This article contains spoilers for the first half of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Tread carefully!
As much as we joke about using Fire Emblem's "Support" option to crush on our favorite characters, the series' Support conversations exist to remind us there's never a single narrative or ideal guiding a war. The history, fears, and motivations that each character spills in a Support interlude gradually weave themselves into a patchwork quilt of smaller stories that hang over the battlefield.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has Support conversations, and even though it scales back the lovey-dovey stuff from previous games, said conversations are still full of delicious drama. (Let Ignatz paint, damn it! Let my boy paint!)
But I've noticed Three Houses doesn't restrict its smaller war stories to Support conversations. If you pay attention to the medieval-style paintings that precede the start of each month, you'll find a wordless tale about a yearling deer who grows, loses his father to a hunter, then has a gruesome reunion with the kingly stag months later.
I'm still playing Three Houses, so I can only piece together the little deer's story from the paintings that illustrate the first year of life in the Garreg Mach Monastery. Luckily, it's a contained tale. The game starts us off in early spring, where we can catch a glimpse of a stag fighting another stag for the attentions of a doe. When summer arrives, a deer is born to the mated pair. (Deer generally gestate for six months or more, but Fodlan is a magic realm awash in dragons and Pegasi, so I guess "express deer pregnancy" gets a pass, too.)
When fall arrives, we see a blonde-haired hunter kill the stag. A kind woodsman then adopts the fatherless calf.
Here's where the story diverges. While the calf grows in the care of the woodsman, we learn a bit about the hunter. As winter falls on Fodlan, we see the hunter in his study, where the stag's antlers are mounted as a trophy.
Another month passes, and the hunter falls in love and gets married. He continues to hunt for food while the deer continues to mature.
As the year's end, the entirety of Fodlan prepares to go to war. Even the woodsman is conscripted, and he rides into battle on the young stag he raised. At the same time, the hunter leaves his pregnant wife to obey his marching orders—but not before he puts on a helmet adorned with a now-familiar pair of antlers.
The dam breaks, war grips Fodlan. The young deer and the woodsman clash with the hunter, who's still wearing the antlers of the deer's slain father.
Three Houses' "Stag Tale" is the kind of storytelling effort I love seeing in games. It adds nothing to the game's main narrative. It exists simply to remind us everyone has their own tale to tell during times of strife and during times of peace. The events in Three Houses revolves around drama with the Church and the State, but none of that changes the fact people still need to perform the actions and rituals that take them from one day to another. The death of the young deer's father is sad, but the hunter who speared him did so because he needs to eat. And the hunter doesn't wear the antlers of the dead stag to spite the young deer; their meeting on the battlefield is just one of those coincidences. In fact, the hunter and the young deer know nothing about each other except for the fact they're on opposite sites of the battlefield. But when we observe the painting, we know what these two "strangers" mean to each other.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses doesn't have robust options for personal romance, but it excels at showing us the romances and connections that keep the rhythm of life flowing. I think it's a decent trade-off.