It took six years for Edelgard von Hresvelg to complete her campaign against the Church of Seiros and its supporters, unifying the continent of Fódlan under the banner of the Adrestian Empire just as it had been in the early days of Saint Seiros. Much of her time afterward was occupied by two major projects: the conception and institution of educational and governmental reforms, advised by her former rival Ferdinand von Aegir, and a secret campaign to wipe out “those who slither in the dark”, led by her closest friend and Imperial spymaster, Hubert von Vestra. To Edelgard, the latter project was an important step to ensure the success of the former. Fódlan had seen more than enough chaos even before she declared war against the Church, and she had worked too hard to risk having “those who slither” tear everything apart again.
On the first anniversary of the end of hostilities between the Empire and the now-dismantled Church of Seiros, Edelgard held a public audience with merchants from northern Faehrgus and western Leicester to discuss increasing protection of trade routes between the three regions, followed by another audience with foreign educators and scholars to propose the construction of new schools to better help the common folk learn subjects not taught at the Officers Academy. A short time after the scholars left the palace, Edelgard went to her chambers and sighed so loudly that she thought it would take a minute to catch her breath again. Ferdinand, returning from inspecting the horses and wyverns in the stables, knocked five times on Edelgard’s door.
“You can come in,” she told him. She, Ferdinand, and Hubert had developed a simple system to let each other know when they were entering to avoid unexpected interruptions during quieter times. If Hubert had been at the door, she would have known to open it after the second knock.
“Goodness, Edelgard…you look exhausted,” he said as he glimpsed at her reflection in the corner mirror. The slumped shoulders and creased brow were a familiar sight to him, but not on the woman whose side he had fought at for years. If she had felt any fatigue during any of those battles, it was unlikely that he would have noticed.
Edelgard turned around to greet Ferdinand. “It’s nothing…is what I would have said a few years ago. Day in and day out, I have to approve documents and listen to requests and complaints. It feels like I’m still out on the battlefield. Even after everything I’ve done to ensure this continent’s future, I still barely have any moments to myself. And yet there is always so much more to be done.”
“I do not think the public would begrudge you for taking some time to rest. I have lost count of how many times I have tried to relay the same message to Hubert.” In his best attempt at imitating Hubert’s gruff voice, Ferdinand added, “‘Evil never sleeps, and neither must I,’ he says. Surely he must not mean that literally.”
Edelgard smiled, trying to suppress as much laughter as possible. “I can assure you that Hubert does actually rest every once in a while. For your sake and his, I would advise against asking about the specifics.”
A moment after saying this, she heard Hubert knocking on her door, the second knock coming after a short pause. Hubert’s black overcoat was wrinkled all over, as he cared much less about keeping up appearances than Edelgard or Ferdinand, or the young woman standing behind him – Countess Constance von Nuvelle.
“There you are, Edelgard!” said Constance, fanning herself with the fan in her right hand before snapping it shut with a flick of her wrist. “Forgive me… I had to ‘borrow’ Hubert’s services for a brief shopping trip. Personal bodyguards do not come cheap, after all.”
“I have long been under the impression that daytime excursions have been a problem for the countess in the past,” said Hubert, “so she asked me to accompany her to the market to acquire a parasol so that the sunlight would be less of a bother to her. While we were out, I took the liberty of acquiring one for you as well, Lady Edelgard.”
“Thank you, Hubert,” said Edelgard as she took the red parasol from him. It matched the color of her emperor’s robes, which she made a habit of not wearing in public outside of official government business functions.
Edelgard looked at the gray parasol in Constance’s left hand, assuming after all the years she had known her that Constance had chosen to work around her distaste for sunlight instead of devising a way to rid herself of it completely. Even Constance had no idea why she hated it or how it happened, but the urge to put herself down whenever she was forced to go outside had lessened over time. Edelgard was surprised that Constance would even choose to go shopping on a sunny day in the first place.
Constance piped up again, switching her parasol to her right hand. “Would Her Majesty care to accompany me on a journey into the city?” she asked. “If we act swiftly, we might arrive at the opera house in time to witness the latest Mittelfrank production!”
“A bit of entertainment sounds like just what I need right now,” Edelgard replied. “Hubert, I’m going to be out for a while. Can I trust you and Ferdinand to take care of things while Constance and I are away?”
“You have nothing to worry about, Your Majesty,” said Hubert, bowing toward her. “My network of spies will continue to protect the palace from intruders. Should any of them uncover any new information on Thales or his ilk, I will not hesitate to inform you at once.”
“And I will try to alleviate the burden of some of this paperwork for you,” said Ferdinand, who had taken half of the petitions and diplomatic missives from Edelgard’s desk to review later.
“Thank you both again,” said Edelgard. “Sometimes I wonder where I’d be without any of you at my side.”
Edelgard and Constance arrived at the opera house by carriage at around three o’clock in the afternoon. Constance raised her parasol the moment she stepped onto the walkway, and Edelgard opened hers in a show of solidarity. Most of the attendees recognized the emperor and the countess of the revived House Nuvelle without either of them wearing fancy clothes or having to lower their parasols. The temptation for Edelgard to engage with the crowd beyond a simple hand wave was thwarted when an armored – and thankfully for the soon-to-be concertgoers, unarmed – soldier escorted her and Constance to a private entrance reserved for very important guests, such as friends and family of the emperor or nobles from visiting counties. It went against Edelgard’s aim to be an emperor “for and of the people”, but the soldier cited safety concerns being just as important in peacetime as they were in wartime.
The curtains rose on the stage below as Edelgard and Constance took their seats in the west wing loft. “Did they – do they have any performing arts centers in Nuvelle?” asked Edelgard.
“Only a few small public squares in the towns around the capital,” said Constance. “Certainly nothing on this scale! Do you suppose I would be able to convince Dorothea and Miss Manuela to put on a show in my hometown?”
“I don’t think they’d be opposed to it, but you would have to pull a lot of strings behind the scenes to make something like that happen.”
Edelgard recognized the events of the opera being performed on stage, Death and Rebirth of a Hero, as a dramatization of the Black Eagles’ battle against Solon in the Sealed Forest on the outskirts of the Garreg Mach Monastery. Dorothea, playing the role of the heroine, had enlisted several talented tailors to design an outfit that looked just like Byleth’s Enlightened One regalia. As much as she admired Byleth, Edelgard knew that her singing and acting skills paled in comparison to Dorothea’s, or the actor playing the Solon counterpart (who was named “Solo” in the adaptation, evidently an unconscious choice by the screenplay writer due to no one other than the Black Eagles and the Church knowing the real Solon’s identity). Constance cheered the loudest when the final act ended with the heroine defeating the villain in a sword fight that made extensive use of the forest scenery, and Edelgard stood up to join the rest of the theater in a round of raucous applause, as pleased as anyone to learn that Dorothea had rediscovered her passion for acting after the war. For a moment, Edelgard thought she saw the actors looking up and winking at her and Constance.
“If I did not lead the life I am leading now, I could imagine myself on stage like this as a trained and celebrated actress,” said Constance. The room had warmed up considerably since the start of the play, so she pulled her fan out to cool herself and Edelgard off.
“If you feel that one day your calling should change, then apply yourself to your craft as much as you do with your magic studies, and know that you’ll have at least one ardent supporter when the time comes.” Edelgard got up from her seat and prepared to leave as the rest of the crowd filed out of the opera house. “Be honest with me, Constance…”
“I have no intention of being dishonest, Edelgard. We are friends, are we not?”
Edelgard turned to Constance, smiling. “Of course we are, but I still have to ask…did Ferdinand put you up to this?”
“It was not solely his idea,” said Constance. “You all spend a lot of time in the palace planning and deliberating and doing all sorts of stressful things. Even I, who would much rather walk the streets in the evenings after my work is done, have moments when I need to get away from it all. And what better way to spend that time than in the company of people I can trust?”
“In any case, I want to thank you for inviting me. Going to this show may be just what we both needed.”
As Edelgard and Constance sat side-by-side in the carriage back to the Imperial Palace, Edelgard tried not to think too much about what awaited her on her desk when she returned. There was still work to be done – there was always work to be done – but she trusted Ferdinand and Hubert enough to help her handle things when she needed moments to herself. The next time she planned on going on vacation, she hoped to see the sights and sounds of Constance’s and Ferdinand’s homelands, provided that they had enough time in their busy schedules to allow their emperor a visit.