Invisible Ties

Chapter 19

Late spring in Ylisstol was a season of lush greenery and bright, sunny skies. The people rejoiced at being freed of winter’s grasp, and the city-state’s hibernating commerce bounced back almost as soon as the snow started to melt. Farmers began tilling the frozen soil around the capital in preparation for the thaw while the merchants in the city moved their winter stock back into storage, preparing for the excitement that only spring after a long, cold winter could bring.

It was into this Ylisstol that Robin and his travelling companions had arrived the night before, and now the tactician found himself in a state of pure, euphoric bliss. It had been so long since he’d felt this way he had actually forgotten the sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Subtle movements sent fresh waves of sensation running through his body as-

Three loud, resounding bangs distracted his thoughts.

“Robin! Wake up!”

With a snort and a low groan Robin rolled tighter in his blankets, ignoring the familiar voice and trying as hard as he could to return to the hazy land of half-sleep that he loved so much.

Three further, louder bangs echoed through his room in Ylisstol’s palace, the door rattling on its hinges.


Losing his cool, he shot into a sitting position.

“It has been more than a fricking year since I’ve slept in a real bed! By whatever gods you hold dear, leave me in peace or I swear I’ll-”

The rest of his threat was cut off as the door burst open and Lissa came running through it, crossing the space before Robin could utter another syllable and tackling the tactician in a very tight hug.

“Robin!” she screamed with delight, almost throwing him out of the bed with the force of her charge. “I can’t believe you’re back!”

“Gahk! Lissa! Breathing!” he choked in response from between her shoulder and neck. “Can’t breathe! Hugging… Dying!”

“Oh, sorry!” she said, bouncing off of the tactician. “We were just so excited you’re back we couldn’t wait to see you again!”

“We?” Robin asked, rubbing at his neck.

Before he could ask for further clarification he spotted Lon’qu leaning in the doorway with his arms crossed, grinning like a bastard from above the princess’ head.

“Hello again, stranger,” the stoic swordsman greeted. “Perhaps we should allow Robin to dress and present himself to the Shepherds properly, dear.”

Lissa jolted, quickly climbing off of the bed and moving over to the door. “Oh! Right! Sorry, Robin! Promise to come by the barracks later and catch up with everyone! We all missed you so much!”

And with that, she closed the door, leaving Robin sitting in his bed very much awake. With another groan he forced himself out of the comfortable bed and silk sheets, yawning and scratching himself before glaring at the closed door again.

“I’m back for less than twenty four hours…” Robin muttered darkly to himself as he went about getting ready for the day. “And already I’m remembering why I left in the first place…”

Robin gave a great yawn and stretched his arms above his head as he stepped out of his quarters in the castle a little later, blinking and looking up and down the vaguely familiar hallway he found himself standing in.

Fortunately, he thought with a grin as he started to walk, Ylisstol hadn’t changed a bit.

They had arrived late the previous night, and Robin had been hoping to get a good night’s sleep; or at least a decent sleep-in. Anna and Donny had been astounded when he, Virion and Tharja had simply strolled past the palace guards with a few passing greetings before directing the newcomers to the barracks that would be their new home.

Robin smiled a little as he recalled the greeting that Chrom and Sumia had given him the previous evening.

Chrom had flown down the castle steps, bare-chested and wearing nothing but his pants and his cape, before wrapping Robin in the tightest, bone-crushing hug he had ever received, followed closely by the second most bone-crushing hug he had ever received when Sumia, clad in a silken nightgown and a simple robe, ploughed into him when Chrom was done.

Admittedly, he had missed his friends, but the absurdity of the Exalt and Queen of the Haildom hugging what must have looked like a random vagabond wearing nothing but their pyjamas on the palace steps must have been quite a sight for the guards.

He had assured them that he would join them for breakfast the next morning, made sure his room in the palace hadn’t been turned into a nursery or anything else, then immediately beelined for his bed.

Now, yawning and stumbling a little, he found himself making his way to the Royal Apartments for his promised breakfast. The royal guards at the entrance to the apartment snapped to attention when Robin approached, and then allowed him to pass.

Robin nodded back before he stepped into a scene of domestic bliss, finding himself immediately feeling very out of place after so long on the road. The room was small and informal, much more comfortable compared to the stuffy dining room that the Exalt would use for formal functions. It was well-lit by large windows overlooking the gardens, and Robin could see with barely a glance why Chrom valued it so highly. The rather small table next to the windows was piled high with breakfast foods, Chrom, Sumia, Lissa and Lon’qu, all sitting and chatting quietly over breakfast around it. Or simply sitting quietly while the others did the talking, in Lon’qu’s case.

What in the hell is Lon’qu doing here? Robin thought with a confused glance at the swordsman, before Lissa discreetly reached over and wiped some syrup from the corner of his mouth.

Lon’qu shifted uncomfortably, but smiled warmly as he mumbled his thanks.

Well, that answers that question.

“Robin!” Chrom greeted excitedly when he noticed the other man, rising and pulling out the fifth chair. “Come in! Join us!”

The tactician snickered as Lon’qu’s eyes widened and his face went ashen, clearly embarrassed to have been seen showing such weakness. As he sat and Chrom piled breakfast in front of him Robin couldn’t shake the feeling of being out of place.

“Wow,” Robin said. “Breakfast with the royal family? I feel so special.”

“Don’t start with all that ‘royal family’ junk,” Chrom said happily. “To you we’ll always just be Chrom and Sumia.”

“And Lissa and Lon’qu!” Lissa added from across the table, shooting an annoyed glance at her oblivious brother.

“So tell us about your trip,” Sumia invited as Chrom resumed his seat. “You were gone for nearly two years!”

“Urgh. Yeah,” Robin groaned, running a hand through his hair. “We were getting sick of boats and decided it would be a good idea to walk home from Plegia, conveniently forgetting that it would take more than half a year.”

“I thought you were going north,” Chrom pointed out, curiosity evident on his features as he piled food onto Robin’s plate.

“Well, we did,” Robin explained, shovelling food into his face. “Oh gods it’s been so long since I’ve had bacon… Uh, anyway, we started in the north, and then travelled by boat down Ylisse’s eastern coast to the island where we met Donny who’s currently in the barracks; you’d like him, nice kid. After that we followed a lead to Plegia by boat again, and then when we got there we voted on it and decided to walk back.”

“So your trip was met with success?” Chrom asked hopefully.

“Nope,” Robin sighed. “It was fun, but I’ve still got no memories earlier than that field. Besides which I-”

His further explanation was interrupted by the sound of crying from the next room, Robin’s train of thought completely disappearing and leaving him sitting in stunned, confused silence.

“Is that… what I think it is?” he asked with wide eyes as Sumia excused herself and rose, heading for the sound, grinning mischievously.

“You haven’t heard?” Lissa asked excitedly.

“I don’t believe it,” Robin gasped when Sumia returned, holding a tiny bundle containing what could only be a baby.

“Robin, meet Princess Lucina,” Sumia said with an unmistakable tone of pride in her voice.

Before Robin could say no he found the child thrust into his arms, staring up brightly at him from under a shock of dark blue hair the same colour as her father’s, the mark of Naga shining in her left eye. The child looked up at him, laughing as she reached up, tiny hands grasping at the air as she gurgled happily in his arms.

“Aw, she likes you!” Sumia exclaimed happily.

“I’m impressed; she usually won’t let anybody but me or Sumia hold her,” Chrom said, leaning an elbow on the table. “Well don’t just stand there gawking! Sit back down and relax already.”

Robin nodded numbly, still looking at the child in his arms.

“Congratulations,” he finally managed after he resumed his seat. “I’m so happy for the both of you.”

Chrom reached over and grasped Sumia’s hand, and they both smiled at Robin.

Wow, I really missed a lot, didn’t I? he thought as he looked down at the baby cooing softly in his arms again.

“So,” Robin asked, looking up at Lissa and Lon’qu pointedly as he bounced baby Lucina a little in his arms. “Who else got married while I was away?”

“You didn’t put her down for the rest of that meal,” Chrom pointed out as they walked through the castle grounds. “And not a peep from her, either! I think I know who to get to babysit next time Sumia and I have to go to a summit or something.”

Robin rolled his eyes.

“Just because your kid doesn’t scream when I hold her doesn’t mean you can sign me up as royal nanny.”

“The title suits you though,” Lon’qu quipped dryly.

The foreign swordsman and Chrom both laughed, leaving Robin to groan and think that at least Chrom was getting along with his new brother-in-law.

Everyone was married now. Everyone. Either married or so close to it didn’t matter anymore.

That’s what Robin had missed.

The only other people that weren’t getting hitched were the ones that had left with Robin, Gregor, Cordelia and Frederick.

Frederick and Cordelia had both been too busy for a relationship, despite spending almost all of their time together, according to Lissa; while Gregor had simply contented himself to wearing that abominable suit of his to everyone else’s weddings and chasing the skirts of the local tavern girls. And the palace’s servants. And… anyone else that would hold still long enough for Gregor to flirt with. It was like an older, low-born Virion, apparently.

“We can even get you a little apron with House Ylisse livery,” Chrom joked, sending both him and Lon’qu into further fits of laughter.

Robin rolled his eyes again.

“Not even if you have Miriel magically affix it to my arse permanently,” Robin muttered, pushing past the two laughing men and entering the barracks.

And instantly regretting his decision.

“Robiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!” Nowi cried as she tackled him around the waist. “Welcome home!”

“Yeah, good to see you too Nowi,” Robin gasped, trying to free himself of the overbearing dragon-girl’s hug while the rest of the Shepherds closed in.

“Hah! The Vaike knew that his sworn rival would return!”

“Hey Bubbles! Been a while!”

“By Naga’s divine providence you have been returned to us unharmed; praise be.”

“It is… good to see you again, man-spawn.”

“Oy! Is good seeing young Robin again, yes? Tavern wenches best be watching out now, ha!”

Oh crap, Robin thought to himself as he was swamped. This is going to be a long morning.

Robin took a deep breath and basked in the silence.

He had spent the entire morning being fawned over by his friends and asked constant questions about their journey. He had deflected a good portion over to Virion, who had taken up his habitual seat next to the tea set in the barracks, and the man’s penchant for story telling seemed to serve him well as he told the tales of meeting Anna and then Donnel. Robin had finally managed to escape as the archer began to tell of their journey through Plegia, going into excruciating detail about the landscape the way only a poet could.

Robin stretched as he walked back to the palace, making sure to take as many alleys and back roads as he could; he felt stifled being inside all morning, probably a side effect of spending the better part of two years on the road.

The air in Ylisstol smelled familiar, though; it made Robin think of bread and wine, of fine meals with friends and training until he dropped.

The air in Ylisstol smelled like home to Robin, something he was both surprised and relieved to realise.

It had taken all of that travelling, looking for something that wasn’t even important to come to the conclusion that-

“There you are!”

Robin froze as a shouting voice shattered his musing, looking up as a great winged horse descended from the sky. The pegasus’ rider nimbly dismounted before wrapping Robin an intense steel-clad embrace.

“Ow! Dammit Cordelia, you’re always wearing armour!”

The red-headed Pegasus Knight Commander stepped back, smiling sheepishly.

“Sorry. When I received word that you had returned I had to come find you.”

“What, you just dropped everything to come and find your old tactician?” Robin asked with a lop-sided grin.

“Oh no,” Cordelia said with a glint in her eye. “I came to find the only person I haven’t shown-off Ylisstol’s new Pegasus Knights to yet.”

Robin gulped as he was dragged, only half-willingly, onto her pegasus, frowning as he recalled how long it had been since he had actually flown.

A short hop and flight later and Robin was falling off of the pegasus, doing his best not to seem too desperate to get off the beast in front of Cordelia’s new recruits. He cleared his throat and straightened his coat, standing straighter as Cordelia shouted for her troops to fall in.

Robin was slightly shocked to admit that the Pegasus Roost was a lot bigger up close than it looked from the ground; a large circular space with tiered stables for the flying horses ringing the room was offset by the large opening on one side of the room, looking like it could be shuttered off in the case of a siege. A winding stairway emerging from the floor offered entrance from the tower next to racks of saddles and other riding equipment. Robin assumed that the armoury would be downstairs where there was more room.

Eleven young women in armour all lined up, standing at attention.

“This,” Cordelia orated, walking along the line and back again. “Is the tactician Robin. This is the man that led our army to its victory over Plegia two years ago. If he says to jump, you say how high! Am I clear, Knights!?”

“Yes, Ma’am!” the eleven women shouted, stone faced and staring straight ahead.

“Well?” Cordelia asked expectantly, looking at Robin.

The tactician hrmed, stroking his chin while looking the line up and down.

“They look good,” Robin said after a moment. “Are they combat ready?”

This seemed to be the question Cordelia was hoping for, judging from the carnivorous glint in her eye.

“Knights!” Cordelia called. “Take to the sky and show the master tactician just how combat ready you are! Formation B!”

The Knights scrambled as Robin stood back; in less than ten minutes the women had their mounts saddled and were all holding training weapons as they urged their mounts out of the roost.

Cordelia led Robin to the edge of the tower, where she beamed with pride as the Pegasus Knights swooped and soared, showing off their skills.

“All of this in two short years,” Robin muttered appreciatively as he watched the manoeuvres get more and more complex. “Congratulations, Commander. I’m impressed.”

Cordelia blushed a little and mumbled her thanks. Apparently she still couldn’t handle praise from her friends.

“And what of Commander Cullen’s Knights? Have the ranks refilled a little?” Robin asked conversationally.

He knew it was none of his business after he had declined the position of Chief Tactician for Ylisstol, but he was curious all the same.

Cordelia smiled when she replied.

“Lord Cullen stepped down as Knight Commander after you left. It’s Knight Commander Frederick, now; and yes, the ranks have swelled quite a bit in the time you were gone.”

Robin whistled low. “So Frederick got promoted too? I can’t think of anyone else more suited to the role, honestly.”

“He takes his role… very seriously,” Cordelia said as the Pegasus Knights began to run their final manoeuvres. “At the detriment of most else in his life, it would seem.”

Robin quirked an eyebrow, but before he could ask Cordelia what she was talking about he had to step back as the Pegasus Knights came in for their landing.

He started to applaud as they dismounted.

“Very good, ladies! Very good!” Robin said. “I’ll be sure to keep your particular skills in mind if we ever go to war again.”

Cordelia was smiling so much that Robin was afraid the top of her head was about to pop off, when a messenger in house Ylisse livery came bolting up the stairs.

“Wing Commander! Prince Chrom is calling an urgent war council!”

The messenger started when he spotted Robin.

“Milord Tactician, your presence was requested, too!”

Robin nodded and began heading to the stairs as Cordelia began issuing orders for drills to the Knights.

I have only been back one day and already Chrom calls an emergency war council, Robin thought with worry. It figures I couldn’t even get even one bloody day to relax.

It was a strange sensation, entering the palace’s war room. Robin had only ever held war-councils in a tent, so having a dedicated room for it felt… Ostentatious.

In a good way, of course.

There were a number of people around the room, but Robin was too distracted with ogling the new surroundings to identify them at present. Chrom looked up from maps and reports spread out over the table, smiling lightly as he did.

“Just like old times, hey Robin?”

“You and I remember old times very differently,” Robin pointed out, moving to lean on the table. “For instance this war room? Much nicer that your tent.”

“Indeed,” Raimi said from behind Chrom.

Robin started, cursing his distraction. How he kept missing these people in heavy armour was well and truly beyond him. Beside her stood a taller woman in armour adorned with dragon-wing effigies and long dark pink hair going well past her waist.

“Raimi? If you’re here then I assume this has something to do with Regna Ferox? Uh… sorry, you I don’t know.”

“Of course milord,” the new woman said with a disarming smile. “My name is Cherche, and I’ve come with lady Raimi to deliver a very important message.”

Raimi nodded grimly.

“We’ve been attacked by our neighbours from across the sea; the Valmese army has invaded our shores.”

Everybody else in the room went tense or cursed. Robin scratched his head and waited patiently.

They’ll remember I don’t have any memories any second now.

“Prince Chrom, I believe that we need to mobilize our armies,” Cullen said after a brief pause.

“Agreed,” Chrom said. “I’ll lead a vanguard with the Shepherds. Frederick, you will come in behind us with the majority of the main army. Cullen, I trust you can hold the capital while we’re gone?”

“By your will, milord,” Frederick said, bowing as he left to organize the troops.

“Of course, Prince Chrom,” Cullen said, thumping a fist over his heart and making his exit.

“Now,” Chrom said turning to Raimi. “I need every drop of information on this foe that you have.”

Ooookay. I’ll just… get caught up on the politics later Robin thought as Raimi began to detail the beachhead the Valmese had set up on Regna Ferox’s western shore.

Robin knocked loudly on Virion’s door.

The noble archer had been scarce ever since word had spread that the Valmese army had invaded Regna Ferox and the Shepherds were marching the next day. He had skipped dinner, and more worrying was the fact that none of the servant girls had seen him all afternoon.

Robin tried the door again when there was no response.

“Virion? C’mon, man! I saved you some dinner! It’s real food! You know how long it’s been since we’ve eaten real food, right?! Don’t pass this up, because I will totally eat this myself!”

He was about to try knocking again when the door opened, revealing a very strained looking archer.

“Is everything… alright?” Robin asked when Virion stood in the doorway.

“You may wish to come in,” Virion said cryptically, leaving the door open as he returned to his room.

Robin followed with a concerned look on his face. He’d never seen Virion act this way before; he’d seen the man dumped, chased off by jealous lovers, and even once he’d seen the man get his butt kicked for hitting on the wrong woman (and wound up in a bar room brawl that they had sworn each other to silence over); but he’d never been this… dour. This depressed, and at the same time focused.

He had his three bows spread out, and was in the process of restringing and cleaning them. A thin rapier, probably half the size and weight of Robin’s, sat next to a light buckler; both looking like they had just been cleaned and polished, too.

“Not my strongest point, but I have some skill with the blade,” Virion said as he noticed Robin eying the sword. “If my fears are correct, then now is not the time to be holding anything back.”

“Obviously you know something I don’t,” Robin said, setting down the plate of food he was carrying. “I don’t even know where Valm is, let alone why everyone’s so worried.”

Virion sat, resting his arms on his knees as he hunched over, staring into space. His normal, flowery speech was almost entirely absent, Robin noted with some unease. Whatever the people of Valm had done in the past had obviously scarred Virion greatly.

“Valm is a country to the west, across the sea,” Virion explained, forgoing his usual speech pattern. “Once the continent was split up into numerous different nations, each with their own varied customs and beliefs, trading freely amongst each other. It was a good time, when bandits were scarce and work was abundant. About ten years ago a man named Walhart came to power in the nation of Valm, on the far-west of the continent; he now goes by the name Walhart the Conqueror. In ten short years he swept aside all opposition and has claimed lordship over the entirety of the continent; now it appears he has set his sights on this fine land. I had thought to escape his tyranny here…”

“So you’re from Valm?” Robin prompted when Virion went silent.

“No!” Virion said sharply, before continuing a little softer. “No, I am from… Nay, no more lies. I am the last of the House of Virion, lords and rulers of the kingdom of Rosanne. Walhart stole my land and butchered my family. I was forced to flee for my very life, and hide here in an attempt to gather my strength.”

“So wait… you’re royalty too?” Robin asked, shocked at the revelation. “Does Chrom know?”

And more importantly who else is secretly royalty? Is Gregor going to tell me tomorrow that he’s secretly the lost king of Regna Ferox? he thought, not without some mild irritation.

“Indeed,” Virion said, beginning to recover and return to his usual speech patterns. “The Lord Chrom and his dearly departed sister were kind enough to offer me sanctuary in return for my services. Apart from perhaps the new Knight Commander and his predecessor, none of the others are aware of my most noble lineage.”

Robin nodded, staring into Virion’s eyes, seeing his opportunity to fill in the gaps in his knowledge.

“Thank you for telling me, Virion. But right now, I need you to tell me everything you know about Valm; their forces, their favoured strategies, their troop dispositions, everything. Then eat something. You’re already skinny enough as it is.”

“Robin, I… I’m sorry. I will do my best, but it is difficult for me.”

The tactician grinned, reaching for his ace in the hole.

“Perhaps this might help?” he asked, holding the bottle of wine he had hidden in his deep coat pocket.

Virion eyed the bottle blankly for a minute before breaking out into a tired smile.

“You really do have an answer for everything, my friend.”

Chrom found Robin in the library late that night, pouring over tactical manuals.

The man looked like he was possessed, flying through pages and tearing through books, reading at a speed Chrom could never dream to attain, all the while scratching notes onto loose parchment or into the tactical manual he had left in his room when he went on his trip. Miriel would have a fit if she saw the way he was treating the books.

“It’s a little late, Robin,” he said gently, approaching the table.

“One word,” Robin said without looking up. “Cavalry. I have a lot of catching up to do before we leave tomorrow; we’ve never faced a foe that relies so heavily on their cavalry and I’ve never had cause to have to defend against them on this level.”

“So you’ve decided to come?”

“Wasn’t much of a decision. Unless, of course, you’ve given my job away?”

Chrom chuckled. “No. The position is yours. I wouldn’t trust my life, or the lives of my loved ones to anyone else.”

That made Robin stop and look up.

“Sumia’s coming.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes. We’ve already discussed it, and she feels that this is the best course of action for everyone.”

“Dammit,” Robin groaned, resting his forehead in one hand.

“Don’t worry, Robin,” Chrom soothed, placing a comforting hand on Robin’s shoulder. “I know you’ll keep her safe.”

“What?” Robin asked looking up. “No, that’s not it! I assumed she was staying here! You’ve just undone the last hour of my planning!”

Chrom blinked a few times before bursting into laughter.

“Oh, I missed you my friend. I haven’t laughed like that since before you left.”

“Yeah, good for you,” Robin muttered, scratching out lines of planning and adding extra to others with lightning speed. “I’m just glad it continues to come so naturally to me. But are there any other surprises I need to know about?”

“No,” Chrom laughed. “I’m pretty sure you have everything else covered. But please try to get some sleep tonight. It does us no good for our tactician to be exhausted during the battle.”

“I’ll sleep on the way there,” Robin muttered as Chrom left him to his work. “It’s a five day journey, anyway.”

Robin started as he realised someone was shaking him and repeating his name.

“Robin, you should be in bed,” Tharja said softly.

He looked around with groggy eyes. He had fallen asleep at his desk in the library; face down on the books he was working through. The candle he had been using had long since burned out, the only illumination in the room at present being the small fire dancing above Tharja’s finger tips.

“Can’t sleep,” Robin mumbled, reaching for his tactical manual and yawning. “Too much to do. Cavalry… gonna kill us…”

“I can hex you into bed if I have to,” Tharja pointed out.

Robin froze for a moment before heaving a great sigh and standing, his aching back protesting from the long hours he had been hunched over the table.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “Why aren’t you asleep, anyway?”

Tharja seemed to shuffle her feet nervously.

“Tharja…?” Robin warned.

“I can’t sleep if I don’t watch you sleep,” she said in a small voice, looking away and continuing to shuffle her feet.

“Weird and creepy,” Robin commented, brushing by her. “But like so many of the other weird little habits you have, I suppose I’ve gotten used to this one. Come on if you’re coming; you won’t have to wait long tonight, that’s for sure.”

He was sure he heard Tharja squeak with delight at the invitation as she hurried to catch up to him. Normal circumstances might dictate he be thoroughly disturbed by her admission, but after two years of wandering around the wilderness with the eccentric Dark Mage Robin really couldn’t find any reason to turn her odd request down.

“Just…” he added as an afterthought. “No touching.”

The steady beat of wings too big to belong to any pegasus snapped Robin out of his worried imaginings; they could see the smoke rising in the distance from the western port town from where they had opted to stop for the evening after a long five days of marching and riding like the fires of hell was at their heels. The Shepherds were almost upon the battle.

Virion had continued to be quieter than usual, but after the first night he had confessed his origin to the rest of the Shepherds, and now he was slowly returning to his normal self.

He also had first-hand experience leading troops against the Valmese; something Robin was keen to make use of for his own strategy.

Robin had spent the better part of the trip either frantically trying to keep up with Chrom’s incredible pace, or nose-deep in some book or another. He had forgone training, resting and without Tharja’s nightly intervention he would have foregone food and sleep, too.

Robin gripped his sword tight as a wyvern swooped low, but not so low that the rider would be mistaken as a threat.

“Peace!” the woman on the creature’s back called, holding up her empty hands. “I mean no ill will! It is I, Cherche!”

Virion, ashen faced, pushed through the crowd of Shepherds to where Robin and Chrom were approaching her.

“I can scarcely believe my eyes,” he muttered.

She dismounted and stood before Chrom, before dropping to one knee.

“Sire, please accept my axe and my service; this may not be my war, but it is my cause.”

“Uh… okay,” Chrom said, coming up short. “Welcome aboard… I guess.”

Chrom questioningly turned to Robin.

“It would do you well to trust this woman,” Virion said from behind them. “She is known to me as a warrior unmatched.”

Cherche’s head shot up as she heard Virion’s voice, but she held her tongue as Chrom nodded.

“Good enough, I suppose. Fall in with the rest of the soldiers, Cherche; we’re marching for the port come morning.”

The Shepherds went about their business of setting up the camp, eying the stranger warily but in most cases disinterestedly.

How often does a heavily armed wyvern-riding woman land in the middle of a procession of soldiers and ask to join them, anyway? For anyone else this would almost be weird… Robin thought as he watched the woman.

“So you obviously know…” Robin began, looking over his shoulder to where Virion had been mere moments ago; the archer had disappeared though, leaving Robin standing alone talking to himself. “…Her. Huh.”

With a shrug at the archer’s strange behaviour, Robin went to introduce himself to the new woman who was still standing by her mount, looking a little perplexed.

“Hello again, Cherche!” he said with a grin and a happy wave. “Remember me?”

Cherche looked at Robin for a moment before comprehension dawned.

“Sir Robin, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” she said with a formal bow.

“It’s just Robin, milady,” Robin said with a chuckle as he waved off her formalities. “I’m hardly one for formal behaviour; just ask anyone in the camp. Why don’t you follow me and we’ll get you set up with some proper lodgings?”

“That sounds excellent, Robin,” Cherche said with another of her disarming smiles.

“Alright you snake, what’s the big idea? Running off like Lon’qu from the women’s bathing tent?”

Virion jumped a foot in the air as Robin slipped into his tent.

“Egad, Robin!” Virion shouted. “Do not do that to a man!”

Robin stood silently, arms crossed and tapping one foot on the ground impatiently.

“I suppose you would like me to explain my association with the lady Cherche?” Virion sighed.

“I only said as much two seconds ago.”

Virion nodded grimly.

“She was… I suppose she still is… one of my old vassals from Rosanne. It was she that spirited me away from the battlefield that almost claimed my life and saw me safely to Ylisse.”

“I seem to recall more dragging your bleeding carcass than spiriting,” Cherche said as she stepped into the tent behind Robin, this time making him jump.

There was a tense moment where Virion and Cherche stared at each other. Robin found himself entirely unable to read the mood; in his mind they were either about to kill each other or jump into each-other’s arms. Neither thought seemed appealing to witness…

“Is this one of those things I want to make myself scarce for?” he asked warily as the two continued eying each other across the tent silently.

“Whatever you are planning, my dear, you may as well get it over with,” Virion sighed, giving Cherche a sad smile. “If we are to fight this war together, we will have to talk again.”

Cherche nodded and stepped in front of Virion, and surprised them both by pulling the taller man into a warm embrace. Virion had just enough time to look shocked over her shoulder before she stepped back.

“It is so good to see you doing well, sir,” she said with a charming smile. “When I came to see you in Ylisstol six months ago and you were absent, we feared the worst for you.”

“We?” Robin asked, before he noticed the draconian head of a wyvern peeking in through the tent flaps, making the tactician jump again as it screeched at its mistress’ words.

“It is good to see you, too, Minerva,” Virion added. “And I apologize; Robin and I were on a quest of epic, continent spanning proportions to restore that which he had lost.”

“I hope it was successful, then,” Cherche said, casting a glance at the confused tactician.

“I take that as my cue to exit,” Robin said, deftly sidestepping the wyvern and beating a hasty retreat, ignoring Virion’s pained look as he did.

The last thing he needed to see or hear was another couple… coupling. He’d gotten more than his fair share of that during the last war; and it was obvious that the two had some issues to work out, not something Robin needed to get in the middle of.

Maybe I can just go and assist with dinner instead? That’s a little safer, even for me.

“I can’t believe they would just execute helpless civilians,” Cherche growled from atop her wyvern, knuckles white as she gripped the haft of her axe.

Her mount, the wyvern Minerva, let out a mournful cry before Cherche leaned forward and patted its neck reassuringly.

“They are beasts,” Virion spat from Robin’s side. “Nay, they are less than beasts; an animal does not kill indiscriminately that which may be of use to it. These men are no better than the Risen.”

The tactician found himself nodding in silent agreement with his friend’s sentiments.

The battle had gone smoothly and without a hitch, though; they had simply rolled into town, demanded the Valmese General surrender and when he had refused they had faced the mounted Valm soldiers in battle.

Robin had proposed using their superior manoeuvrability among the buildings to their advantage, attacking with magic and archers from around corners and luring the cavalry into confined spaces where their reach counted for little. Sully and Stahl were unimpressed about being held in rearguard, but Robin had counted on the superior speed and agility of the Shepherds on foot. Sumia, Cordelia and Cherche had proven invaluable too, darting in and decimating the Valmese troops unused to being attacked from above or behind and proving to be perfect bait in most cases.

He looked back to where Virion and Cherche were talking and smiled lightly. Apparently the two were a little closer than the standard lord-vassal relationship. Not that either would admit it.

He was distracted from his thoughts when Sumia swooped in, looking a little out of breath atop her own mount.

“Robin,” she called. “Chrom wants to see you on the docks; hop on and I’ll give you a ride.”

The tactician nodded, waving at Virion and Cherche as he hopped up behind Sumia and she kicked her pegasus off the ground. There was a brief moment when Robin wished he had walked instead; from above the town he could see all of the considerable damage that had been done, but before long Sumia landed next to the small field tent that had been set up by the Valmese, now co-opted by the victorious Ylisseans as Chrom’s command post.

“Ride out, inform Commander Frederick and Khan Flavia that the town has been taken,” the Prince was ordering a runner, who saluted smartly and leapt onto a horse and rode off like the wind.

“You were able to finish the last of them?” Chrom asked Robin as he approached.

Robin nodded. “We’ve claimed victory today.”

The Prince and Khan Basilio had been leading the fighting near the docks while Robin led the guerrilla teams in the town that had taken the majority of the Valmese troops down. It had felt strange, yet still familiar, to be in command of soldiers again. Unlike the Palace in Ylisstol, though, warfare was not something Robin had missed.

The big Khan huffed a massive sigh. “At what cost though? My army is in shambles and the town has been all but destroyed.”

“The people of Regna Ferox are a hardy bunch,” Robin pointed out. “They will recover.”

Basilio nodded gratefully, looking out over the destruction again.

“It doesn’t speak well of our odds, though,” Chrom said pessimistically. “Feroxi warriors are some of the best this side of the Long Sea.”

Sumia huffed and pinched Chrom’s side.

“I know, I know,” he said with a weak smile. “Appearances and all that…”

“The important thing is that we have the docks again,” Robin said, looking at the map of the city Chrom had lain out. “Now we just have to keep them.”

“Easier said than done, though…” Basilio pointed out grimly.

“The Valmese forces’ greatest advantage are their cavalry,” Robin pointed out, holding his chin in one hand. “We need to take that advantage away.”

“I know that stance,” Chrom said, excitement beginning to build. “You have a plan, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Robin said, pushing himself up from the table. “But we’re going to need boats. Lots of boats. Sooner, rather than later.”

“All of my boats were destroyed during the raid,” Basilio said flatly.

“Ylisse has a few light corvettes for costal patrols,” Chrom said. “We may be able to incur the services of a merchant company, but still they wouldn’t be outfitted for war like the Valmese fleet.”

Robin eyed the Valm warships, looking at the thick panelling and wicked cannons yawning like gaping maws from shutters on the sides.

“At least we still have some here we can make use of…” he muttered thoughtfully.

“Do you have an idea, Robin?” Sumia asked tentatively as the three men lapsed into silence.

“This isn’t enough. We need to talk to a nation that has a fleet,” Robin said simply. “And I can think of only one other nation on this continent.”

“No,” Chrom said instantly. “Not a chance. No way in hell. Not happening.”

“Dear,” Sumia admonished.

“Think about it, boy,” Basilio murmured, mimicking Robin’s pose. “They have gold and a sizeable fleet; and more importantly we have a fart’s chance in the wind without them.”

“Crude, but right,” Robin agreed, looking at Chrom expectantly. “It’s really the only option.”

The Prince growled for a moment, looking like he was going to continue arguing before sagging and nodding, wordlessly signalling a messenger with a wave of his hand.

“Go to Plegia,” Chrom ordered the startled man. “Organize an immediate summit with its King.”

Robin sagged with relief as Chrom sent off the messenger with a frown.

“Let’s just hope the current King is a little more stable than the last,” he muttered.

Basilio laughed his deep, rumbling bellow of a laugh.

“Aye, lad,” he chuckled. “It would be a nice change, wouldn’t it?”

“Really?” Robin asked incredulously. “Carrion Isle? Really? How the hell do they think we’ll react to that? Having a summit on ‘Carrion Isle’? Just the name, for gods’ sake!”

“I know,” Chrom said, leaning with his elbows on his table.

The messenger had returned two days later with Plegia’s new King’s reply, which had stated they would meet with Chrom on Carrion Isle, just off of the Plegian coast.

Robin hadn’t been idle in those two days; along with the majority of the Shepherds he had assisted the town in its post battle clean-up and then further with making repairs to some of the less affected buildings. He had been somewhat surprised to see Khan Basilio assisting alongside them, grunting and straining under heavy loads that would have taken three men to normally lift.

Frederick had arrived the first day with the Ylissean army who would be garrisoning the town while the Shepherds organized the ships. Flavia was waiting in a war-camp not far away; close enough that the Feroxi warriors could assist them in the case of another invasion, but not so close as to strain the town’s already brutalized ecosystem.

Robin sighed and leaned with his back against the edge of Chrom’s table.

“Gonna say it now in case I don’t get the chance later. Trap.”

“Well that much is obvious,” Chrom said with a tired laugh. “But we need their ships, like you said. If there’s even a chance this is on the up and up, we have to take it.”

“Well let’s just spring the trap, then,” Robin said. “We’ll go with a small group and if things go pear-shaped you can scream ‘I told you so’ while we fight our way out.”

“I’m inclined to agree with the small group idea, at least,” Chrom said, rolling his eyes. “We’ll move faster in a small group. But I’ve already said ‘I told you so’.”

Robin rolled his eyes.

“I’m going to make you a sign that says ‘I told you so’ on it and you can just save time by holding it up.”

Virion took a deep breath, looking at the assembled Shepherds and smiling happily.

“Ah, the smell of the open road,” he said cheerily. “Brings back fond memories, does it not?”

“Yeah,” Robin said over his shoulder. “Of being rained on; of being snowed on; of killing more bandits than there were men in the Plegian army. I could go on. Do you want me to go on?”

The archer chuckled. “You really are a ‘glass half empty man’, aren’t you?”

“I’m just sick of travelling,” Robin moaned, draping himself over his horse’s neck. “I want some stability for a change. A nice house. With a big library and a comfy reading chair in front of the fireplace. Is that too much to ask?”

They, along with Chrom and several of the other Shepherds, had been riding for a day and were already at the Plegian border; another few hours and they would reach the small town that hosted the ferry that would take them to Carrion Isle.

Along with Virion, Cherche, Sumia, Tharja, Gregor, Frederick, Cordelia, Anna and her wagon and Panne were with Robin and Chrom.

The mood was muted; nobody wanted to be seen grovelling to the Plegians after the disastrous war.

“You never did tell any travelling stories,” Chrom pointed out.

“What’s there to tell?” Robin asked. “I wasted a year seeing increasingly strange healers, getting my butt whomped by Virion at chess and having my personal space invaded by Tharja. The end.”

“Oy, is grouchy today,” Gregor laughed, tossing Robin a vial. “You needing Gregor’s magic tonic!”

Robin groaned, downing the little vial in one gulp.

“Blech!” he exclaimed afterwards. “I can’t believe I missed this crap!”

“How you can keep drinking that stuff,” Chrom said with a chuckle and a shake of his head.

“Is addictive, yes?” Robin said in his best imitation of the older mercenary’s accent, perking up as he began already feeling the tonic’s effects.

All of the assembled Shepherds laughed, including Gregor.

“Is good impression!” he laughed loudly. “They say ‘impersonation sincerest form of flattery’, no?!”

Robin grinned as morale lifted, the other Shepherds chuckling along to his antics.

If nothing else court jester remains an open career option for me he thought as they continued down the dusty road through Plegia.

The tactician looked around, feeling his spirits drop again as he did.

“I hate Plegia,” he muttered sullenly when he was sure no one was listening.

The channel crossing had gone smoothly, although the Shepherds had been forced to leave their mounts with Anna at the wharf; the merchant wouldn’t abandon her wagon, and the ferry was too small to move it safely along with all of the horses. Sumia, Cordelia and Cherche had simply flown over the channel while the others all crowded onto the small raft, waving as Anna set up her little stall to hopefully make some money while she killed time.

Robin looked around the desolate landscape warily, trying to see any sign of impending ambush. He wasn’t the only one; Frederick and Gregor were looking around like they were expecting trouble, too.

Satisfied that they were in no immediate danger Robin let himself relax a little.

It was strange to be around so many people again after travelling with no one but Tharja and Virion for so long. He had grown used to Tharja’s quiet, sardonic wit and Virion’s seemingly unshakable optimism to counter his own paranoid scepticism. But now he had Chrom’s blind optimism, Libra’s faith, Lissa’s cheerfulness, Lon’qu’s dour nature… the list went on, while necessity had forced a wedge between himself and his two travelling companions. It was strange in a good way, though. Robin hadn’t realized how much he missed his friends until he actually returned to Ylisstol; he missed it enough that he could even put up with the feeling of being the only single man at a couple’s retreat, which was how the camp had been feeling lately.

The fort they were to meet with the new king of Plegia in loomed above them; wind howling through empty windows and across the dead and abandoned lawns giving the whole area a foreboding feel as the sun began to descend in the west.

“Not too stereotypical looking,” Robin muttered sarcastically to Chrom, who had a difficult time attempting to remain regal looking on their approach as he stifled his laughter.

They were met by a stern-faced vassal wearing black livery with a strange purple six-eyed symbol on it, a symbol that instantly put Robin on edge.

Chrom, Robin and Frederick were led deeper into the fort while the other Shepherds were offered food and drink in the entry hall, the vassal apologizing for not having the space to accommodate all of the warriors. Robin silently followed a step behind Chrom, next to Frederick. He had been reading up on proper court etiquette as a matter of interest, and felt like he should at least allow Chrom to get off to a proper start without seeming to put himself on the same level of standing as a commoner.

“Robin, get your butt up here,” Chrom hissed, discretely dragging Robin forward.

So much for that brilliant plan Robin thought with an internal sigh.

The vassal brought them to an empty receiving room before bowing deeply and exiting; empty in the literal sense as well as the figurative one. The entire fort gave off a disused, abandoned air; like it had only recently been hastily brought back into service, perhaps even specifically for this meeting.

“Have you noticed the new crest that the vassal was wearing?” Frederick asked Chrom in a hushed tone. “It is the symbol of the Grimleal, milord.”

The prince nodded, his mouth a thin frown.

The word sent Robin’s head into a spin; no memories surfaced, but the word gave him the feeling of having once been very important in his life. He strained his mental muscles trying to pluck something, anything, out of the void that was his life before the Shepherds, but nothing was forthcoming.

His musing was interrupted as a familiar black-clad figure swept gracefully into the room.

“Greetings, Prince Chrom,” Aversa said in a pleasant voice. “Plegia welcomes you.”

“Hello Aversa,” Chrom ground out, obviously trying to maintain some level of decorum. “I knew it was too much to hope Gangrel’s madness had caused your death, too.”

Or maybe not so much Robin corrected with another internal sigh.

Aversa chuckled a little, sinking back to a hip.

“What can I say? It appears fate has designs for me yet. I now serve faithfully under Plegia’s new King as his advisor and vassal; King Validar is a great man, but unexperienced with the Court. My services were necessary.”

Robin reeled as another burst of nostalgia assaulted his mind.

“Your King uses the symbol of the Grimleal as his crest,” Frederick pointed out.

“Of course,” Aversa said, her tone conversational. “Many Plegians worship Lord Grima. I, too, am Grimleal. My liege often says that it was his faith that got him through the grief of Gangrel’s passing. Does this information upset you, Sir Frederick?”

“That’s ‘Knight-Commander’ Frederick, milady,” the man ground out through clenched teeth.

“It was a difficult time,” Aversa went on, showing no signs of having heard Frederick’s correction. “But he kept order where there might have been chaos. We had meant to organize an official visit to Ylisstol after the coronation, but you know how these things go… Ah, here my lord is now.”

The three Shepherds straightened and turned slightly to witness the entry of Plegia’s King.

“Presenting his lordship, King Regnant of Plegia, King Validar.”

The man strode in, robes swishing and head held high; there was no honour guard, no pomp or ceremony aside from Aversa’s introduction; he just entered the room, much the same way Chrom or Robin would have. Robin found himself thinking he would almost have been warming to the man if he hadn’t given off such a fierce aura of Dark Magic.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Prince Chrom,” the King said in a finely cultured accent, bowing formally. “My name is Validar, King Regnant of Plegia.”

“The honour is mine, good king,” Chrom said stiffly, returning the bow but hesitating as he rose. “Is it… possible we’ve met before, King Validar?”

Validar chuckled a little. “No, I’m sure I would remember meeting with Ylissean royalty.”

Chrom nodded slowly, unconvinced.

Recognition hit Robin like a ton of bricks; the King looked almost identical to the assassin that had come after Emmeryn.

The assassin Gaius had killed right before Robin’s eyes.

“And you must be the master tactician, Sir Robin,” Validar said with another, lighter bow in his direction. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“You know of me, sire?” Robin asked defensively.

“Of course!” Validar tutted. “The whole world has heard the stories of the masterful tactician that led Ylisse to victory; they say that it was almost entirely your doing. And indeed, I see the spark of wisdom in your eyes.”

Robin nodded automatically, glancing to see if Chrom recognized the man yet, too; from the frown creasing the Prince’s brow it was obvious that he did.

“Come now,” Validar said, breaking the awkward silence. “Negotiations haven’t even begun yet, and already so much frowning!”

“My apologies, King Validar,” Chrom said quickly. “We meant no disrespect.”

Robin made a conscious effort to relax.

“Then let us get right down to why you are here,” Validar said with a clap of his hands.

Aversa stepped forward, unrolling a piece of parchment and handing it to Chrom. The Prince’s eyes widened as he read the paper, his jaw twitching as his eyes scanned the neat, flowing writing.

“Plegia can offer you no soldiers,” she said. “But we can provide warships, and transports; all of Plegia’s navy. With crews, of course. In addition, we would be pleased to fully fund the campaign against Valm.”

“That is… surprisingly generous of you, milord,” Frederick said as he read over Chrom’s shoulder. “We could literally not ask for any more; you offer us most all of Plegia’s assets.”

“I would give troops as well, Knight-Commander, but our army remains in a state of disarray after the war,” Validar said regretfully. “I trust that gold and ships is a suitable sign of commitment to the cause?”

“Of course it will,” Chrom said, rolling up the parchment and handing it behind him to Frederick. “Thank you, King Validar.”

“The honour is ours, my Prince,” Validar said with another deep bow. “After all, this war does not only affect Ylisse and Regna Ferox. I look forward to this being the first step to building a strong bond between our two nations.”

“As do I,” Chrom said, returning the bow. “But if there is nothing else, my men and I must return to the port in Regna Ferox and begin preparing for the journey to Valm.”

“Oh, so soon?” Aversa said with convincing disappointment in her voice. “But we have one more introduction to make yet.”

“And who would that be?” Chrom asked in the spirit of cooperation after the incredible boon Plegia had promised them.

“A Hierophant of the Grimleal church, the highest of all his order in Plegia. He wished to offer his blessings for your coming campaign, as is our religion’s custom,” Validar explained as a man in dark robes approached the group, his face veiled in darkness.

“So you lead the people in worship?” Robin asked in the silence that followed. “We were just discussing religion earlier.”

The Hierophant remained silent, staring at the assembled group from beneath his cowl.

“I… I’m sorry, sir,” Robin said hesitantly. “Have I said something to offend you?”

The Hierophant took a step towards Robin, bringing them face to face.

“The heart still sleeps, but the blood flows through it,” the Hierophant rasped. “And the blood is strong.”

Robin stepped back reflexively.

The dark energy he had felt from the Hierophant in that brief moment dwarfed that of even Validar; it dwarfed anything he had ever felt before. Robin felt as if he were drowning in it, as if the energy were eclipsing the sun itself and drawing Robin deeper into its inky black depths.

“What was that?” he asked worriedly, breaking out in a cold sweat.

“Good Hierophant, I would ask you lower your cowl in the presence of royalty,” Frederick said with a disapproving noise. “It is a common courtesy in Ylisse.”

The Hierophant’s head snapped to look at Frederick, a deep frown appearing on his face.

Robin’s heart began to beat quicker, an irrational fear taking hold.

“You are a long way from Ylisse, Knight Commander Frederick,” the Hierophant said in his strange, raspy voice. “But very well.”

Robin’s blood ran cold as the man drew the hood back from his face.

No Robin thought desperately. No, this is some foul, dark magic. This isn’t possible… There’s absolutely no way!

“After all, I wouldn’t wish to offend our new allies,” the Hierophant said from a perfect copy of Robin’s face. “Would I?”

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