Monica had spent most of her time on Friday studying the history of the Battle of Gronder Field to understand the context behind the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. She thought it was interesting that the Golden Deer house was also part of the ceremony as the Leicester Alliance was still part of the Holy Kingdom of Faehrgus back in the day. Ingrid was sure to be on the front lines fighting for the Blue Lions. Monica wanted to see Ingrid do well, but she was going to give her most vocal support to the Black Eagles, hoping that they would fly to victory.
When Saturday rolled around, Monica remembered that she was supposed to meet Flayn down by the fishing pond after lunch. She didn’t also expect to see several other students lined up around the pond with fishing rods and tackle baskets.
“Flayn, what’s going on?” she asked. “Where’d all these kids come from?”
“Oh! I apologize for not telling you this earlier,” said Flayn. “My brother and I are holding a fishing tournament today. I am looking for a particular fish that only appears in the waters around this time of year. He is offering a cash prize to the first person that can catch a Teutates herring before sunset today.”
“That sounds challenging! I don’t think I’m up to it, though. Sorry.”
“I understand. Perhaps another time, then?”
Monica and Flayn watched as the nearby crowd cheered for a boy who had caught a large fish.
“Look at the size of that thing!” said one student.
“That’s gotta be worth at least three stars!” said another. “Maybe even four!”
The lucky fisherman rushed over to Flayn to have his catch inspected. “This is very impressive!” said Flayn. “Unfortunately, it is not the one I am looking for. Keep at it! Do not give up!”
“I won’t,” the boy said as he went to toss his fish back into the pond and put some more bait on his hook.
Monica and Flayn walked toward the barrels away from the pier to get a better view of the fishing action without getting splashed. “Do you enjoy fishing, Flayn?” asked Monica.
“I do not so much enjoy the fishing part as I do the eating,” said Flayn. “The more exotic the fish, the better the dish!”
They giggled at each other for a moment before watching another fisherman take a stab at catching the rare Teutates herring. He struggled with the catch on his hook for about a minute until the line on his rod snapped. “Aw…that felt like it was the big one,” he said, walking away from the pier with his head bowed.
Flayn climbed onto one of the barrels, giving her an opportunity to look down on Monica from above for once. “How was your first week back in class, Monica?” she asked as a stray tabby cat jumped onto the barrel to nuzzle against her.
“I think I’m getting the hang of it,” said Monica. “My sword skills are starting to come back to me…although I’m still a long way off before I can match Petra. She’s pretty strong.”
Flayn nodded as she watched Monica show off a few air thrusts and parries. She had watched the knights practice with sharper weapons than Monica’s wooden training sword, but not touched one herself. She wanted to try holding a lance at least once.
“I also learned my first healing spell this week,” Monica added. “Thankfully, I didn’t have to go out onto the battlefield to use it.” She held out her scar-covered right arm and wondered if Flayn had tried to patch her numerous wounds up while she was still unconscious. “Speaking of healing…how are you feeling right now?”
Flayn’s smile faded. “I am doing fine,” she sighed. “The dizziness and the nightmares have stopped…at least for now.”
Monica was familiar with nightmares, but she couldn’t recall feeling sick or dizzy after waking up. She empathized with Flayn, wishing there was a way for her to turn back the clock so that she could try to offer some aid with the magic she had just learned.
“Do you…want to talk about it? The nightmares, I mean.”
The tabby cat had crawled its way onto Flayn’s lap, using it as a makeshift bed. “Perhaps another time,” she said. “I do not wish to spoil the mood out here today.”
Just then, the two girls watched as Byleth and Jeralt approached the fishing area from the greenhouse side. Another girl with short, reddish-orange hair accompanied them, looking over at Byleth as she checked her fishing rod to make sure its line was sturdy.
“Are you sure you want to do this now, Professor?” asked the girl. “Shouldn’t you be getting your team ready for the Battle of the Eagle and Lion?”
“It’ll be fine, Leonie,” said Byleth. “I think we’ve all earned a break for one day. My house has everything under control. I’m expecting a good showing from the Golden Deer, too.”
Leonie, annoyed with the professor’s dismissive treatment of the big inter-house battle, turned to Jeralt. “You agree with me, don’t you, Captain? That we should be focusing on keeping our skills sharp?”
“Of course,” said Jeralt, “but you can’t focus all of your energy on training. An exhausted soldier is as good as a dead one.”
Leonie tried to let Jeralt’s words sink in as she scoped out the bulletin board. “Maybe there’s something else I can do around here that’ll keep me active.”
The board was filled with notes promising monetary and material rewards for anyone brave enough to fulfill the requests written on them, but most had gone untouched in the wake of Seteth and Flayn’s fishing competition. After searching for a minute and not finding anything to her liking, Leonie spotted a note written in canary yellow paper pinned to the bottom of the board.
Requester: Merchant Guild
There have been reports of increased bandit activity along the Fódlan’s Fangs mountain range, disrupting transportation between Garreg Mach and the southern and western coastal lands. We are requesting a small contingent of able-bodied adventurers to investigate and eliminate the bandits if possible. Please meet our representative in the market if you are interested.
Curious about what Leonie was reading, Monica walked over to the bulletin board. “What’s that about?” she asked.
“More bandits,” said Leonie, almost ready to crumple the paper in her hands in anger. “I can’t stand it! Why are there still so many of them? I thought we defeated the last bunch at Conand Tower, along with that big, hulking demonic beast!”
“Why don’t you let me help you with this batch?”
Leonie looked at Monica’s training sword and shook her head. “Are you sure about that? Your sword’s not going to do much against real bandits.”
“I can go get a better one!” said Monica. “Just give me some time, okay?”
“Before you do, it might be a good idea to introduce ourselves first, since we’ll be working together. I’m Leonie Pinelli. I’m in the Golden Deer house.”
“I’m Monica von Ochs, from the Black Eagles. I’m new here, but…not really? It’s a bit hard to explain.”
“Monica? Oh! You’re the one Captain Jeralt and the Professor were talking about earlier.”
“Yeah,” said Monica, looking down and wondering what they might have said about her behind her back. “Uh, I’m gonna go and get that weapon now. Meet me down in the market.”
“Sure thing,” said Leonie, adjusting the bow draped over her chest. “I’ll go see if I can gather some help.”
Before she went off to the market, Monica went back over to Flayn by the barrels and said, “Sorry… I don’t mean to leave you hanging so soon after you asked me to come out here, but it looks like I’ve got an ‘assignment’ coming up. One that’s going to take me away from the monastery for a while.”
Flayn sighed. “I had a feeling this would come eventually. You still have some work to do before you graduate, correct?”
“Yeah. ‘Real-world experience’ counts for about as much as book-reading in this line of work.”
“It is still very dangerous beyond these walls, Monica. Please be cautious,” said Flayn, clasping her hands together and closing her eyes. “I will add your name to my prayers while you are on your journey.”
“Thank you, Flayn,” said Monica as she mimicked Flayn’s prayer gesture. “I’ll do my best.”
As Monica darted off toward the market and Leonie retreated to the dorms, Jeralt went over to the pier to watch Byleth reel in a large fish. “Whoa! Check you out!” he cheered. “That’s gotta be the catch of the day. You’ve been practicing this, haven’t you?”
“A little,” Byleth said as she showed off her fish to Flayn.
“Yes! This is it! The Teutates herring!” she said. “I knew I could count on you, Professor!”
The crowd cheered again as Flayn showed off her target fish, formally ending the tournament.
“That girl just now…” Jeralt said to Byleth after everything quieted down. “She’s one of your students, isn’t she? Aren’t you going to keep an eye on her?”
“Father,” said Byleth, “I think Monica’s capable of doing her own shopping.”
“I was talking about the bandits. She’s only been back with us for a week or two, right? Wouldn’t want you to have to deal with losing one of your students so early.”
“If she’s planning on going with Leonie, then she won’t be alone. I don’t think it’ll be a good idea to send only the two of them. I’ll go see who else I can round up.”
Back in the Black Eagles classroom, Edelgard and Hubert were leading a strategy session using a map of Gronder Field on the chalkboard behind them.
“Caspar and Dorothea will intercept any Golden Deer and Alliance forces approaching from the east,” said Hubert as he quickly drew an array of symbols and shapes on the board, with letters representing each of the Black Eagles students. “Linhardt and Petra will advance to the north with their troops and take out any Kingdom and Blue Lion forces. Ferdinand, you and Lady Edelgard will advance to the front line and go straight for the center ballista. Draw the enemy away from that hill and make sure they do not reach it before we do.”
Everyone in attendance nodded.
“This is where you come in, Bernadetta,” said Edelgard. “While everyone is busy fighting other enemies, we’ll need you to operate the ballista and provide covering fire for the rest of us.”
“W-why me?” asked Bernadetta.
“Because, Bernadetta, you have the best archery skills among all of us,” said Ferdinand. “You will play a key role in what is sure to be a glorious victory for the Black Eagle house.”
“That sounds like a lot of pressure to put on just one person…”
“Do not have worries, Bernadetta,” said Petra. “We will be acting as both shield and sword in this battle. As long as you have our protection, you will not be losing.”
Dorothea giggled at Petra’s motivational speech, saying, “You’re starting to sound more like Edie every day, Petra.”
“I am?” Petra bowed to Edelgard, thinking she had done something wrong. “My apologies. It was not my intention to–“
“I think what Dorothea means is that you’re beginning to think like a commander,” Edelgard replied, “and not just a common soldier. That kind of attitude will serve you well when it comes time for you to reign as queen of Brigid.”
“Oh! Then I am grateful for your kind words.”
“Hey…isn’t there something missing on this diagram?” asked Caspar. “Where’s the ‘H’? You’re not just gonna leave us out on the field to do the dirty work while you sit back and watch, are you?”
“Of course not,” said Hubert, his voice sharpening like a fine dagger. “I will go on the battlefield where I am needed. Hopefully, it will not be to clean up after your mistakes…as usual.”
As Caspar and Ferdinand wondered which one of them Hubert was talking about, Byleth entered the room and glanced over at Hubert’s crudely-drawn diagram on the chalkboard. “It looks like you’ve all got your game day strategy ready. Nice work!”
“Hmph. Matters like this are trivial to me,” said Hubert, “but I appreciate your praise all the same, Professor.”
Byleth dismissed the class for the afternoon, with everyone but Edelgard leaving the room. “Is there something wrong, Professor?” asked the princess.
“It’s nothing like that. I actually came here to ask a favor of you.”
“Really? I’m flattered that you would pick me for such a task. I’m more used to seeing you run errands for everyone else. What is it that you need?”
“I’d like for you to accompany Monica for a few days. She’s going to partake in her first real battle, and I think she would benefit greatly from having a leader figure in her group.”
“Where will she be going?”
“Out west, toward Fódlan’s Fangs.”
Edelgard was shocked to hear that there was still trouble in Monica’s homeland. The Empire had driven back hostile forces from Brigid and Dagda, but not before they sacked the lands of Ochs and Nuvelle in a surprise attack. Despite his best efforts, her grandfather, Baron Emanuel von Ochs, died defending against the attack. Monica had just barely avoided being killed in the conflict when her father took her to live in a village in the eastern mountains when the war started. He got caught up in the fighting and managed to hold out long enough for the Empire’s forces to bail him out, but by the time they arrived, he had lost everything – his land, his castle, and his prestige.
“I’ll go with her and give you a full report when I return,” said Edelgard. “I would like to go there myself to personally assess how much the situation has changed in the last five years.”
As Edelgard left the room to look for Monica, Byleth sighed and wondered if she was doing the right thing delegating a guardian instead of doing the job herself. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving her class behind without a suitable substitute teacher, and she had only signed on as a professor for all of six months, so she needed as much experience as she could get…just like her students.
Down at the market square, Monica stood outside the weapon shop admiring her new steel longsword. She liked being able to hold a weapon with some weight to it, but wasn’t eager to start showing it off and risk looking like she was about to rob the stall.
Over in the corner by the front gate, Monica noticed a young woman with curly blond hair held down by a simple blue hair ribbon. Her dress suggested that she was or once belonged to a noble family, but not too many nobles wore ash-gray dresses. She appeared to be arguing with a white-suited merchant with a long, magenta ponytail.
“1,200 gold pieces?!” shouted the noblewoman. “The last time I was here, you said this book was 1,000…which still sounds too high, but I was perfectly willing to pay. What happened that made you jack up the price so quickly?”
“Sorry, lady,” the merchant said as calmly as she could to try to soothe the noble’s bad mood. “Business has been tough with the bandit interference in the west. I was expecting a big shipment of books and trinkets from there, but I haven’t received my supplies in almost five days!”
“Perhaps they would sell better if you lowered your prices. You are the only merchant selling such a unique book, after all.”
The merchant took her raised index finger from the side of her mouth and pointed it at one of the books sitting in front of her. Its cover was decorated with a detailed etching of several large snowflakes and the title Winter’s Chill in fancy block letters. “Until I get my supplies, I’m down to just these three books. If I don’t make some sort of profit on them, I’m going to be in big trouble.”
Did she say “bandit interference?” This must be Leonie’s contact, Monica thought. She looked into her coin purse to see how much change she had left from trading in her training sword, thinking that if she could help the young noblewoman, she might get some additional information about her quest.
The noblewoman noticed Monica approaching and spun around to meet her, sizing her up and flashing her a coy smile. “Why, hello there,” she said. “Might I ask you for a favor?”
“Yes, of course!” said Monica, trying not to get lost staring at the woman’s icy blue eyes. “What do you need help with?”
“There’s a particular book that I’m in the market for…a magic tome called Winter’s Chill. It’s hard to find around these parts, and I appear to be a few…hundred gold pieces short. Would you happen to have any coins to spare? Even just one hundred will do.”
“Uh…yeah. Here you go.”
Monica handed the woman one hundred gold coins from her purse, placing them down gently and brushing an index finger lightly against her hand.
“Thank you,” said the woman. “I promise to repay your kindness one day.”
Monica was delighted that she was able to help the young stranger out, but the deal had yet to be sealed. The woman was a bit calmer now, and ready to try to cut a deal with the merchant. “Will you accept 1,050 coins for that book?” she asked.
“1,050? That’s an odd price to ask for,” said the merchant. “I’ll part with it for 1,100, and not a single coin less.”
The noblewoman wasted no time in handing the merchant her purse, knowing that her window of opportunity to obtain that book was closing. “I’ll take it!”
The merchant’s smile returned after she counted the coins to make sure everything was there, handing over one of the books once she was satisfied. “There you go…one authentic copy of Winter’s Chill! Thanks for your patronage!”
The noblewoman turned to Monica, cradling her new book as one would with a stuffed animal. “I can’t thank you enough for helping me buy this book,” she said. “What, if you don’t mind me asking, is your name?”
“Monica? Hmm…I can’t say I’ve heard that name before. My name is Constance, but you can call me…Connie.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Connie.”
Monica and Constance exchanged smiles and winks as the merchant behind them arranged her remaining inventory for new customers.
“I’m afraid I must cut our meeting short,” said Constance. “By the look of that new sword of yours, you must be on your way out of here, as well. Perhaps if fortune favors it, we might meet again.”
“I’d like that a lot,” said Monica. “Can I write to you so that we can stay in touch?”
“A wonderful idea! Judging by your uniform, you must be a student at this academy, correct?”
“I am, yes.”
“I thought as much. That should make it easier for me to contact you. Farewell for now, Monica! I hope to hear more about your adventure when you return.”
Constance waved to Monica before exiting through the monastery’s front gate. Monica waved back and sighed as she tried to construct an image of the maiden in blue and grey in her head. She was so focused on watching Constance leave that she didn’t notice Leonie standing right behind her. “New friend of yours?” she asked.
Leonie wasn’t alone – Edelgard and Ingrid had joined her shortly thereafter.
“Uh, yeah…I think she was talking to our contact,” said Monica.
“She was definitely trying to contact someone, alright,” said Ingrid.
Monica saw her three companions snickering at her and wanted to laugh with them, even though she knew the joke was at her expense. “Anyway,” she said to draw the other girls’ attention, “our contact is standing right over there.”
Leonie brought the quest paper over to the merchant and almost dropped it when she recognized who it was. “Anna?”
“Oh! Hi there, Leonie,” said Anna. “Need something?”
“Not today, Anna. We’re here because we saw your request on one of the bulletin boards. You know…about the bandits?”
“Oh, that! So you’re going to take out those bandits up by Fódlan’s Fangs, huh?”
Monica started to worry. She hadn’t received any responses to the letters she wrote to her father, but she was convinced he was still up there in the mountains. Brigid soldiers were one thing, but a group of loosely-organized bandits wouldn’t be enough to stop him…so she thought.
“That’s right,” said Edelgard. “How soon can you arrange a carriage to take us up there?”
“I’ll have it ready by dinnertime,” said Anna.
Edelgard nodded and signaled for everyone to gather around her on the other side of the gate. “All right, everyone. We will soon ride toward Fódlan’s Fangs. We’re expected to reach that mountain range in two to three days. Monica, I know this has to be especially hard for you, what with it being both your first real battle and it taking place so close to your home. Are you sure you’re up to this?”
Monica took a deep breath and stood at attention. This was no time for her to be nervous. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” she said.
“Ingrid, Leonie… With the three of us gone, our houses will still be at even strength for Battle of the Eagle and Lion training. I hope Dimitri and Claude have prepared their concession speeches for the inevitable Black Eagles victory.”
“You sound pretty confident, Edelgard,” said Ingrid. “My house has a foolproof strategy that’ll put yours to ruin in minutes.”
Leonie looked at her two house rivals and frowned. “I doubt it’ll hold up against the Golden Deer and its master of schemers.”
“Ladies, ladies,” Monica interjected. “Let’s save the competitive talk for Gronder Field, okay? We’re on the same team for this mission, so let’s channel our energy into busting some bandits and not each other.”
“Agreed,” said Edelgard. “We’ll all meet up here at the gate after dinner. Make sure you’ve got all of your equipment and supplies ready by then. It’s going to be a long trip.”
With that, the four warriors headed off to the dining hall and prepared to eat the last home-cooked meal they would have for a while. Monica looked forward to working alongside students from each of the three academy houses in a rare moment of cooperation before they’d have to clash on the battlefield. She also wondered what Flayn would be up to in her absence, and if they’d ever be allowed to work together on future missions.
Then there was the question of her father. Why hadn’t he responded to any of her letters? Had he moved away from the mountains? Was he dead? She wanted to find out for herself once she helped Leonie and the others deal with the bandits.