Invisible Ties

Chapter 14

Themis looked around, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. His instincts were telling him, screaming at him, that something was wrong. The Plegians were all but routed, a small number of them having retreated into the capital city. He and Aerir had called a momentary halt to the hostilities so they could make ready to storm the capital, but something was amiss.

It was as if something ill was on the air; a bad smell or taste just on the periphery of his senses that made the small hairs on the back of his neck stand on edge. A lifetime of soldiering and battle had honed his instincts, and they had never steered him wrong before.

“What’s wrong?” Aerir asked, coming alongside Themis’ horse, his voice muffled by his helmet.

“I’m not sure…” Themis admitted slowly, looking around the desert again. “Something’s in the air… something’s…”

Then all at once it clicked.

“Where are the Pegasus Knights?” Themis asked, a note of fear in his voice.

Aerir looked around. The knights were forming up with Aerir’s foot-soldiers and the Feroxi units behind them. Among them were the Priests and Mages, but no Pegasus Knights.

“They were supposed to have been here by now,” Aerir muttered, pulling off his helmet and scanning the horizon. “Ah! There they are!”

There were indeed the shapes of pegasi coming in low and fast on the horizon, but they were coming in from the wrong angle, and there were too many of them. As they got closer Themis could see wyverns among them.

“About face!” he shouted, his blood going cold in his veins as he forced his horse around. “Assault from the rear! Reform the lines!”

Without hesitating Roark began blowing the signal to reform the lines on a signal horn, and the call was taken up by the other signallers, but the men were confused and moving too slowly. With impending dread Themis spotted a tide of foot soldiers following the fliers.

Aerir gave his friend a confused look, but took up the call to reform the lines, blowing his own signal horn while Seth waded into the men, shoving and cajoling them into position.

Spears and javelins began to rain down on the foot soldiers as the knights and armoured units began trying to push through and reform some semblance of a line, the mysterious fliers passing over top of the Ylissean lines and leaving a bloody trail of destruction in their wake.

“What’s going on!?” Raimi shouted, coming up to where the two Dukes were watching in horror, her own face betraying similar emotions.

The fliers peeled away, making to do another pass over the Ylisseans. The men were starting to regroup now, but many had been wounded in the initial attack, and the priests and clerics set about hopelessly trying to ease their suffering.

“Enemy reinforcements,” Themis answered before kicking his horse forwards and joining his knights, Roark in tow.

“This is going to end badly,” Aerir muttered, putting his helmet back on. “Raimi, get your soldiers ready. You’re going to have to retreat; take the Priests and Clerics with you, they can’t fight and will just die needlessly.”

“Retreat!?” Raimi asked askance. “What do you mean? We’ve won!”

“Not against those we haven’t!” Aerir shouted, grabbing the woman by the shoulder and forcibly spinning her to look at the horde, his fear and frustration getting the better of him as he snapped.

They ran, flew or rode with no semblance of strategy, simply trying to be the first to get to the Ylissean-Feroxi army. As Aerir watched they just kept coming, and Aerir understood; the charging force were Risen. There were thousands coming now, and they barely had fifteen hundred men left.

The best they could hope to do was stall for time.

“Take your soldiers and go!” Aerir shouted, drawing his sword. “We can’t beat a force like this! Head north to Regna Ferox, make sure that the Prince survives! Tell him that the Risen fight for Plegia! Go!”

Raimi nodded grimly, before starting to shout orders.

“Seth!” Aerir called, his retainer appearing moments later.

“Milord?” Seth asked curiously.

“Take that banner,” Aerir said sadly, pointing to the standard of Jagen Seth was still holding. “Make sure Sir Frederick gets it. Go with the Feroxi.”

Seth looked as if Aerir had just insulted his mother.

“Are you mad, sir!?” the retainer asked. “I won’t abandon the field now!”

Aerir shook his head sadly. “I gave you an order, Captain; see it done.”

Seth looked about to protest, before dropping his head. “Aye, milord.”

“Protect my brother as if he were me, old friend,” Aerir said, clapping a hand on Seth’s shoulder, his voice thick, before shoving his helmet back on over his head and turning, striding purposefully for the front.

Aerir found Themis waiting near the front rank, sword in hand and face set in a grim line. All unit cohesion was gone now; just the last of the Ylissean army ready to buy their Prince and Exalt a chance to escape. The Risen’s fliers were beginning to come around for another pass as the horde on the ground thundered onward. Behind them a small group of Feroxi, probably only a platoon’s worth of men, corralled the mages and priests away from the battle, Raimi stoically not looking back over her shoulder as she led them deeper into the desert.

“Do you think they did it?” Aerir asked his old friend in the brief moment of calm before the storm. “Do you think they saved the Exalt?”

“The Shepherds?” Themis asked with a chuckle. “There’s not a doubt in my mind, old friend.”

“Then I suppose it’s up to us to make sure they get away, huh?” Aerir asked lightly.

“I would have liked to see her grow up,” Themis said sadly after a moment, his horse stepping nervously, his eyes never leaving the Risen horde still careening towards them. “Become the magistrate she always swore she would be; bounce grandchildren on my knee.”

“At least she will grow up,” Aerir said, steeling himself for what was to come. “We can ensure that she does. Here. Today.”

The older Duke nodded, silent.

“Men of Ylisse!” Themis roared after a moment, holding his sword high. “Men of Themis, Jagen and Ylisstol! We fight for our country! For our Exalt! For our children and the future! The Divine Dragon watches over us! For death and honour!”

The Ylisseans roared, and as one ran out to meet the Risen, screaming ‘death and honour’ at the top of their lungs. They would see that the Shepherds escaped with their last breaths.

Aerir smiled sadly as he realized he would never get the chance to ask Raimi to join him at Castle Jagen for the harvest festival, his feet pounding furiously into the sand as he raced towards death.

Chrom stumbled along the desert path that Basilio was leading them down, his eyes unseeing as he struggled to put one heavy foot in front of the other. At some point it had started to rain, the water turning the rough road into mud, making it even harder going. Not that Chrom had noticed, though. His face was slack as he walked, his hair plastered to his face by sweat and rainwater, his gait erratic as he swayed back and forth.

The Shepherds, too, were exhausted. The Exalt was dead. Their tactician’s life held by the barest of threads.

They had stopped briefly for Lissa and Maribelle to treat Robin’s wounds as best they could, but he would need proper care very soon. He still hadn’t regained consciousness, but Marth had been true to Basilio’s orders and still carried the man on her back, holding his thighs as she carried him piggy-back style. Strangely enough, Tharja hadn’t left his side either the entire time, often muttering strange hexes and incantations, hopefully to Robin’s aid.

The remaining veterans that had stood beside them with Flavia before had chosen to delay the pursuing Risen, giving their lives so the Shepherds could escape. More lives to lay at Chrom’s feet, he realised with a guilty twinge.

“Hurry!” Basilio shouted from the head of the group. “It’s just through this ravine!”

Robin moaned weakly from Marth’s back, making the woman cast a worried glance over her shoulder.

“We need to stop!” she called. “Robin needs time to rest!”

“We can’t stop,” the older man explained. “They’re breathing down our necks! We’re almost there; Robin’s a strong lad, he’ll make it!”

Marth shook her head, gently hitching Robin back up higher on her back before doggedly continuing onwards. Vaike and a few of the others had offered to take her burden at first, but she had steadfastly refused.

As the others started moving again, Chrom stopped, looking back over his shoulder to where he could just make out the silhouette of Castle Plegia in the distance.

“Chrom?” Sumia said gently, laying a hand on his arm. “We have to keep moving.”

Chrom growled, hanging his head and turning away. “I know.”

He had been all but silent for the entire journey. He could see the concerned looks the Shepherds kept giving him when they thought he wasn’t looking; they were worried about his judgment at so pivotal a time, and why shouldn’t they be? He had led them to disastrous defeat again and again. And now his arrogance had cost them everything.

Lissa sniffled from someplace behind him. She had been sobbing for almost as long as he had been silent, but had gone quiet too. As much as it pained him, Chrom was simply too numb to comfort his little sister now.

They emerged some time later from the ravine and onto a small rise overlooking what looked to be a dragon-graveyard; colossal skeletons littered the area, sun bleached bones exposed to the elements with rain pelting down on them. Chrom heard Nowi gasp and moan a little, but Sumia had been right; they needed to push on. As he watched Sumia wrapped an arm about the young manakete’s shoulders, comforting her as they drew closer.

But of course there were more Plegians waiting for them. At least a platoon of Plegian foot soldiers stood waiting, a hulking dark-skinned giant of a man with a bare chest, armoured shoulder guards made from old bones that barely covered his massive frame standing at their head, looking out at the gathered Shepherds.

“Damn,” Basilio cursed softly.

Flavia came up behind him, slapping him in the back of the head. “And this is why I’m Khan-Reagent, oaf.”

“I didn’t hear you coming up with any great escape plans,” Basilio huffed irritably.

Chrom looked up, for the first time not seeing human beings in the Plegians, but rather the rabid monsters that had slain his sister and his best friend. The effect it had on him was instant; it was as if someone had released the collar of a rabid hound. All of his doubts, all of his pain, everything was eclipsed by the seething hate and wrath that the Prince of Ylisse now felt.

“We’ll fight our way through them,” Chrom growled dangerously, stalking forward as he unsheathed Falchion. “They can’t stand against us.”

Flavia and Basilio both halted mid argument as Chrom pushed his way past them. The two Khans watched him for a moment, still frozen in place before Flavia shrugged.

“Well the boy has the right idea,” she said, shouldering her own sword and following him.

The other Khan sighed and shook his head, readying his axe and falling in with the rest of the Shepherds.

“Stay to the rear,” Basilio muttered to Marth, who nodded and hung back, hitching the unconscious tactician further up onto her back.

“You stay close to them, too,” he added, turning to the Dark Mage woman that had joined them in Plegia.

She simply looked at him and frowned, but did as he asked.

“I swear these kids’ll be the death of me…” Basilio muttered as he jogged to catch up with Chrom and Flavia.

Chrom strode forward confidently, radiating murder and malice. He knew his face was twisted in an intense snarl, but he didn’t care. He didn’t even notice that none of the Plegian soldiers would meet his eye, all of them guiltily looking away.

The giant of a man stepped forward, rain pattering off of his bald head and running down his beard as he met Chrom’s gaze.

“Ylisseans!” he called as Chrom approached. “My name is General Mustafa! I offer you mercy! Surrender to me now, and you will live!”

“Surrender? I’m afraid we’re not familiar with the word!” Basilio called back, hefting his axe and grinning.

“Exalt Emmeryn would not have wished this bloodshed!” the big man shouted back insistently.

Chrom stopped dead, his resolve and willpower shattering.

“Do not dare speak her name!” he roared, his voice breaking in his rage as his breathing quickened.

How dare he use his sister’s name? How dare a filthy Plegian use her name to try and make him surrender after their king had murdered her?

“Your rage is justified, Prince Chrom,” Mustafa said softly, moving forward.

As he drew closer Chrom noticed the man had a slight limp, and a fresh scar split his face over his left eye. Apparently he had headed straight out from the siege of the capital; which meant that Themis and Aerir had failed. Chrom filed this information away for later consideration as Mustafa kept talking.

“The meaning of your sister’s sacrifice was not lost on me, nor my men,” he explained, coming to a stop a few feet from the Prince. “I suspect many other Plegians who heard her words were not also affected by them. If you lay down your weapons then you have my word as a man of honour and as a general of Plegia that none of your people shall come to harm.”

Chrom’s fist tightened on Falchion’s hilt.

“After the ‘mercy’ your barbarous king has shown!?” Chrom asked, shaking with outrage. “I think…”

He looked over his shoulder, spotting Robin still passed out on Marth’s back. The girl looked... worried, but about what Chrom couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter, though. Nothing else did at that moment. He wanted… he needed to make the Plegians hurt. He needed to make them bleed, to see them suffer the way he was suffering.

“I think we’ll take our chances with our weapons in hand,” he rasped, raising Falchion into a low-guard.

Mustafa shook his head sadly, droplets of water flying from his beard with the movement.

“I suspected you would say as much,” the giant of a man said softly. “So be it, Prince Chrom of Ylisse! But may I make a final suggestion before we do battle?”

“What?” Chrom snarled, his patience at an end as his heart sang for vengeance, Chrom pacing backwards and forwards like a caged animal before the General.

“Let us decide the fates of our men in single combat, in the old style,” Mustafa said, hefting his huge war axe. “Commander against commander; General against Prince. If I defeat you, I will spare your men.”

“And when I defeat you?” Chrom growled, emphasising the ‘when’.

“I ask you offer my men the same mercy,” Mustafa said, bowing his head slightly.

Chrom looked out over the assembled Plegians. They all held their weapons with eyes that spoke of unwillingness to do battle, and they looked on to their general with a reverence like he was the true King, not Gangrel. Despite all his rage, despite all his suffering, he knew that they couldn’t fight their way through all of the assembled Plegians without further casualties, as much as he wanted to see every single one of them dead. It was bitter knowledge, but Chrom couldn’t deny it; the last thing he wanted was to cause more Ylissean casualties that day.

“Boy, you can’t seriously be-” Basilio started before Chrom cut him off.

“So be it,” Chrom shouted, unclasping his cape and letting it fall to the muddy soil, his blood raging. “Prepare yourself!”

Chrom roared as he charged forward, Falchion still held low. He spun at the last second, slashing out at Mustafa’s stomach as he did. The older man was obviously no slouch, though, and countered easily, batting Falchion away and brining his free hand down in a giant fist that would have easily sent Chrom sprawling; but Chrom wasn’t there, still spinning around the man and scoring a light wound on Mustafa’s ribs as he danced out of the larger man’s reach.

Chrom snarled and growled as he moved, his barely-controlled rage bubbling to the surface. Surging forward again he feinted at a high blow, and when the Plegian General brought his axe up to parry with both hands Chrom flipped his sword over, instead driving the pommel into Mustafa’s face under the man’s guard. The Plegian reeled, and Chrom switched to a one handed grip, forcing Mustafa’s axe and hands down, bashing his head repeatedly with Falchion’s golden pommel.

Chrom jumped back as Mustafa broke free of his one handed hold, growling and spitting blood and teeth from his ruined mouth.

Chrom wiped the rain from his eyes, feinting left before striking right faster than he ever had before, cutting deep into the General’s arm, forcing him to swing his mighty axe one handed; Chrom stepped back, before driving the tip of his sword forward, carving a deep furrow across the man’s chest before dancing back out of reach. With each blow the General was slowing, but Chrom’s anger was only growing, fuelling his wrath.

Not done yet, his anger still driving him, and charged in low, batting away Mustafa’s axe and landing a harsh kick to the man’s leg. A sickening crack echoed through the valley as the General fell, screaming in pain through clenched teeth.

Chrom retreated again, and when the general let his axe fall, Chrom rushed in, tossing Falchion to the side and bowling over the huge man with a primal shout, forcing them both into the mud. Straddling the General Chrom began beating his face with his bare hands, raining blows with all his strength again, and again, and again, imagining it was Gangrel who was beneath him. Chrom winced slightly as he felt cartilage and bone shatter beneath his fists, and Mustafa stopped struggling after the first few blows, but Chrom didn’t relent, striking again and again, until his knuckles were so raw they were bleeding freely, screaming as he struck, venting his rage with every blow.

Chrom stood, breathing heavily, retrieving Falchion and standing over the Plegian General, poised to strike at his heart.

Mustafa looked up at him with one eye, the other swollen shut.

“My…” the General coughed wetly. “My men… Please…”

Chrom looked out over the Plegians, seeing the sheer horror written on every face that stared back at him. Turning and looking over his shoulder Chrom was shocked to see the same looks on the faces of the Shepherds.

But… these are the enemies! They’re Plegians! They killed Emm!

Lissa was in tears, watching her brother. Sumia was no better, trying to hide behind her hands, her horrified eyes the only visible part of her face from behind her hands. Vaike and Virion looked shocked, mouths hanging open as they watched their leader’s brutality, and even Frederick looked uncomfortable. Lon’qu looked away, distaste on his face, his warrior pride insulted by Chrom’s barbarity. Ricken had pulled his hat low, covering his eyes as he hugged a spellbook to his chest. Gaius was pale, shaking as he quickly looked away from the Prince. Panne was watching impassively, her nose twitching, never meeting Chrom’s gaze. Nowi was hiding, actually hiding, behind Libra, who was doing his best to remain silent as his knuckles went white on his axe’s haft.

None of them would meet his gaze.

Chrom looked up to where Marth was still standing, weeping openly. Only she would meet his gaze, and the hurt in her eyes was like a physical blow. Then Robin looked up from her shoulder, his eyes barely open as he looked at his friend and Prince in confusion.

That was more than Chrom could take.

With a scream containing all of his hurt and all of his frustration Chrom fell to his knees, realizing what he had done and been about to do, roaring at the heavens, Falchion slipping from his grasp.

What the hell am I doing!?

The thought hit him like a flying rock; he had been about to take an innocent life in the name of revenge.

Lissa came forward timidly at first, before breaking into a run and wrapping her arms around Chrom’s shoulders, crying onto his chest.

Chrom looked up to the sky, his own tears mingling with the falling rain.

This wasn’t what Emmeryn would have wanted.

“Lissa,” he said after a few moments, the name catching in his throat. “Lissa, I’m so sorry. Can you… can you heal him?”

Lissa looked up, nodding as she tried to stifle her sobs.

She set to work with her staff, and Mustafa groaned.

“Why…” he mumbled when Lissa was done, struggling to sit up. “Why didn’t you…?”

“Because you were right,” Chrom said, helping the man to his feet. “Emmeryn wouldn’t have wanted any more bloodshed.”

Mustafa looked down at Chrom; Lissa hadn’t healed all of his wounds; she had done enough that the man could stand and return to his own healers, though.

He turned and smiled painfully at her, bowing. “Thank you, Princess.”

“What now?” Chrom asked, bending to retrieve Falchion from the mud he had dropped it in twice now. “Are we still to be your prisoners?”

“No,” Mustafa said at length. “No. There has been enough suffering today. Go. Return to your nation and mourn your Exalt. And know that I and my men mourn with you for the loss of a great woman.”

Chrom nodded, choking back further tears, and the Shepherds started moving again, skirting around the Plegian soldiers, who simply stood and watched as they passed. When Chrom looked back at them, he was pleased to see that he saw men, not monsters like he had before.

They made good time after that, meeting up with Basilio’s agents that had prepared their escape, led by a timid woman he introduced as Olivia. They all clambered into the waiting caravans, and fled from Plegia as fast as they could, heading north to the safety of Regna Ferox.

Robin’s eyes fluttered open, the sight greeting him a stone ceiling.

I’m getting mighty sick of waking up having no idea what’s going on Robin thought groggily.

His memory after attempting to save Emmeryn was sporadic at best; something about being carried; getting wet; watching Chrom beat the stuffing out of some really big guy…

That was about it.

He tried to call out for someone, sure that the Shepherds wouldn’t be far while he was in such a state. The best he managed was a slight moan and gurgle, though, followed by an immensely painful cough.

“Lie still,” a soft, feminine voice said from his side. “You’re safe now.”

“Where…?” Robin managed after water was brought to his chapped lips.

“The Coliseum in Regna Ferox,” his unseen assistant said. “You’ve been unconscious for quite some time.”

Robin forced himself into a sitting position achingly slowly, his bound wounds protesting his every movement. He was rewarded with a wider view of an almost empty room. A small table next to his bed, his tattered coat folded neatly atop it, with his breastplate sitting on top of that. Robin cringed as he saw the holes in the breastplate; he had really taken a beating this time. Those Risen archers apparently didn’t mess around.

Putting his forehead in his palm he muttered “I really pass out far too much.”

A giggle from next to him made him turn. In the chair next to his bed was another stunning woman, her pale pink hair ornately braided and held in place by a pretty headdress. Her glittering clothes bespoke of a performing profession, most likely a dancer or acrobat. Robin blinked a few times, ensuring his mouth was still closed as he marvelled at the stunning beauty. She blushed and looked away meekly under his gaze, prompting the tactician to clear his throat awkwardly.

“And you are?” Robin asked, helping himself to more water.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, blushing deeper and speaking very quickly. “Forgive me, milord! My name is Olivia; I serve Khan Basilio, and was responsible for getting you and the Shepherds out of Plegia!”

Robin groaned and fell backwards into the bed as the meaning of her statement sunk in.

“So we lost.”

Olivia’s silence was all the answer Robin needed. He was disappointed to note that bad news delivered by such a beautiful woman still stung all the same.

The Shepherds came to see him one by one or in small groups once word spread that he was awake. Vaike, Lon’qu, Ricken and Miriel were first during his first wakeful day, while Robin was eating a lunch consisting of a weak gruel that was supposed to help him mend faster while being easy to digest. Of course Miriel, being Miriel, had to take a sample for study. He, Virion and Vaike talked of the retreat across the border while Miriel poked at Robin’s uneaten lunch, muttering to herself and making notes. Lon’qu seemed more interested in standing in the corner, as far as possible away from Miriel and a confused-looking Olivia.

“It was pretty brutal,” Vaike said with an uncharacteristic sigh.

“Yeah,” Ricken agreed, fidgeting with the brim of his gigantic hat.

Robin sighed tiredly, currently propped up by a number of pillows Olivia had procured, and gratefully accepted the news; Olivia had been frustratingly tight-lipped about the subject owing to an order that Basilio had given her, but the other Shepherds weren’t so inclined, and after a very small amount of prompting Robin had gotten Vaike to start talking.

“I seem to recall Chrom getting into a fistfight with someone…” Robin muttered over his tea.

The effect on the mood in the room was like someone blowing out a candle. Everyone went silent and looked away. Olivia perked up at the sudden change of atmosphere, sharing an uncomprehending look with Robin. The tactician shrugged in response to her questioning look, his gaze snapping back to his visitors as Ricken cleared his throat.

“I think,” the diminutive mage said at length, “That you would be best suited asking the Captain about that yourself.”

“Well can you at least explain to me why I’m not dead?” Robin asked exasperatedly.

“Lissa and the new guy both healed the hell out of you as soon as we were clear,” Vaike explained shortly. “That Marth chick carried you practically halfway across Plegia to the wagons we used to escape, too.”

“Yeah, that scary lady Tharja helped too,” Ricken added. “She used her skills in the dark arts to hex your blood into running slower and congealing quicker, before hexing you to feel less sensation so you wouldn’t be in pain while we moved you.”

Robin quirked an eyebrow, instantly regretting it as he remembered being shot in the face by an arrow.

“Tharja… and Marth… did that for me?” he asked after the pain in his brow subsided.

“And she didn’t leave your side until you were safely in this very bed,” Lon’qu said from across the room. “I think someone might have some admirers.”

Robin groaned and rolled his eyes as Vaike waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Of course those were the first words Lon’qu would say after his terse greeting. It always came back to women with them.

They talked a little more after that, but it wasn’t long before Olivia shooed them out, claiming Robin needed his rest. He had clasped hands with the three men, and received a very awkward hug from Miriel, who claimed to have been told that it was how friends wished each other a speedy recovery, before they all filed out, leaving Robin drained. And slightly confused.

That night after dinner, consisting of another bowl of gruel, Virion knocked on Robin’s door, holding a basket in both hands. Robin could plainly see all the required items for tea and chess, so he waved the noble-born archer in, ignoring the dirty looks from Olivia when he ignored her meek protests of ‘but… you need your rest’.

“So how does this fine evening find you?” Virion asked, setting up the tea-pot and cups.

Robin watched as he made and poured the tea, taking a grateful sip of the proffered cup before replying.

“Well,” he said. “I’m still alive, so I guess I can’t complain.”

“That’s the spirit,” Virion said happily as he began setting up the chessboard.

“So are you actually going to tell me what happened?” Robin asked tiredly, taking his first move.

Virion was silent as he made his own move, before replying.

“I’m sure you have a few ideas,” he said cryptically.

“I do,” Robin snorted. “But I’d like some reports to go with them.”

“I will endeavour to have the Knights bring you some when they visit on the morrow,” the archer promised.

“What about Chrom?” Robin asked, taking a chance and putting one of his bishops in a position that would allow him to take Virion’s queen if he didn’t catch on.

“The Prince is…” Virion fell for the bait, taking the bishop with his queen before continuing. “The Prince is indisposed.”

“Define ‘indisposed’,” Robin insisted, moving his rook into position for his grand trap.

“He has not left his room since we arrived here,” Virion said with a sigh. “He fought like a demon to get us out of Plegia; like a man possessed. Never before have I seen such martial might coupled with such sheer brutality. He single handedly triumphed over the Plegian general blocking our path and securing our escape, but the price for him was… high. He has burned out now; I fear that our leader has lost his fire. Checkmate, by the way.”

Robin nodded before realising what Virion had said. Scanning the board he could clearly see he had been so focused on his trap he had missed the three pawns moving in on his king.

“Rematch!” Robin said instantly, making Virion laugh.

“I will not pass up the chance to embarrass you again in front of such lovely company,” Virion said, giving Olivia his best ‘come hither’ look.

“Focus, archest-of-archers, or I’m going to start putting pawns up your nose,” Robin deadpanned, moving his fallen chess-pieces back into position.

“Pah,” Virion scoffed good-naturedly. “You have no appreciation of the finer points of life.”

“Sure I do,” Robin shrugged. “Beating your skinny butt in chess just so happens to be one of them.”

“So,” Virion asked conversationally as he reset his side of the board. “What will the first thing you do when you get out of this bed be?”

“I’m putting my bloody coat back on,” Robin said without hesitation.

Virion laughed, shaking his head. “Truly? Is that all?”

“And what would you do that’s so much better?” Robin asked, looking at his beloved coat.

Virion seemed to think for a moment. “I would take a bottle of the finest wine and find a nice quiet spot to drink it alone to collect myself and my thoughts, before returning to my work.”

“That’s boring,” Robin laughed. “And out of character for you. I would have thought you would have said something along the lines of ‘raiding the maids’ quarters to find a lovely lass to share the bottle with’, or something along those lines.”

Virion didn’t dignify the wounded man’s teasing with a response, instead glaring over the chessboard and making a very aggressive opening move. Robin’s laughter eventually subsided, and they played in silence for some time before he spoke up again, his thoughts turning dark at Virion’s mention of his work. He had to ask…

“How many…” he started, trailing off.

Virion quirked an eyebrow at him, prompting him to continue.

“How many casualties were there in the end?” Robin finished quietly, staring intently at the chessboard.

“Don’t,” Virion said.

When Robin looked up in confusion he found Virion’s eyes boring into his own with an intensity the tactician had never seen before. Well, never seen directed at another man, anyway.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Virion said empathetically. “You had no way to know that the Risen would attack; that they did defies logical thought. You are not at fault for any of the deaths of those brave soldiers, and neither is the Prince; they are to be squarely laid at Mad King Gangrel’s feet. Our resolve is shaken, yes, but our trust in both you and Prince Chrom remains as steady as ever.”

Robin nodded numbly, moving his knight and taking Virion’s queen, the archer’s kind words sinking in. Virion responded by moving his bishop closer to Robin’s king.


“How do you keep doing that!?” Robin exclaimed, staring aghast at the board.

Despite losing again, Robin still felt a little better.

The next day Robin felt a little better physically, but his wounds were still stiff and Olivia had to help him sit up. She still spent the entire day by his side again, acting as his nurse, and they had gotten to talking; Robin had been right on the money when he had pegged her as a dancer. He was also visited by Gregor in the morning, who brought him more of his secret potion “free of charge”, and Nowi, who had hugged Robin and clung to him the entire visit, much like a scared child.

“Is good you awake,” Gregor said, sitting casually next to Robin’s bed and casting Olivia a lecherous grin. “Gregor fears that Robin would miss out on tender ministrations of beautiful woman while he was unconscious; not good thing.”

Robin rolled his eyes, cringing as Nowi readjusted her position and ground against his wounds, her arms still tightly wrapped around his chest.

“Nowi, I’m not going anywhere,” he said, patting her head as he did.

“I don’t care!” she said stubbornly. “Everyone was so worried about you! Me too! I haven’t even gotten a chance to play with you yet!”

“Do thousand-year-old manaketes even play like humans?” Robin asked with a chuckle.

“Yeah!” Nowi had replied excitedly, going into a very long and detailed explanation of ‘house’, ‘duck-duck-dragon’, and a number of other nameless games they could play when Robin was up and about again.

Gregor laughed the whole time, alternating between offering ‘old-man advice’ as he called it and grinning suggestively at the obviously uncomfortable Olivia. After they left Robin felt his spirits were much higher than they had been previously, and settled in to relax as Olivia prepared his lunch, muttering about Gregor uncomfortably the entire time.

Sully, Stahl and Kellam came to see him that afternoon, bringing with them some of the tactical reports about their loss in Plegia Virion had promised him. Apparently the archer had taken up the roll of interim tactician until Robin was up and about again, something Robin was incredibly grateful for until he saw Virion’s flowing and completely illegible handwriting on the reports.

“Why isn’t Frederick bringing these to me?” Robin asked, sighing and giving up on deciphering the papers.

Frederick was arguably third on the chain of command; Robin assumed he would have taken over the clerical work while Robin was laid up rather than Virion. The three looked around awkwardly before responding.

“It’s…” Stahl began, clearing his throat. “Duke Aerir was one of the confirmed casualties. Captain Frederick’s taking it pretty hard.”

Robin sighed, leaning back and resting his hands on his eyes, elbows splayed out like some strange featherless bird.

“We figured you would want to find out sooner rather than later,” Kellam said apologetically, reminding Robin he wasn’t alone with the two knights.

“It’s fine,” Robin sighed, sitting back up.

“Well if anyone can turn this around, it’s you,” Sully had said confidently.

“Turn around seventy-percent casualties?” Robin asked coyly. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to work me to death.”

They laughed at that, and left Robin to look over the reports. Or translate them would be a better description of what he was doing.

Once he got the hang of reading Virion’s writing he sighed; things weren’t good. The Pegasus Knights were simply non-existent now, the entire order having flown out with the army. Raimi had been ordered to take the Feroxi soldiers and retreat so they would at least have some bodies in case they were attacked again, Aerir’s Guard Captain Seth having retreated with them. Gangrel had retreated to a northern castle with his honour guard, numbering well into the hundreds. Between the Shepherds and the Northern Castle, though, was a fort where the remainder of the Plegian army, at least a thousand men, were currently stationed; it was in a perfect spot geographically to strike at any assault the Shepherds might make. Out of the five thousand Feroxi soldiers that had started the campaign, only a little over a thousand remained. Duke Themis was dead, too, having led the charge against the Risen that had given them enough time to escape. A few injured survivors had made it to Regna Ferox, but even they were mostly simple line soldiers. The reports said that four other Pegasus Knights had survived, a handful of the priests, clerics and mages that had accompanied the army, along with…

Robin let out a dark laugh, and Olivia looked up from where she was doggedly attempting to mend his coat, startled by the sudden sound in the silent room.

Roark had survived! The one-eyed son of a bitch was unkillable. There was a whole report dedicated to his survival; how he had been wounded and dragged away from the fighting by a couple of clerics while the surviving mages had covered them, before being picked up by the last of the Pegasus Knights. He was apparently already causing trouble for the volunteer nurses, trying to get back out to the training yard and prepare for the next assault.

Robin shook his head. They needed more men like that.

Robin’s next visitors were Panne and Gaius; strangely, they didn’t look too unhappy to be in each other’s company.

“’Sup bubbles,” Gaius greeted, inviting himself in and perching on the edge of Robin’s table.

Which admittedly he had yet to actually use, but still…

“Hey guys,” Robin said, looking up from the book he had borrowed from Sumia. “What’s going on?”

“This man-spawn insisted we come and ‘check in’ on you,” Panne grumbled.

“Aw, that’s nice,” Robin goaded with a smile. “Thank you for your concern.”

“Yeah,” Gaius said, sticking a lollipop into his mouth before continuing. “Whiskers wouldn’t admit it, but she was worried ‘bout you.”

Robin saw a muscle in Panne’s jaw actually twitch at Gaius’ nickname.

“Do not. Call me. Whiskers,” she warned the thief dangerously.

“So how’re ya holdin up?” Gaius said with a wicked grin. Panne’s reaction hadn’t gone unnoticed. “Getting sick of hospital food yet?”

Olivia gave an irritated huff at that comment. In all honesty her cooking had been excellent so far; a little spicy, but excellent all the same.

“I’m fine,” Robin laughed, waving the question off. “I’ve got one more healing session tomorrow morning and then I’m out of here.”

Priests and healers from the local Feroxi shrine had been brought in numerous times over the last two days to administer healing magic to him; it was working incredibly fast, too, despite the magic putting an incredible strain on his body. Robin no longer needed assistance sitting up or moving about, and could actually hold a book up for longer than ten minutes before his wounds started to ache and made him put it back down.

“And back nose first into your books, no doubt,” Gaius said, rolling his eyes. “You gotta live a little, Bubbles! Get out and see a show! Drink yourself stupid and wake up next to a stranger! Preferably a female one, but if your preference swings the other way I won’t judge you…”

“That’s wildly inappropriate!” Olivia shrieked, blushing darkly and making Gaius laugh all the harder.

“Let me rephrase that, then,” Gaius said, his laughter beginning to subside. “Get better and get out so I can stop spending all my time around Whiskers here-”

Gaius had to dodge off the table as Panne lunged for him in one smooth motion, papers flying everywhere as Panne flew over Robin’s bed. With a wink at the wounded tactician Gaius was out the window, a very angry Taguel following him a few seconds later.

“I hope she catches him…” Olivia muttered as she set about cleaning the mess Gaius had made during his escape.

Robin had laughed so hard he thought he was going to pop his stitches.

Once his laughter died down Robin realised with a sinking feeling that Chrom still hadn’t come to see him yet.

Robin looked up from his book a second time in as many hours when he heard a loud thump and exclamation of pain from outside his door before Cordelia opened it, Sumia behind her rubbing her face.

“Boots again?” Robin asked with a smirk.

Sumia blushed and nodded dejectedly.

Robin shook his head, chuckling as he marked his page and set down the book.

“So how are you feeling?” Cordelia asked, standing at the foot of Robin’s bed with her arms crossed.

Robin could see the bandages around one of her arms, but suspected that the wound wouldn’t even slow her down. Sumia thankfully looked, besides the bruise forming on her forehead, mostly whole.

Robin shrugged. “Been better. I’ll be a lot better when I finally get out of this bed.”

“Thank you so much for taking care of Robin,” Sumia said, turning to Olivia.

The pink haired woman blushed heavily, stammering and trying to wave away Sumia’s thanks.

“It… It was n-nothing!” Olivia hastily said, before going back to hiding behind Robin’s coat while she ‘mended’ it.

Robin shook his head and rolled his eyes again as she sneaked a glance over the black garment. The woman was beyond timid.

“So what’s news?” Robin asked conversationally as the two Pegasus Knights sat down on chairs Olivia brought forward for them.

“You are officially looking at the last two Pegasus Knights,” Sumia said sadly.

“Really!?” Robin asked, sitting up far too quickly in his shock and instantly regretting it.

Falling back with a groan, he went on. “I had no idea the casualties in your order had been so high.”

Sumia knotted her hands in her lap as Cordelia spoke.

“Our order was never large. It takes a certain kind of woman to tame a pegasus, and an even rarer type of woman willing to put up with the gruelling training regime to become a knight; especially when it’s so much easier to just settle down and become a housewife.”

“But weren’t there a couple of survivors from the battle in Plegia?” Robin enquired, remembering the notes the Knights had brought him earlier.

Cordelia nodded. “Four. Three of them… passed the first night. The fourth will unfortunately never fly again.”

Robin cursed, bunching the sheets about his waist in a fist. Every time someone else came to see him they inadvertently piled more deaths at his feet for his failed strategies, despite the pep-talk Virion had given him the other day. He vowed to do better next time, and not to give in to despair, though. For the lives that had already been taken he swore to lead Ylisse to victory.

“Well,” Robin said with a sad sigh. “At least the future Pegasus Knights are in good hands.”

Both of the women blushed at Robin’s compliment, Cordelia’s face going almost as red as her hair.

“Be that as it may,” she said after clearing her throat. “It will take quite some time to fill our ranks again, so you will need to strike any tactics involving fliers from your plans.”

Robin nodded, before a particularly interesting thought came to him.

“So if you two are the last of your order which one of you is going to be the new Wing-Commander?”

Both women recommenced spluttering at Robin’s question, neither willing to accept the prestigious position. Robin sat back and grinned, shaking his head in amusement as they began arguing over who would take to job, pointing out each other’s good points to an exaggerated degree in an attempt to convince the other.

Perhaps I should stop using my powers for evil like this he thought, chuckling as the two women kept trying to out-do the other with stories of the other’s heroism.

Nah. This is way too fun.

Robin got a surprise the next morning when instead of the local healers coming to administer his final treatment Lissa, Maribelle and Libra walked through the door.

“What are you guys doing here?” Robin asked in surprise.

Lissa smiled tightly at him.

“We’re the only ones that haven’t been to see you yet,” she explained, a strange note of… something in her voice.

“It is good to see you well, Sir Robin,” Maribelle said in her unflinchingly haughty demeanour. “I trust you are about ready to return to duty after so long at rest?”

“Praise be to Naga for your speedy recovery,” Libra intoned before Robin could respond to Maribelle, bowing his head slightly.

“Yeah, sure,” Robin muttered, still eying Maribelle and trying to keep in mind that the girl had just lost her father. “Let’s get this over with. I have questions that need answers.”

Libra nodded, and the three healers set about mending Robin’s damaged body. Libra led the girls, chanting hymns dedicated to Naga while the girls channelled their magic into him, Libra acting as a conduit for sending it to Robin’s wounds. When they were done almost an hour later Robin felt better than he had in days. Obviously Libra was a very skilled healer. The priest swayed a little once the healing was done, catching himself with one hand on the end of Robin’s bed.

“I believe I may have overtaxed myself,” he admitted softly before excusing himself and exiting the room, claiming a need to lie down.

Robin felt bad for exhausting the priest, but when he stood up for the first time in days that feeling turned to relief and elation. It became an even higher sense of elation when he finally put his coat back on.

“I am born again!” Robin shouted, spinning so the coat swung out in an arc around him.

“I swear you really need a new coat,” Maribelle said, looking down her nose at Robin’s tattered coat.

Robin chose to ignore her, instead looking at his tattered breastplate. Before he could put his plan into words he found Lissa wrapped around his chest in a tight hug.

“Lissa! What…?” Robin asked in confusion.

“I was…” she started, sniffling. “I mean, we were all so…”

Robin smiled and put a comforting hand on her head.

“I’m okay, Lissa,” he said softly. “I promise.”

Lissa released him and nodded, sniffling again. Robin looked up at Maribelle, quirking an eyebrow and grinning cheekily.

“You want a hug, too?”

Maribelle looked like he had just suggested she eat her parasol.

“I think not,” she scoffed unimpressed.

“Lissa, I’ve heard Chrom hasn’t left his room since we got here,” he said, turning back to the Princess and trying to get his plan rolling again.

“Uh… yeah,” Lissa said quietly.

“Am I right in assuming he’s probably still sulking?”

“Probably…” Lissa said at length. “Robin, what are you planning?”

“Olivia,” he asked, ignoring Lissa and holding the armour out to her. “Can you take Maribelle and Lissa and get this mended for me please?”

Olivia jumped up instantly, taking the breastplate in her hands and nodding profusely as Lissa looked quizzically at Robin, clearly happy to have something to hide behind again.

“Why must I go?” Maribelle asked in irritated confusion.

“Because what I have planned now, you’ll just get in the way,” Robin answered, looking directly at the open door. “But… Don’t go far. If this goes bad, I may just wind up back in this bed.”

“This is not a good idea,” Sumia said with worry clear in her voice. “In fact this is a very, very bad idea.”

Sumia and Robin were standing outside of Chrom’s chambers. The Prince hadn’t been out since they had arrived back at Regna Ferox, taking his meals in there and not coming out for anything, which, simply put, wasn’t going to fly for Robin. Without Chrom there was no army; without Chrom there was no Shepherds. Robin needed Chrom to lead them. The tactician had no real authority to do so in the Prince’s place, so as much as he wanted to let his friend mourn, there was work to be done.

He had guessed that out of all the Shepherds he and Sumia were the ones Chrom would probably respond to best right now. He had debated bringing Lissa or Frederick, but both of them were still in mourning; Lissa for Emmeryn and Frederick for Duke Aerir. So Robin had gone to the stables and practically dragged a nervous Sumia away from where she was reading next to her pegasus.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Robin said with a grin, arms outstretched palms up. “He yells at us? Ooh, I’m so scared.”

“We are talking about someone that accidentally breaks down stone walls while he trains,” she reminded him.

That gave Robin pause.

“Well, we’re here now,” Robin said, gathering his courage before pounding on the door. “Chrom! I’m up and moving again and I just got out of the hospital! What’s your excuse you lazy sod!? Get your arse out here and make me do all your thinking for you again!”

The silence that followed was deafening. Robin truly had to try hard not to burst out laughing at the horrified expression Sumia’s face. Just before he was about to try again the door was flung open and Robin found a very unwashed Prince wrapping him in a bear hug.

“Robin! I feared you dead!” Chrom cried.

“Gah! Chrom! Still… wounded,” Robin gasped, the other man crushing the air out of his lungs.

Chrom quickly let go and stepped back, eyes on the ground. He was a mess; it looked like he had been the one sitting in a hospital bed for a week, not Robin. His skin was sallow and pale from too little sun and dark rings were around his eyes. A thick short beard had grown, Chrom obviously having made no attempt at grooming himself since arriving, unlike Robin who had viciously attacked his face with a shaving knife the moment he so much as felt a little stubble. He was also wearing the same clothes he was wearing under his armour the day they had assaulted Plegia, and just to top things off Robin could see the pile of empty wine bottles in one corner of the room through the open door.

“Sumia!” Chrom exclaimed, looking halfway between shocked and embarrassed as he closed the door behind him. “What… what are you doing here?”

“Robin thought you m-might want… someone to talk… to…” she said in a small voice, her confidence evaporating.

There was an awkward silence as the two of them looked at each other.

“Jeez, Chrom,” Robin said, sniffing exaggeratedly and deciding to take the humorous approach that had always worked for him before. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you really need a bath.”

Again, Sumia stared aghast at Robin’s candour. Chrom looked at Robin for a second frowning, before his face melted into a grim smile and he chuckled ruefully.

“If anyone else would have said that to me I would have laid them flat with one blow.”

“Yay! I’m special!” Robin said, hopping up and down before growing serious again. “Come on, get cleaned up and dressed; we’re not done yet. I have a plan.”

Chrom smiled at Robin’s antics before looking down again.

“There’s no point, Robin,” Chrom said tiredly, his voice breaking. “We’ve lost. Emmeryn’s dead; the Pegasus Knights are gone, as is our whole standing army. Just… just leave me be. I want to be alone. I failed you; I failed Emm; I failed everyone and I don’t… I don’t deserve your time. Gangrel was right; there’s just no way we can… I don’t deserve to-”

A loud slap echoed through the hallway, but this time it was Robin who looked on, shocked at what Sumia was doing.

“Sumia,” Chrom muttered, holding his red and stinging cheek.

“Have you come back to your senses again yet?” The Pegasus Knight said firmly with only the slightest hint of fear in her voice. “Or… Or do I have to… to smack you again!?”

“Sumia what in Naga’s name-” Robin started, eyes wide before Sumia cut him off, too.

“We need you, Chrom!” She practically shouted. “I need you! All the Shepherds and all of Ylisse needs you! Your sister needs you; Lissa’s been beside herself with worry, and thank Naga Maribelle and I have been there for her! You can’t just wallow in self-pity in another nation while our home burns to the ground around its people! You can hate yourself all you want; hell you can even hate me for slapping you, but dammit Chrom, if you don’t listen to your friends and get your butt in gear, I’ll… I’ll… so help me I will resign from the Pegasus Knights and you’ll never see me again!”

Sumia’s voice cracked as she finished, a few tears falling from the corners of her eyes.

Robin raised an eyebrow at the same time as Chrom in the silence that followed, before spinning on his heel and facing away when Chrom grabbed Sumia in a passionate embrace, kissing her fiercely.

“Lovely,” Robin muttered under his breath as he stood with his back turned and his arms crossed for what felt like forever.

I really should have seen this one coming.

Chrom cleared his throat, and Robin took that as a signal to turn around again.

“Are you two just about done?” he asked drolly, “Because I can come back later.”

Chrom laughed, his arm still around Sumia’s waist. “For now, yes.”

“Until he bathes, anyway,” Sumia giggled, making a show of pulling her head away, prompting Chrom to lean closer.

Robin had to resist the urge to retch at their loved-up antics. At least Chrom was smiling again. Robin couldn’t help but feel partially responsible for getting them together after that night in Ylisse so long ago anyway, so he grit his teeth and bared it.

“Call the Shepherds together,” Chrom said, the fire returning to his voice. “I think you can tell us all about your plan at once.”

“After you bathe, right?”

“Yes, Robin; after I bathe.”

“Because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything, but-”

“I get it, already!” Chrom shouted in exasperation. “I stink! I’ll take a bloody bath before anyone else has to suffer at the hands of my unwashed body!”

“Just making sure,” Robin said with a sly grin. “At least you look good with a beard.”

Chrom groaned as he absently reached up and rubbed his disheveled face.

“Good to see your sense of humour was uninjured,” Chrom deadpanned.

Robin practically skipped through the Coliseum hallways after his meeting with Chrom. He had left Sumia there to help him get ready, although there was no doubt in his mind he now had a few hours to kill before they would be able to all meet in one place again…

Robin shuddered at the thought of two of his closest friends… Copulating. It wasn’t something he needed to know about, or wanted to think about. At all. Ever.

Realizing he’d been cooped up for more than a week, Robin opted to follow Virion’s advice and get some air; swinging by the Khan’s personal kitchen first, though. Pouch laden with cookies and praising all the deities he could think of for putting an exit from the colossal Coliseum so close to the Khan’s quarters, Robin waved at the stern faced Feroxi guards as he took his spoils out to the frozen countryside, intending to find a nice clearing and simply eat alone. He didn’t intend to go far, as his legs were still a little stiff from being in a bed all week, but her really wanted to get outside and away from everyone else, just for a little while.

It definitely wasn’t because he had managed to score a particularly fruity smelling wine that he had no interest in sharing if one of the Shepherds found him at all that he was intent on getting outside. Not at all.

He had checked carefully that it was regular wine, too; he couldn’t help but think that firewine might just kill him at that point.

A few times as he walked through the Khan’s quarters he thought he’d spotted someone following him, but whenever he turned around he was alone. Rather than investigate he chose to listen to his stomach and carry on with his master plan.

With a gigantic smile plastered on his face Robin exited the giant building-city through the Khan’s private gate and walked along the massive stone wall of the Coliseum until he found a suitable rock to perch on near one of the creeks that flowed through the giant edifice, supplying it with water.

Robin sighed contentedly as he sat, sipping wine straight from the bottle and looking out over the Feroxi countryside, basking in the simple fact he was alive to enjoy the wine and scenery at all.

The tactician glanced over his shoulder as he heard someone approach, turning back and taking another swig from the bottle as he realised it was no one intent on causing him harm.

“I wondered where you had disappeared to,” Robin said conversationally as he pulled a cookie out of his pouch, munching on it as Marth entered his field of vision. “Still camping, huh? You know there’s a lot of space in the Coliseum if you get sick of roughing it.”

The enigmatic woman was standing just out of Robin’s reach, looking at him with a strange expression on her face.

“I didn’t expect to see you on your feet again so soon,” Marth said, pointedly ignoring Robin’s invitation.

Robin shrugged. Apparently the strange look was concern. It looked out of place on her face.

“The miraculous power of three very dedicated practitioners of healing magics,” he said lightly, starting in on his second cookie.

“Want one?” he asked, holding one out to the woman.

Marth looked at the small cookie for a moment before shaking her head.

“Come on,” Robin insisted. “I heard from a little birdie that you carried my carcass practically all the way here. The least I can do is give you a cookie. I mean, I know it’s ginger nut and nobody likes ginger nut, but this is Regna Ferox and I couldn’t find any chocolate chip.”

Marth seemed to consider this for a moment before nodding woodenly and taking the proffered cookie, eating it in small bites.

“See?” Robin said jovially. “Now we’re friends!”

Marth quirked an eyebrow at Robin.

“Okay, so I’ve been in a coma for a week and have a lot of talking to get out of my system,” Robin laughed. “Plus this wine really sneaks up on you and boots you in the arse. Don’t look at me like that.”

Marth silently shook her head, smiling a little. Robin had to admit, she was pretty cute when she smiled. He did think that about most of the women in his life at present, though, but he had seen so little of Marth that it was like a rare treat. Her usually grim face truly lit up even when she smiled a little; it was almost like she became a completely different person. They sat and stood in silence for a while, Robin simply enjoying the fresh air and silent company.

“Can I ask you why you follow us around?” Robin asked at length, the wine getting the better of his judgment. “I mean, you could just join the Shepherds. You’ve passed any entrance requirements with flying colours. So why don’t you?”

“I… Cannot.”

“Because…?” Robin prompted, taking another swig from the bottle.

Marth looked away. “I simply cannot.”

Robin shrugged. “Hey, whatever. That’s your prerogative, I guess. But the offer stands.”

Marth was silent for another few minutes before speaking again.

“May I ask you something, Sir Robin?” she asked, not looking at him.

“Sure,” Robin said, drinking a little more of the wine. “But only if you drop the whole ‘sir’ thing. As far as I know I’m as baseborn as that loveable lummox Vaike.”

Marth chuckled a little. “Okay, Robin. I wanted to ask you; what do you plan to do after the war with Plegia… ends?”

Robin shrugged without thinking. “No idea.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

Robin laughed.

“Are you kidding? I have two months’ worth of memories out of at least twenty years. In those two months I’ve been trampled, stabbed, beaten, set on fire, struck by lightning bolts, shot with arrows, snuggled with a giant rabbit, hugged by a dragon and chased by a very ornery horse, not to mention criss-crossing a continent and fighting in more battles than I have fingers to count them on. I’m looking forward to finding out what ‘normal’ life is like for a change.”

Robin stopped and considered a moment. “Maybe I’ll travel. See Ylisse, try and find something to jog my memories. I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s the blessing of my condition; I’m more interested in living one day at a time than coming up with a ‘five-year-plan’ or anything like that.”

Curse this wine! Robin thought absently. I command you to return to my control, tongue! Stop blabbing our thoughts without me thinking first!

Marth went silent again. Robin sensed something was bothering the woman and took another swig from the wine, before offering her the bottle. She started, unsure how to react, before gingerly taking the bottle.

“Relax, it’s not poison,” Robin said with a laugh. “You just seem a little down.”

“You could say that,” she admitted, taking a quick sip from the wine.

Robin stood, patting off the seat of his pants.

“I have to be getting back before Chrom organizes a search party. It was nice talking to you, Marth. Consider my offer, will you?”

Robin began walking back to the entrance he had come out of, before turning back to where Marth was still standing, looking at the bottle of wine in her hands.

“And thanks again for carrying me back! I guess I owe you one again, huh? Oh, and if anyone asks, Vaike gave you that bottle, not me!”

Robin leaned against a pole in the receiving hall of the Khan’s quarters, back inside the Coliseum. Almost all of the Shepherds were gathered, as were Seth, Roark, Raimi and the two Khans. They were just waiting on Chrom and Sumia now.

On his way back through the Khan’s quarters he had spotted the mysterious shadow that had been tailing him; turns out Tharja was the one following him. Robin pretended not to notice, though, sure that she was just worried about him after the ordeal in Plegia. He would have to make time to talk to her properly later.

“You look happy,” Cordelia commented, coming to stand beside him.

Robin would admit that he hadn’t stopped smiling since he had escaped that bloody sick-bed.

Instead he shrugged. “The tide is turning,” he said confidently. “I have a plan and Gangrel’s going to pay. Plus I just drank half a bottle of really good wine.”

Cordelia cast Robin a disapproving look, but before she could rebuke him Chrom made his entrance, Sumia hot on his heels.

Robin noticed Tharja slip in the back as Chrom entered, too, doing her best to blend in to the shadows.

“I want to thank everyone for coming,” Chrom began. “As you are all well aware we have suffered some… setbacks in the campaign against Plegia recently.”

The assembled Shepherds looked silently to Chrom, almost as if looking for any signs of the weakness he had shown earlier. There was none. Chrom was back to his old self as if the events of the previous week had never transpired.

“Before we go on to talk about our plans involving the future of this campaign,” Chrom said seriously, meeting the eyes of everyone assembled. “I want to apologize. I haven’t been myself since… Since the death of the Exalt. I gave in to despair, and abandoned you all when you all needed me most, and for that I am truly sorry. I will not force you to remain and will understand if any of you wish to leave. What I want to know is: are you still with me?”

There was silence in the room before Frederick spoke.

“My brother served Lady Emmeryn until his dying breath,” he said solemnly. “I henceforth pledge my sword to you, Prince Chrom, in the same way Aerir pledged his to Lady Emmeryn.”

One by one the other Shepherds stepped forward.

“Me too!” Sully said, coming forward. “I told you way back when; I’m not letting you or the Commander out of my sight again!”

“And me!” Stahl added. “I will serve Ylisse until my dying breath!”

“Ya didn’t think it’d be that easy to get rid of us, did ya?” Vaike asked with a happy wink, flexing his biceps.

“Indeed,” Miriel agreed.

“We shall follow you to the end of creation if you so desire, Lord Chrom,” Virion said with his best noble smile.

“Were you not worthy I would have left long ago,” Lon’qu said in his usual deadpan, actually cracking a small grin as he did so.

“For my father and all the other lives he has taken, Gangrel must be punished,” Maribelle said, fire in her eyes.

“For my sisters that have fallen I shall stand with you!” Cordelia said, looking away from Chrom’s eyes quickly.

From the back of the room Robin smiled. Chrom had been worried about nothing. None of them would abandon him now.

“My friends… thank you,” Chrom said, his voice thick with emotion.

“Yeah!” Nowi shouted, pumping a fist in the air. “The bad guys had better watch out!”

“Your sister earned my trust,” Panne said with a nod. “The last of the Taguel shall champion her.”

“You keep giving me candy and I’ll do whatever you want me to,” Gaius said with a grin as he crossed his arms and leaned back.

“I’m in too!” Ricken said shakily. “For Ylisse!”

“Gregor is mercenary! But will work this job free!” Gregor said in his strange speech mannerism, his perpetual huge smile still in place.

“I feel that this is the reason that Naga has led me to you, milord,” Libra came forward, head bowed and hands clasped at his chest.

“You have trusted me. So I will trust you,” Tharja said quietly from almost directly behind Robin.

When the hell did she get back there!? Robin thought, jumping a little when she spoke.

“For my lord and his daughter, I will fight!” Roark said fiercely, stepping forward, hand clenched over his heart.

“I will fight for Ylisse,” Seth said solemnly, stepping forward and saluting smartly.

“See,” Sumia said from next to Chrom. “We’re all with you. Until the end.”

“Until the end!” Robin echoed loudly, raising his fist in the air.

“Until the end!” the rest of the assembled warriors and soldiers cried, shaking the rafters and columns with their cry.

Basilio began laughing. “That’s what I like to see! You young folks burn so hot you would’ve singed the hairs right off my head if I had any!”

“We’re with you too, Chrom,” Flavia said with a feral smile. “That bastard Gangrel needs to be put in his place; his place being a hole in the ground.”

“Thank you,” Chrom said, head bowed. “Words cannot express the depths of my gratitude. Now I believe Robin will tell us of his plan?”

“It’s quite simple, actually,” Robin said, taking a moment and walking forward to stand in front of everyone with Chrom.

“Well boy,” Basilio urged impatiently. “Don’t keep us in suspense!”

Robin grinned maniacally.

“We need to go back on the offensive.”

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