Invisible Ties

Chapter 10

Chrom walked quickly through the palace halls, shouting out orders as he went. All around him junior officers and other servants were scurrying about in a desperate attempt to comply with the Prince’s instructions. There was much to do in the wake of the Plegian assassination attempt the previous night, and no time for rest.

Cullen and Duke Themis were in the middle of organizing a garrison to remain in Ylisstol, coordinating with Flavia’s Lieutenants; mostly the Royal Guard and regular army, along with the warriors from Regna Ferox. Flavia and Basilio had returned to Regna Ferox temporarily for some Feroxi festival they were honour-bound to attend, but would return within the week. Phila, however, was preparing a smaller force, which would be joined by the Shepherds, to take Emmeryn to the relatively safer Eastern City-State in the forests and mountains on the Eastern coast. The centre of the area was a castle named Castle Jagen after the knight that had guided the Hero-King Marth in the old legends, still had its full complement of soldiers, and Chrom trusted the Duke of the area, Duke Aerir, as a true ally to his family.

Emmeryn was wholly against the idea, but the entire Council had voted against her staying. She was the face of Ylisse; the face of peace. If Emmeryn were to die, the Ylissean army’s morale would be crushed.

Chrom stopped suddenly, brow twitching as his second shadow stopped a foot behind him.

“Frederick, I said I’m safe in the palace,” Chrom groaned exasperatedly, massaging his temples.

After the previous evening Frederick hadn’t moved more than two feet away from Chrom, his overzealousness starting to get on the Prince’s very last nerve.

“Apologies, milord,” Frederick said with a respectful bow. “But as I stated the last seven times, I cannot again grow lax in my duties to protect you like last night.”

“And for the eighth time, Frederick, you were unconscious; I have forgiven you for your temporary lapse in duty,” Chrom said, silently pleading with his eyes ‘go away’.

“And as a knight it is my sworn duty to ensure that it never happens again!” Frederick said with more conviction than Chrom could stomach, clenching a fist over his heart for emphasis.

Chrom sighed and started walking again, giving up for the eighth time. This was obviously not an argument he was going to win any time soon, but that didn’t stop him walking slightly faster than before in a vain attempt at out-running the over-bearing knight.

Robin woke that morning to two red, rabbit-like eyes staring down at him from a very small distance above his face. It took a few moments before Robin realised what was happening, and in that time the owner of the eyes managed to get a sentence in.

“Do all humans sleep so exposed on their backs? It’s really quite foolish.”

“Gwuh!” he shouted, jumping. “Panne, what the hell!?”

The Taguel woman hopped back a step as Robin shot into a sitting position; fortunately her reflexes were fast, or Robin would have hit her with a perfect headbutt, which would not have been the ideal way to start his morning.

“It is late in the morning,” Panne pointed out, frowning. “And I have yet to slay a single of your promised man-spawn.”

More like she hadn’t stopped frowning since Robin had shown her and Gaius to the barracks the previous night. She struck Robin as a very joyless person, very focused on her revenge. Which was now beginning to become irritating, Robin realised as he tried to coax himself into full consciousness. He was beginning to think that he’d never get a good night’s sleep again.

“We don’t kill allied man-spawn,” Robin groaned, drawing the sentence out as he stretched.

“You gave your word,” Panne growled, her eyes narrowing slightly.

“All right, all right,” Robin moaned, swinging his legs out of the bed and shooing the Taguel away with one hand, running the other through his hair. “Let me get dressed and we’ll go see Chrom at the palace and find out when we march.”

“You said I would get the chance to kill many man-spawn,” Panne repeated.

“And you will,” Robin yawned. “But not before I’m wearing pants.”

Robin shuffled out of the room he usually shared with Vaike and Virion at the barracks, scratching his head and yawning, Panne only a few steps behind him.

“Morning!” Lissa called cheerily from the barracks’ small kitchen area.

It was almost like any other day at the barracks; Vaike, Lon’qu Sully and Stahl training, Virion sipping tea, Kellam fading into the background. Unlike other days, though, Sumia was absent. In her place Gaius was reclining lazily on one of the chairs, flicking sugar-coated beans through the air into his mouth. And of course the revenge-obsessed Taguel that wouldn’t leave Robin alone like a fluffy second shadow.

“Where’s Maribelle?” Robin mumbled to Lissa, helping himself to an apple from the counter.

Sumia would be at the palace with the rest of the Pegasus Knights; Frederick would be on Chrom like a bad smell; Miriel would be in the Royal Library like any other day; and Ricken was supposedly collecting the things he would need from the Mage Academy for the campaign against Plegia. What Maribelle was doing today was a mystery, though.

“She’s with her father at the palace,” Lissa explained, beginning to wash the dishes from breakfast. “She wanted to be there to represent the people of Themis during the war council.”

“You mean the refugees?” Vaike asked, coming inside and placing his axe back on the rack next to the door.

“Yes,” Lissa huffed, shooting the man a dirty look. “I was trying to be a little more tactful, though.”

Vaike shrugged.

“No point in tact,” he said, wiping his face on a towel. “Refugees ‘s what they are now; why sugar-coat it?”

Robin almost laughed out loud when he saw Gaius’ head whip around at the term ‘sugar-coat’.

“The spiky man-spawn speaks truth,” Panne said, stepping around Robin and crossing her arms. “You should not deny the truth for the sake of fragile human feelings at a time of conflict.”

“Spiky?” Vaike mumbled, reaching up to feel his hair unconsciously.

“You’re probably right,” Lissa sighed. “I’m just not used to all of this.”

Panne looked at the princess, up to her elbows in dish-water, for a moment before nodding once.

“I will be in the stable,” she said, turning to Robin before striding out into the stable. “You will come fetch me when we are to ‘march’.”

“Of course,” Robin sighed, running a hand through his hair.

Much to his annoyance it was still retaining its swept-back appearance from the other day when he had ridden back to Ylisse. He was starting to worry it would never return to its previous position.

“She’s… intense,” Lissa muttered after Panne had left.

“You would be too if you went through what she has,” Robin said softly.

He could only imagine how it felt to be the last of her kind, surrounded by none but the race that had caused her loneliness. It was no wonder she chose to keep the company of the horses rather than the Shepherds. In a way Robin could understand her loneliness; having no memories meant that at first he, too, had been utterly alone. But the Shepherds had taken him in and shown him nothing but trust and friendship, and Robin had hoped they would do the same for the last of the Taguel and dissuade her from her desire for revenge.

“I reckon she’s just rude,” Vaike muttered, leaning on the counter next to Robin.

Virion snickered. “Coming from you? That’s amusing.”

“The Vaike is not rude!” Vaike retorted. “He’s just… Unrefined!”

Robin stretched his back, hands clasped above his head as the Shepherds stood around in the castle courtyard. All of the Shepherds were present, as was two full squads of Pegasus Knights led by Wing-Commander Phila herself. They would be spiriting Emmeryn out of the city and to a castle somewhere near the Eastern coastline; that’s what Chrom had told them, and that’s all Robin knew about the matter, despite being put in charge of marching orders. The rest had been decided by authority above his head. He had come up with what he hoped would be a passable marching order, though; Emmeryn, Phila and the Shepherds in the middle; one squad flying reconnaissance ahead of the main group, while the other more heavily armoured veteran squad flew as a rearguard. It was a simple and elegant strategy, something that would only go wrong if things went catastrophically wrong.

Robin looked up as he noticed a flash of red hair and spotted Cordelia. She saw him at the same time and gave him a nod before returning her attention to her squad-leader’s briefing. He supposed it was too much to hope for the knight to give him a girlish smile and wave; she was a knight after all, even if she was the most gorgeous thing on two legs he had ever seen…

“Robin?” Lissa asked.


“You zoned out there. Are you okay?”

Robin blushed slightly as his train of thought caught up with him, and coughed.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Are we almost ready to move?”

“Yep. We’re just waiting for Frederick and my brother, and then we can move.”

Robin could see Sully looking grumpy as she stood holding the reins for her own horse and Frederick’s near the palace steps.

Robin nodded. “Good.”

He looked over the assembled Shepherds, taking special care to ensure that Kellam was present and that Vaike had his axe. Robin was only slightly surprised to see Gaius standing next to Lon’qu looking bored; he had honestly assumed that the thief would just disappear in the night, but the man seemed to be drawn to the Shepherds much the same way that he had been. Either that, or someone had sweets that he wanted.

More surprising, though, was Maribelle, fully kitted up in her pale pink riding clothes astride a strong looking horse, holding a delicate looking staff in one hand and a frilly pink parasol in the other. Robin had thought that after her ordeal in Themis that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the front lines, and she certainly didn’t strike him as one for camping.

“Maribelle?” Robin asked, approaching the woman. “Are you sure you want to come with us?”

“Oh, Robin,” Maribelle tsked, shaking her head slightly. “I already had this conversation with Daddy; I am a Shepherd, and I will go where I am needed.”

Robin shrugged, satisfied with her answer. As condescending as her tone was…

“I’m not complaining,” he said, making an effort to smile and be friendly. “The more the merrier, after all. Plus healers are something we can’t really have too many of.”

“Indeed,” Maribelle said, irritatingly still managing to seem like she was humouring him even while agreeing.

“Shepherds!” Chrom called, emerging from the Palace and coming down the stairs in a regal flourish of cape and white clothes. “Prepare to march!”

Frederick followed the Prince, taking the reins of his horse from Sully and mounting up in one fluid motion. Emmeryn emerged from the palace next, still looking regal and delicate wrapped in a traveling cloak. Phila came with her, walking alongside the Exalt rather than mounting her pegasus. A third man, bowed with age and seemingly very agitated to Robin, came with them. Robin guessed that he was the Hierarch, Franz, which would be accompanying them.

They set out immediately, Robin doing one last check that everyone was present and accounted for and that Vaike had his weapon. Panne was marching close to him, curiously watching the Shepherds as they left the city and set off on the Eastern road.

“These Shepherds,” she said at length as they began marching through the light woodlands outside of Ylisstol. “They all fight as one?”

“It’s my job to make sure they do,” Robin answered, proudly looking over the assembled soldiers talking and joking amongst themselves.

They had almost automatically split into their little groups; Lissa and Maribelle chatting as the Princess walked alongside Maribelle’s horse; Sully, Stahl and Frederick wordlessly leading the way, weapons at the ready; Vaike, Lon’qu, Gaius and Virion following behind them simply talking about nothing and everything at once; Kellam off to one side, weaving in and out of the others who seemed to miss him no matter what he did to get their attention; Miriel and Ricken quietly discussing the attributes of advanced wind magic; and Chrom, Phila, Emmeryn and Sumia taking up the rear, talking fondly about Ylisse. Even so, Robin knew that when battle was called they would blend together seamlessly at his word. Robin couldn’t help but feel a distinct amount of pride at the realization.

“And they do this… willingly?” Panne asked, seemingly confused about something.

“Of course,” Robin said. “Why do you ask?”

“It is…” Panne hesitated, trying to choose her words. “Among Taguel, so many different scents would confuse us and hamper any strategy; warriors from different warrens would also more than likely attack each other as often as the enemy.”

“You mean… we all smell different? Is that going to be a problem?”

“I have long since gotten used to the stink of man-spawn,” Panne scoffed. “It simply intrigued me.”

Robin was silent for a moment before his curiosity got the better of him.

“So we all smell different?” he asked again.

“I have already stated as much,” Panne answered, a note of irritation in her voice.

“What do we smell like?” Robin persisted.

Panne’s ears twitched slightly. “Does it really matter if you cannot smell it?”

Robin shrugged. “Not really, but it’s a long march, and we have time to kill.”

Panne sighed, conceding Robin’s point. “Would that we had man-spawn to kill instead…”

“The knights at the fore,” she said, pointing ahead. “The one in the middle smells of steel and patience, the one in red smells of metal and wrath, and the one in green smells of many different foods. The spiky one smells of earth and sweat; the dandy smells of tea leaves, but not from this region; the swordsman smells of leather and cold stone. The thief, sugar.”

“And me?” Robin asked, taking in her words, again overcome with curiosity.

Panne sniffed again.

“Books, paper. Sand and dry earth,” she said. “Curious. Perhaps that is where you are from?”

Robin nodded, trying to hide his elation at the same time he was mentally recalling the maps in his mind with a sinking sensation in his stomach. Where was there sand and dry earth? The only place he could think of, according to the maps, was…

“Plegia…” he muttered, paling slightly.

“Are they not our enemies?” Panne asked, quirking an eyebrow. “You would make war against your own kin?”

“They’re not my kin,” Robin said a little harsher than he meant to.

Robin was silent for a long time afterwards, trying to recall any other places that might have a desert climate. Panne continued to walk with him, apparently untroubled by his brooding as she curiously watched the other Shepherds.

The party made camp at the base of the first of the mountain passes just as the sun was beginning to set. With a few shouted orders from Frederick and Phila they moved to the side off the road and began to clear a space not far from where a small creek bubbled quietly in the sparse woodland. As opposed to camping traditionally, though, Robin watched as the Pegasus Knights all began setting up tents from their packs; two women to a tent. Robin watched this scene repeat itself throughout the Shepherds, too, as he wandered through the small clearing where Frederick was busily preparing a fire, already having set up Chrom and Lissa’s tents in half the time it took everyone else to set up one.

Chrom looked at Robin and stopped, eyes widening.

“I don’t get a tent, do I?” Robin asked with a bemused sigh.

All the Shepherds in earshot stopped what they were doing and looked at Robin and Chrom.

“I completely forgot that you didn’t already have one,” Chrom said quickly. “You can share mine; I’ll just put the armour rack and other junk somewhere else.”

Robin waved him off, wary of the glare Frederick was no-doubt shooting him from behind.

“Forget it,” Robin said dismissively. “It’s still warm out, it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain, and I like to see the stars anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Chrom persisted.

“Yeah,” Robin laughed. “Besides, I’m used to sleeping on the ground, right?”

The Shepherds around them laughed at the tactician’s lame joke, Chrom shrugging indifferently and maintaining that his offer stood. Robin, free now of the time-consuming need to set up a tent, chose to continue his tour of their camp before Chrom could protest further, but as he walked away he could hear the Prince muttering “I could have sworn I organized an extra tent…”

The Tactician watched as the Shepherds slipped into old habits, preparing cooking fires, chatting, setting up tents with great difficulty in Vaike’s case, and basically acting like they had done this a hundred times before. Robin was sad to admit he felt a little left out.

Lissa and Maribelle’s tent was large enough to accommodate six people; Vaike’s was barely large enough for the man to lie down in; everyone had a different sized tent, a different pattern, a different style. Robin strolled past Emmeryn’s, marvelling at the fact that it was basically the size of a small house, the crest of Ylisstol emblazoned on each canvas wall.

He veered off, leaving the camp, shuffling down to the stream and quickly rinsing his face and neck, gasping at the icy water; apparently this was melt-water from higher up the mountains. Fortunately the path they would take remained relatively low in altitude, and they would avoid any snow or foul weather. A proper wash could wait for later, though; he didn’t smell that bad yet, anyway.

Robin sat down on the small sandy bank, brooding again.

He only had about a month’s worth of memories at present. This was a fact. For the last month he had been steadily drawn further and further into a war he was now beginning to question the validity of; it was simply becoming a competition of tit for tat on a national scale. Undoubtedly, the Plegians needed to be stopped; they were looting and pillaging and hurting innocent people. But just how clean were Ylisse’s hands in all of this? It wasn’t just the Plegians that needed to be stopped here, but Chrom was right in saying that there was no peaceful solution at this stage. Gangrel was obviously deranged and insistent on perpetrating evil; Chrom was the flip-side of that coin, righteous and justified. So why did Robin feel so uneasy about involving himself in the war?

He would have been lying to say that the seed of doubt Panne had planted in his mind about his origin had nothing to do with his current feelings. What if he was Plegian? He would be fighting against his own countrymen. But… They were the invaders, causing chaos and death to innocents. Would he really have joined in their wanton destruction if his memories remained intact? Or would he have had memories of the Ylisseans invading his country, and stood against them with the rest of the Plegians? He couldn’t imagine working for a man like Gangrel, though…

Robin shook the thoughts from his mind as he found a soft spot under a tree close to camp and laid out his sleeping roll, before throwing himself on top of it, resting his head on the softest spot of his lumpy pack.

He was a Shepherd now; what he had been was irrelevant. He had sworn himself to the defence of Ylisse and her people, and defend them he would, doubts be damned; he could figure out his inner-turmoil and find a way to reclaim his own memories once the war was over.

Munching on some of the dried fruits he had brought with him he took what felt like the first moment in weeks to relax. He pulled out the book Sumia had loaned him and vowed to lose himself, if only for a few hours. When dinner was called Robin ate and laughed with his friends like always, ignoring the seed of doubt in the back of his mind, before returning to his bedroll and his book. When it got too dark to read, Robin conjured a small flame from his fingertip with a weak fire spell. The book was just getting good, after all.

Robin woke in the dead of night to a soft, musky-scented hand clasped over his mouth. As his eyes adjusted his heartrate slowed as he forced himself to calm down, realizing Panne was squatting next to his head, a single finger pressed to her lips in the apparently universal sign for ‘be quiet’. After Robin signified his understanding with a nod she released him and stood, motioning for him to follow her before walking away from his bedroll without a sound. She led him silently away from the camp, into the small wooded area further away from the road.

“It should be safe to talk here,” Panne said quietly, stopping and turning to face Robin.

The moonlight was doing funny things to his sight, though; the Taguel looked much more human in the weak silver light cascading through the trees, not an unattractive sight in all honesty, and Robin’s tired mind began to wander to strange reasons she could have called him out to the woods away from the camp. Every time she moved the moonlight reflected on her long hair rippled, making it seem like some sort of liquid night was draped over her. Her eyes reflected the weak light, too, strong and predatory in the dark. Robin swallowed, feeling his pulse quicken slightly again as-

“While the man-spawn were eating the one that they all call ‘Hierarch’ snuck away from camp,” Panne began. “I do not trust any of you, but he seemed to be acting strangely, so I followed him. He met with a man that reeked of Wyvern; unfortunately the wind was against me, and I could not hear what they spoke of, but the Wyvern man headed back to the mountains as the ‘Hierarch’ returned to camp. I felt you should be made aware of this.”

Robin found himself instantly awake, any stray thoughts lingering in the back of his mind being quashed by his analytical mind waking up.

“Are you sure?” he asked quietly, already considering the implications of what she was saying.

A trap? Was the Hierarch betraying them to Plegia? True, their position was precarious, but that was no reason for one of what essentially amounted to Ylisstol’s rulers to defect.

“I am certain,” Panne answered with a note of irritation in her voice.

“Thank you, Panne,” Robin said, crossing his arms and stroking his chin. “That is troubling news. I will have to tell Chrom immediately.”

Robin began to walk back to the camp, no other thoughts in his mind but telling Chrom as quickly as he could and figuring out how to proceed, before Panne stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“You may wish to wait until morning,” she muttered, moving closer to him.

Robin arched an eyebrow, at a loss for words as his mind instantly returned to his earlier train of thought; she was so close to him right now he could feel her breath on his exposed neck, see the way her lips separated slightly as she looked up at him as his eyes followed the hand on his arm back to Panne’s shoulder and down to her...

“Why is that?” he asked uncertainly.

“I spotted the clumsy pegasus-woman sneaking into your Prince’s tent as I came to find you,” Panne whispered, clearly only wary of alerting the others to their meeting.

Robin’s face instantly turned scarlet from a combination of feeling stupid at his own train of thought and thoughts of the scandal, making him glad it was dark and Panne couldn’t make out his face. Or at least he hoped to whatever gods were above that she couldn’t.

In the middle of a march, Chrom? Really? Robin thought, trying to get a handle on his blushing. Have you no shame?

Apparently, Panne could see much better in the dark than he could.

“I do not see why you would be embarrassed by this information,” she muttered, crossing her own arms. “Humans have such strange morals… It is a perfectly natural to-”

“Please,” Robin pleaded, holding out his hands to silence Panne. “I don’t need to know. I just… want to crawl back into my bedroll and talk to Chrom in the morning.”

Robin was pretty sure that Panne was rolling her eyes as she brushed past him to return to camp.

“I swear I will never understand man-spawn, even if I live to a hundred.”

Robin sighed.

I really need to get a handle on these hormones he thought, running a hand through his hair as he returned to his bedroll. Preferably before I make an even bigger arse out of myself.

Robin woke to Frederick’s wake-up-call. “All right, break’s over! Up and ready to march in thirty minutes!”

The tactician yawned, rubbing his eyes with one hand as he looked at the rustling leaves of the tree above him lulling him dangerously close to falling asleep again. He had barely slept at all with that bombshell that Panne had dropped on him last night running through his head, and now it felt like he had just drifted off as Frederick woke the entire camp.

Attempting to sit with a resigned sigh, Robin intended to head down to the creek quickly to give his face another rinse before seeing if he could steal Chrom away for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the tactician’s plans were derailed as he realized something was atop his chest, preventing him from rising.

Lowering his vision, Robin’s heart stopped as he saw dark hair and two large ears holding him down, the ears twitching slightly as their owner mumbled and resettled herself after Robin’s moving.

Deep breath in…

“For Naga’s sake, Panne!” Robin shouted, throwing himself away from the woman in a panic. “Have you no sense of personal space!?”

Panne, obviously irritated at being woken in such a manner, leaned on one side on her elbow, yawning wide and running a hand through her long hair.

“What’s the matter, man-spawn? You act as if you woke next to a snake,” she mumbled, blinking a few times before yawning again.

“Why the hell am I waking next to anything!?” Robin shouted. “I feel so… violated!”

“I was cold,” Panne said by way of explanation.

“So you couldn’t simply move closer to the fire!?” Robin cried, scooting a little further away from the Taguel.

Panne stretched her arms above her head, moving to sit cross-legged, giving a contented groan before continuing.

“Taguel prefer to share body-heat. It is perfectly normal.”

Robin climbed to his feet, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Well, humans prefer to at least be asked before being snuggled with.”

“Ah,” Panne nodded. “Apparently I have crossed some strange human boundary. I apologize. I will ask next time.”

With that she stood, stretched again and was off in the direction of the woods.

“Thank you,” Robin sighed, relaxing slightly. “Wait! No, there’s not going to be a ‘next time’!”

Too late; Panne was gone, lost in the woods. Robin sighed again, bending to collect his bedroll and pack. He still had to meet with Chrom and try to eat some breakfast.

Hell of a way to start the day, Robin thought as he plopped a piece of dried apple into his mouth. I guess now I can’t give Chrom any crap about his little tryst last night… Damn. I spent half the night coming up with witty lines, too.

“I see,” Chrom nodded with a troubled expression on his face.

Robin had just finished explaining his conversation with Panne from the previous night to the Prince behind his tent, Frederick keeping watch, Chrom now mulling over the facts. Robin studiously ignored the circles under the Prince’s eyes; apparently he hadn’t gotten much sleep, either, but Robin assumed that Chrom’s night had been far more pleasant than his own.

“So who do we trust?” Robin asked conspiratorially.

“The Hierarch is one of my sister’s oldest retainers,” Chrom said slowly. “But I cannot find reason to doubt Panne’s loyalty to her, either. This is troubling.”

“So we just watch both of them,” Robin said through a yawn. It was still early, after all.

Chrom nodded, not seeming to be satisfied but understanding they didn’t have many other options at this stage. Robin would simply have to keep an eye on the Taguel woman and trust that Chrom’s gaze wouldn’t linger constantly on Sumia.

“By the way,” Chrom asked slyly, his demeanour changing instantly. “What was all the yelling about earlier?”

Robin blushed, frowning and turning away from his friend.

“I don’t know, Your Highness,” Robin huffed, crossing his arms. “But I swear I heard strange noises coming from this general area last night; perhaps we should increase your guard?”

Chrom blushed, too, before starting to laugh. After a moment Robin joined him.

“Ah,” Chrom sighed, wiping a tear out of his eye. “Thank you, Robin. That’s a hell of a way to start the day.”

“Yeah,” Robin groaned, “You’re not the first one to think that this morning…”

“Oh gods,” Robin groaned, coming alongside Chrom with great effort. “My legs feel like pudding. Your endurance is inhuman.”

Chrom laughed. “Would you like me to carry you?”

“Yes,” Robin started to say before he was interrupted and shoved rudely aside.

“I’ll take that offer!” Lissa gasped, coming up behind them. “No, seriously; I’m okay with you carrying me.”

“Frederick, call a short break before our delicate princess passes out,” Chrom called to the knight, teasing his sister in the same breath.

Lissa gave a cross between a grunt and a huff, apparently too exhausted to properly rebut Chrom’s teasing as she plopped onto a large rock on the side of the road.

They had been climbing the difficult mountain roads all day; it was obvious that the road wasn’t often used, the rough and uneven dirt barely being worth being classified as such, a sheer drop on one side of the road with an even steeper cliff on the other. Thankfully the road was at least very wide; wide enough that four wagons could travel side by side and not risk tumbling off the edge. Frederick led the way for them, clearing stones as he went so that none of the others would trip while the others simply trailed along as best they could. Ricken and Kellam, too, seemed to be having a rough time; never mind that Robin had spotted Ricken’s difficulty much earlier than Kellam’s.

The sky had become overcast with the threat of rain, too, and Robin had even been assaulted with the occasional raindrop, but luckily the heavens saw fit to hold on to their bounty. Which didn’t stop the tactician from grumbling and drawing his hood up as another drop hit his nose dead centre.

“I hate the mountains,” Lissa groaned, massaging her feet. “Can’t we march across some nice, gently sloping fields?”

Chrom chuckled, sipping from his waterskin. Robin watched as Sumia landed her pegasus and catered over, the look on her face making the tactician miss whatever snappy remark Chrom had for Lissa’s complaining.

“Is everything okay?” Robin asked when she got nearer, passing her a waterskin.

Sumia drank deeply before answering.

“I couldn’t see the advance party,” she told him. “It’s not… not a big deal, but I’m worried anyway.”

Robin made a thoughtful sound, stroking his chin as he gazed into the distance.

“Maybe they just flew too far ahead?” he reasoned. “I’m sure they’ll wait for us to catch up with them.”

Before Sumia could respond a light, furred hand grabbed Robin’s bicep and dragged him a few feet away.

“Wha- Dammit Panne, what now?” he asked exasperatedly.

“The Hierarch reeks of fear and anticipation,” she explained quietly into his ear. “We had best make ready; something will happen soon.”

“How can you be so sure?” Robin asked, shaking her off and adjusting his coat.

“Animal instinct,” she deadpanned before turning on her heel and striding away.

I wonder if she even understands what sarcasm is, Robin wondered as he headed back to where Chrom and Lissa were resting in the shade of the cliffs, giving Sumia a reassuring smile and nod as he passed.

The woman still seemed intimidated by Panne, but at least she wasn’t overtly showing fear anymore. As Robin approached he was beaten by Emmeryn, Phila and the Hierarch, who looked a little pale and fidgety, even from a distance.

“Please, Emm, don’t encourage him,” Lissa was pleading, while her two older siblings laughed.

“I’m sorry, baby sister,” Emmeryn cooed, lightly stroking Lissa’s cheek. “But it is not very often I get to play the role of an older sister anymore.”

The Hierarch was seemingly oblivious to what was going on, sweating and looking over his shoulder up the road that climbed further into the mountains.

“Is everything alright, Hierarch?” Robin asked the man loudly and without preamble, cutting off the Royal family’s banter.

Phila gave Robin a strange look that almost seemed like she had caught wind of the older man’s strange behaviour as well, which galvanized the younger man.

“I… I… yes; yes, everything is fine,” he stammered, mopping at his brow with a handkerchief that had probably cost more than all of Robin’s clothes put together before pushing the small glasses he wore back up his nose.

“Are you sure, Hierarch?” Emmeryn asked kindly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I understand that this journey cannot be easy for you.”

“N-no, Your Grace,” he managed, looking even more stressed. “I assure you, I am…”

Panne chose that moment to come running through the assembled Shepherds.

“Prepare yourselves!” She shouted. “Fliers approach! They are not riding pegasi! Prepare your man-spawn weapons, damn you!”

Chrom looked to Robin for half a second before drawing his sword at the same time Robin did. Frederick materialized at Chrom’s side, eschewing his mount and drawing a long, two-handed sword from seemingly mid-air. Lissa was on her feet now, too, helping Phila, who held an ornate lance one handed, shield Emmeryn from potential threat. Two Plegians dropped from the cliff above them, shouting battle cries obviously directed solely at Chrom. They didn’t even make it to the ground before Panne intercepted them, breaking their necks as she landed atop them.

“More coming down the road!” she shouted, he voice once again bearing that strange flanged quality Robin assumed was due to the transformation.

“Dammit! How did they know we were here!?” Chrom growled, glaring directly at the Hierarch.

Sure enough at least thirty Plegians on foot came charging down the road towards them as a dozen or so wyvern riders swooped towards the side.

“Take their leader alive!” Chrom yelled, looking like he was about to bolt for the front line himself. “I want answers when this is done!”

“Frederick, take the Knights and hold the road!” Robin ordered as Chrom joined Phila and Lissa in Guarding a still serene looking Emmeryn.

“Shepherds, on me!” Robin shouted to the rest of them.

Robin stopped Sumia before she could fall into formation. “Sumia, find Captain Erin and bring her up; we’ll need her Pegasus Knights. Go, now!”

Before anyone could move, the Hierarch turned and ran. Robin almost rubbed his eyes in disbelief as the older man ran, much faster than he would have thought possible, directly towards the Plegians.

“Wait! Wait, I say!” he wheezed. “I’m the one your King told you about! Wait!”

The Plegians didn’t even stop; one simply swept his axe and the Hierarch fell, dead, underfoot as the black-armoured line continued to advance.

“Damn them!” Chrom roared as Frederick and the other armoured soldiers moved up and made a line.

Fortunately it looked like the wyvern riders wouldn’t press their aerial advantage as they swooped in above the foot-troops.

“Back up Frederick’s team!” Robin ordered, starting to cast lightning bolts at the wyverns. “Anyone that can, take down those wyverns! The rest of you, take anything that gets past the knights!”

Robin was satisfied as the wyverns dropped like stones, crushing many of the charging Plegians beneath their corpses; clearly there was no experienced, or even novice for that matter, tactician amongst their enemy. Their charge was stopped dead by Frederick’s line, Sully roaring a challenge as she lashed out. Unfortunately the road was too wide for them to hold alone, and the Plegians started slipping around the Ylissean soldiers, only to find Panne, Vaike, Lon’qu and Gaius waiting for them, blades and claws at the ready. Virion, Robin and the two mages did their best to harry the advancing troops, keeping an eye out for any wyvern riders and taking them down as soon as they reared their scaly heads.

Despite the ease with which they were beating the Plegians back Robin was growing uneasy.

As if on cue he heard shouting from the rear.

“Prince Chrom, beware! Enemies attack from the rear!”

Robin cursed.

“Frederick, hold this damn line if it kills you!” he shouted, trusting the knight to hold. “Panne, Lon’qu, with me!”

Robin strode purposefully back the way they had come, the other two in tow. As he watched, a lone pegasus knight with flame red hair all but crashed into the road, Lissa and Maribelle jumping to help her.

“Chrom, are you coming?” Robin called as he passed.

The Prince grinned ferally as he joined the trio and they made a rough line. There were at least ten wyverns flying towards them at full speed.

“You really know how to challenge me,” Lon’qu commented to Robin, rolling out his neck.

“I have been waiting for this,” Panne growled softly, flexing her claws beneath her.

“Let them come!” Chrom declared, brandishing his sword in an unmistakable challenge. “None shall pass!”

Robin shook out his shoulders, gripping his sword in one hand. With the other Robin used the last of his mana to conjure a dark cloud that spat lightning into the wyverns, forcing them low to the road where the Shepherds could engage them.

Lon’qu let out a low whistle in admiration of the tactician’s magic.

“Impressive,” Panne admitted, sounding like it was almost difficult to say the word.

“You never cease to amaze me,” Chrom muttered, stepping back into a ready stance.

The wyverns closed quickly, swooping low to avoid Robin’s magical lightning, and directly into the waiting Shepherds. Panne pounced immediately, taking one wyvern down with a vicious bite to the neck, completely ignoring the man riding it. She was on a second before the three other men were finished with their firsts. Lon’qu nimbly slid on his knees beneath the pole-arm of his first foe, reaching behind himself and using it and his leverage to unseat the man and flip him off his mount before slicing open its neck one handed, spinning the pole-arm and burying its spiked tip in the rider’s back before dancing on to the next foe. Robin opted to hang back, assessing the situation and acting as rearguard. Chrom swatted the axe of the nearest wyvern rider aside, spinning and slashing out, leading with his shoulder and cutting the man almost in half, his terrified mount taking flight almost immediately. Panne was on to her fourth wyvern, wrestling it to the ground as Robin heard flapping from behind him. In a flash of white and red Cordelia was amongst the wyverns, masterfully spinning her lance and driving it through weak points in the Plegians’ armour.

Robin watched awestruck as the woman, already wounded and dripping blood from a nasty looking gash on her forehead, single-handedly fought off the last two of the wyvern riders, within moments flying her pegasus triumphantly over the last of the scaled creatures she had felled.

“Now that was impressive,” Lon’qu muttered, eyeing Cordelia warily.

Chrom was already heading back to Emmeryn, and Panne was sniffing and pawing at the bodies of the Plegians, making sure they were all dead. Robin shook his head in amazement, casting a glance over his shoulder to where Frederick was directing the Shepherds in mopping up the last survivors of the foot-raid. Satisfied they had matters in hand, Robin approached Cordelia.

“That was amazing, Cordelia,” he said, coming up to her side; when she didn’t answer immediately Robin reached out, only to have her slip from the saddle, barely conscious.

He barely caught her in time, gently lowering her to the ground and calling for Lissa.

“Dammit,” Robin cursed, lifting the bottom edge of her breast-plate slightly to see the red-stained white cloth beneath. “Cordelia, wake up! That was way too cool an entrance for you to die now!”

She was muttering something, and Robin had to lean close to hear her properly.

“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I’m sorry…” she repeated over and over quickly, beginning to hyperventilate.

Robin started as Lissa gently lifted the wounded woman from his arms, laying her flat on the ground and setting to work.

“It’s okay, Robin,” she said as Maribelle joined her. “We can handle this; why don’t you go and make sure Vaike didn’t hurt himself? Or lose his axe again?”

“Right,” Robin said a little numbly.

He began heading in the direction of the others, where they were all grouped around what Robin assumed was the leader. As he got closer he could see Chrom was crouched low over the man, Falchion pressed to his throat.

“He sold you out,” the man laughed through a gurgle of blood welling up between his lips.

“Explain yourself and I will ease your passing,” Chrom growled, pressing a little harder with his sword.

The Plegian laughed wetly. “Your own pre… precious hierarch betrayed you for amnesty from our gl… glorious king. Heh heh… who will… you… t-trust now, eh Princeling? Who… Now…”

The Plegian choked a few times before his head lolled back, a sick smile still plastered on his lips. Chrom rose and stepped back, Sully and Stahl instantly moving to drag the body away.

“How are we for injuries?” Robin asked Virion quietly, eyes not leaving Chrom as he walked back towards Emmeryn and Phila.

“Nothing our healing maidens and a few awful-tasting poultices will not fix,” Virion answered, fiddling with the head of an arrow.

Robin nodded his thanks, and jogged lightly over to Chrom and the Exalt.

“We can’t turn back now!” Chrom was shouting at Emmeryn as Robin approached.

Great, I drop myself into the middle of another family argument, Robin thought bitterly.

“Chrom, one of the Council betrayed us,” Emmeryn calmly explained. “I have no doubt that Plegian spies will have already leaked news of Franz’s betrayal to the people of Ylisse; it will incite a panic. I must return to Ylisstol. You will circle on to Castle Jagen and then pass into Regna Ferox. Meet with Duke Aerir and Kahn Flavia and bring us reinforcements.”

“And abandon you!?” Chrom asked incredulously.

“I will have Phila,” Emmeryn said, casting a glance to the older woman who nodded reassuringly.

“Sister, I cannot-“

Emmeryn forestalled any more of Chrom’s argument with a raised hand.

“As your Exalt I thusly command you,” she said softly, but with steel in her musical voice Robin had never heard from the woman before.

“Dammit, Emmeryn!” Chrom shouted. “Why? Why are you in such a hurry to throw your life away!?”

“It is not about my life,” Emmeryn answered sadly. “But about the lives of our countrymen. One day you will understand. I must speak with Lissa before I depart. I love you, Chrom.”

With that, Emmeryn strode off.

“Dammit,” Chrom cursed, leaning back against the cliff face dejectedly.

“Chrom,” Robin said hesitantly.

“I know,” Chrom sighed, pushing off the cliff and moving to Robin’s side, Phila behind him. “Let’s try to work this lovely shit-storm out before things get worse.”

They walked over to where Cordelia was sitting up, drinking water that Lissa had given her while Maribelle used her healing magic on Cordelia’s pegasus.

“Cordelia, report,” Phila said shortly.

The red-head shot unsteadily to her feet, catching herself and standing at attention.

“Wing-Commander, I regret to inform you that with the exception of myself Captain Erin’s squad has been wiped out. The Captain bade me warn milord of the impending rear ambush, and my squad sacrificed their lives to ensure I could escape. But… Not a half-day’s march behind them is another force of Plegian soldiers, outnumbering what we just faced by a margin of ten to one. I will accept any punishment you deem necessary for my cowardice and failure, ma’am.”

“You risked your life to give us this message, Cordelia,” Phila said softly. “I would not be so quick to throw away your squad-mates sacrifices.”

“Then at least allow me to accompany the Exalt as her honour guard against the Plegians!” Cordelia pleaded.

Phila seemed to think for a moment.

“No,” she said at length. “No, you will accompany Prince Chrom and see that he makes it safely to Regna Ferox. I will be guarding the Exalt myself.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cordelia said smartly, all military precision.

“Phila, please,” Chrom pleaded quietly as they left Cordelia to Lissa’s healing arts. “You have to try and talk some sense into Emm. She’s going to get you both killed!”

Phila smiled sadly at Chrom. “Not so long as I draw breath, milord.”

She left Chrom standing dumbstruck alone with Robin.

“I don’t get it,” Chrom said, sounding lost.

“She’s doing what she sees as right,” Robin guessed, trying to sound like he understood it himself. “She sees this as the only way to protect the people.”

“You’re probably right,” Chrom said with another sigh. “I just… I don’t like it.”

“I know,” Robin sighed. “And I agree with you, but… she’s technically in charge. It’ll be alright. We’ll work this out somehow.”

The prince sighed and nodded, staring at the ground for a few moments before straightening.

“I should go and say goodbye,” Chrom mumbled, heading off after Phila and leaving Robin alone.

Personally, he was amazed at the fortitude Emmeryn possessed to stick to her beliefs in such a fashion. Robin envied her strength of will. He only wished that if it came to such a decision that he would have the strength to follow her example.

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