I decided I needed to go back and re-edit some early chapters of this fic.
Let's start with the Chapter 1 Author's Note. In the original version of the Author's Note, I stated that I didn't like Edelgard. That wasn't really true, not even then. I love Edelgard. What I don't like is her arc in Crimson Flower, especially in comparison to the other three faction leaders' arcs in their own routes. Edelgard is far from the only one of the four to commit morally objectionable actions. The difference, however, is that the other three come to realize that. Dimitri realizes his rage does not honor the dead and only serves to harm the living, Claude realizes he can't impose his ideals on a continent by force, and Rhea realizes that she needs to take responsibility for her mistakes rather than expecting Sothis to solve everything. I suppose Edelgard learns that she can trust her friends, but that's not enough of a learning experience. And while I get from a character perspective why Rhea goes nuts, Dimitri becomes a fanatic, and Claude does Claude things, all of them serve only to vindicate Edelgard's belief that her conquest was necessary and her opponents were unredeemable.
I still think Silver Snow should have had a lot more of Rhea, with more character-building moments, and probably a few more support chains. I think people wouldn't misunderstand her character as much if that was the case.
Anyway, here's the re-edited first chapter.
Rhea wasn't normally the kind of woman who panicked.
After centuries of life, she thought she had gotten pretty good at managing her fear. Yes, she had panicked when Flayn was kidnapped, but otherwise she had avoided panicking in awful situations. She hadn't panicked when Edelgard had taken her prisoner. She hadn't even panicked when that snake Thales had paid her a visit, even though she knew what Thales would have done to her had Edelgard allowed it. But now she was truly panicking.
When she had missed her period, she had hoped that it was a coincidence. Or that the cause had been anything but the obvious. But upon waking up nauseous and vomiting, she knew that her hopes had been in vain.
She thought back to the night before she had been captured by the Empire. To that last night with Byleth.
"Professor?" Rhea had met with him that night, away from any ears that might be listening. "I haven't been entirely honest with you. I need to tell you the truth." And so she had. She told him about her past, about herself and the Goddess, and the truth of the Church. She told him the truth about the day of his birth, and what her plans for him had been. She had been afraid to tell him the truth, but Byleth had lost so much for her sake, and the guilt was crushing her. "Be honest. Do you hate me?" She wouldn't have blamed him if he had. Those Who Slither In The Dark had only targeted him because of her. Jeralt had died because of her. It would have been his right to hate her for what she had done.
Byleth, however, had listened with compassion, and when she was finished, he embraced her. "Rhea, I could never hate you," he told her. "You've made mistakes, but you saved my life that day. I can't truly blame you for wanting your mother back; I don't know that I wouldn't have done the same for my father. And you tried to protect humanity when no one would have judged you for deciding it wasn't worth protecting."
"I deceived humanity," Rhea sobbed. "I set myself above them. Jeralt died because I gave you my mother's Crest."
"Yes, you do have things you have to make right," Byleth told her. "But not to me. I'm here for you, Rhea. Thales is to blame for the war, and Kronya is to blame for my father. You have nothing to apologize to me for. We'll win this war. Together. And then we can make things right within the Church. We'll do it together."
"Shh. You don't have to say anything," Byleth told her.
"But I do," Rhea told him. "I do not deserve to have someone as wonderful as you by my side. I regret nothing more than that I allowed my desire to have my mother returned to me to keep me from seeing you for so long. And that even after I have revealed my darkest secrets to you, you still would stand by my side...Byleth, words cannot describe the way I feel about you. So...if you would let me, I want to show you. Please."
And after that, nothing more was said. Nothing needed to be said. The way they touched each other told them both all they needed to know.
Rhea did not regret what had transpired that night. Nor did she regret forcing Byleth to leave her and protect the students. But she knew her current secret was one she would not be able to keep for long. Edelgard had kept her from being tortured, but if Thales found out that she was pregnant...even thinking about what he would do to her baby terrified her in ways she hadn't felt since the genocide of her people.
Transforming into the Immaculate One was not an option. Edelgard had known of her other form, and had placed enchantments that would keep her from using magic. She wouldn't be able to break out of her cell.
She couldn't implore the guards for help, either. Few of them seemed to have any compassion for her at all, and she had no way of knowing if Those Who Slither had agents among them. Even if one of the guards did let her go, the Empire would hunt her down. She would have nowhere to run.
That left only one choice. Byleth had told her that he believed Edelgard was not evil, but merely deceived by the lies of Those Who Slither In The Dark, that she truly wanted what was best for Fódlan, but she couldn't see that there might be a better way forward. Rhea had thought the idea foolish, that Byleth was still blinded by his care for his student. But she had no choice but to hope his judgment of Edelgard's character was correct.
"Guard! I need to speak with the Emperor!"
"Be silent, prisoner!" One of the guards shouted at her.
"I have information that is of the utmost interest to her!" Rhea told him, silently begging for him to listen. "She will want to know what I have to tell her!"
The guard who shouted at her prepared to shout again, but his partner stopped him. "This could be important."
"Fine," the aggressive guard said. "You tell the captain. But if this is a waste of time, she won't be happy. You hear that, archbishop?" He spat the title as if it were a curse.
"If this is a waste of time, it's not her I'm afraid of," Rhea thought. But on the surface, she simply said, "Of course."