Word count: 1600 (3 to 13 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers and Non-Graphic Violence | Characters: Edelgard, Hubert and Hubert’s Father
“You knew the cost when you made the choice,” his father spoke flatly, with no more interest than if he were discussing the price of Noa fruit. Forcibly straightened hair hung close to his neck and disappeared behind a tall collar. He loomed over the two of them even after Hubert’s latest growth spurt. Slices of sunlight broke up their journey through the secluded tower stairway, seemingly reluctant to touch the repugnant excuse for a human being at the head of their procession.
Rupert von Vestra led him by the forearm to the uppermost floor. For once, he was compliant. Any fight Hubert put up now would only distress Lady Edelgard further.
In less than ten short years, the man before him would be a mangled corpse as he deserved and Emperor Ionius IX would carry out her coronation.
Whatever occurred in the meantime was nothing.
Despite her smaller stride, she kept pace with them as her voice echoed through the stairwell. Already, she had a commanding tone suitable of her leadership capacity.
“I’m the one who took the axe to it,” she insisted, and he could guess what she referred to. Some contraption of their unwanted guests, no doubt. Edelgard was no longer confined to the basement of the Enbarr palace, but she knew the general whereabouts of the devices that claimed the lives and sanity of her siblings. How could she be expected not to destroy them? “The punishment is mine to bear.”
“That was not the agreement,” Lord Vestra reminded her, shoving Hubert towards the heavy wooden door at the far side of the landing.
“Because I never agreed to this.” She made an excellent point in the awareness that it fell on deaf ears. Rupert had chosen ignorance and oppression at the Insurrection. He was not moved by his conscience to make the correct choice before the Hresvelgs perished due to his betrayal, and her argument would not sway him now.
Hubert gripped the pitted ring handle and twisted it to open the door in an overwrought routine. This was not his father’s preferred training chamber, although he’d seen it on several occasions. The devices and tools within were no mystery. As such, what was there to fear? His arm ached with an outline of the elder Vestra’s hand while Hubert led them into the room. Without another choice, Edelgard joined them.
The door sat open behind her. At this distance from the main castle, no one would hear what was to come. None but who was intended to witness this all along. Her hardened blue eyes rested on Hubert at last, and those bangs washed white by experimentation framed her knowing gaze.
“You were warned.” His father carried on in the indifference of a man who did not realize or acknowledge that his every act brought him only closer to an agonizing end. His gloved hand closed around the cane in complete ignorance of Hubert’s own machinations. Ones that would far exceed the treachery he crafted with the Prime Minister Ludwig.
“Those are not the same!” Edelgard attempted again to force him to reason, more willing than Hubert was to believe the capacity for that still existed in his predecessor.
“It’s quite alright, Lady Edelgard.” Hubert turned to her with a measured bow. Let Rupert see his resolve and integrity in service to the person he cared about. That would be all the warning he would get of a fate carefully crafted over the course of years. “You’ll find my father is entirely incapable of refraining from targeting those who are unable to defend themselves as of yet.”
The horror that compressed Hubert’s chest when he heard of Lady Edelgard being taken to Fhirdiad was a fraction of what his father would suffer. The ferocity with which he fought the soldiers sent to reclaim Hubert was a mere fragment of what would be brought to bear on this man. He who escorted no less than ten Hresvelg descendants to the grave and readied an early one for the sole survivor… He would know pain beyond description.
“I will add that insolence to your punishment.”
Savage delight took root in his chest so acutely that Hubert did almost grin. A caning was punishment from the uninventive and short-sighted. Oh, how Rupert would yearn for something so innocent. He straightened himself to stare through the fetid wretch he once called father.
“Such is your nature.”
As with all oppressors, he did not even attempt to meet Hubert where he might win. There would be no answer to his cutting mockery. A firm hand shoved him to his knees. He’d barely been there a moment before the first blow struck, signaled by a whipping sound as the thin cane came down.
“Stop! Stop this instant,” Edelgard ordered from where she stood. Good. If she used violence to stop Rupert, she would surely succeed. A fragile ego like his would interpret that as a slight, not the obvious evidence of his ineptitude it truly was.
He did not count. Knowing the quantity had a magnifying effect and, at his lowest, imbued false hope of a finite end to the cruelty. Hubert knew better than to anticipate a limit to what his father might do. He would not be foolish enough to be twice deceived by someone so contemptible. Distantly, the whipping sound blurred with the ringing in his ears. The shallow disassociation he mustered served him well. Hubert could hear his surroundings, in case Rupert revealed something valuable during the beating. The marks already forming under his shirt were far away, however. They did little more than tingle in his willfully removed state of mind.
And when the cane clattered to the stone table, full awareness rushed back to greet Hubert. Its claws dug into his back, raw and aching, but he could not afford to miss anything that may prove useful against Rupert and his inhuman allegiances. His head spun while he breathed through his nose to trick his body into remaining steady and sure. If he were reeling like he felt he was, the beating would have resumed for his display of weakness unfit for a royal guardian and agent of House Vestra.
“Clean up after your lady.” The command from Lord Vestra was cold and empty. Delivered by an imitation of a leader, one who was used to being obeyed by habit as opposed to merit. Furthermore, it was wholly useless. Every Vestra knew that when they were penalized on behalf of their sworn leader, they would also be tasked with restoring the chambers for its next use. Wipe up blood, remove stains, return tools to their proper place, and leave it perfect in every aspect—or risk returning for a repetition of the prior visit.
He was in no rush to respond. As the taut silence drew out, Hubert deigned to offer him yet another thinly veiled promise.
“You may count on it.”