Word count: 2600 (6 to 21 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, Caspar, Catherine, Rhea, Seteth, Flayn, and Byleth
The secret underground halls of Enbarr’s capital were more a home to Hubert than his own quarters, but he was unused to having company when he travelled them. Caspar and Ferdinand flanked him in a spear formation as Catherine stood a wary distance behind them—not so close as to be attacked, but not so far as to be separated. She summoned Seteth, Flayn, and the professor before they descended, and so they walked behind her as well. It was convenient for his goals to have so many witness his compliance with their wishes, but still unusual for Hubert regardless.
The narrow confines of the passage and worn floor muffled their footsteps, and the hiss of the professor’s fire spells lighting wall-mounted torches added a smoky tinge to the earthy scent permeating the tunnels. The air was tight with anticipation and words unsaid, but even Ferdinand and Caspar remained silent as they pressed on.
For the most part.
“Okay, well…” Caspar began, rolling his shoulders and keeping his voice down by his standards. Words meant only for the former Black Eagles, then. “Catherine definitely crossed a line.”
So he didn’t want his role model to hear he didn’t approve of her conduct earlier. Upon finding that the energy to sneer escaped him, Hubert left his expression flat and disinterested.
“She cannot hear you, Caspar. It means as little to her as it does to me.”
The potential double meaning struck him as a sudden plunge into icy water: she as in Catherine or Lady Edelgard? The wounded quietude that followed, with Caspar sulking to one side while Ferdinand gave him a warning look on the other, was worse than being yelled at, hated, or feared. Anything was preferable to this coddling sympathy like a blanket smothering him.
Worse, Hubert was all too aware that his mental state was alternating between precarious and detached without warning. Years had passed since he was away from Her Majesty for an extended period of time, and now it would be for the rest of his days—however long that proved to be. This was unmapped territory Hubert hoped to never acquaint himself with.
He stopped short by a dark area of the passage, and the nearest torch flared to life to reveal the recessed door he sought: humble, pitted, but effective. The iron across the wooden slats bore sigils that, if focused on for too long, would appear to shift. Resting a hand on them would reveal that they were as motionless as the door itself, but the illusion would remain.
“The archbishop,” he exhaled, feeling somewhat winded from the walk so soon after his near-death recovery, “is residing here.”
“Rhea!” Seteth brushed past him first with more urgency than malice, pulling the door open seconds after Hubert lowered the protective spells on it.
Catherine was on his heels, her expression set into a scowl as her eyes betrayed her worries. Next came Flayn, whose pace and gaze lingered by Hubert, wide with fear and sympathy in equal measure. For a non-human entity, she was remarkably emotional. Once she concluded her business staring at the prisoner, Flayn followed into the chambers that held Rhea.
Odd, how he had come to this cell as a warden for years and in one night, the opposite was true. Such was the power in the wicked tides of war, he supposed.
Next came the professor. Her expressiveness was always rather limited, but her unpredictable nature with something looming underneath had all but vanished. Her eyebrows drew together ever so slightly in the dark as she looked at him or perhaps through him. A firm hand on his shoulder carried with it a healing spell, and she left to Rhea’s side as well.
Hubert glared at the ground, enduring a sickening pitch to his stomach as the faith magic stitched together any reopened injuries. The residual soreness remained untouched, naturally. But why did mercy always tear into him worse than overt resentment? The floor certainly didn’t have the answers or anything to get him closer to the next steps for his orders. To move towards laying Her Majesty’s soul to rest, Hubert required an audience with King Dimitri.
“Hubert?” Ferdinand implored for an explanation to his stillness or grimace, maybe. It hardly mattered.
“They have who they came for.” Hubert gave him a fleeting glance, turning back the way they came with a hand to brace him against the wall. “I need a word with His Highness.”
“Hold on,” Caspar interrupted, putting an arm out in front of Hubert and standing his ground in the face of the withering look he earned for his efforts. “Shouldn’t you rest or something?”
“I will get my rest when I meet my end.” Were he in better condition, he may have pushed past Caspar to begin travelling back to the main levels of the Imperial castle. Instead, he stood between Ferdinand and Caspar with no means of forging ahead despite his limitations.
“There is no need to rush, Hubert.” Ferdinand’s hand against his upper back was an insult, as if he could not support himself on his own. Hubert’s own hand steadying him against the wall was beside the point. “You can have a short break here before we return to the great hall to avoid jeopardizing your recovery.”
“Hubert? Is that Hubert?” Rhea’s voice was thin and raspy with disuse—she had long since given up trying to provoke Hubert and passed the majority of his visits without a word—but still, he recognized her as she spoke from within her chambers.
He wanted nothing to do with her. Hubert had important matters to attend to for Her Majesty, and listening to this morally devoid, inhuman beast preach about his part in their path was not beneficial to his ends whatsoever. Worse, Hubert could not predict how he might react in this state of mind and he had to act carefully if he was going to secure the alliance necessary to see Her Majesty’s plan through.
“Hubert.” The quickening pulse of his heart, cornered and defensive, quelled somewhat at the sound of Byleth’s voice. Prodding, but not forceful, her tone was a reassurance that he may enter and know it would not be the callous slaughter it was almost guaranteed to be if Rhea faced him with solely her followers present.
He sighed through his nose, eyes falling shut as he gathered himself. Turning again and brushing Ferdinand’s hand from his path to the open doorway, Hubert answered. “It is.”
He stepped inside and lingered just past the entrance. The room was not the lavish palace she was no doubt used to and indeed, preferred, but it was hardly a prison cell. The bed had fresh linens and a patterned duvet to ward out the chill of the undercroft and give a semblance of hominess to the quarters.
Her Majesty’s orders, of course. While she resented Rhea’s brutal rule over Fódlan, Lady Edelgard had also spent an immeasurable time in a bleak, unfurnished cell as her siblings fell to death or madness from Crest experimentation. She could not bring herself to allow anyone else to suffer in such conditions.
And so, more decorations made their way into Rhea’s chambers. If she disliked them or plainly destroyed them, Hubert acquired others to replace them—even a specific landscape painting at request. When she asked that they be changed with the season, he honored that. There was a rotating selection of books as well, a modest vanity, and fresh flowers delivered every week.
These gestures did not make her comfortable in her imprisonment by any consideration, but Her Majesty at least did offer better living arrangements than she would have received if the roles were reversed.
“I see you have been weakened by the battle.” Her mouth in a thin line, Rhea attempted to pin him with a cold stare. Where that failed, she reached for statements of fact delivered as accusations. “You withheld food during my imprisonment. I was brought only one meal a day.”
The reactions to that were mixed, some turning their attention to him for denial and finding none, and others accepting this knowledge immediately for the purpose of deepening their rage with him.
At last, Rhea found success with a practiced look of remorseful sympathy one might see on the canvas of a novice painter: aesthetically correct, but barren of any true emotion. “What lies did that wicked girl feed you?”
He shuddered from the sheer offense of it all, that condescending question piercing him like a well-aimed cast of Fimbulvetr. Hubert heard the waver in his voice as if it were someone else’s. While rage contributed to it, that was not all, and he was not alone in his awareness of that.
“I swore my life to Lady Edelgard, and the loss of Her Majesty pains me beyond description. Knowing that as you must, you would slander her name and belittle her sacrifice on the very day of her death,” he returned her list of truthful allegations and cared not a whit if anyone present believed him. Hubert clenched his fists and did what he could to suppress the enraged trembling that threatened his stability.
“After such a blatant display of cruelty, who here can truly be called wicked?” He had said more than he should, but with no sense to stop himself, Hubert continued. “That you can even accuse her of deceit from your position of power within a false religion is further evidence that you are as monstrous as they come.”
Catherine came forward and shouted at Hubert as he apparently so wanted to hear. “You starved her—”
“Think for once in your cursed life. We had to weaken her for our safety.” Here, Hubert was at ease. Let them argue and debate with him; he could volley back their criticisms for ages. “We couldn’t very well have the Immaculate One manifest in the undercroft.”
That got their attention. To her credit, Catherine only showed a brief lapse in blind faith before her dogma reasserted itself in a watchful frown. Flayn and Seteth’s shared concern behind Rhea’s back was far more telling and suggested that Hubert was correct to believe their confidence in Rhea had been badly shaken.
“Do you think for a moment that she would spare a thought to the innocents within our walls? The serving staff? Their children?” The frigid edge came back to Hubert’s voice, his trademark disdain taking hold of his expression on its own. He hadn’t expected to be soothed by its familiarity rather than thrilled at a point well made. “To defend them from her indifferent hostility, yes, I decided to ration Rhea’s meals. Consider what may have happened to her had we turned her over to our mutual enemy as they demanded.”
His resentment cooled to a logical contempt while the present supporters of the Church responded with varying degrees of offense—with Catherine as the most and Byleth as the least. Each piece acted as a balm to the internal unrest he’d suffered through so far. Better still, that outburst served as part of the plan, since his last sentence would get the more analytical among them considering the context.
“What enemy is this?” Byleth, focused as ever, spoke before the more irate of her peers could make fools of themselves.
“The threat that slithers in the dark.” Strange, how explanations asked for more of his attention when he was unable to gesture. He thought little of his habit of crossing his arms or putting his hand to his chin before being kept in cuffs. “Rhea will know them well from her kind’s history. This opponent resents their people and all who live above ground—but I will not say another word without His Highness. Even as the victors, you don’t have the luxury of forcing me to repeat myself.”
“You really think you get to make demands?” Catherine must have missed Rhea profoundly to be so eager to come to her defense at every chance. Jealous of the professor, perhaps? An interesting consideration to file away for later review.
“Alright, Catherine, cut it out.” Caspar, of all people, stepped between Hubert and Catherine. At that distance, his marked increase in height over the past five years was rather notable. “Hubert’s one of us.”
“Well said, Caspar!” With how Ferdinand replied, one might believe Caspar had made an especially keen observation rather than a mostly inaccurate statement. Hubert had been their classmate years ago, but few of them took the side of Lady Edelgard in the war against the Church of Seiros. Those that did, later left to join their enemy.
And yet, they came to his defense of their own will when the odds were against him worse than ever. Hubert could not help but wonder what Her Majesty would think of this display. Would she be moved by their unwavering faith in Hubert? Or would she be disappointed that a part of him, however small and vulnerable, wanted to believe in their fealty once again?
He knew the answer. She gave it to him with her last breaths for occasions such as this. It did not make trusting them any easier. As a poor substitute, Hubert permitted them to speak on his behalf.
“I sympathize with Rhea’s suffering, of course, but Hubert is an ally of ours.” Ferdinand paused to consider his claim, wisely making a minor addendum with as much certainty and sincerity as any other proclamation the would-be Prime Minister might make. “Formerly, that much is true. But this room is hardly designed for torment and neglect. I have faith that he would not resort to rationing unless he felt it was absolutely necessary just as he described. We should grant him an audience to make his case.”
Hubert’s attention fell once more to the floor at the unsolicited rush of pride at being held in such esteem, made even more treasured by its moderation. Ferdinand had taken the side of the enemy against Her Majesty, but that sentence alone assured Hubert that it was done with a heavy heart. That fact was supported by Ferdinand’s forced calm at the gates of Enbarr as well.
If he could understand Hubert’s perspective in this even now, then perhaps…
“Seriously, you’re going to defend this lapdog over—”
“Catherine, please.” Rhea interceded, her elegant arm extended to crush the argument before it began. “It is alright. As the victors, we can allow him the mercy his lost soul could not provide.”
Hubert scoffed, rolling his eyes at the heavy-handed distortion of his prior cutting remark. Having to contend with the endless drivel from Rhea rather than deposing her would be among the more difficult aspects of complying with Her Majesty’s hopes for Hubert’s future.
“Hearing the same report at once will keep us on the same page,” Byleth steered the conversation to more practical matters. “I’ll call a meeting in the war room.”
“Thank you, Professor.” Ferdinand expressed open relief, bowing politely as his noble bearing demanded.
And with that, Hubert was one step closer to securing revenge for Her Majesty against the Agarthans as recompense for failing to guarantee her victory against the Church. He would claw his way through to this tenuous alliance if he must, and there was no demand they could make that he would not meet personally (although they need not know that much before they even began negotiations). Hubert would not fail her twice.
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