monocle and wiped it down with a handkerchief, and then scanned the battlefield to get a better look at his surroundings, including the ballista situated at the top of the hill in the center of the field. “As exciting as that may sound to you, Byleth, I fear that adding three more bodies to this map would only make things more chaotic. For the sake of Manuela’s health and yours, I think it would be best for us to remain on the sidelines and let the students have all the fun.”

“At least they’ll still be using non-lethal weapons,” said Manuela. “It wouldn’t make sense to have them gouging and slicing each other open today and complain about their cuts and bruises next week. There’s only so much my staff and I can do to keep everyone in good health. Those battle scars tend to add up after a while.”

“The Battle of the Eagle and Lion is traditionally an eight-on-eight-on-eight competition,” Hanneman added. “Even without the three of us taking the field, it appears that one of our houses may have a slight advantage in numbers this year.”

“Are you talking about Monica?” asked Byleth, noticing Hanneman turning toward her. “She won’t be participating in this battle. Seteth’s orders.”

“That’s too bad,” said Manuela. “I was looking forward to seeing her fight. She’s gotten pretty good with healing lately.”

“Indeed, she has. Unfortunately, it’s too late to add her to the team now. Edelgard and Hubert have already detailed their plans for today’s competition. It would have taken too much effort to try to fit Monica in after such a short time, especially after that incident.”

Byleth tried to be careful not to invoke the Death Knight in Manuela’s presence, but she could tell that Manuela was still sore about her encounter with the fearsome masked man by the way she rubbed the back of her neck.

“Er…in any case, I look forward to a spirited competition between the three houses, regardless of which one wins in the end,” said Hanneman.

Over on the battlefield, the three houses had gathered close to the center ballista to give one last pep talk to their teammates before Rhea announced the start of the event. They had all changed out of their regular academy uniforms into outfits that were more thematically appropriate for their classes, with colored patches to denote the house they represented – blue for the Blue Lions, yellow for the Golden Deer, and, surprisingly enough, red for the Black Eagles. Although Monica was not scheduled to participate, she still chose to wear her new Priest robes to support her team.

“While the stakes may not be high for today’s contest,” said Hubert, “you will all be expected to perform to your fullest potential. Remember the plan that Lady Edelgard and I have laid out for you, but do not forget to adjust your tactics as the situation calls for it. Our opponents will do everything they can to try to outsmart us. We must make sure that they do not prevail.”

“That should be a trivial matter as long as I am out there on the front lines,” said Ferdinand.

“Remind me why I have to capture the ballista again,” said Bernadetta, tightening her grip on her longbow.

“Because whichever team controls the ballista holds a large advantage,” said Edelgard. “Securing that hill will be crucial to attaining victory.”

“I know that! I was specifically asking why I had to do it!”

“Believe me, Bernadetta,” said Caspar, “if I had even half of your bow skills, you can bet I’d be the first to grab that ballista and rain down destruction on everyone!”

“I don’t think that’s how a ballista works, Caspar,” said Dorothea.

“Dorothea is right,” said Petra. “It is requiring much more than a single bow to cause a raining of arrows.”

“All joking aside,” said Linhardt, “we should move to take out our opposition quickly if we hope to secure that hill. There don’t appear to be as many places to hide on our side.”

“After dealing with killer birds and giant wolves,” said Monica, “a friendly competition like this feels almost relaxing in comparison. I wish I could be out there fighting with you guys, but I’ll still be rooting for you from the sidelines. Now go out there and win one for the Black Eagles!”

The other Eagles joined in as Edelgard gave a brief motivational speech. Even the timid Bernadetta and the normally apathetic Linhardt got fired up by their leader’s promise of victory.

Everyone’s attention turned toward the center hill as Catherine gave a commanding shout.

“Before we begin today’s event,” she said, “I’d like to say a few – okay, a lot of words, but I still want you to listen up. The rules are the same as the ones for the mock battle we had at the beginning of the school year, except you’ll all be participating without the help of your professors. The first and most important rule: last house standing wins. Second rule: no lethal weapons or spells. We can’t have you getting killed before the school year’s over, now. Third rule: if you’re too injured to continue fighting effectively, leave the battlefield immediately for your own safety and that of your teammates. Fourth rule: once you’ve been eliminated, you can’t come back onto the field again. You can use that time to heal up on your own or by asking one of your teammates or our staff members to do it for you.”

Rhea nodded toward Catherine, subtly pointing toward where Seteth and Flayn were now standing. Catherine took the hint and vacated the battlefield to get out of the way of the impending clash of the three armies. “Thank you, Catherine,” she said. “Now that you have received your orders for today’s contest, it is time for you all to show off the results of your progress over these last six moons. Is everyone ready?”

The students nodded and said “Yes, Lady Rhea,” or some variations thereof, almost in unison.

“Excellent. Please head to your positions and wait for my signal.”

There were three makeshift strongholds at approximately an equal distance away from the central hill, with banners on the towers matching each house’s color. The placement of each stronghold was meant to mirror the location of each nation’s capital – Enbarr to the south for the Black Eagles, Fhirdiad to the north for the Blue Lions, and Deirdru to the east for the Golden Deer. The bases didn’t offer much defensive support as they were only meant to serve as starting points. There was enough room to fit all eight students inside, and the western hill was high enough that one only needed to lift their head above the wall or peek out of the “gate” to see Rhea and her entourage. The archbishop raised her right hand and, after a short trumpet fanfare, addressed the contestants once more.

“By the grace of the goddess and the stars above, let the Battle of the Eagle and Lion begin!

As Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude scrambled across the battlefield to put their strategies in motion, Monica went over to the sidelines to meet with Flayn and the other members of the Church of Seiros. Flayn looked at Monica with delight when she saw her in her new Priest robes. “Monica! It is good to see you! I want to offer congratulations to you on your promotion.”

“Thanks, Flayn,” said Monica, noticing that Flayn was holding onto her own vestments to keep them from touching the grass. “I owe you big time for your help. First, you helped bring me back to life when I was dying, and then you taught me that Nosferatu spell. I only used it once to see whether or not it worked.” Monica squeezed the air in front of her with her right hand, imagining that the sticky ball of blood she extracted from one of the wild wolves was still there. “It does,” she added with disgust.

Flayn looked at Monica again and hummed. “There is not much in the way of material goods I can think of as repayment, so do not worry about it for now.”

“Okay, then how about this: I’d like to know which of the houses you’ll be rooting for today. Is it the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions, or the Golden Deer?”

“I cannot say that I have a favorite.”

“Come on, Flayn. I know you must want one side to win. I promise you that I won’t get angry if you say it’s not mine.”

Flayn didn’t answer, leaving Monica to wonder if that was due to Flayn not being a student herself, or if she was taking a neutral stance because the Church of Seiros wasn’t officially supposed to take sides.

Monica and Flayn looked for a better vantage point so they could see the battle unfolding below. The Black Eagles and the Blue Lions appeared to have the same basic strategy – send a few of their strongest and fastest students to charge straight for the hill, while splitting up the remaining students to protect their flanks and hopefully catch one of the opposing houses off-guard. The Golden Deer, despite having more skilled archers, chose to avoid the central hill and concentrate on wearing down their opponents’ defenses instead.

Ferdinand was the first to reach the base of the hill on the Black Eagles’ side, with Bernadetta, the team’s long-range specialist, clinging onto him for dear life as she rode on the back of his horse. Edelgard, owing much to her armor and the large shield in her hand, trailed the riding duo by several steps despite running mostly at full speed.

While Ferdinand and Bernadetta dismounted and readied their weapons to take the ballista, Linhardt and Petra followed their assigned route toward the northwestern forest. Expecting an ambush, they treaded carefully underneath the trees, with Petra putting her stealth skills to the test by slipping from one tree to the next without stepping on too many dead leaves. Linhardt did his best to keep quiet even as a pair of arrows sailed toward him and Petra. He looked over to his right and saw a white-haired boy lowering his bow and taking a few deep breaths.

“Ashe?” Petra whispered, wondering why the Blue Lions’ archer hadn’t gone toward the central hill to attempt to capture the ballista.

Though Ashe’s arrows didn’t hit their intended targets, they were enough to alert Annette to their adversaries’ locations. Annette, sensing an opening, attacked the sneaking Eagles with gusts of wind. Linhardt braced himself for impact by countering Annette’s spell with one of his own. Her second blast propelled Petra several feet backward, knocking the Brigidian warrior into a few trees and briefly into Ashe’s line of fire. “Nice one, Annette!” said Ashe.

Annette cheered to herself for getting a good hit in on Petra, but her smile faded when she saw Petra taking her time in getting up from the ground. “Did I overdo it again?”

Linhardt looked for a safe spot to stand in so he could heal Petra from afar, but with both Ashe and Annette targeting him, he could only defend against one attack at a time. The same wind magic that dampened Annette’s spell couldn’t slow Ashe’s arrows down enough to prevent them from striking him in the chest. The arrows didn’t pierce his flesh and draw blood, but they still packed enough of a punch for Linhardt to excuse himself from the fight after Petra blindsided Ashe and Annette with a few quick sword strikes. Petra apologized to Ashe as she helped him off the field, while Linhardt and Annette walked off to the sidelines together to nurse their own injuries.

Monica looked toward the forest to her left, clapping and cheering when she saw Petra run back to reinforce Caspar and Dorothea’s unit in midfield. “See? I told you Petra was strong,” she said.

“It is quite difficult to see inside that forest,” said Flayn. “It is a shame that we are unable to get closer to the action on the field.”

“You’ll get no argument from me on that one. We’ve got the best seats in the house, so we can still see most of what’s going on down there. Look!”

She pointed to Raphael, the largest and most muscular of the Golden Deer, as he attempted to fight Caspar and Petra at the same time with his fists while his partner, the lean and wiry Lorenz, assisted him. Raphael swung his fists at his attackers like a hammer and succeeded in knocking Petra out, but a few heavy swings from Caspar’s axe brought Raphael down.

Lorenz, who was dueling to a stalemate against Dorothea despite his lance’s reach advantage against her sword, avenged his fallen housemate by attacking her and Caspar with a pair of white bolts of energy. Dorothea was able to withstand Lorenz’s surprise magical assault more readily than Caspar, and she aimed a lightning bolt at Lorenz when his guard was down to clear the area.

Meanwhile, the Black Eagles and the Blue Lions were fiercely competing for control of the central ballista, with Edelgard’s team matching up against Dimitri, Mercedes, and a tall, armored Duscuran man named Dedue. Both squads appeared to be evenly matched in terms of weaponry, but Mercedes’ ability to keep her leader and his retainer in good fighting shape with her healing powers made up for her lack of archery skill when compared to Bernadetta.

When Ferdinand and Dimitri crossed spears, the Faerghus prince’s aggressive attack style made it difficult for Ferdinand to find an opening even when Dedue wasn’t guarding against blows from both him and Edelgard. Bernadetta slipped around them and traded shots with Mercedes, taking her down and removing the Blue Lions’ main source of healing. Once they secured the advantage, Edelgard and Ferdinand pressed ever further forward to give Bernadetta a chance to take control of the ballista.

Monica jumped up and pumped a fist in the air as Bernadetta rotated the arrow launcher clockwise and fired a bolt at a group of Blue Lions and Golden Deer fighting near the eastern riverbank, hoping to take out one or more of them with one shot. Sylvain, a Cavalier with reddish-orange hair, pulled back on his horse and signaled for Ingrid to do the same. Neither she nor the grumpy swordsman standing between them understood why they were conceding ground to their Golden Deer rivals.

Bernadetta’s ballista bolt striking Lysithea, the Golden Deer’s other magic specialist, reminded them.

“That could have been one of us,” said Sylvain as he engaged with Leonie, who had swapped out her bow for a spear to deal with close-ranged targets.

“A lucky shot,” said the swordsman. “I bet they couldn’t hit one like that again.”

“Don’t push your luck, Felix,” said Ingrid. “We need to switch gears if we’re ever going to take control of this fight.”

To Felix’s frustration, Ingrid flew off to reinforce Dimitri and Dedue on the front lines while he and Sylvain dealt with Leonie, Ignatz, and Marianne. One of Ignatz’s shots knocked Sylvain off his horse, but Sylvain picked himself up and got back in the fight. Felix rushed in to take down Ignatz before he could load another arrow, and then went after Marianne to prevent her from casting Nosferatu on him with the blood from the cut on his sword arm.

When almost half of the students had been eliminated, Catherine walked over to check on the girls, who were steadily getting more engaged with the event. “Flayn! Monica! How are you two holding up?” she asked.

“We are doing just fine, thank you,” said Flayn.

“Have you been sleeping well lately, Flayn?” asked Monica. “I remember you telling me that you had been having nightmares.”

“Yes… On some nights when I slept, I would still think about the time after the Death Knight took me away. There were…hands grabbing at me from the darkness and pulling my body in different directions. Whenever I would try to free myself, the restraints would only grow tighter. Then I would feel sharp, stabbing pains in my arms. Even when I would turn to see what was hurting me, I could not see anything, nor could I scream to make the pain stop. When it was all over, I would wake up feeling dizzy and in need of more rest.”

Monica recoiled after listening to Flayn talk about her ordeal, reflexively rubbing her own arms as if she was being stabbed again. “That’s horrible! Did you at least get a chance to see who did this to you, or hear what they were saying?”

“It all happened so suddenly,” said Flayn, looking as if she was going to start crying. “They did not say a word to me, or even to each other, as they were doing these things. It was difficult enough to see who they were. They were all wearing black robes that concealed their hands and facial features.”

Monica wondered if the group of black-robed figures who experimented on Flayn belonged to the same group – or were even the same people – who captured and ‘experimented’ on her, as well.

“It figures that you’d find fiends like that deep underground,” said Catherine. “They must be pretty slippery because we didn’t see them when we found your bodies. Still, I’m glad we were able to find you before things completely went to hell. I’ve never seen Seteth so panicked before, even in the short time I’ve known him. I can’t imagine how he’d react if we came back from that tunnel empty-handed.”

Catherine turned her attention to Monica, who examined the knight-captain from head to toe to verify that she was the same person depicted on the statuette Constance gave to her. “You, on the other hand, were mostly a mystery to everyone until after I learned from Seteth that you used to be an academy student. We were told the Death Knight had only taken one hostage, so we were surprised to see you in the same tunnel where we found Flayn.”

“I’m confused about this whole situation myself,” said Monica. “One minute I was running for my life, then I passed out, then I heard a lot of screaming, and when I came to, I was in an infirmary bed with Flayn looking after me. Everything in-between is all a blur.”

“I’d like to believe the worst of it is over, but the Death Knight still managed to get away after all that. He’ll think twice before setting foot on Garreg Mach again after what he did, but if he does, I’ll be ready for him, and so will Thunderbrand.”

Catherine’s right hand slowly inched toward her trademark sword, as if she expected the Death Knight or some other enemy to leap out of the surrounding forests. However, she and the other two girls were astonished to see Claude emerging from the northwestern forest and sprinting for the central hill all by himself.

“Now, Hilda!” he shouted, prompting a pink-haired girl who had remained hidden between the northern and western stairs to attack the Blue Lions’ rear flank and draw Dedue away from Dimitri. With her team close to being eliminated, she knew she needed to take every advantage she and Claude could get, especially if it meant goading the Black Eagles or the Blue Lions into making mistakes.

Bernadetta heard Claude’s footsteps and got off the ballista after using it to take out Leonie as she retreated to try to get a good shot at Felix and Sylvain with her bow. Unfortunately for Bernadetta, Claude was quicker on the draw and hit her on the shoulder as she turned around, forcing her to join her friends on the sidelines. “Sorry, but it doesn’t look like you’ll need this anymore,” he said with a grin.

The fight soon moved off the central platform, as it became clear that none of the houses needed the extra range provided by the ballista. The Blue Lions held a brief manpower advantage until Hubert and Dorothea came to take some of the pressure off Ferdinand by stopping Felix and Sylvain from attacking the Eagles from the east. Ingrid tried to make up for Dedue’s distraction by slamming into Ferdinand with her pegasus, but it put her right in the range of one of Claude’s arrows, taking her out of the game.

“No fair!” said Dorothea. “I wanted to be the one to take out Ingrid!”

“Dorothea, this isn’t the time or the place,” Ingrid moaned as she slowly climbed onto Daphne’s saddle to get out of everyone else’s way.

Dorothea and Claude wound up eliminating each other, leaving only Edelgard and Hubert standing for the Black Eagles. They were starting to get winded, as were Dimitri and Hilda, the only ones left on the Blue Lions and Golden Deer sides.

Rhea and Seteth looked at the state of the combatants on the field and the growing numbers of their companions waiting to be healed on the sidelines, deciding that the battle had run its course. They nodded to Catherine, who raised Thunderbrand in the air and surprised the audience when a bolt of lightning shot upward from the tip of its blade. “Your attention, please! We hereby call an end to this year’s Battle of the Eagle and Lion!”

Seteth stepped forward to make the final pronouncement. “The winner of this contest is…the Black Eagle House!”

Monica, Byleth, and the rest of the Black Eagles gathered around in a circle and cheered upon hearing the results. The other teams, despite losing, gave the Eagles a round of applause for their victory.

“Way to go, everyone!” said Monica. “That was an amazing show you put on out there! Especially you, Bernadetta! I had no idea you were such a good shot with a mini-ballista.”

“Y-you were actually watching me?! I mean…you really think so? Thanks!” said Bernadetta. “Firing a ballista isn’t as easy as using a regular bow. For one thing, it’s a lot heavier, and you have to stay still the whole time while you’re trying to aim. Thank goodness I had Ferdinand and Edelgard there to protect me. I really don’t want to know what would have happened if I missed those shots!”

Ferdinand patted Bernadetta on the back, partially to congratulate her for a job well done and to calm her nerves. “You see, Bernadetta? I told you that you had nothing to worry about,” he said as he tried to project enough confidence for the both of them.

“You all should be proud of yourselves today,” said Edelgard. “Whether or not you managed to score a knockout, know that your contributions to our house’s victory will not go unnoticed.”

“Even if we didn’t win – now, don’t get me wrong; I’m glad we won – I think a nice meal and some quiet chatter is the perfect activity for winding down after all the fighting we’ve done lately,” said Dorothea. “Don’t you agree, Professor?”

“Come to think of it, I am quite hungry after watching all of you,” said Byleth. “After this, though, you’ll all need to prepare for your next lessons, as well as whatever mission Lady Rhea has in store for us.”

Byleth and the other two professors led their classes back to the monastery while Edelgard followed them to chat with her rival house leaders.

“Congratulations again, Edelgard,” said Dimitri. “Your house gave us quite a challenging fight today.”

“No kidding,” said Claude. “I thought for sure that I was going to pull off a last-minute turnaround.”

“It wouldn’t have nearly been as satisfying a victory without a pair of worthy opponents to fight,” said Edelgard, fastening her shield and axe to her back to make herself look less threatening.

“When you put it that way, Edelgard, it sounds like you’re expecting a rematch.”

“I agree with Claude,” said Dimitri, who had been using his spear as a makeshift walking stick until he caught his breath. “Two of these battles between us is enough for me for one year.”

“Fortunately, these two mock battles are just part of the school schedule,” said Edelgard, “and we won’t have to do any more of them for now.”

“So basically, this is a church-mandated ceasefire, right?” asked Claude. “Sounds good to me!”

Dimitri’s second wind came too late for his liking, but he managed to pick up the pace enough to close the distance somewhat between his group and the much larger group of students ahead of them. “We should hurry,” he suggested. “The longer we linger here, the more we’ll worry our classmates.”

“I don’t think I’ll have that problem,” said Edelgard. “If I know Hubert, he’ll already have cleared a path to my seat for our victory feast later today.”

“Having observed how often he follows you around, I can’t tell whether or not you’re being serious.”

“Wouldn’t you expect Dedue to do the same for you if you were in my position, Dimitri?”

“Well, I… um…”

Seeing Dimitri appear to flounder made Edelgard want to laugh, but deep down, she knew she had an ‘unflappable’ image to uphold. “Never mind,” she said. “Let’s head back for now.”

The three house leaders looked back for a moment as a few of the Knights of Seiros stayed behind to unfasten the ballista from its mount and pick up some of the stray arrows left on the battlefield. Edelgard was surprised that Gronder Field hadn’t been reduced to nothing but mud and rocks after all the mock battles it had hosted over the years. Claude wondered how much effort it took to spruce things up and hide the aftermath of the battles from the general public. Dimitri wondered how much time it took to set everything up in the first place. While they were all grateful to have one day of levity and friendly competition between the houses, they knew it was back to “business as usual” once they set foot on monastery grounds again.

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