Invisible Ties

Chapter 11

Castle Jagen loomed forebodingly above the Shepherds; rough, tall and bare stone walls that were completely opposite to the clean and precise white lines of Ylisstol were all Robin could see. They had passed through a small farming village that morning, but the party’s pace hadn’t even slowed, powering on to the castle itself in the late evening. They were all exhausted from the battle earlier in the day and disheartened by Emmeryn’s decision to return to Ylisstol alone, but Chrom stoically led them further, so not a word of complaint was uttered, even from the usually vocal Virion. In fact the Shepherds barely spoke at all, which was a lost opportunity for Robin to learn more about the silent saffron-tressed Pegasus Knight flying recon with Sumia at present.

Robin wiped the sweat out of his eyes with the cuff of his coat, looking up at the castle’s parapets above him. The keep itself was huge, great walls surrounded an interior courtyard rivalling the Exalt’s palace in Ylisstol for size. But whereas Ylisstol’s palace was one of ordered, aesthetic beauty, Castle Jagen’s grounds were of military precision, soldiers drilling across its otherwise empty spaces while blacksmiths could be heard off to one side, hammering away. Robin had to guess that at least two hundred men were currently drilling across the yards, with Naga knew how many more inside.

“At least someone was ready for the war,” Robin muttered, eyeing the blue-armoured spearmen running combat drills in neat, orderly lines.

The soldiers didn’t even stop their drills to watch the Shepherds pass, such was their incredible focus.

“Castle Jagen is always like this,” Frederick answered before Chrom could. “Although I must admit, there is an electricity to the air now that was lacking before…”

“Frederick is from this area,” Chrom explained as the knight trailed off, watching men in armour similar to his own lay into each other with wooden swords.

“Really? How does it feel being back home?” Robin asked conversationally as they reached the keep’s gates.

“This is not a social visit,” Frederick pointed out irritably. “The sooner we’re done here, the sooner we can move towards Regna Ferox and back to Ylisstol.”

Robin looked to Chrom, who shrugged and simply continued to follow the knight. The other Shepherds were led by a retainer in blue and white livery to a building around the side of the keep, squires taking their horses and pegasi to be fed and cared for. Before Chrom, Robin and Frederick could continue into the keep alone Cordelia ran up, limping slightly as she straightened her damaged breastplate.

“Shouldn’t you go and rest?” Robin asked, falling into step with her behind Chrom and Frederick.

“I can rest when I am dead,” Cordelia said tonelessly. “Until then I am sworn to service of milord Chrom, and I will not leave his side.”

“Oh gods,” Chrom moaned as they were shown through the entry hall to an ostentatious receiving room. “Please, not you, too. One Frederick is enough…”

Robin resisted the urge to laugh out loud as the large doors on the opposite end of the room swung open, admitting what he assumed to be the Duke and his retinue. The tactician did a double take, convinced that a second Frederick was approaching them dressed in regal blue and white robes with an ornate sword in its sheath clasped in one hand.

“My lord Chrom,” the Frederick clone said, bowing deeply before the prince, sword pressed over his heart. “It does me good to see you alive and well, sire.”

“Duke Aerir,” Chrom greeted in return with a shallower bow. “Would that we were meeting again under better circumstances.”

The man straightened and nodded to Chrom, before his gaze fell on Frederick. As soon as comprehension dawned he threw his sword to the nearest retainer without even looking at the startled man, who barely caught it, before rushing up and heedlessly embracing the armoured knight in a crushing bear-hug.

“Good to see you, baby brother!” Duke Aerir thundered, lifting Frederick off the ground, armour and all, with his hug.

“Gah! Brother, please!” Frederick groaned, flailing weakly as he tried to get loose.

Chrom and Robin laughed as Frederick was eventually released. Even Aerir’s retainers were smiling, chuckling at the Duke’s antics like they were used to it. Apparently he was the polar opposite of Frederick’s serious nature.

“I’m sorry, it’s just been so long since you’ve been home!” Aerir said, clapping his hands on Frederick’s shoulders. “Come! I will have rooms and refreshments prepared for you!”

“Thank you, Aerir, but that will not be necessary,” Chrom said, sobering. “We must push on North with all due haste.”

The older man seemed to consider this a moment.

“Surely your men deserve to rest for at least one night,” Aerir said, opening his arms in an inviting gesture. “You can be off in the morning, and I get the chance to catch up with my only brother; everyone is happy.”

“Wait, how do you know what we’re here for?” Robin asked, confused.

Aerir turned on the Tactician, beaming an amused smile that looked completely out of place on a face so similar to Frederick’s.

“Please,” he laughed. “We’ve been prepared to march for a month now. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why you’re here.”

“Of course,” Robin mumbled, looking down.

“We simply await the direction you want us to march in,” Aerir laughed, slapping Robin hard on the back.

“Enough of this!” Aerir said boisterously, indicating that the Shepherds follow him. “Come! We shall take rest and food, and you can get us all caught up on this awful war.”

The more Robin watched Aerir he began noticing subtle and not so subtle differences between the man and Frederick. Of course, their personalities were completely opposite, but Aerir still held himself with the same confident poise and posture that Frederick did. Aerir’s hair was also shorter, and starting to turn to grey around the temples, but aside from that they looked like twins.

They, as well as Robin, Chrom and Cordelia, were sitting in a smaller and cosy sitting room in the Duke’s personal apartment, having just finished a massive dinner that Robin was pretty sure was only for his benefit. The other Shepherds had also been catered for, although he had been told that the Taguel had made a break for the forest as soon as she had gotten the chance. Robin was starting to suspect Panne couldn’t actually eat human food, a thought that popped into his head and was filed away for more consideration later.

Robin found himself sitting contentedly by the fireplace on a short sofa while Chrom, Frederick and Aerir talked of the events of the war so far in detail, Aerir’s Guard Captain Seth joining them at a low table covered in maps. He was more than content to simply sit for the time, leaving Chrom to explain the current situation, something he was doing an admirable job of, making Robin feel a little put off; he was supposed to be the tactician, after all. Robin assuaged his pride by telling himself they weren’t discussing anything new, Chrom was simply going over what they already knew. Surely they would ask for his input on any new plans. He perked up as Cordelia crossed the room, now clad in a flowing white dress while her armour was being repaired by Aerir’s personal blacksmith and her clothes were washed, although she strangely was still wearing her battered breastplate over the dress.

“I’m on to you now,” Robin said lightly.

Cordelia looked at him quizzically as she took a seat near him.

“You just wanted to join us just for the feast Aerir threw for his little brother,” Robin elaborated with a mischievous grin.

Cordelia chuckled tiredly, cradling a cup between her hands as she sat next to Robin.

“Sadly that is not entirely true,” she said, looking into the fire. “I spoke the truth about my duty to Prince Chrom. The feast was simply a bonus.”

“Hell of a bonus,” Robin groaned as he stretched, extending his legs and resting his hands behind his head. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well in my entire life, and I can comfortably say that even with the amnesia.”

Cordelia smiled a little at Robin’s comment before sobering again, her eyes taking on a faraway look.

“So what was it like growing up in Ylisstol?” Robin asked conversationally, trying to steer Cordelia away from whatever was bugging her.

“It was lovely,” she said after a moment. “I had many friends; in fact, most of the Shepherds all grew up together.”

“That explains so much,” Robin said, chuckling at the revelation.

“Sumia and I in particular have been close since youth,” Cordelia went on. “When I enrolled in the Knight Academy a year ahead of her she redoubled her training regime so I wouldn’t leave her behind in terms of skill.”

“Ha! I would have loved to have seen that!” Robin chuckled.

“She has always been… so earnest,” Cordelia agreed, giggling a little herself. “Even after she was accepted into the academy, she didn’t change a bit.”

The Pegasus Knight went quiet again, Robin having run out of things to say. The silence stretched on uncomfortably, Cordelia idly fingering the hastily-mended scar on the side of her plate before finally breaking the tense atmosphere.

“Excuse me,” she said, rising without further elaboration and exiting the room silently.

Robin quizzically watched her go. After what she had been through, though, he could understand her desire to be alone. Once again he was reminded he only had a little over a month’s worth of memories and faces to go with them; he would be crushed if the Shepherds were to die and he were the only survivor. How then, would he feel if he had trained with and fought alongside them for years, only to run from battle as they died to ensure his escape?

Robin sighed, scratching his head and standing, mind made up.

He would definitely want to talk to someone, that much was for sure.

The sitting room and Aerir’s apartment were on the top floor of the keep, which had a rather impressive balcony with an even more spectacular view of the surrounding mountainside. The only downside was the temperature; the castle itself was already in the mountains, and the balcony being one of the highest points on the castle meant Robin’s breath misted in front of his face as he poked his head out the door, trying to catch a glimpse of red and white that would tell him where Cordelia had run off to.

She hadn’t been in the room she had been given, or the kitchen, or Castle Jagen’s desert pantry (Robin had been very scrupulous about checking there), or in any of the other common areas. Which left the balcony. Or the rest of the castle, but Robin’s caring only extended about as far as the servants passages, which still left a full three quarters of the castle to check, and there was no way in hell he was wandering around a cold and drafty castle in the middle of the night. Fortunately for him, Cordelia was indeed on the balcony. Unfortunately, now he would have to share the custard tarts he had ‘liberated’ from the kitchen.

“Cordelia!” Robin greeted in his friendliest voice, declaring his presence. “I noticed you skipped desert, so I liberated you some tarts! Well, I mean I liberated me some tarts, but I have no problem sharing…”

He hesitated a moment as the Pegasus Knight turned away from him, hugging her bare shoulders and sniffling as her entire form shuddered.

“Ah, Robin,” she said, wiping at her face hurriedly. “Sorry, it’s just so damn cold out here, I can’t seem to… to get my nose to stop… to stop…”

Her excuse was cut off by a strangled sob as she clutched her shoulders even tighter. Robin, being as dense as a brick and unused to human contact as he was, did the only thing he could think of. Balancing the tarts one handed he removed his worn old coat and put it on Cordelia’s shoulders, gently wrapping her in its folds.

“Robin: one. Cold: zero,” he said kindly as Cordelia looked up at him, her surprised face streaked with tears. “Now are you going to help me eat these tarts or not?”

She let out a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob before taking one of the small pastries from Robin. He had set out with many more than the two he arrived with, but he had been searching for some time, and… well, pastries were apparently one of his greatest weaknesses. Robin was satisfied to see his call about bringing food had been spot on, too; Cordelia had picked disinterestedly at her dinner, barely eating anything and had excused herself before desert. She practically inhaled the small tart, not even leaving as much as a crumb on her fingers. When she was done she sniffled again, her head dropping and her hair falling forward to cover her face.

“Wanna talk about it? It might help,” Robin asked gently, polishing off his own tart and brushing the crumbs off his shirt lazily.

Cordelia was silent for a moment, seemingly considering whether or not to open up to Robin, who was essentially still a stranger. Even if he was a stranger that now would essentially hold her life in his hands every time they rode into battle.

“How…” she began, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “How is it fair that I stand here, eating desert, while my entire squad lie dead on the road? How can I even call myself a knight now? I failed them all.”

“I don’t think you failed them,” Robin said, letting instinct take over as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders as he looked out over the moonlit mountains. “Neither does Chrom, or Frederick or anyone else. You risked your life to warn us of the impending danger, and even fought on, while wounded, to protect your Prince and your Exalt. It’s because of you the Shepherds and Exalt Emmeryn all got away unharmed today.”

“But my squad… Captain Erin… they’re all…” Cordelia croaked, pressing herself to Robin’s side.

The tactician winced a little as the edge of her breastplate cut into his side, but he ignored the unpleasant sensation in his ribs and pressed on.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through,” Robin sighed. “One of the drawbacks of being an amnesiac. But if you ever want to talk, or anything like that, my door is always open. Uh… tent-flap. As soon as I get a tent… You know what I mean.”

Cordelia nodded once, before taking another deep breath and pulling away from Robin and taking a few steps away.

“I’m sorry, sir Robin,” she said, regaining her composure and wiping at her eyes. “My behaviour is unbecoming of a knight. I will endeavour to steel my heart for the campaign at hand.”

“Sure,” Robin said, approaching Cordelia slowly. “But you’re human, too, and I’m not going to blame you for being sad right now.”

Cordelia looked away again, before practically bowling Robin over as she grabbed him around the chest, crossing the distance between them in a flash and burying her face in his shoulder and weeping freely. Robin let out a quiet squeak as the freezing breastplate was forced into his chest, grinding against him painfully. He was dumbstruck for a moment, before he relaxed and began to softly stroke her hair in what he hoped was a comforting fashion, grimacing every time she shuddered and the plate shifted. This really was uncharted waters, as far as Robin was concerned, but after a few minutes Cordelia quieted.

“Feel better?” Robin asked, still holding her.

“Yes,” she answered simply, still holding on tightly and sobbing occasionally.

Robin stood there, letting Cordelia get her grief out; he knew that she would have to bury it all away, but something felt unhealthy about doing that, so he way happy to let her vent. Even if having her steel breastplate ground into his chest hurt like hell.

“Thank you, Robin,” she said at length, her voice much calmer now. “I appreciate you listening to me rant and rave like this.”

“I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but I’m glad I helped,” Robin admitted.

Cordelia shook with mirth against him, her death-grip on his torso finally slacking as she let her arms drop and stepped back, and Robin let out a subtle sigh of relief as the breastplate finally separated itself from him.

Her face was still streaked with tears, though, and again acting on instinct Robin pulled the small handkerchief he carried around and never used out of his pouch. With as much tenderness as he could muster he began wiping the traces of tears from Cordelia’s cheeks. She started at first, but allowed him to finish.

“There,” Robin said with a smile. “Now you look every bit the knight again.”

Cordelia blushed and looked away, pulling his coat tighter around herself before she started and realised what she was doing.

“Thank you, again,” she said, quickly pulling off the coat and handing it back to Robin. “I think I will retire, now; the day’s events have left me drained. I would appreciate it if no one else found out about our little… Talk.”

“Of course,” Robin answered, pulling his coat back on.

He had felt naked for a moment there.

“Thank you,” Cordelia repeated, moving to the door. “And good night, sir Robin.”

Robin watched her leave in a graceful wave of red hair and white dress, before strolling back over to the balcony’s railing and leaning on it with his elbows, massaging his bruised ribs. As far as new experiences went, that one had been… Interesting, to say the least. And painful, but still mostly interesting. Robin let out a deep sigh, realizing as he breathed back in that his coat now smelt of Cordelia.

I honestly don’t know how to feel about that, Robin realized, running a hand through his hair. Maybe sometimes you just have to talk to a stranger about these things?

Robin stood in quiet contemplation for a few more moments before grunting and pushing himself back up.

Bugger it; I’m going to go get more tarts.

When Robin woke in the morning it was to a familiar sight.

“Good morning, Panne,” he yawned. “How was the forest?”

“Cold. You still sleep so exposed,” Panne chided, still leaning over his face.

“Maybe not so much,” Robin said with a grin, pulling the blanket covering him down to reveal the dagger strapped to his belt that his hand was resting on. “Besides, my faithful Taguel bodyguard is apparently never far off when I sleep.”

Panne huffed, finally stepping back.

“The noisy blonde one asked me to come and find you.”

“Thanks,” Robin said, sitting up and stretching. “I’ll be right down.”

When he looked over Panne was gone, the door to his room swinging closed again. Wondering if all Taguel had been as strange as she was, Robin rose and set about preparing for the day.

After breakfast prepared by Lissa and Maribelle and a quick farewell from Aerir, the Shepherds were back on the road again.

The Duke had seen them off in full battle-kit as his soldiers were scurrying about behind him in ordered chaos, preparing for the march ahead of them with Guard Captain Seth barking orders and kicking rears if they took too long to respond. The Duke’s armour was basically the same as Frederick’s, but with silver gilt edging and a lush looking red cape. Aerir seemed uncomfortable in the suit of armour, constantly tugging at the breastplate, but had vowed to lead his troops in person none the less. The plan, which Robin had formulated before going to sleep, called for Aerir to wait for three days before sending his forces to the capital; that would give the Shepherds time to pass North to Regna Ferox and march South with the Feroxi troops.

Robin was interested to see that Duke Aerir had given them a covered caravan to be pulled by a strong-looking draft horse, to keep their gear in while they were marching, as well as two horses so that Chrom and Lissa wouldn’t have to walk. After some deliberation Robin decided to stow his sleeping roll and cooking gear in the cart, but carry everything else. As he was sorting through his belongings to put in the caravan he reached into his pouch and found the stuffed rabbit he had picked up before Themis. Looking quizzically at it he shrugged and put it back in his pouch next to his spellbook and the latest book Sumia had suggested for him.

Even better, though, was the new tent that the Duke’s people had supplied them with for Robin. “I have my own tent!” Robin had shouted gleefully, overcome with excitement when he found out.

Now they were marching along the road heading north at a good pace; they would reach the Longfort before nightfall and make for the Coliseum first thing in the morning. Robin marched along with Vaike, Virion and Lon’qu this time, the four of them doing a lot of laughing and joking, making Robin feel completely at ease with his place among the Shepherds. Any doubts he had been entertaining seemed to fade away as they talked about nothing and everything. Eventually, of course, the topic turned to women.

“Ah, the beauteous flowers that grace us with their presence,” Virion sighed theatrically as Cordelia swooped low to deliver the scouting report to Frederick. “Truly I am blessed to bear witness to such grace and poise.”

“What the hell’d he just say?” Vaike asked, leaning conspiratorially to Robin.

“I have no idea,” Robin answered truthfully.

“Bah,” Virion said, waving his hand dismissively. “By now one would think I would be used to my silver tongue confusing mere peasants.”

“He said he’s grateful that all the women in the Shepherds are pretty, and called you both stupid,” Lon’qu said in his stoic, deadpan tone.

The four of them all burst out laughing, Vaike clapping Virion on the back as they walked. It was great that they could all get along despite the different walks of life that they had come from. Virion was quite clearly a man of noble birth, but had somehow fallen from grace and been forced to join the Shepherds; Vaike was a street urchin who had joined the Shepherds for a roof over his head; and Lon’qu, despite coming from a completely different nation, still managed to round out the other two. Robin, for his part, seemed able to float between any of the little groups among the Shepherds, talking with any of them and making friends with everyone.

“So,” Vaike said, grinning maliciously at Robin. “A little birdy might’a said something about a certain tactician gettin’ cosy with a certain scary shape-shiftin’ lady.”

The other three began to chuckle again as Robin became flustered and blushed a little.

“I hope a certain incomprehensible scientist lady performs unspeakable experiments on a certain lout,” Robin countered, crossing his arms and regaining some composure.

Vaike simply laughed harder. “Only if I’m real lucky!”

Robin chuckled along with the others, reflecting on the strange people he had found himself travelling with. It was good, though; variety was the spice of life, after all.

As dusk was falling they spied the Longfort in the distance and Chrom called a halt.

“We’ll make camp here and make for Regna Ferox in the morning,” Chrom ordered.

The Shepherds instantly set about preparing the camp off the road, finding a small shallow creek for water and clearing away underbrush as Robin approached Chrom.

“I’m sure the Feroxi won’t attack us a second time,” Robin said, only half-jokingly.

Chrom just looked at Robin with a lopsided smirk.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t take the chance either,” Robin conceded, fetching his tent from the caravan.

Robin was proud to admit that he had many skills; he had tried his hand at every type of weapon the Shepherds had access to, and had been passable with all of them; his skill with magic was well beyond average; he could ride a horse and a pegasus, and he suspected, a wyvern, too, if he wanted to try; not to mention his tactical skills. But as he leaned over the pot of watery, foul smelling liquid with crunchy orange chunks in it, he was forced to admit that cooking was obviously not among his repertoire of skills.

“That smells… interesting,” Sumia said hesitantly, ladling herself a shallow bowl.

“By Naga, did you make this from the carrots or the laundry-soap?” Vaike asked, his eyes widening as Sumia slopped some into his bowl next.

“Just eat it and be grateful we have hot food,” Lon’qu said, accepting his own bowl as the line moved along.

“Fascinating,” Miriel muttered, poking at a burned chunk of carrot as she was handed a helping.

“I almost want bear,” Lissa muttered, before looking up from the bowl in her hands apologetically at Robin. “Sorry Robin! I’m sure it tastes better than it looks! Or… smells.”

“You’d lose that bet!” Vaike called from his seat on a log next to Miriel, who was still poking at the burned pieces.

“Don’t worry,” Chrom said kindly, patting Robin on the shoulder and taking an extra-large helping. “I can’t cook either.”

“Yes, but you don’t burn water,” Frederick muttered as he shuffled forward in the line, looking disdainfully at the pot.

Robin sighed dejectedly, and beat a hasty retreat with a bowl in each hand before his ego took any more of a hammering.

And carrot stew had sounded so easy… he lamented.

Robin had thought to do something nice for Panne and make her something he assumed the Taguel could eat so that she could join them during dinner, but as the scent of the dishes wafted up to his nose he realized that he might have sabotaged himself before he even began. He found Panne sitting behind the tents, diligently watching the road that they were a short way off of despite not being on guard duty.

“What do you want, man-spawn?” Panne asked with much less hostility than Robin had been growing used to.

“Well, you never eat with us, so I thought I would make something that you might like and you would join us.”

Panne sniffed the air, turning slightly to face Robin.

“Is that dish made from carrots?” she asked.

“Yes…?” Robin said somewhat hesitantly, his answer sounding more like a question.

“I will try it,” Panne declared.

Robin nodded, but inside he was pumping his fist furiously in the air in victory as he handed the bowl to the Taguel. Panne took a sip, using her bowl as a large cup, as Robin watched expectantly.

“I like it,” she said after a moment, much to Robin’s surprise.

“Seriously?” Robin asked, a little put off.

“I would not lie about food,” Panne snorted, taking another sip.

Robin sighed with relief. “Well, would you like to come and sit with the others?”

“I would not,” Panne answered simply without looking up at Robin.

He stopped for a second before he switched tracks and latched on to another idea.

“Perhaps I could eat with you, then, and you could tell me more about your people?” he suggested.

Panne seemed to consider this for a moment, casting a suspicious glare at Robin before snorting and nodding assent. The tactician sat down heavily next to the Taguel and began to eat slowly. It tasted horrible, but at least Panne found it passable.

“So…” Robin began. “Are there other shape-shifters besides your people? I mean that turn into other animals?”

“Yes,” Panne said. “There are stories of bird and beast tribes on a nation across the sea. Whether or not they still live or have faced the same fate as my own clan…”

She trailed off and Robin sighed, realizing his error. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

“Do not apologize,” Panne said quickly. “You were not responsible for the deaths of my people, and you should not share in my gloom. What is your next question?”

“Um… What foods to Taguel eat?” Robin prompted. “I mean, besides carrots?”

“We eat many things, although we rarely cooked them,” Panne explained hesitantly. “Meat and vegetables, for instance, were always eaten raw. We also foraged fruits and nuts from the forest.”

“But if you can eat that stuff, why have you been avoiding meal time?” Robin asked curiously.

“Two reasons,” Panne shrugged. “I am not yet accustomed to eating my food cooked, and I do not enjoy the company of man-spawn.”

Robin cast Panne a sideways glance as he reluctantly choked down the last of his stew.

“I’m sitting right here, you know,” he deadpanned.

“You are… different,” Panne said quietly, staring into her bowl. “You do not smell like the man-spawn that murdered my people. Many of the others do.”

Robin was silent for a moment as he contemplated this.

Another sin to lay at the feet of the Ylissean people was obviously the genocide of the Taguel race. He had done some asking around the camp; many of the Shepherds were too young to remember it directly, but Frederick had given him an unsettlingly detailed explanation of how the ‘Coney-hunts’ would work, how they would track them with dogs and separate one from its pack, before trapping it and killing it. Even the usually stoic Frederick had looked uncomfortable as he recounted the only successful hunt his father had taken him on; Robin could only imagine the brutality that Panne’s people had been forced to endure. But for all of that, Emmeryn seemed to regret the actions of the last generation for more reasons than just the war with Plegia, and had seemed to genuinely want to make reparation to Panne for the treatment of her people. The other Shepherds, too, only wanted to get to know her.

“The Shepherds are all good people,” Robin said as his contemplation ended. “I suppose we’ll just have to get you used to spending time around them. But until you’re comfortable with the others, I’ll keep you company during meal time myself.”

Panne was silent for a moment before she began to laugh; something Robin was wholly unprepared for. It was honestly more surprising than hearing that she had liked the stew.

“What? What did I say?” he asked.

“It is nothing,” Panne said, still chuckling. “You are just terribly good natured.”

“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment,” Robin said with a shrug. “So tell me, what were your people like? I’m curious about their culture; namely, what kind of festivals did they have?”

Panne seemed to relax for the first time since Robin had met her as she went into detail about the Taguel reverence for the earth-mother and the festivals they had reflecting such. Robin listened raptly, carefully soaking up everything she was saying. The best part of losing his memory was getting to learn about new cultures a second time. He doubted he had learned about the Taguel at all, the first time, but listened all the same.

Robin sighed as he stretched his arms above his head, his shoulders giving a satisfying crack. He had just finished the book Sumia had given him, and was on his way to return it and ask if she had any other suggestions, but on the way there he heard a strange rustling sound coming from the edge of camp, close to where the creek was; it sounded like someone was trying and failing to move stealthily through the underbrush hiding the creek from view.

Robin quietly drew his sword, tucking the book back into his pouch, and snuck over to where he had heard the sound coming from, all thoughts of books and stories forgotten. Who among the Shepherds would be taking such pains to move silently? Fearing a Plegian assassin or worse, a Risen attack, Robin burst into the bushes with his beautiful sword at the ready, only to find Vaike crouched behind a particularly large fern with a terrified look on his face.

“Vaike?” Robin asked, sheathing his sword. “What the hell are you doing? I almost stabbed you-”

In one swift movement Robin found Vaike clamping a hand over his mouth, violently shushing him with the other.

“Dammit, Robin!” Vaike hissed, dropping his hands. “Shut yer gob before you give me away!”

Robin craned his neck to see what Vaike had been staring so intently at near the creek, thinking he was hunting or…

The tactician’s eyes widened and he turned scarlet as a very naked Sully passed in front of his vision, her back fortunately turned. Come to think of it, he could just make out the sound of the other women talking and splashing as they bathed, too.

“Are you out of your freaking mind!?” Robin hissed back, attempting to drag Vaike away from the creek.

“Hey, lay off!” Vaike whispered angrily, shaking his friend off. “Ain’t no harm in admirin’ the flowers! ‘Sides, I’m not hurting anyone!”

“If they catch you they’ll tie you to different horses and shout ‘go’!” Robin warned in a low tone.

“Then you’d best sod off before you give me away,” Vaike reasoned with a grin and a wink.

Robin was about to rebut before he felt something snort hot air down his neck. Whirling and backing into Vaike he found Sully’s horse staring directly into his eyes, manic rage written in the beast’s depthless orbs.

“Is that… Sully’s horse?” Vaike asked over Robin’s shoulder, going pale. “It looks kinda pissed.”

“I think it knows what you’re doing,” Robin said quietly, backing away from the animal, hands outstretched, palm up.

The two men stood in a stand-off with the horse for a moment as it snorted and dug at the soft ground with its hoof.

“Run! It’s gonna charge! Every man for himself!” Vaike shouted, losing his nerve first and taking off like a bat out of hell, leaving Robin alone with a very angry looking horse.

“Nice horsey,” Robin said, trying to calm the creature with a shuddering voice as he backed further away.

The horse gave a loud whinny, reared up and began to charge at the tactician.

“Waugh!” Robin screamed, running back in the direction of the camp as fast as his legs could carry him. “But I didn’t even do anything! I was trying to stop Vaike! Damn you, Vaike! You’ll pay for this!”

Robin all but tumbled into Sumia’s tent, forcibly closing the flap behind him as the horse charged past. After a few tense seconds he let out the breath he had been holding, slumping forwards as the adrenaline started to fade.

“Robin! You scared the life out of me! You should really knock first!” Sumia complained from her position at the small table reading by candlelight, hand on her chest.

Fortunately she was fully clothed, or things might have gone from bad to worse.

“I’m so sorry,” Robin gasped, doubling over with his hands on his knees. “But there was Vaike… and an angry horse… and… it’s not important. I wanted to return the book you gave me.”

Robin took deep breaths as he fished the book out of his pouch, trying in vain to calm his racing heartbeat.

I swear this time I will kill Vaike when I get my hands on him, Robin thought irritably.

“Did you like it?” Sumia asked excitedly, putting her own book down and standing.

Or at least trying to stand, and falling flat on her face in the process as her foot caught the corner of the small table she was at.

“Geez, Sumia,” Robin said, helping her up. “Yeah, I actually did enjoy it. I’ve been up late far too many nights in a row reading it, in fact. The showdown at high-noon was especially epic.”

“I’m so glad you liked it!” Sumia said, doing a little jump and clapping her hands in excitement.

“Do you have any other recommendations?” Robin asked, finally starting to catch his breath.

“Yes!” Sumia said excitedly before hurrying to a chest she had next to her sleeping roll and beginning to rummage through it.

“So tell me, Robin,” she asked as she assembled a stack of tomes. “Are you a fiction or non-fiction person?”

“A bit of both, I suppose,” Robin said with a shrug, moving to help Sumia with the books.

“I just love a good novel,” she continued. “I get so caught up in them I sometimes forget my own sad little life. I can pretend to be a knight in shiny armour! Or maybe an evil mage or something like that!”

“I know what you mean,” Robin agreed, carrying a large pile of books to the small collapsible table in the corner of Sumia’s tent. “I always feel a little sad when a good story ends.”

“Oh, I know the feeling,” she sighed. “I finish and then it's back to reality for Sumia! Back to sad, sad reality... Er, but then I think about the next story and get excited all over again!”

“Come on, your life isn’t all that sad!” Robin said.

“Says he who does not constantly fall on his face or screw up everything he tries to do,” she countered, a little more bitterly than she had probably intended to.

“Did you not eat dinner tonight?” Robin laughed. “I don’t think the others will ever let me near the food again.”

Sumia giggled. “True.”

“And there’s one more thing I know for a fact you haven’t screwed up,” Robin said slyly. “You did manage to capture the affections of a certain blue haired pr-”

“Oh look how late it is!” Sumia said, loudly cutting off Robin as she turned a deep shade of red. “Here you go! Now go get some sleep, okay!?”

The flustered Pegasus Knight shoved three random books into Robin’s hands before bodily forcing him out of her tent where he stood, chuckling to himself for a moment and looking at the books Sumia had all but thrown at him before he heard a very equine snort.

“Oh for the love of the gods!” Robin shouted as he started running, not even bothering to look over his shoulder, knowing instantly Sully’s horse had found him again. “You stupid horse, I was trying to stop Vaike! Leave me alone! Help! Mad horse! Vaike you bastard, I swear I’ll get you for this!”

“Wha…?” Robin mumbled as something opened the flap to his new tent, letting a blast of cold air in that woke him up. “’S there?”

Please tell me that freaking horse isn’t back for round three, Robin pleaded internally, casting his small fire spell to see in the dark as he reached for his sword. At this point he didn’t care whose mount it was; if that horse was back, he was turning it into glue. Robin blinked a few times, relaxing as his tired eyes finally adjusting to the gloom.

“I am cold again, man-spawn,” Panne said softly from above him.

“So curl up with the horses,” Robin grumbled, dispelling the fire spell and pulling his sleeping roll tighter around his shoulders, rolling onto his side.

After a few moments of silence when he didn’t hear Panne leave he sighed.

“You’re still there, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“You’re not going away, are you?”

“I am cold.”

“Let’s not make a habit out of this,” Robin groaned, scooting to one side as Panne settled onto the thin mat he had laid out on the floor of the tent beside him, pressing herself to his back.

“I swear if I wake up with you in my face again I will not hesitate to headbutt,” Robin warned, trying to get comfortable again.

“Be silent, man-spawn,” Panne growled tiredly. “I am trying to sleep.”

Why me? Robin thought irritably as the Taguel behind him began snoring softly. What could I possibly have done to deserve this evening? Now I’ll never get to sleep…

When Robin woke in the morning it wasn’t to Panne’s face over his.

“Mornin’” Vaike said with a giant grin plastered on his face.

Robin sighed empathetically, pulling the sleeping roll over his head. “Go away.”

“Aw, c’mon,” Vaike persisted. “I even brought you breakfast!”

“You don’t have to bribe me to keep your ‘flower-watching’ a secret,” Robin grumbled, his voice muffled by the sleeping roll. “But if you did want to, letting me sleep more would definitely be the way to go. Honestly, why does everyone have to come into my tent…”

Vaike guffawed and put the tray he was holding on the ground next to Robin’s head.

“I’ll just leave this here anyhow,” Vaike said. “In case you change your mind.”

After Vaike left, Robin sighed and sat up, letting the sleeping-roll fall off his face and inspecting the breakfast Vaike had brought him. His tone of voice had sounded… Suspicious. Fresh fruit, a fresh waterskin, some oats… And was that a bowl of leftover stew?

Robin groaned, retreating under his bedroll again, his stomach churning as the scent reached his nose. It was definitely the stew. Gods, he hated Vaike sometimes.

Robin yawned wide as the Shepherds passed through the frigid Feroxi countryside a few days later. Despite their misgivings from the previous night, crossing the border had been a simple affair; no doubt made easier when Robin had ordered Lon’qu to march at the front with Chrom, Frederick and himself.

Robin was marching on his own on this day, too tired to hold a proper conversation after the events of the last few days. He cast wary glances at Sully’s horse, which in turn glared at him every chance it got.

The Shepherds made good time, coming up to the Coliseum just after a short lunch break on the fifth day. In which time Robin was constantly kept very far from the food preparation. As they walked through the streets and alleys of the Coliseum behind Lon’qu Robin was forced to admit that the air was very different from the last time they were there; firstly, there were a lot less people around, and those that were went wordlessly about their tasks, as if in a rush to complete them. Robin knew from the reports that most of the Regna Ferox army was currently camped just behind the Longfort, ready to march as soon as Kahn Flavia gave the word. As they entered the arena proper they were met immediately by a very agitated looking Flavia, Raimi at her side, calm and cold as usual.

“Well met,” Flavia greeted them, clasping hands with Robin and Chrom, offering the rest a nod. “Given the current circumstances I wasn’t expecting to see you here in person, Prince Chrom.”

“What circumstances?” Chrom asked warily.

Robin’s stomach sank as Flavia gave them a pitying look.

“Perhaps we might speak somewhere… quieter,” she suggested. “Raimi, bring the Shepherds someplace warm. Prince Chrom, if you would follow me?”

Flavia led Chrom, Robin, Frederick and Cordelia, who slipped in on the end obviously still taking her duty to Chrom a little too seriously, up to the great room they had drank and celebrated in last time they were in Regna Ferox. The space was cold now, and dark, as if Flavia wouldn’t be using it again until she returned. There was an air of hibernation about the place which Robin found to be unsettling.

“Prince Chrom, before we begin I want to assure you that you have my full and unwavering support, no matter what course of action you chose to follow,” Flavia said quickly, leading them to a set of chairs.

“What has happened?” Chrom asked, hand tightening on Falchion’s grip.

“We have received reports that Gangrel’s forces have captured the Exalt,” Flavia said with clenched fists, fire in her eyes. “And that he intends to execute her as a war criminal.”

“No!” the four Shepherds shouted at once.

“They can’t!” Cordelia gasped.

“Monsters!” Frederick thundered, his composure well and truly gone. “I will kill every Plegian that I see with my bare hands until Her Grace is returned to us unharmed!”

“Well, you’ve definitely got the right idea,” Flavia said wryly to the enraged knight.

“Chrom?” Robin asked, noticing the Prince had gone still.

Chrom looked up, meeting Robin’s eyes. The pain Robin saw in his friend’s eyes cut him like a knife, but Chrom’s next words were clear and unrushed, carefully thought out and considered. They were the words of a prince and a leader.

“We march for Plegia immediately. This insult will not stand. We will rescue my sister and smash Gangrel’s ambitions to dust.”

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