Three months after Plegia’s defeat at the hands of Chrom and the Shepherds and life in Ylisstol struggled to return to some semblance of normality. Signs of the past war were beginning to fade now as the refugees from Themis slowly returned to rebuild their homes and the conscripted soldiers were discharged. Patrols of Knights and the Ylissean regular army were still a common sight, especially closer to the border, but with the new alliance with Regna Ferox in the north the peoples of Ylisse felt a renewed sense of calm purpose as they set about returning their country to its glory.
Robin was leaning back in his chair, feet up on the table and basking in that sense of calm purpose that was wafting in through the open window, when Chrom burst into the library in a cacophony of slamming doors and rattling shelves. Fortunately for the Prince, Miriel was out with Vaike that day, or he would have gotten an earful from the overzealous new head librarian.
“Robin, I need your help,” Chrom pleaded, crossing the big room in huge, worried strides.
“What is it this time, Chrom?” Robin deadpanned, not looking up from his book.
The Prince looked to be about to answer before Sumia’s voice rang out from the hallway.
“Crooooooom!? Where aaaaaaaaare you!?”
“Hide me!” Chrom whispered urgently.
Urgh. Not again, Robin thought.
“He’s in here, Sumia!” the tactician called, rolling his eyes.
“Traitor!” Chrom hissed, staring daggers at the other man as his bride-to-be swept into the room.
“Here you are!” she said happily, coming up to Chrom and planting a kiss on his cheek. “You were supposed to be helping me with the place-settings for the wedding!”
“Oh, right,” Chrom said lamely. “It’s just, that… uh… Robin! Robin needed… help finding a book! And he called me to help him!”
“Mission accomplished, Chrom,” Robin said, holding up the first random book on the pile next to him. “Good work.”
“Oh, good!” Sumia chirped happily. “Now come on, dear! We still have so much planning to do!”
Chrom glared daggers over his shoulder as Sumia practically dragged him from the library. Robin couldn’t resist and gave the man a happy wave with a huge grin on his face.
It was a library, after all; libraries were meant to be a quiet place.
Robin still hadn’t moved when Tharja materialized at his shoulder, holding a tray of food. Looking out the window Robin realized he’d been reading all day and had no doubt missed dinner. Again.
“Thanks,” Robin said with a sheepish grin, accepting the tray.
Like she always did Tharja simply blushed and looked away. Noticing there was two plates on the tray, Robin kicked the other chair out from under the table for her.
Tharja sat down and the two proceeded to eat in silence.
For a month now Chrom and Sumia had been planning the royal wedding; Robin had offered to help, but Sumia was adamant that they could do it alone, so he had been free to fill his time reading in the Royal Library and seeing the sights of Ylisstol.
The other Shepherds were all still around, most of them living in the barracks; indeed, the barracks had become so crowded that Robin had moved into the Castle itself in one of the suites off the main Royal Apartments. Tharja and Virion had both also managed to get the other rooms off of Robin’s; he didn’t really want to know how in Tharja’s case.
Tharja had continued to be his constant shadow, showing up wherever he went. Honestly, Robin didn’t care anymore. He’d tried to talk her out of it so many times he had lost count, and she wasn’t hurting anyone. In fact, when he had announced his plans to retire from the military she had silenced most of the negativity from the others with a single glare.
Robin had retired from the military, but he was still the official tactician for the Shepherds, who were all currently taking a well-deserved break.
Frederick had returned to Castle Jagen in the east with Seth, and Maribelle and Roark had taken over the reconstruction of Themis. All of the rest of the Shepherds were still hanging around Ylisstol, but the missing members were supposed to return for the wedding in… one week.
One week? Robin thought with mild surprise. Has time really passed so quickly? No wonder Chrom’s nervous.
“I can’t believe the wedding’s only a week away,” Robin said conversationally as he ate with Tharja.
The strange woman simply nodded, staring into her food.
“Are you… going?” she asked after a moment’s hesitation.
“Sure,” Robin said. “I am the best man, after all.”
Tharja looked up expectantly, staring at Robin. Unfortunately, he had no idea what she wanted.
After a few moments she huffed frustratedly and looked away, continuing to eat in silence.
“Robin!” Cordelia called out, running to catch up with him.
He was walking through the Knight Quarters in the palace barracks carrying a stack of papers he was supposed to be delivering for Cullen when he heard Cordelia calling out to him.
“Hey, Cordelia,” he greeted, slowing so she would have a chance to catch up.
“How have you been?” she asked as they matched pace, walking amicably down the hallway.
“Oh, you know,” Robin said with a shrug. “Keeping busy. How’re things with the new recruits, ‘Wing-Commander’ Cordelia?”
“Ugh, don’t call me that,” Cordelia said with a groan.
Robin chuckled a little as he shifted the stack of papers.
“But it is your title, right?” he asked cheekily.
“Yes,” Cordelia admitted, blushing a little. “But not to you.”
Robin grinned a little, setting down the papers on the desk of the duty commander of the palace guard before turning to face Cordelia.
“Well if you have some free time I would love to buy the Wing-Commander some lunch.”
Robin and Cordelia sat at a small café off of the Ylisstol markets, sipping tea and waiting for the sandwiches they had ordered, watching the hustle of the marketplace at lunchtime.
“It’s amazing,” Robin commented, eyes never leaving the crowd. “Just looking at them, you’d never know we were just at war two months ago.”
Cordelia nodded in agreement. “That’s the truth of it. Life must go on.”
“Speaking of life going on,” Robin said. “Are you going to be at the wedding?”
Cordelia’s smile turned brittle as she looked away.
“Sumia asked me to be in the wedding party,” Cordelia said quietly, “But I felt that I had to refuse. I will be at the ceremony and stay for the speeches at the reception, but I am afraid I am not really one for weddings.”
“Oh,” Robin said, noticing the change in her mood. “I guess I’ll just dance on my own, then.”
Cordelia laughed, some of her earlier cheer returning.
“I’m sure I could squeeze in one dance before I depart, as much as I would love to see how you would accomplish single-ballroom dancing,” she said with a smile.
Robin smiled too, before a strange sound like a cross between distant thunder and an animal growling made him glance around.
“What is it?” Cordelia asked as the waitress brought their meals.
“Nothing,” Robin said with a shake of his head.
Pieces on the chessboard clinked and Robin leaned back.
“Checkmate,” he said with particular relish.
Virion sighed theatrically before gently placing his king on its side.
“Congratulations, good sir,” he said in mock sadness. “Truly your skills have improved greatly in a very short time.”
“Your mistake was coaching me,” Robin admitted, taking a long sip of his tea.
“So,” Virion said as he began resetting the board. “Have you made plans with any particular beauties for the Captain’s upcoming wedding?”
“I was going to ask Cordelia,” he admitted. “But she seemed pretty unimpressed about the whole wedding thing, so I kinda… didn’t.”
“Ah,” Virion said knowingly.
“What? ‘Ah’ what?”
“I’m surprised you don’t know; she spends more time with you than anyone else.”
“Don’t know what?” Robin asked exasperatedly.
Virion leaned closer across the low table like he was sharing a secret.
“The lovely Cordelia,” Virion said in a low voice. “Is utterly and completely in love with Prince Chrom.”
“What?” Robin laughed, filling himself another cup. “No way. I don’t believe you.”
“Believe what you will,” Virion said with an over-exaggerated shrug. “But these eyes of mine cannot be fooled in matters of the heart. Cordelia loves the Prince with every fibre of her being, and it crushes her that he cannot or will not return her feelings.”
Robin rolled his eyes, choosing to change the subject. “So who, pray tell, are you going with, then?”
Virion grinned and winked. “Ah-hah! I, the archest of archers, managed to convince the ravishing Olivia to accompany me; I may have had to buy her a new dress for the occasion that set me back a fair bit of coin, but it will be worth it in the end, no?”
Robin snickered and shook his head.
“Your move, archest of archers.”
Chrom was jittering nervously as he stood at the altar.
“Relax already,” Robin muttered from his side. “You’ve faced down armies! Charged headlong into danger casting caution to the wind! This should be a piece of cake for you!”
Chrom silently nodded, taking a deep and calming breath.
“I don’t think I could do this without you by my side,” Chrom muttered back.
“Remember; it’s her you’re marrying, not me,” Robin muttered with a grin as the organ started to play.
Chrom took another deep, shuddering breath. Time to take the plunge.
Robin looked out over the assembled crowd as Libra held the wedding ceremony; his formal robes had been cleaned to a point where they practically shone as he spoke in his perfect, melodious voice.
The huge church was packed to bursting with important Ylissean nobles and foreign dignitaries, the Shepherds taking up the whole first two rows of pews.
Robin still snickered every time he saw Vaike, looking incredibly uncomfortable, wearing his borrowed suit next to Miriel. He had to admit, though, the two cleaned up nice. Nowi was sobbing and hadn’t stopped since the ceremony had started; the only other person matching her being Sumia’s mother in the front row. The Knights, Frederick, Sully, Stahl, Cullen, Roark and Seth formed an honour guard lining the aisle, standing with their backs ramrod straight, all of their armour polished to a sparkling sheen. Cullen looked so proud he seemed to be about to join Nowi in sobbing. Robin watched other familiar faces as they, in turn, watched the ceremony. Flavia and Basilio were there, wearing what apparently passed as Feroxi finery; Gregor had attempted to find a suit and had managed to buy the oldest, tackiest looking thing Robin had ever seen; Panne was fidgeting uncomfortably, still wearing her normal clothes but obviously having stepped up her usual fur-grooming routine, as she shone silkenly next to Gaius who looked like he was struggling to stay awake in his borrowed suit. Virion almost outdid Sumia for lace ruffles on his suit; he looked incredibly foppish, but still managed to pull off the outlandish fashion. Somehow. At least Olivia didn’t seem to notice, too wrapped up in the ceremony to care. Even Tharja seemed to be enjoying herself as she sat slightly apart from the others, raptly watching the ceremony. Wait, scratch that; she was staring at Robin again, no doubt imagining herself up there with him.
“And now under the eyes of the Divine Dragon and those assembled I pronounce you man and wife,” Libra intoned, finishing the ceremony with a light bow. “You may now kiss.”
A cheer rose up from all those assembled as Chrom and Sumia leaned in for their first kiss as a married couple.
Robin smiled and clapped along with everyone else. It was truly a joyous day.
Then he spotted the only person not smiling or clapping; Cordelia was standing at the back of the church in the shadows, silent tears running from her eyes, and Robin understood that Virion had indeed been right about her.
The reception was in full swing when Robin finally managed to get away.
Everyone was dancing, everyone was enjoying themselves, and after giving his speech wishing the couple well in their new life Robin had melted into the background, unable to get Cordelia’s heartbroken face out of his mind.
Robin fidgeted uncomfortably as he slipped out the door; he felt naked without his coat, but Sumia had put her foot down, having him acquire a perfectly fitted suit made by the royal tailor.
Robin eased the collar a little as he walked away from the royal banquet hall. He walked slowly, thinking of trying to find Cordelia. She hadn’t shown up for the party, despite her promise to do so, and he was worried about her.
He found her not too far away, sitting with Frederick in one of the smaller sitting rooms off the banquet hall. Hanging back, Robin simply watched the two for a minute before smiling contentedly as Cordelia let out a little laugh at something Frederick said.
At least she’s not alone Robin thought with satisfaction, turning to go back to the party.
He stopped before he entered the hall, happy music and laughter still blaring from it.
“Tharja?” he called softly.
The woman materialized out of the shadows of one of the great columns near the hallway, looking a little more sullen than usual.
“Feel like dancing a little?” he asked holding out a hand.
Tharja stared at the offered appendage like she’d never seen a hand before, before lightly taking it and stepping closer to Robin and smiling up at him.
“I was beginning to think that you’d never ask,” she said huskily, blushing a little.
Robin grinned as he opened the door and led her directly to the dance floor, celebrating for his friends’ happiness with, of all people, his stalker.
Not that he really minded; after all, it wasn’t so bad when your stalker was a friend, too.
“It’s got to go, Robin,” Sumia said with her hands on her hips.
“C’mon, bro,” Vaike said reassuringly. “It’s time to let go.”
“There’s plenty more fish in the sea,” Virion said softly.
“You should listen to them, Robin,” Chrom added from the back.
“No!” Robin practically shouted. “No way in hell! I have no memories and no belongings besides my spellbook and my coat! You are not making me get rid of my coat!”
The assembled Shepherds groaned as Robin hugged his beloved coat to his chest, protecting it from his friends. Sure, it was a little beaten up and had more than a few holes in it, but Robin would be damned if he let it go down without a fight.
“We can have the Royal Tailor make you another,” Sumia offered gently.
“So make him fix this one!” Robin pleaded. “I’m not giving it up!”
“Robin, that coat is beaten to shit,” Vaike pointed out. “It’d be easier to just get a new one.”
Robin didn’t answer, just glaring at his shirtless friend.
“If it really means that much to him, I think I have an idea,” Chrom said, crossing his arms and adopting his hardest thinky face.
Robin wasn’t reassured.
“Where did you find this heap of rags?” the Royal Tailor asked, turning Robin’s coat over in his hands.
Chrom had brought Robin to the Royal Tailor’s shop, just outside the Castle sector of Ylisstol. It was a cluttered, messy shop full of scraps of fabric and lines of thread like spider’s webs hanging from every surface.
“Can you fix it or not?” Robin asked irritatedly from Chrom’s side.
“Sure,” the Tailor shrugged. “But it’ll take time, and a job like this won’t be cheap.”
The Tailor himself was an older man on the wrong end of fifty, wearing thick glasses perched on his beak-like nose. His white, wispy hair was combed back, and matched the neatly trimmed beard on his face.
“Money is no object!” Robin assured the older man.
The Tailor raised an eyebrow over his glasses at Robin’s comment.
“Says he who is not paying,” Chrom muttered, rolling his eyes.
“So,” Robin asked nervously, hovering over Miriel’s shoulder. “Are you sure this is going to work?”
“I refuse to dignify that query with a response,” Miriel said huffily, setting out the necessary focal points for the spell she was about to cast.
She had created a focusing circle out of various crushed gemstones, laying the dust out in concentric lines around the coat which rested on the floor of the Shepherds’ barracks.
All of the Shepherds currently present were watching, interested, bored or just making sure her spell didn’t blow up the entire barracks.
They were crowded around sitting, squatting or standing with fire-retardant blankets at the ready, waiting for Miriel to begin the spell.
Except for Nowi, who felt the need to lean on Robin’s back, looking over his shoulder while he sat watching Miriel work.
“Ooooh,” she cooed softly. “The gem-dust is so pretty! How do you think it tastes?”
“Like dirt, I’d imagine,” Robin said, casting an irritated glance at the manakete out of the corner of his eye.
He wasn’t the only one unimpressed with her overfamiliarity either, apparently. Tharja stood leaning in one of the corners, arms crossed and glaring at the young-seeming woman currently using Robin like a pillow.
Miriel rolled out her neck a little, popping the various containers of crushed gemstones back into her pack.
“I am prepared to commence the experiment,” she announced.
“Please don’t call it that,” Robin moaned, putting his face in his hands.
He didn’t look up as he heard a loud pop and a fizzle, instead cringing and making Nowi jump a little from her position on his back.
“Done,” Miriel said, clearing her throat.
“That was it?” Robin asked tentatively from behind his hands, peeking around his fingers. “It took you, like, an hour to set up.”
“I assure you, the spell was completed successfully,” Miriel said, drawing a dagger.
Before Robin could object she rammed the dagger into the coat with all her strength, much to Robin’s despair.
“What the hell are you doing!?” he cried, jumping up and throwing Nowi off his back.
“Testing the results,” Miriel explained distractedly, bringing the coat to her face and inspecting the area she had stabbed before holding it out to Robin. “Do you see? The experiment was a complete success.”
Robin nodded numbly, ignoring a very upset-looking Nowi and taking the coat, running his fingertips over the area Miriel had stabbed. There wasn’t even a loose thread. He breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled it back on and took a few experimental steps.
“It feels… heavier,” Robin pointed out, swishing the hem of the coat around a little.
“Indeed,” Miriel said, rising from where she was still kneeling with Vaike’s aid. “It was one of the unavoidable side-effects.”
Robin shrugged. He didn’t care; he had his coat back, whole and better than before!
He was so happy with the results that he completely missed Tharja slink away, leaving unannounced.
He skipped, literally skipped on his way back to his room, humming happily.
It was getting late, and he wanted to clean himself up before dinner. He had his coat back, and really wanted to show it off; that it was twice as heavy as it used to be didn’t even phase Robin; if such was the price he had to pay, he would gladly pay it.
He stopped skipping, slowing down as he entered his room. Something felt… strange in the air.
His small hairs on end, Robin pushed open his door.
There, sitting cross-legged in the middle of a mostly darkened room was Tharja, her coat off and her hair swept back for the first time since Robin had met her.
In front of her, on Robin’s floor, was a pentagramic symbol made from melted wax the colour of blood, a single small candle at each point of the star providing the only illumination in the room. Robin gulped as he shut the door behind him.
“Tharja?” he asked tentatively. “What… What are you doing?”
She looked up at him, a sheepish smile on her normally severe face.
“I… wanted to add to your coat’s power with a few hexes I’ve come up with. If nothing else they should make it lighter again; at most they will give you protection from most elemental magics.”
Robin nodded, still a little uncomfortable. Dark Magic hung in the air like a cloud, turning the shadows outside the small illumination provided by the candles into a solid, impenetrable thing. Robin gingerly took of his newly mended coat, aware of how much effort Tharja had obviously gone through in her preparations; he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone that had been so helpful of late.
“Okay,” Robin said hesitantly, handing over the coat. “But please, be gentle; I just got her back.”
Tharja nodded, carefully folding up the coat and placing it in the middle of the pentagram.
“I need you to sit like I am opposite me,” Tharja explained.
Robin did as he was told, taking a deep breath to quell his uneasiness. She was a friend, he kept telling himself; it was just the atmosphere of Dark Magic making him uneasy. Tharja was going to help his coat the same way Miriel and Chrom had.
Well, not exactly the same way, but it was the thought that counted.
Tharja drew a small, wicked looking dagger from the sheath on the small of her back, looking up at Robin.
“For what I have planned,” she explained solemnly, “I will require the most potent magical focus available to a Dark Mage.”
“That being?” Robin asked hesitantly, eyeing the knife warily.
Tharja answered Robin’s question by lightly running the blade across the palm of her hand and letting a small amount of blood run down, dripping onto Robin’s coat.
Before Robin could object he felt the air-pressure in the room change, making his ears pop. Tharja’s eyes rolled into the back of her head as she began to chant, a dark light springing up from the drops on the coat.
As soon as it began, it was over. Tharja swayed, and Robin reached out a hand to catch her before she fell on one of the candles. Looking around he noticed that the room was much lighter, and the lingering sense of unease had all but vanished.
“Are you okay?” Robin asked, helping Tharja to her feet and leading her to the chair at his desk, lighting the oil lamp on it once he did.
In the much brighter illumination Robin could see Tharja was pale and sweating, gasping for breath and holding her wounded hand to her breast.
“Here,” Robin offered, taking her hand and wrapping his ever-present but never-used handkerchief around the wound.
As he did he noticed a similar scar crossing the new wound, still pink and relatively fresh.
“How did you get this one?” Robin asked, actually forgetting his coat as he gently ran his finger across the welt on her palm.
She shuddered at his touch before answering.
“In… In Plegia, when you were wounded. I didn’t have anything else to work with.”
Another fact without a memory of how Robin acquired it popped unbidden into his mind, making him look at Tharja sternly.
“Doesn’t casting Dark Magic that way lower your lifespan?” he asked crossly.
Tharja looked away. “It is the easiest way to get guaranteed results.”
“For my coat? Tharja, you’re a little more important than my coat.”
Tharja looked up at Robin, eyes shining.
“But just a little,” Robin added with a wink. “Thank you, Tharja.”
She nodded, heart still beating out of control as Robin bent to retrieve his coat.
“I suppose the bloodstains will give it character, huh?”
Robin yawned and stretched from his usual spot in the Royal Library. Life had been so slow since the wedding that he honestly had nothing better to do than read. The clean-up of Ylisse after the war was being handled by the military, something Robin intended to avoid like the plague, and apart from the odd minor skirmish with bandits he had barely left the castle.
It was time for a change. He just didn’t know what kind of change.
Robin clapped his book shut, standing and stretching some more.
As much as he loved his friends, they were all getting married now, or engaged, or at the very least exceedingly loved-up. Robin felt like a third wheel everywhere he went. The only time he felt like he wasn’t imposing was when he and Virion were spending time together, something that had become much more commonplace lately.
Robin found himself distracted that night as Virion beat him for the third time in a row at chess.
“Checkmate,” Virion said, moving his knight into position with a flourish.
Robin sighed and stretched his neck, pulling down on his head with both hands.
“What is troubling you, my friend?” Virion asked, filling both of their cups with the customary tea again. “I haven’t beaten you this readily since we took up the game so many months ago. Tell me; do you suffer from a malady of the heart? Oh, I knew my little Robin would grow up eventually! Tell me which of the lovely flowers has caught your tactician’s eye.”
Robin chuckled and rolled his eyes.
“At the risk of sounding pessimistic,” Robin said as he began resetting the board, “It’s the exact opposite. Everyone’s so… so…”
“’Loved-up’?” Virion asked with a knowing grin.
“Get out of my head,” Robin said dismissively. “But… yeah. I feel like I’m just a third wheel right now. How do you deal with it?”
Virion chuckled as he sipped from his cup.
“Why my dear Robin, I spend my days chasing the skirts of the castle maids and servants; there are many, many beauteous ladies that go unnoticed in our day to day life. I feel it only fair that they get a decent amount of my affection too, don’t you?”
Robin groaned. “But I’m not you, and I’m bored.”
“Hrm,” Virion said, tapping a finger to his chin as he contemplated his first move. “There are rumours, hailing from the frozen land of Regna Ferox, of healers that specialize in maladies of the mind.”
“Hey, I’m not crazy,” Robin said defensively as he made his own opening move.
“I never said you were,” Virion countered. “But your memories still elude you, do they not? Perhaps one of these healers could remedy that.”
Robin stopped dead, looking up at Virion.
“Where do you hear this kind of stuff?”
“Ah-hah! The noblest of archers always has an ear to the ground for rumours of any kind.”
“So you’re a gossip, then?”
“In layman’s terms, I suppose.”
Robin stroked his chin, deep in thought. If what Virion was saying were true now would be the best time to go, before the winter snows set in and made the eastern mountain passes near Jagen unpassable, making them take the longer route through Central Ylisse. Plus things were quiet at present in the diplomatic area; General Mustafa was leading the front to find the next king in Plegia, and their relationship with Ylisse, while strained by the previous conflict, still remained somewhat cordial. Robin made up his mind.
“Do you know their exact whereabouts?” Robin asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
Virion chuckled a little as he moved his rook into position.
“I do not know the exact positions,” he admitted. “But if we travel to the general area and find some people with knowledge of the region in one of the nearby towns we should be able to pinpoint the location with great ease.”
“You didn’t think that the archest of archers, the great Virion, would let one of his dearest friends take up this quest alone, did you?”
Robin smiled as he moved his bishop. “Check. And I’m touched you think so highly of me.”
Virion scoffed. “It has little to do with that! Imagine, if you would, an entire nation of village girls who have yet to feel my silken caress! It makes me wish to weep! Checkmate, by the way.”
Robin looked aghast at the chessboard. He had completely missed Virion’s feint. Again.
“So I’m distracted tonight,” Robin complained.
Virion sighed and began to clear away the chess pieces.
“It is no fun to constantly beat you at this game anymore,” he complained.
Robin wasn’t listening, head bowed in thought.
“What do you think, Tharja?” he asked suddenly.
Virion almost jumped out of his skin as the woman stepped out from behind the curtain of the common room they occupied, looking questioningly at Robin.
“Well, you’d wind up following me anyway, right? We may as well make it official,” Robin said with a shrug and a sly grin at Virion.
Virion eyed the dark woman warily as she took small steps to stand closer to Robin.
“Why Robin, are you asking me to join you on a romantic getaway?” she asked hopefully.
“If by romantic getaway you mean ‘we walk to Regna Ferox’ then yes,” Robin said with a chuckle. “We’d have to buy you proper travelling clothes first, though; you’re usual clothes are too… uh, thin for the northern climate.”
Tharja looked like she was about to start jumping up and down with excitement.
“You mean not only are we going on a romantic getaway, but you’re going to take me shopping, too?”
Robin rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Sure. Whatever.”
“Well, I can’t say I agree with your decision,” Chrom said honestly. “But if this is your wish I will not stop you.”
Robin had decided to meet with Chrom the next day to tell him of his plans, and currently sat with Chrom and Sumia in their personal living area; the same one he had been introduced to Emmeryn in, so long ago.
“Will you be all right alone?” Sumia asked with worry evident in her voice.
“I’ll be fine,” Robin said, waving a hand dismissively. “Besides, I’m not going alone; Tharja and Virion are coming with me.”
“Tharja… and Virion?” Chrom repeated slowly.
Robin nodded. “Come on, this could be the perfect chance for me to get my memories back! Plus if all goes according to plan I’ll be back to taking up space in your library in a few short months.”
Chrom looked at Sumia, obviously looking for support, but his new wife seemed to have the opposite opinion to him on the matter.
“That will be lovely, Robin! I’m so excited for you!” Sumia said happily. “Wait here; I have something for you to take on your trip.”
She stood and went into the private chambers she shared with Chrom. Robin cast a questioning glance at the Prince, who simply shrugged.
“I want you to take this with you,” Sumia said as she remerged, holding a small pouch the size of Robin’s fist. “I’ve been saving this for a while, but now that I’m… well, Queen, I don’t really need it anymore.”
Robin took the pouch, opening it and gasping.
“Sumia, this is full of gold coins! I can’t take this!”
“Please,” Sumia insisted, sitting back down next to Chrom and taking his hand in hers and smiling. “I insist. Consider it an order from your Queen.”
Robin rolled his eyes.
“Chrom tries to use that line on me too; it rarely works. But thank you all the same.”
“So his real name isn’t Gregor?” Robin asked curiously. “But… now it is? Well either way, it was awfully nice of you not to take his soul. Can… er, can you actually do that?”
“Of course I can, silly,” Tharja giggled, wrapping herself around Robin’s arm a little tighter. “But only if the person is willing to give it as payment for something.”
“Right,” Robin sighed.
They were walking through the Ylisstol markets, looking for travelling clothes that would suit Tharja while they headed northward. She would need proper clothes to keep her warm; so a blouse and pants… A pair of proper walking boots… At least her cloak would be good enough to keep her warm with the new clothes.
Robin gave a subtle twitch of his arm, trying to encourage Tharja to release him. She hadn’t let him go since they’d set foot in the marketplace; maybe she had social anxiety or something? More likely was that she just wanted an excuse to hang off of Robin.
Robin stopped abruptly, looking into one of the stalls selling women’s clothes, blushing when Tharja ground up against him.
“Do we have to have another boundaries talk?” Robin asked, looking down at the woman.
For her part Tharja looked up, trying to look as innocent as possible.
“Forget it,” Robin groaned. “Let’s check this place.”
Fortunately Robin had been able to get all of the clothes Tharja would need from the one stall, as well as information on a good place to find boots at an affordable price.
Clothes clutched under one arm and Tharja still attached to the other Robin made his way through the marketplace, doing his best to dodge the various people going about their business.
“It will be so nice to get away from all of this and have you all to myself,” Tharja said as the approached the stall selling boots.
“Remember Virion’s coming too?” Robin reminded her.
“I’m sure I can ignore one other person,” Tharja said seductively, grinding against Robin again.
Robin groaned in irritation, doing his best to shake the woman off as they moved up to the stall.
“Is everyone in this city in heat or something? Off! Off or I leave you here!”
“So how long will you be gone for?” Cordelia asked, lightly stirring her tea.
“A couple of months at the least,” Robin replied, leaning back in his chair. “We’re making the trip on foot, so it’s going to take a while.”
Robin and Cordelia were sitting at the same café they always met at for lunch when Cordelia had free time. Robin had made Tharja promise not to stalk him for the afternoon, leaving him with some free time before they left the next day. Virion was probably having one last hurrah among the serving girls in the palace, so Robin had elected to see if Cordelia had eaten lunch yet. Fortunately she had not.
“That’s good,” Cordelia smiled. “I can only imagine what you’ll be like when you have your memories back.”
“It would be nice to know where all the facts floating around my head came from,” Robin admitted, taking a sip from his tea.
I drink a lot of tea, don’t I? Robin noted absently.
“Do you think that your personality will change?” Cordelia asked curiously.
“Doubt it,” Robin said offhandedly. “I’m too used to being carefree now; I wouldn’t change even if I could.”
Cordelia giggled a little before going quiet.
“It will be lonely around the Castle without you,” she admitted after a brief pause.
“So start eating lunch with Sumia,” Robin suggested. “You two don’t spend that much time together anymore.”
“But she… she’s the queen,” Cordelia protested.
“Yeah? You’re pretty important too; you’re the Wing-Commander now,” Robin pointed out. “Besides, Chrom and Sumia will go nuts if they spend all their time together. You should split them up for a little bit, give them some breathing room.”
“You just know everything, don’t you?” Cordelia giggled.
Robin shrugged. “Yeah, but I still have no memories to back these facts up with.”
“For now,” Cordelia said, leaning forward. “You’ll find what you’re looking for, Robin. I know you will.”
“Thanks,” Robin said with a smile. “It’d be nice the remember when my birthday is, anyway. The thought of never having an excuse for cake again is a disturbing one.”
“These clothes are stifling,” Tharja complained as the trio made their way to Ylisstol’s east gate.
It was early in the morning; dawn had just begun to peek over the forests around the capital and the world was beginning to stir. Robin had deliberately decided to set out early so they would get a full day’s worth of travel before having to stop for the evening, meaning that they would be about a third of the way to their first stop in Jagen by nightfall.
It was chilly that morning, autumn slowly giving way to winter. All of the trees around Ylisstol had shed their leaves in spectacular shows of orange, red and brown; a sight Robin had vowed to never forget, such was its beauty. He had thought of postponing the trip until spring, but had decided against it when news of Lissa and Lon’qu being an item broke, steeling his resolve to get away from all of the happy couples, at least for a little while.
Tharja and Virion were both wearing plain travelling clothes and the archer had a regal looking green cloak about his shoulders, maintaining it was necessary that he showed some modicum of class as they travelled. Tharja still wore her Dark Mage cloak, but pulled uncomfortably at the clothes she was wearing.
“Well you could change back into your normal clothes and freeze to death,” Robin said sarcastically as they walked.
“I would just use you to keep me warm,” Tharja said huskily, drawing closer to Robin.
“Ah-ah-ah!” Robin said, warning her off. “Two paces at all times! That was the deal!”
Tharja huffed and crossed her arms, pouting like a child. Robin had to admit the effect it had on her face was rather cute.
Before Robin knew it he was looking through the gates at the open road stretching out into the forest before them.
“I feel like I should say something to mark the beginning of this journey,” Robin said distractedly as they walked.
“Like what?” Tharja asked.
“I dunno,” Robin said with a shrug. “Something like ‘and now we take our first steps into the great unknown’? Something cool and epic like that.”
“You worry too much about appearances, friend Robin,” Virion said with a chuckle. “Sometimes a stoic silence can be just as cool as an epic line, though.”
Robin thought for a minute.
“Okay, let’s try that then.”
They walked on in silence for some time, leaving the city behind and entering the forest.
“Nah, this isn’t working for me,” Robin said, resting his arms behind his head as he walked. “C’mon guys, help me come up with a line.”
Robin huffed, his breath coming out as a white cloud in front of his face as he sat hunched over in the small tent the trio of travellers had brought with them for just such an emergency.
That emergency being it was pouring down rain.
They had made good time, cutting through the forests and making it to the mountainous terrain separating Jagen from Ylisstol and had even managed to get a fair way up the first of the passes before the rain had started. Dark clouds had plagued them for days, dropping the temperature to nearly freezing and making it necessary to camp in a manner Robin hadn’t intended to almost every night; a tent and a roaring fire.
He had intended to travel much more rustically, in the same manner he had with Chrom, Lissa and Frederick on the first journey they had undertaken more than six months ago now; a small fire and sleeping under the stars. Apparently he had gravely underestimated just how cold and unbearable the weather was going to be.
Tharja shifted a little from her position with their backs pressed together, reminding Robin why he had been so eager to avoid the tent. It was one tent, one very small tent, and where Robin was concerned Tharja had absolutely no sense of personal space.
“Tharja, please,” Robin pleaded for the fifth time that afternoon.
“But it’s so cold,” Tharja moaned, snuggling closer to him. “And you’re so warm!”
“Pray, fair maiden of darkness, bring some of your divine warmth to the side of one much more willing to share it with you,” Virion offered suggestively, glancing up from the book of poetry he was currently reading.
The archer was lounging on his side at the back of the tent, using their packs as a sort of low bed he could lean against.
The change in Tharja’s personality was like a switch being flipped as she glared silently at the archer. Robin could actually feel the malice radiating through her back and into him.
With a sigh Robin stood and stepped out into the rain, drawing up his hood as he did so.
“It’s not going to stop raining any time soon so we may as well just soldier on.”
“That,” Virion drolled from the floor of the tent, “Is a horrible idea.”
“This was a horrible idea,” Virion repeated for the tenth time as they trudged through the freezing rain.
“I don’t hear Tharja complaining,” Robin pointed out, hitching his pack further up his back and making sure his hood was still secure over his face.
“That’s because her lips are frozen!” Virion said with exasperation so great he let slip and forgot to use his normal flowery speech.
When Robin looked back he could indeed see that the poor woman was shivering, her teeth chattering uncontrollably.
“I-I’m f-fine,” she managed, taking a few more steps to keep pace with the two men.
Robin groaned and rolled his eyes, doing his best not to feel guilty and failing miserably.
“There was a town near here somewhere,” he said. “We should stop at the inn for the night.”
Virion perked up instantly, the thought of a warm bed revitalising the man while Tharja nodded numbly.
They had passed through the small town on their last journey, barely even sparing it a passing glance as they did so, but Robin had recalled seeing an inn on the main street of the little town.
Night was falling as they stumbled into town and the rain hadn’t relented in the slightest; if anything the downpour had gotten even heavier.
Robin practically fell through the doorway to the inn, catching himself at the last second and stopping to adjust his coat.
The innkeeper, an older man with frizzy white hair and a neat little beard on the edge of his chin looked up from behind the counter.
“Evening,” the innkeeper greeted as the three travellers entered the lobby. “Lookin’ fer a room I take it?”
Robin nodded, pulling out the small bag of coins Sumia had gifted him and placing a single gold coin on the countertop.
“One room, three meals, a line to hang our clothes to dry on and towels. Please,” Robin said.
He wouldn’t admit it, but he was just as cold and miserable as Virion and Tharja were.
The innkeeper nodded and stood, snatching up the valuable coin.
“Right this way,” he said.
“You probably could have haggled him down a fair bit from what you paid,” Virion noted as he hung his soaked clothes next to Robin’s.
“Don’t care; too cold.” Robin muttered while vigorously drying himself with one of the towels they had been given.
The innkeeper had led them by a covered path through an open courtyard with rooms facing inwards towards it, right up to the back of the inn. The old man had opened the door to ‘one of the nicer rooms’ as he had put it, offering to light the neatly stacked logs in the large fireplace as he strung up the rope for them to dry their clothes on. Robin had grinned as he lit the logs with a flick of his hand and a small spell, thanking the innkeeper anyway and asking him to have their dinner brought to the room.
Robin shucked his pants, wrapping one of the towels around his waist as he did, hanging them up next to Virion’s as the other man emulated Robin’s actions.
As far as Robin knew, Tharja was doing the same thing behind them. He wasn’t sure though; he was afraid to turn around and check. The last thing she needed was more ammo to use against him.
Keeping his back to the side of the room Tharja was on, Robin crab-walked to the fireplace with his sodden boots in one hand, placing them closer to the heat so they would dry quicker.
Risking peeking over his shoulder Robin caught a tantalizing glimpse of Tharja’s bare back as she wrapped herself in one of the thick blankets they had been provided. Doing his best not to blush as she took up a position in front of the fire with him Robin scratched absently at his own bare torso.
“At least it’s warm in here,” Robin muttered, holding his hands out over the fire.
Tharja’s response was to smile tiredly as she leaned against his shoulder, closing her eyes comfortably.
Virion joined them a moment later, pulling up a small stool and sitting on the opposite side of Robin than Tharja.
“Hardly the most auspicious beginning of our journey,” Virion said as he began warming his own hands.
“I’m sorry,” Robin sighed, perching his chin on his hand. “I honestly didn’t expect the rain to get heavier while we were walking. I didn’t mean for us to nearly freeze to death.”
“I’ll forgive you if you keep me warm tonight,” Tharja said without opening her eyes.
“That would be highly inappropriate,” Robin said as he rolled his eyes again.
“She has a fair point, though,” Virion said with a sly grin. “There are only two beds for our three bodies in this room. Mayhap the innkeeper assumed that there was a coupling among us?”
“You two take the beds,” Robin said tiredly. “I’ll take the floor. I can get closer to the fire that way, anyway.”
“Then you’ll have to find another way to earn my forgiveness,” Tharja mumbled from Robin’s shoulder.
“Maybe this makes us even for the whole stalker thing?” Robin asked.
After a few moments of silence in which he thought he’d actually hurt Tharja’s feelings Robin realized that the mage had fallen asleep on his shoulder.
“Help me get her into one of the beds,” Robin said to Virion, taking her shoulders with special care to ensure she remained covered by the blanket she was wearing.
“Without the innuendo,” Robin added when he saw the lecherous grin on the archer’s face.
Robin groaned and hung his head as he watched the rain fall.
It had been raining non-stop for three days now, and all Robin could think was that soon the rain would turn to snow and they would have to back-track and enter Regna Ferox from the lower central pass, adding an extra two months of travel time onto their trip.
Robin was leaning on the railing outside of their room separating the walkway from the waterlogged courtyard that was beginning to resemble a miniature lake rather than a small garden.
As restless as he was, though, it seemed that Virion and Tharja were content to sit and wait out the rain.
Virion had acquired an old looking tea set from the innkeeper and was back to his usual routine of reading and drinking tea all day, with the occasional game of chess with Robin thrown in for good measure. Robin could only play so many games of chess in one day, though.
Tharja had realised that they were in an inn completely full of strangers that would never know if she practiced small curses on them; things like running eyes and constant sneezing, rashes and hiccups, minor annoyances that would go unnoticed while she documented the results. Robin had considered asking her not to hex the other patrons, but as long as she kept busy and kept the hexes non-fatal he would rather not intervene.
Robin rubbed his hair in frustration. Even Virion had had the foresight to bring a few light books with him; all Robin had was his spellbook.
An idea popped unbidden into Robin’s exceedingly bored mind.
I could try those spells in the back I’ve never looked at before he thought, pushing up from his position against the railing. It’s not like I’m doing anything else right now.
Robin spun and stepped back into the room he and the others were sharing and went straight for his bag, finding the pouch that contained his spellbook.
Hefting the tome with a satisfied expression and ignoring the questioning glances from the other two, Robin walked back outside.
He took up his position just outside the door again, standing in front of the empty courtyard area.
As long as I don’t feed too much mana into it I should be able to cast without causing any collateral damage Robin thought, flipping through the spellbook until he came to the spells at the back.
As his eyes settled on the first one, Flux, he remembered just why he had never bothered casting them in the first place as a feeling like ice down his spine spread all over his body.
I’ve come this far Robin reasoned, beginning the hand gestures for the simple-seeming spell.
Robin focused, muttered the spell’s incantation, and pooled his mana, released with the gestures and… nothing.
Confused Robin ran through the steps again with the same results.
“What the…?” Robin muttered, looking closer at the spell.
Perhaps he had misread some part of the incantation, or… something.
“You’re not feeding it,” Tharja said, making Robin jump as she appeared at his elbow.
“What?” Robin asked, fumbling with his spellbook in a desperate attempt not to drop it. “What do you mean?”
“That’s Dark Magic you’re trying to use,” she explained patiently. “All Dark Magic requires a sacrifice to work. Usually you can bargain with the life or pain of whatever you’re casting at, but doing so without a sacrifice means the spell won’t work.”
“Is that… right,” Robin muttered, making a mental note to add that little titbit of information to the margin of the spell.
“Alternatively,” Tharja added, reaching into the bag at her hip, “You can offer the spell a reagent in place of a sacrifice; it’s not quite as potent, but works just as well for practice.”
Tharja pulled a small packet out of the bag and unwrapped it, holding out the contents in one hand.
“Here, one of these should do the trick,” she said, offering one of the dried newts to Robin.
“Uh, thanks…” Robin said hesitantly, accepting the newt.
“Now try again, focusing the spell through the newt rather than your hand,” Tharja instructed, placing the newts back in her bag.
Robin nodded and began to cast again.
Incant, pool mana, focus spell and…
Robin winced as the newt shrivelled and turned to dust at the same time a blast of dark energy turned a portion of the standing water in the courtyard to steam.
“There! You did it!” Tharja said excitedly.
Robin nodded, looking at his hand with wide eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Tharja asked when she noticed Robin’s expression.
“N-nothing,” Robin said quickly, dropping his hand and closing his spellbook. “Thanks, Tharja; this opens me up to a whole new world of tactical possibilities.”
Robin brushed by her, moving to put his spellbook down and hiding his hand in his coat’s pocket.
His hand that had spontaneously grown a deep purple six-eyed symbol on the back of it; the same symbol he had seen on the back of the hand that had killed Chrom in his dream six months ago.
Robin took another worried look at the back of his hand.
He sighed in relief as the mark began to fade.
“Is something… amiss?” Virion asked curiously, looking up from his book.
“Yeah,” Robin nodded as Tharja came into the room behind him.
“Who’s hungry?” Robin asked boisterously, trying to distract himself from the thoughts going on inside his head. “I’m buying!”
A few weeks later Robin grumbled quietly to himself as he trudged through the snow. The closer they had gotten to Regna Ferox the colder it had gotten, and now it was snowing.
Robin had decided he hated the snow. Not as much as he hated the desert, but he still hated the snow.
At least they had managed to get through the mountain passes without incident, just ahead of the seasonal weather that would render them unpassable. It had stopped snowing the previous night, though, and the morning sky was a perfect and unblemished blue that stretched from horizon to horizon as far as Robin’s eyes could see. It was admittedly one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. Probably because it had dumped all the snow on the ground, seemingly just to spite the tactician and his travelling companions.
“Ah, such beauty in the heavens above must surely reflect on the good fortune we will encounter during the remainder of our trip,” Virion said poetically as they walked along the frozen road.
“You know you just jinxed it now, right?” Robin asked playfully.
“It is my way!” Virion shrugged. “I cannot leave beauty of any kind go unnoticed or uncomplimented, especially with this silver tongue of mine.”
Robin chuckled as he rolled his eyes.
“Oh noblest Virion, oh archest of archers, please teach me the ways of your unflappable optimism!” he said, spinning to walk backwards as he mocked his friend by striking stage poses.
“I sense mockery in your tone, friend Robin,” Virion said, prancing ahead and taking up the act. “But fear not! Noblest Virion can indeed teach you the ways of the highborn ma-AGH!”
So caught up in their little silliness, Robin and Virion failed to notice that Tharja had kept walking at her normal pace; once she was alongside Virion he was posing in such a manner that all it had taken was a light prod to send him crashing to the snow face first.
“If you change my darling in any way I will hex you up to your eye-balls,” she warned dangerously.
Robin burst out laughing as he bent to offer Virion a hand up; the archer patted the snow off of his cloak, laughing along with Robin.
“Perhaps you do not need my subtle coaching after all?” Virion said as they jogged to catch up to Tharja.
“That would be the general consensus, yes,” Robin agreed.
“There should be a village just over this bridge… and through this forest…” Robin muttered, walking while holding the map in front of his face.
“Were you not the one that admitted your foul sense of direction when first we met?” Virion asked, sighting down the shaft of an arrow into the woods.
He tsked after a moment, lowering the bow.
“Alas, the game has eluded me,” the archer muttered in disappointment.
Tharja empathetically rolled her eyes. “So we’re eating dried meat again?”
“I’m sure there’s somewhere in this village we can get some fresh meat,” Robin said, folding the map back up and putting it back in his pack. “And gloves. I can’t believe I forgot my gloves…”
Virion and Tharja both chuckled cruelly as they waggled their gloved hands in front of Robin’s face, passing him and stepping onto the bridge.
“Yeah, yeah,” Robin muttered as he buried his hands in his coat pockets in a vain attempt to warm them up a little. “Rub it in. I hate the snow…”
Another hour of walking through the snow-coated forest and Robin called a halt, listening intently.
“Do you hear that?” he asked, craning his neck to listen more carefully.
“Hear what?” Virion and Tharja asked in unison.
“Sounds like trouble,” Robin said, gripping the hilt of his rapier.
Peering through the snow-covered bushes Robin squinted, trying his best to get a tactical sense of what was going on at the gates to the small village. There was one red-haired woman with a thin sword standing outside the broken gates with something like five bandit bodies already at her feet, staring down a group of at least twenty more, each one of them easily twice her size and holding axes with blades bigger than her head.
“We can take them,” Robin said confidently as the bandits began encircling the woman. “Classic ambush from behind; we hit them with enough magic and arrows and they’ll go down like a sack of potatoes.”
“Indeed,” Virion said, readying his bow with an artistic flourish. “By your command, oh able tactician.”
Tharja simply nodded, holding her spellbook at the ready.
“Let’s not waste time, then,” Robin said, standing and muttering a quick spell, sending a torrent of lightning bolts at the bandits.
Tharja followed suit and soon dark fire was licking at the bandits on the periphery of the group, bunching them together and making them easier for Virion to target. The archer’s bow sang out a steady rhythm as he unleashed arrow after arrow on the unsuspecting bandits. Once the last of the bandits dropped, one of Virion’s arrows sticking out of his neck, Robin began walking forward with his sword in hand, Tharja and Virion trailing behind him.
“Are you okay?” Robin asked the red-headed woman who was currently doubled over and panting.
Hearing Robin’s voice her head snapped up and a huge smile split her face before she sheathed her sword.
“Oh hello handsome! I knew someone would rescue me!” she cried in apparent delight.
Robin did his best to appear friendly while inwardly cringing.
Tharja’s not going to like that one.
“Uh, right. So you’re okay then?” he asked again.
“Yup!” the woman piped up, her smile never once faltering. “You can call me Anna! I’m a travelling merchant, but I think that I might have a job for you three!”
“And what, pray tell, can the archest of archers do for such ravishing beauty?” Virion asked, suddenly appearing by Anna’s side with her hand in his.
“Down boy,” Anna laughed, removing her hand from Virion’s grasp. “My wagon and all my merchandise was taken by friends of the bandits you just, ah, took care of. If you can help me get it back, I think I could see you come into some pretty coin.”
Robin thought for a moment.
“We don’t need any more coin,” he said after a moment. “But we could use a guide to this area of Regna Ferox if you’re familiar with it.”
Anna stopped to think for a minute, holding her index finger to her chin as her smile briefly faltered.
“Ya know what, I’m kinda desperate,” she admitted with an embarrassed smile. “So how about this; you help me get my stuff back, I’ll play tour-guide and show you around, and even let you ride in the wagon while I travel the area. Deal?”
Robin looked at Virion and Tharja, already knowing what their responses would be. Tharja was scowling at the chirpy woman, while Virion was pleading with his eyes for Robin to accept the deal. Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t…
“I… Suppose that sounds acceptable,” Robin said with a shrug, choosing the lesser of two evils.
“Awright!” Anna yelled, jumping up and down as she pumped her fist before thrusting her hand towards Robin. “You got a deal, partner!”
Robin grinned sheepishly, shaking her hand and trying to ignore the withering glare he knew that Tharja was shooting at him.
“This is where they took your wagon?” Robin asked with defeat writ on his face. “This… this fortress?”
“Yup!” Anna chirped happily from beside him.
They were squatting in the light bushes near the bandit’s main stronghold, looking for some weakness they could exploit to get in and liberate Anna’s goods. Weaknesses of which there were apparently none.
“What did they do, kick a local Lord out? There’s no way we’re getting in there,” Robin complained, eying the thick stone walls and iron gates.
“Not from here,” Anna said, finger to her chin again. “C’mon, follow me.”
Robin and the other two followed Anna around the outside of the bandit fortress, which was actually more like a heavily defended manor, if Robin were honest with himself, to what he assumed was the back. Ruined stone walls and haphazardly boarded up holes greeted them with nary a guard in sight.
“They don’t station guards around this part of the fort,” she said excitedly as she dashed towards the nearest hole. “Or maybe they do, and the guards are just too lazy to patrol in the cold; I dunno.”
“How do you know all of this?” Robin asked a little sceptically, following her with Tharja while Virion covered their approach.
“The reason the bandits were after me in the first place was they caught me casing the joint, silly,” Anna said with a giggle, lifting and slipping beneath a great board and disappearing into the fort.
“What have we gotten ourselves into?” Robin muttered, holding the same board up for Tharja and Virion.
“You mean what did you get us into?” Tharja asked, her tone only a fraction of how acidic she would have normally asked the question.
They proceeded silently through the drafty rear of the fort with weapons at the ready, Anna leading them deeper. Robin finally took the chance to look more carefully at their new companion; she was, in a word, very red. Her stylish travelling clothes matched her hair with just the right amount of yellow trim to make them look out of place in a dilapidated fort; even her thick brown cloak had a red lining stitched to the underside of it. She moved with the skill of a practiced thief, though, and seemed oddly adept at picking the three locked doors they came across.
“Are you sure you’re just a merchant?” the tactician whispered as they stopped for Anna to get her bearings at an intersection.
“Yeah, why?” she asked distractedly, studying the hallways for some sign of where to go next.
“Well you just seem very…” Robin struggled for the right word. “Thief. Ish.”
“Excuse me?” Anna whirled on Robin, apparently completely forgetting where they were as her voice rose in volume and pitch. “I’ll have you know I come from a very prestigious family of travelling merchants thank you very much! The Anna Clan has been doing business since before King Marth defeated the Dark Dragon, and-”
“I just meant the way you picked those locks is all!” Robin whispered frantically, trying to calm the red headed woman down.
“Oh,” Anna said, deflating and returning to her usual smile, finger back in place at her chin as she winked. “Well, I’m also a master locksmith, of course!”
“Of course,” Robin mumbled as Anna pushed on ahead.
“Do you think we can place our trust in our eccentric new friend?” Virion asked quietly, coming alongside Robin as they followed Anna.
“I don’t,” Tharja said from behind them.
“Well, let’s just wait and find out,” Robin muttered back. “If everything goes pear-shaped then hey, at least we’re three of the most bad-ass Shepherds on the roster.”
“Can I just hex her now and get it over with?” Tharja asked with a note of dark glee at the prospect in her voice. “I promise I won’t make it too messy.”
“No hexing,” Robin said with a roll of his eyes. “Not until we know what’s what. If she betrays us, then you have my permission to go open-season on her ginger butt.”
The Dark Mage cackled under her breath, eyeing Anna like a snake would watch a mouse scurrying around its cage with nowhere else to go. Robin found himself actually praying that Anna was on the up-and-up; he shuddered to think of what he’d just given Tharja licence to do.
“Are you slowpokes coming or not?” Anna called from up the hallway. “We’re almost there!”
“Of course,” Robin repeated again, unease growing.
Why haven’t we run into any bandits yet?
Robin groaned internally as he threw himself backwards around the corner he had just rounded, very nearly colliding with Virion and Tharja.
Damn me and my big mental mouth, he thought frustratedly as he struggled to regain his balance.
Anna seemed to have no such problem, darting to the other side of the doorway in a red blur.
They had found their objective, a big horse-drawn wagon with the horse still secured to the front. The bandits were lazing about a big space which had probably been the fort’s receiving dock during better times; now it looked like the bandits all lived in the one room to conserve heating supplies, trash and loot was strewn about everywhere along with personal belongings and what Robin hoped were simply piles of grubby clothes.
This explains why there weren’t any others in our path at least.
“Enemies,” Robin warned. “At least twelve, maybe more within shouting range. We’ll have to act quickly. Tharja, you and Virion lay down some cover while Anna and I charge in. Ready?”
“By your leave.”
“Nuh-uh, hold on a sec!” Anna whispered frantically. “Are you all nuts? Those guys’ll tear us apart!”
“Relax,” Robin said with a predatory grin. “We’re Shepherds.”
“What does tending sheep have to do with-” Anna started, being cut off by Robin darting into the dock with his sword held high and screaming.
The bandits all looked up at once, mouths hanging open, some with half-chewed food still in them before Virion’s arrows and Tharja’s magic were on them, covering Robin’s charge. Glancing quickly over his shoulder he was glad to see that Anna had gotten over her initial fear and was charging behind him, sword drawn and a grim set to her usually jovial features. Robin snapped back to the battle as he slid on his knees beneath the axe of the first bandit, coming up in a spinning flourish and running the man behind him through as Virion took out the initial bandit with precision archery. Tharja was casting smaller spells that were easier to control than her usual Dark Magic, her skills still proving devastatingly effective with the more common elemental magic as she forced three of the bandits back with carefully aimed thunder spells.
Robin spun around another bandit, slicing out at the man’s neck as he did before dancing out of range of another. He had been paying close attention while sparring with Lon’qu, and was putting the man’s sword technique through its paces.
Anna was right beside Robin, ducking and weaving a lot more than he was, but she still managed to land a few good blows. As the last of the bandits fell Robin realised how heavily he was breathing.
“I think,” he gasped, leaning on Anna’s wagon, “That I spent t-too much time… reading in the last… few months.”
“Catch your breath on the fly and get in,” Anna said quickly, throwing what seemed to be random bags and crates into the back of the wagon.
Robin did as he was told, noticing sourly as Virion and Tharja followed him that they were breathing much easier than he was.
“Someone has to get the door,” Robin pointed out as Anna jumped onto the driver’s seat.
“Allow me,” Virion said, shooting an arrow through a rope that had apparently controlled the counter-weights for the massive door, causing it to slam downwards very, very loudly.
“If there’s anyone left they definitely heard that,” Robin muttered, rubbing his ears as Anna whipped the horse into motion.
He could hear shouting from further in the fort, but before he could see any more of the bandits they were away, racing through the frozen woods and making Robin grateful that they had opted to leave their packs near the village.
“I can’t believe that went so well!” Anna chirped as she skipped back to the wagon.
“Yeah. Well,” Robin groaned from behind the stack of boxes he was carrying.
They had made it back to the village in record time, and after returning to contents of the random bags Anna had thrown into her cart to the villagers she had wrapped up her business in the town and the newly acquainted quartet were finally ready to set out. Robin had been following Anna around the village all afternoon while she conducted business, carrying whatever she managed to acquire to sell in the next village. Virion and Tharja, however, were at the tavern; warm, comfortable and no doubt eating his coin purse empty.
“We can even be in the next village before nightfall!” Anna continued, flipping a silver coin over and over her fingers. “I love the smell of profits in the afternoon! It means I did something right in the morning!”
“Yeah, joy,” Robin moaned, lifting the boxes into the back of the wagon.
To his surprise Tharja and Virion were already sitting in the back, waiting patiently; or about as patiently as Tharja ever waited for anyone else, anyway. Her face lit up when she saw Robin, though, and she flashed him a beautiful smile.
Of course she was happy, Robin realized with a sigh, climbing into the tray next to her. She had spent all morning killing bandits. Killing was one of her favourite hobbies, after all.
Anna climbed up onto the driver’s seat as Robin got settled, and with a light whip of the horse they were off, the merchant casting one last wave over her shoulder to the lingering villagers.
Robin groaned suddenly, banging his head on the crate nearest him.
“What is the problem?” Virion asked.
“I forgot to try and find gloves! Again!” he cried.