Invisible Ties

Chapter 24

Robin groaned piteously as he hung over the railing of the Dragon’s Claw, the huge Plegian warship Chrom had claimed as his flagship, watching what had once been his breakfast slowly floating away on the tides.

“I hate boats so much…” he moaned, running a hand down his face as he closed his eyes and desperately tried to resist the urge to void the remaining contents of his stomach.

It had been a week since they had set out, leaving Seth and Raimi behind in Port Ferox to monitor the continued boarding. The Shepherds on the Dragon’s Claw were part of an advanced force of fifty ships, each packed to bursting with Feroxi and Ylissean soldiers and sailors.

The third team of Shepherds had returned the morning they were to board the ship, and had gone from the road directly to the ship with no rest between.

Most interestingly, though, were Nah and Laurent, the two newest Shepherds that had joined them through Gregor’s group; Ricken and Nowi’s and Miriel and Vaike’s future children, respectively.

Robin groaned again, contemplating letting himself fall into the surf and just being done with the torture.

A large, beefy hand clapped him on the shoulder, breaking his reverie and making him look up as it began to rub comforting circles into his back.

“Oy. Young Robin has stomach of old lady,” Gregor said sympathetically. “Unfortunately Gregor is not having remedy for seasickness.”

Robin groaned, letting the older man continue rubbing his back. It was actually making him feel a lot better.

“That’s okay,” Robin groaned with a tired grin. “I can barely afford to keep buying the other remedy you make.”

Gregor grinned widely. “Is addictive; Gregor warned you.”

They stood in silence for a time, Robin trying desperately to ignore the swaying of the deck beneath him while Gregor rubbed his back and stared out to the horizon. It was a perfect day; no clouds, the sea was calm (or so the captain of the ship had said) and the wind was blowing the right way, speeding their progress considerably.

Gregor took a deep breath and when Robin looked up at him he could see the older man was smiling wistfully.

“Take deep breath, young Robin,” Gregor said happily. “All troubles feel miles away out on sea.”

“But we’re actually sailing right *urk* towards them,” Robin groaned, feeling his breakfast making a break for freedom again.

“I. Hate. Sailing. So much,” Robin moaned, turning and letting himself slide down to the deck with his back to the railing, adopting a foetal position.

Gregor laughed heartily, grabbing Robin under one arm and hauling him up, half dragging, half carrying him towards the centre of the ship.

“Young Robin will feel better if he doesn’t focus on how sick-feeling he is,” Gregor chuckled. “Come! We play checkers; Robin’s mind is distracted by tactical thinking.”

Robin admittedly felt a little better as he creamed Gregor for the fourth time in a row at checkers. He wasn’t as good at checkers as he was chess, but Gregor was hardly as tactically minded as Robin was.

“You see!” Gregor said with a wide smile. “Young Robin is making the happy faces and forgetting about being at sea!”

Robin nodded gratefully, leaning back and looking around the deck.

He and Morgan had drafted a roster for training on the limited upper-deck space; anybody was free to come and go, but they needed to stay fit, and so far Frederick had been fanatical about making sure everybody trained for their allotted time. Up one end of the ship were the Pegasi and Cherche’s wyvern; the Knights horses were being kept in a special section of the hold and monitored constantly; they were also being fed special calming herbs mixed in with their regular food to keep them from panicking.

The Pegasi and Minerva were too large for the specialized hold, though, and had been simply tied to the railing at the back of the ship. Cherche, Cordelia and Sumia took them out for scouting flights regularly to exercise them, though, so there was no need to feed them the same herbs as the horses.

Laurent had been exceedingly helpful, too; the mage had not only inherited his mother’s keen analytical mind, but also some of his father’s social skills. The resulting combination was the perfect lackey to do all the boring jobs Robin couldn’t be bothered doing. In the spirit of that, Robin had officially made Laurent the Shepherds’ new quartermaster and treasurer.

He watched the young mage wander by with a clipboard in his hand, mumbling numbers to himself as he checked the crates and barrels on the deck. Robin always found it amusing to watch the mages go about their daily lives with their wide-brimmed pointed hats.

Shepherds milled about the ship around the sailors from Ylisse that had travelled to Plegia to bring the boats to Port Ferox. Not that there had been many to begin with; even with all of the sailors and mariners from Ylisse and Regna Ferox put together they had been forced to hire fishermen and even ferrymen to fill in the rest of the ranks aboard the ships. Many of the troop transports coming last were being manned by inexperienced men that had very little time on the water, but such was the hand they had been dealt. Neither Regna Ferox nor Ylisse were great seafaring nations to begin with, and Plegia’s numbers were severely depleted; it was no wonder that Gangrel didn’t want to share his soldiers.

“Oy!” Gregor said, tapping the crate they were using as a table to get the tactician’s attention as he scooped up the checkerboard and pieces. “Gregor is saying he is going to go below decks and sharpen sword out of sun.”

“Sorry Gregor,” Robin said. “Thanks for distracting me.”

The older man was off, doing whatever it was he did in his down time, leaving Robin to sit and stare thoughtfully at the Shepherds that were on deck.

Robin zoned out, doing his best to breathe deeply and not think about the fact that he was on the ocean.

He looked up as Lucina approached, obviously still having some difficulty in walking aboard a ship. Unlike Robin; he could move around fine, but his stomach couldn’t handle the rocking…

Focus, dammit! You don’t have any food left to puke up!

“Still waiting to get your sea-legs?” Robin asked the woman sympathetically as she took a seat on the crate Gregor had vacated not long ago.

“I am finding it difficult to keep my balance,” Lucina admitted. “This is my first voyage. In my time all of the ships were destroyed, along with the docks and ports as well.”

“I can think of worse things to happen in the future,” Robin muttered darkly.

Lucina laughed a little at his statement; his hatred of boats and water were common knowledge. He had been telling everyone that would listen for the last week, anyway.

Chrom and Sumia took that point to make their entrance on the deck from the staircase leading beneath the quarter deck to the cabins. Chrom was having as much, if not more, trouble than his daughter keeping his feet on the rocking deck; just watching him made Robin begin to feel ill again. Sumia seemed a natural, though, walking straight next to her husband as he stumbled and weaved drunkenly.

“Yeesh, you’re having more trouble than I am, Chrom,” Robin pointed out as the Prince and Sumia joined him and Lucina.

Chrom groaned. “I never did fancy myself a sea-captain…”

“You’re doing fine, dear,” Sumia said comfortingly, patting his bare shoulder.

Chrom nodded a little, looking up at his daughter.

“Lucina, while we’ve got a moment and we’re all in one place,” he started, “Can I ask you something?”

“Should I make myself scarce for this?” Robin asked, perking up and pointing aft.

“Oh stop acting like you’re not part of the family,” Chrom said with a grin. “Do you know what it was like growing up with only two sisters? I always wanted a brother; now sit there quietly while the royals talk.”

Robin’s brow twitched. “You are aware you just contradicted yourself in the same sentence, right?”

Chrom chuckled along with the two women, waving off Robin’s comment before growing serious again.

“I’ve been meaning to ask why you didn’t join us after you helped prevent Emmeryn’s assassination. You ended up following us anyway.”

Lucina went quiet and looked down as she contemplated her answer.

“I felt I had no other choice,” she said after a moment. “I did not wish to risk altering history any more than necessary. I only sought to influence events directly tied to Grima’s return.”

“And the two assassins that attempted to kill your father in the gardens that night?” Sumia asked curiously. “Would they have succeeded?”

Lucina looked down again, obviously struggling with how much she wanted to reveal.

“He would have been gravely wounded,” she said. “Those wounds would have played a part in the tragedies to come.”

“It’s a good thing you did intervene, then,” Sumia said, patting her daughter on the leg.

“If indeed I did alter events at all,” Lucina said bleakly. “The river of time always favours its original course. Take the Exalt’s death for example; yes, I stalled it, but I did not prevent it. I was so certain I had altered fate; that I had saved the world. Perhaps the task is simply too great…”

“You did everything you could,” Chrom said comfortingly.

I had no idea this was weighing so heavily on her, Robin thought, seeing the tortured look in her eyes.

“That’s okay,” Robin said dismissively, trying to lighten the mood. “We’re kinda experts at uphill battles by now. I only see obstacles to be conquered.”

“He has a point,” Chrom agreed. “We’re not out of the fight yet.”

“But what if I had done things differently?” Lucina persisted. “I replay events over and over in my head…”

“Don’t dwell on these things,” Chrom said kindly. “You did manage to save me, after all.”

Lucina smiled sadly at her father. “You are kind to say so, Father, but nothing is certain. Another could cripple you, or even take your life. Time could find a way.”

“Screw time,” Robin scoffed.

“As much as I agree with Robin’s incredibly eloquent statement,” Chrom said sarcastically, casting a wry grin at the tactician, “I would still know how I die in your future.”

“I know only rumours,” Lucina said apologetically. “We were told that you fell in a great battle, fought to sway destiny itself. And… that you were murdered; betrayed by someone dear to you.”

Robin’s eyebrow rose, remembering snippets of the dream he had had just before Chrom and Lissa had woken him in the field.

A fateful duel… A foe laid low… A blood-stained dagger…

“Robin?” Sumia asked, worry clear on her face. “Are you okay?”

Robin glanced up, noticing the three royals staring at him with similar expressions on their faces.

“I’m fine,” he said quickly. “I should probably be paying close attention to this, right?”

“It’s okay; after you left I got used to taking care of myself,” Chrom chuckled.

“Then why in Naga’s name did you put me right back in the position I retired from in the first place the second I got back?” Robin asked with a smirk.

“What can I say?” Chrom shrugged. “I missed you.”

Sumia cleared her throat, glaring at the two men. “Sorry, Lucina. Why don’t you continue?”

Chrom and Robin both shifted guiltily as Sumia continued to glare at them, almost daring them to keep talking.

“After your murder and Grima’s return I took the name Marth and fought back,” she continued. “I prayed to the Hero-King for a small portion of the strength he had to save our people. But I need this subterfuge no longer; I choose to be Lucina now.”

She looked up to her parents, a smile forming on her face.

“I choose to fight bearing the name that reminds me of the strength of the man and woman that gave it to me,” she added in a small voice.

“A strength shared by the woman that bears it,” Chrom said, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“Touching,” Robin said, interrupting the happy family moment. “But you never told me how I died. I’ll settle for rumours, too.”

Lucina looked at Robin for a moment before responding.

“I am sorry, Robin,” she said. “But by all reports you simply cease to exist.”

Robin crossed his arms and leaned back.

“Now I know you’re just screwing with me.”

Chrom burst into hearty laughter, slapping his knees and doubling over.

“How could Robin possibly have such an ignoble fate as to be forgotten?” he laughed. “Don’t worry friend, I’ll make sure you’re remembered.”

“Yeah, as a footnote in chapters about your history no doubt,” Robin muttered, grinning as the mood began to pick up again.

“Urk… Dad… I think… I think I’m *urf* dying…”

Robin chuckled as Morgan curled up over a bucket, pushing her hair out of her face with one hand.

“Just eat enough to survive, then,” Robin shrugged, reaching over to rub his daughter’s back. “That’s how I’ve been coping. A little for breakfast, some dinner and lots of water in between.”

They were both sitting together on the forecastle deck at the front of the ship, trying to read their tactical manuals. A few days ago Robin had given up on eating properly and simply ingested enough to remain alive and awake. His plan was working, too; he had spent markedly less time leaning over the railings lately. Unfortunately Morgan had yet to catch on.

“How am I supposed to… to get anything done?” Morgan moaned pathetically.

“Don’t force it,” Robin advised. “Just try and distract yourself with something. Go play checkers with Gregor; I’m sure the old bastard would love the chance to beat somebody new.”

Morgan shook her head, dry-retching.

“If I move, I’ll puke,” she said.

“Then you wait here, I’ll bring Gregor to you,” Robin said, giving her shoulder a squeeze as he rose.

Morgan wordlessly moaned as she wiped the hair out of her face again in case her lunch made another dash for freedom.

Robin steadied himself on the various railings as he walked, watching absently as Libra and Stahl sparred in the open area in the centre of the main deck. He shook his head as he realized that a crowd of the female Shepherds had formed and was watching the two shirtless men intently.

The tactician looked down at his own chest, visible through his open collar and patted his flat stomach, sighing. The other men in the Shepherds, excluding Ricken and perhaps Henry, were all chiselled statuesque hunks of, to borrow a term he had heard from Olivia, ‘man-candy’. He was obviously fit enough to keep up on the battlefield, but he didn’t put as much effort into his physique as the others did, and he was starting to feel a little self-conscious as the others adopted Vaike’s dress-code while they were on the ship’s main deck, where it could actually get quite hot.

Maybe I ought to start training a little harder, Robin thought, pausing to watch as Stahl and Libra traded blows, both of the men covered in a light sheen of sweat that made their muscles gleam.

He could practically hear the women swooning.

Robin’s eyes widened as he spotted Tharja in the crowd, lasciviously watching the two men and licking her lips. She glanced up and their eyes met briefly before the Dark Mage blushed heavily, pointedly looking anywhere but at Robin.

Whatever, Robin thought, running a hand through his hair and skirting the crowd, entering the staircase to the ship’s interior. As long as they keep entertained.

Robin dodged around Nowi as she dragged Nah up the stairs and onto the deck, obviously intent on watching the two men fight.

He stepped into the galley, where Virion and Gregor were moving around the small kitchen behind the staircase, cleaning up after the light lunch they had just prepared.

“Hey Gregor, Morgan could use some of your patented distracting,” Robin said, entering the kitchen area. “I’ll finish cleaning up if you want.”

Gregor sighed theatrically; the illusion was ruined by the smile that broke out on his face. “Gregor will get checker board.”

“She’s up on the forecastle deck!” Robin called to the retreating mercenary, taking his place at the basin of dishwater as Gregor waved an acknowledgment over his shoulder.

Virion chuckled from where he was stoking the cooking fire that the Shepherds cooking dinner would be using.

“You, my friend, are truly a hopelessly doting father,” the archer said.

“I can’t help it,” Robin laughed, rolling up the sleeves of his coat and plunging his hands into the warm soapy water. “I just see her so sick and miserable and I want to do something about it. You just wait until you have kids, you’ll be no better.”

“Perhaps,” Virion agreed, beginning to dry and put away the dishes Gregor had already washed. “But that simply means I must mock you now while I can.”

Together they made short work of the dishes, Robin’s stomach growling hungrily as he passed by a barrel of apples.

If I eat now, I won’t be able to stomach dinner, Robin silently reminded himself as Virion eyed the suffering tactician curiously.

Morgan threw her hands in the air and made a victorious noise as she defeated Gregor for the third straight round.

The older mercenary chuckled as he rubbed a hand down his face.

“Oy. Even young Robin not catch on so fast as young Morgan.”

Morgan grinned happily over the board. “Come on old man; best five out of seven.”

Gregor barked out a short laugh as he started resetting the board.

They played silently for the first half of the game, each lost in concentration while they tried to figure out the other’s strategy.

“You knowing…” Gregor said as one of his pieces reached the end of the board, becoming a king. “Young Morgan is very much reminding of Gregor’s brother Gregor.”

Morgan looked up confusedly.

“I didn’t know you had a brother,” she said, trying to figure out the man’s strange speech pattern. “And… his name is Gregor, too?”

Gregor laughed, slapping his knees.

“No! Silly Morgan, Gregor is brother’s name!”

Morgan arched a brow as she moved another checker.

“So what’s your name then?”

Gregor chuckled. “Is Gregor now.”

“Hooooo-kaaaaaay…” Morgan said, watching his move.

“Gregor’s brother is dead a long time now,” Gregor went on. “But he was always smiling, just like young Morgan does. He was smart, and kind. Just like young Morgan is.”

Morgan blushed at the praise as she looked up, grinning.

“Flattery won’t distract me you know,” she said, a resounding chack marking the demise of another of Gregor’s pieces.

“Oy,” Gregor moaned, running a hand through his hair. “Young Morgan is cute but ruthless. Gregor never standing chance.”

They continued to play in silence a while before Morgan’s curiosity got the better of her.

“How did he die?” she asked tentatively.

Gregor sighed and leaned back.

“Gregor did bad thing, yes?” he said quietly. “Made many bandits angry. Gregor and brother were cornered by bandits, and forced to fight. Gregor’s brother… not making it.”

Morgan looked up sympathetically as she moved another piece on the board.

“That’s horrible,” she said sadly.

“Is okay,” Gregor said, his usual smile slipping back into place. “Gregor getting to talk to brother again with spooky-lady’s help. Is making amends, clearing air with brother. No longer sad about it. Gregor no longer blames himself.”

Morgan nodded, smiling the older man’s infectious smile.

Gregor finally looked back down at the board.

“Oy,” he moaned. “How can such young girl be making Gregor look so bad at game?”

“The Pegasus Knights report that the Valmese fleet outnumbers ours three to one,” Cordelia reported to all those assembled.

Chrom, Lucina, Robin, Cordelia, Virion and the two Khans stood around the forecastle deck, Morgan standing a small distance behind Robin with Severa at her elbow.

The pouting redhead had apparently been adamant that she be included, and Robin wasn’t about to get into an argument while they were in such close quarters by denying her request.

That morning the Pegasus Knights had returned early from a routine scouting sweep ahead of the boats early and ashen-faced, reporting directly to Cordelia who had called the war-council.

They were still a month from Valm’s eastern shore; obviously they had run into the advance party that they had defeated in Port Ferox’s reinforcements; one hundred warships, each easily capable of holding another hundred men.

A thousand Valmese soldiers.

“This is what we wanted,” Robin pointed out. “On the boats their cavalry counts for nothing; we can face them sword to sword, bottleneck them, strike from above with our Pegasus Knights.”

“This is a thousand men, Robin,” Frederick said tersely. “Each one of those ships is no doubt packed to bursting; our vessels are barely half-full at best.”

“If we attempt to board them in a straight-out fight we’ll be slaughtered,” Chrom pointed out.

“We’ve little choice but to try anyway,” Flavia said, bouncing her sword impatiently on her shoulder guard. “Plegia had no men to spare, but they were generous with their supplies. Such as oil…”

She grinned directly at Robin. “Perhaps a clever tactician could make use of that?”

Robin stroked his chin thoughtfully, being interrupted when Morgan spoke up excitedly.

“Oh! Oh! I have an idea!” she said, thrusting her hand into the air, seasickness apparently forgotten. “If we light their ships up, they’d have nowhere to escape to! We could-”

“Wind up roasted like hams!” Basilio interrupted loudly. “Are you so eager to see us all dead, girl?”

“I don’t hear you suggesting anything better, oaf!” Flavia said, verbally leaping to Morgan’s aid. “I’m with the girl on this one.”

Morgan grinned as the Khan complimented her.

“How do we do it, though?” Chrom asked. “We haven’t got any catapults… Perhaps we could fly Pegasus Knights over the ships and drop the barrels?”

“Too dangerous,” Robin said quickly. “The loss of life for the Pegasus Knights would be too high. There aren’t enough of them, anyway.”

“So how do we get the oil onto their ships without setting our own ablaze?” Chrom asked.

A light went on in Robin’s head.

“Wait!” he shouted excitedly, looking at the assembled leaders with his best crafty-tactician grin. “Unless we want our ships caught in the fire. I have a plan.”

“This is the most absurd, the most hair brained, the most… the most…” Severa was saying as she stood next to Robin.

“Run out of adjectives?” Robin asked cheekily, glancing over at the girl.

She glared at the tactician wordlessly; something Robin was starting to get used to from her.

His plan saw twelve of the Shepherds, including himself and Chrom, charging full speed on one of the troop transports toward the line of Valmese ships, intent on assaulting the Valmese flagship and killing their General, or their Admiral or whoever was in charge.

The Fargus’ Revenge, the smaller, faster ship that Robin was currently standing on, cut through the waves in a way that the Dragon’s Claw was far too heavy to. Robin was standing on the ship’s forecastle deck, one foot resting on the end of the bow-spirit and his coat flapping out theatrically behind him.

I have been around Virion far, far too long, he thought absently, doing his best to cast a heroic pose; just because he could.

Chrom, Frederick, Virion, Panne, Lon’qu and Gregor were on the main deck, weapons at the ready, waiting for the part of the plan where they would board the enemy ships, while the reserve group that would keep the Valmese off of their own ship, Vaike, Kjelle, Libra and Donnel, were waiting up on the quarter deck, Vaike doing his best to keep the Fargus’ Revenge going in a straight line.

At some point Vaike had wrapped a bandana around his head ‘pirate-style’, and the look had stuck.

The Valmese ships grew in the distance as the Shepherds careened towards them.

Severa’s face was one of almost comical worry as she gripped the short railing next to Robin.

Robin started laughing.

“I always wondered what it felt like to be a pirate!” he shouted over his shoulder to Chrom.

“Yarr!” Chrom shouted, raising Falchion above his head and making the other Shepherds laugh. “Prince Chrom’s Rowdy Shepherd Pirate Gang! I like the sound of that!”

“Got any more bandanas, Vaike?” Robin called to the man at the rear of the ship when he stopped laughing.

Much to Robin’s surprise the blonde man grinned and handed something to Donnel, sending him up to Robin.

Donnel’s new armour, the same pale blue colour as the forces from Jagen, gleamed in the sun as he darted across the ship.

“Vaike says he’ll be wantin’ it back,” Donnel said with a grin.

Robin burst out laughing as Donnel returned to the quarter deck while he wrapped the red cloth around his head and drew his sword.

“All hands brace for assault!” Robin called in his best rough pirate voice.

“You people are insane,” Severa muttered, her comment almost lost to the roaring wind racing past Robin’s ears.

He just grinned as they drew within range of the Valmese ships; she’d get used to their antics soon enough.

The lead ship, no doubt the Valmese flagship, judging from the gold gilt on the railings and the ostentatious figurehead on the ship’s bow-spirit, moved into position alongside the Fargus’ Revenge, while two more Valmese ships darted around their other side, boxing them in and leaving them nowhere else to go but forward.

With a violent tugging motion that made Robin suddenly grateful he was bracing himself with one foot up on the railing, the Fargus’ Revenge was brought to a dead stop in the water, loud crashing sounds echoing around the open water as ballistae on board the Valmese ships pierced the hull, dragging them closer to the Revenge.

“Bring it on!” Vaike shouted, readying his axe as he prepared to leap down onto the main deck when the others vacated it.

“That one!” Robin shouted to Chrom, pointing to the larger of the Valmese ships.

Chrom nodded, and the assault team assembled near where the Valmese were preparing boarding planks.

“Shouldn’t we get down there?” Severa asked, holding her own sword ready while Robin walked to the railing facing the Valmese ship.

“I’ll meet you over there,” Robin said with a grin over his shoulder, grabbing hold of one of the ropes hanging from the rigging above them.

Before Severa could question what he was doing, Robin sliced through the rope and threw himself off of the edge of the Revenge, swinging over to the Valmese ship, his coat flapping out behind him.

I always wanted to try this, Robin thought giddily in the brief second he was out over the gap between the two ships.

Laughing manically, Robin released the rope and rolled to his feet on the deck of the Valmese ship, shocked faced looking at him from under red helms and armour.

“Who wants some first?” Robin challenged, brandishing his sword and grinning like a madman.

“Tell me he did not just do that,” Chrom groaned, watching his tactician sail through the air.

“For a tactician he’s really not all that bright, is he?” Virion asked drolly as the Valmese forces finally managed to get their boarding plank onto the Revenge’s deck.

“Kjelle!” Chrom called.

She stepped forward, nodding intensely as she beat her lance onto her shield. The young Knight raced forward, barrelling across the plank and throwing the Valmese soldiers in her way into the ocean, clearing the path for the rest of the Shepherds.

Chrom was the next one across, the others following him one by one while Virion fired arrows across the gap, disorienting the Valmese as the Shepherds crashed into them.

Chrom risked a glance over his shoulder as he heard the sound of more planks hitting the Revenge’s deck, but Vaike and his team were already moving into position to repel the boarders.

Robin was laughing, having the time of his life as he leapt around the Valmese ship, slashing and making Pirate quips as he went.

“Severa, please go and make sure our tactician doesn’t get himself killed,” Chrom said to the young woman that had just crossed the plank.

Severa darted beneath soldiers as she raced to Robin’s side, the rest of the Shepherds engaging Valmese troops all across the main deck; a deck that was easily three times the size of the one on the Dragon’s Claw.

Chrom began to lash out at four Valmese troops with lances that were trying to get around and flank Lon’qu, driving them back before felling them in quick order.

Panne was darting around the ship, opening necks and tearing at light armour as she went, the deck quickly becoming slicked with the red liquid wherever she went. Virion remained on the Revenge, shooting arrows across at all three of the Valmese ships at once, every shot a direct hit from the incredibly skilled archer.

Chrom was thrown to the right as a lance flashed by his vision; Gregor grunting as he brought his own sword down on the soldier that had threatened Chrom.

The old mercenary huffed as he hauled Chrom to his feet.

“Prince should be watching himself more carefully,” Gregor said, his voice oddly clipped. “Would not be wanting to die here, yes?”

Chrom nodded as Gregor went back to the fighting, swinging his sword one handed and bowling over a large group of soldiers pressing in on the Shepherds.

Trusting that the others would follow the plan, he gave himself to the melee before a lance really did skewer him, and completely missing the drops of Gregor’s blood splattered on his boots.

Perhaps I spent a little bit too much time cooped up on that ship, Robin thought as he stabbed another of the Valmese sailors attacking him, turning to face the next.

The soldier in front of him made a strange jerking motion before he fell, Severa standing panting behind him as blood still dripped from her sword.

“Gawds!” she shouted. “Are you a moron!? Get back in formation!”

Robin didn’t answer, instead grabbing her shoulder and spinning her out of the way as a lance passed through the space they had just been occupying.

“C’mon,” Robin asked, slicing the throat of the soldier who had attacked them with the tip of his rapier, “Where’s your sense of whimsy?”

“Are you really asking me that in the middle of a battle!?” Severa shouted, parrying a strike meant for her shoulder before lashing out with the pommel of her sword and knocking her attacker off balance.

“I mean really,” she added huffily, running the man through. “You’re acting like a child.”

Robin just shrugged, looking around for the next soldier to engage. Spotting a man who was no doubt the enemy admiral, judging from the fancy hat he was wearing and the gaggle of soldiers pressed around him, Robin pointed his rapier directly at the man.

“In the name of Ylisse!” Robin shouted, charging forward with a very frustrated Severa on his tail.

Chrom grunted, reeling back from the shield-strike of a particularly heavily armoured Valmese soldier, before darting back in and burying his divine blade in the join between plates.

The Prince looked around as more of the heavily armoured soldiers charged up from below deck, a red-faced, middle aged man in ornate amour following behind them with a lance in his hands, his furious face split diagonally by a large scar across his nose.

“Who dares attack General Ignatius’ personal ship!?” he roared from behind his men. “I’ll see all of you peasants dead and cast into the waves for the sharks to feed on!”

Chrom strode forward, Gregor and Libra falling in around him.

“I would ask that you retreat, General,” Chrom shouted across the deck. “There need not be any more bloodshed today.”

“Kill that man and bring me his head!” Ignatius shouted, pointing at Chrom with his lance.

I tried, Chrom thought, readying his sword.

The first of the elite Valmese soldiers fell backwards, one of Libra’s small throwing axes lodged in his chest. The second was swept aside by a one-handed sweep from Gregor, who stepped forward with Chrom.

The next three were barrelled over as Panne tore into them out of nowhere in her beast-form, shredding their armour with her razor sharp claws.

The Valmese General sneered as he strode forward, flanked by another two soldiers.

“I will kill you myself,” he growled, darting forward lance first, aiming at Chrom’s chest.

Chrom dodged low and swept out a low kick at the General’s legs as Libra and Gregor pounced on the other two soldiers, driving them away from the General and giving Chrom the room he needed.

Ignatius stepped back, narrowly avoiding Chrom’s kick, stepping back again when Falchion bounced off of his shoulder guard.

Chrom pressed his advantage, thrusting with Falchion again and again, and driving the General further back across the deck.

With a thump Ignatius hit the railing, fear beginning to show through his haughty exterior as Chrom swept his lance aside.

“What was it you said about feeding the sharks?” Chrom asked, savagely kicking at the General’s midsection.

The railing he was leaning on shattered, and with an ear-splitting scream General Ignatius fell into the sea, his heavy armour dragging him down almost instantly.

Chrom stared down at the ripples of where he hit the water, frowning and watching the bubbles float to the surface for a moment before turning and resuming the battle.

“Shepherds!” he called. “The General is down! The General is down!”

Robin swept his rapier out laterally in a two-handed grip, satisfyingly knocking the Valmese sailors’ weapons aside. Severa was at his side, striking at the undefended sailors as they pressed towards the Admiral.

Robin ground to a halt as he faced off against the Admiral.

The older man, his grey beard cropped close to his pointed chin stood staring at Robin with a neutral expression, his posture perfect in his immaculate dark blue naval uniform, with his hands clasped behind his back.

Next to the perfectly presented Admiral Robin actually felt like a dirty pirate in his coat and old clothes.

“I am Admiral Dalton,” the man said with a tired sigh, drawing the ornate cutlass at his hip. “Know that the sea is my home. You arrogant pups will not live to see dry land again.”

“I hope you fight better than your crew,” Robin commented as Severa tore through the Admiral’s guards beside them.

With a flourish the Admiral held his blade out, a small smirk crossing his features.

Robin darted in low, his thrust being deflected by a lightning block from the Admiral, who struck three quick blows at Robin’s torso that he was hard-pressed to parry. The two men circled each other before Robin darted forward again, switching to a high-guard that Chrom favoured during duelling and managing to drive the Admiral back a few paces with his unorthodox change in tactics. Robin switched style again, coming in fast with Lon’qu’s favoured striking pattern, scoring a few shallow cuts to the Admiral’s arms and chest.

Before Robin could press his advantage he heard Severa cry out as she was knocked to the ground by a lucky blow from one of the sailors, who was standing above her, poised to strike with a short-hafted axe.

Without thinking Robin twisted and threw the sailor back with a wind spell, launching him across the deck and over the ship’s railing.

Robin grunted as the Admiral took the opportunity to race forward, sliding his cutlass into Robin’s chest.

Robin gasped as he instinctively struck back, breaking the Admiral’s nose with a vicious headbutt.

The two men stumbled back, and Robin fell backwards. Severa was on him instantly, grabbing Robin beneath the arms and dragging him back one handed, pointing her sword at the Admiral with the other.

The Admiral hesitated as Chrom began shouting for the Shepherds to retreat.

“The General is dead!”

Dabbing at his blood-smeared face with his sleeve, the Admiral looked at Severa.

“Get off my ship,” he said bitterly as he turned, walking away.

“I say we take his advice,” Robin said weakly, crawling to his feet and leaning on Severa as they ran back to the Fargus’ Revenge with the rest of the Shepherds.

Libra was waiting for them on the ship, taking Robin’s other arm and helping Severa sit him down on a crate, wordlessly beginning to heal the tactician with his staff.

“Idiot!” Severa shouted, slapping Robin in the back of the head. “I knew that would happen!”

“Hey, I was doing fine until you distracted me,” Robin said defensively, the pain of his wound already beginning to fade.

Severa went quiet, her expression becoming unreadable as she spun and strode away.

“Women,” Robin said with a shake of his head.

“This is much easier when you don’t move,” Libra said, a note of annoyance in his musical voice.

Robin watched Chrom stride onto the deck, twisting the end off of one of Miriel’s smoke-signal tubes and tossing it into the corner of the deck, a plume of bright green smoke instantly rising into the air.

Robin stood, thanking Libra for his efforts and walked over to the railing, watching as a line of ships headed directly towards the Valmese formation.

He grinned; only the Ylissean forces knew that the ships were loaded to bursting with barrels of oil, and fitted with a special spell that would ignite said barrels when Miriel finished the incantation from the safety of the Dragon’s Claw once the others were in range of the focusing iris on the Fargus’ Revenge. An incantation she would finish once the oil-loaded ships hit the Valmese ones.

Robin waved, cringing when he remembered he was still wounded, as he spotted the shapes of eleven pegasi and one much larger wyvern flying towards them at top speed, to extract the Shepherds before the ships all exploded.

“May I suggest haste?” Virion shouted, beginning to shoot more arrows at one of the Valmese ships as more soldiers began pressing to the Revenge.

Vaike cursed and picked up another bow, shooting with surprising accuracy at the Valmese pressing in from the other side while Lon’qu and Kjelle moved to block the planks.

“Form up for extraction!” Chrom ordered loudly to the other Shepherds.

Robin looked out at the other ships again, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand and watching their progress.

“The ships are moving too slowly,” he realized, dread settling in the pit of his stomach. “They’ll never get close enough before the Valm forces find the focusing iris!”

Chrom cursed, looking down.

Robin wracked his brain, trying desperately to come up with an escape plan that gave them enough time to get the ships into position while leaving enough of a chance to get to a safe distance. He couldn’t think of anything.

“Gregor will stay.”

Robin and Chrom both looked up simultaneously. The big mercenary was limping towards them, but Robin could tell that something was very wrong with him. He coughed wetly, wiping away red spittle as he did, gripping his side tightly with his other hand.

“Gregor is finished,” he said, his voice still strong, still smiling jovially. “He will make sure that young Robin and friends get away.”

“No,” Robin said quickly, motioning Libra over. “No, Gregor, we all get out of here. I’ll think of something else. No one gets left behind. If you stay, I stay.”

Gregor’s smile turned sad. “Gregor was afraid Robin would say that.”

The last thing Robin saw before he was out cold was a ham-sized fist flying towards his face.

Robin crumpled, out cold from Gregor’s sucker punch.

“Are you insane!?” Chrom shouted as Libra picked up his pace, trying to catch the tactician as he collapsed.

“There is no time for arguing,” Gregor said. “Take Shepherds and win war. Gregor will keep enemy from spell thingy as long as he needs to.”

Gregor nodded once to Chrom, striding away as the Prince looked up at him, confusion warring with indignation on Robin’s behalf. As Gregor passed a confused Libra he patted the man on the shoulder without stopping, positioning himself in front of the doorway to the lower levels.

“What’s going on?” Libra asked as he grabbed Robin, hoisting him up over his shoulder.

Chrom looked up as eleven sets of hooves clattered on the deck, followed by the heavy thump of a wyvern. The Shepherds all ran to one of the riders each, Virion and Vaike covering them.

“Gregor’s staying behind,” Chrom said past the lump in his throat.

Cordelia rushed up, helping Libra secure Robin across her pegasus before looking to Chrom.

Chrom nodded, walking over to Sumia and her waiting mount as Cordelia took off, keeping one hand on Robin’s back the whole time. As he climbed up behind his wife he cast another glance at Gregor. The mercenary smiled at Chrom and saluted lazily.

Chrom nodded, hardening his heart.

“All Shepherds retreat!” he called.

Gregor watched as the others rose into the sky on the backs of the pegasi before he broke into a coughing fit, his hand coming away from his face covered wet with his own blood.

He shook his head, hefting his sword one handed as he heard the sounds of armoured feet banging on the planks from all directions.

He grinned, a thin trail of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth as a score of Valmese soldiers charged onto the ship, stopping cold in front of Gregor as another man, older and with a recently broken nose strode forward.

“Surrender, and we will spare your life,” the older man, obviously an Admiral from the fancy hat he wore, said in a refined accent. “Resist, and we will cut you down without mercy.”

Gregor spat blood, smiling at the man.

“Gregor is not young man anymore,” he said, drawing himself up to his full height and staring down the assembled soldiers. “But he is thinking he can take weaklings to hell with him.”

Without warning Gregor charged forward, grasping his sword two handed, ignoring the pain in his side and brining the weapon down on the Admiral with all of his strength.

The Admiral’s cutlass shattered as Gregor’s sword descended, the man himself dodging back with a light furrow cut through his uniform front.

“Kill him!” the Admiral shouted, tossing aside the half of his ruined sword in his hand as he backpedalled.

Gregor kept smiling as he spun, striking indiscriminately at the red-armoured Valmese soldiers and sailors crowding him. He fought like a man half his age, ducking and weaving between the soldiers, keeping their attention solely on him. He grunted as a lance pierced his stomach, reaching down and yanking it out before pulling it back towards him, letting it slide by his side and running the soldier holding it through on his sword. He stumbled forward as another soldier cut a deep line across the back of his shoulder, rending his pauldron in two. Gregor spun, cutting the man in half, armour and all; both sides fell wetly to the deck as Gregor kept moving through the soldiers like a demon unleashed from the underworld, a feral smile on his face as he cut and sliced again and again and again.

Gregor stumbled forward as his left leg gave out, his tendons cut from behind. The world seemed to slow to a stop for a moment as he leaned forward, blood running from his mouth to mingle with that of the Valmese he had slain already on the deck before everything sped back to normal as he lifted himself back up, throwing himself forwards onto another Valmese soldier, running his sword across the man’s neck as he brought them both crashing to the deck.

Another sword pierced Gregor’s chest from the back, making him cry out in pain as his other lung was punctured.

Gregor rolled, taking the sword with him as he kicked out with his good leg, snapping the soldier’s knee and bringing him down to the deck, where Gregor pounced on him, his sword forgotten as he crushed the other man’s neck with his bare hands.

He was thrown backwards when a boot smashed into his face, crushing his nose.

Lying on his back, barely able to breathe, Gregor looked to the side and started laughing as the Ylissean ships began drifting by.

“Gregor sees you all in hell…” he choked out, laughing weakly, blood bubbling up between his lips and from his broken face as he did.

His last sight before the all turned to flames was the beautiful blue sky calling to him.

As the world exploded around him Gregor reached up with one hand, reaching to the sky where he knew his brother was waiting for him.

“Wow,” Morgan breathed as the ships began exploding.

“It’s as if the sea itself is on fire,” Lissa said from next to her.

“Only your father could come up with such a brilliant scheme,” Khan Flavia said from next to her. “Moving all of our troops onto other ships and then sacrificing the empty half of the fleet… I can’t decide if he’s a genius or insane.”

The entire line of Valmese ships were ablaze, Father’s plan having gone off without a hitch.

They were both standing on the bow of the Dragon’s Claw, waiting for the Pegasus Knights to drop the Shepherds off safely. They were already drawing close, and the two women hurried over to the main deck, leaving Flavia staring out at the fiery destruction, where they were landing one by one, letting their burdens off before circling out again to rescue the soldiers that had ridden the ships into the Valmese line, who had thrown themselves clear just before the ships had impacted.

Cordelia landed heavily, Morgan’s father slung across her lap.

“Somebody take him,” she called, her voice thick with unshed tears as Morgan and Lissa rushed forward.

Before either could ask what was wrong after they had Robin safely on the deck Cordelia was back in the air again, circling with her Knights as they flew out to the flaming wreckage.

Cherche landed Minerva at the bow, Virion sliding off the wyvern’s neck and collapsing to his knees, punching the deck in frustration. The pink-haired woman came up behind him, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Morgan saw this scene repeated from the other Shepherds already on the ship, her heart freezing.

Sumia landed and Chrom wordlessly slid off the back of her pegasus. The woman had tears running down her face as she climbed off after Chrom, and he wrapped her in a tight hug.

“Where’s Gregor?” Morgan asked in a small voice while Lissa was healing her father.

Chrom looked sadly at her before he shook his head.

Robin returned to consciousness slowly, firmly aware of the aching pain in his jaw as he did.

He realized Lissa was leaning over him with tears in her eyes.

“What…” he started groggily before his mind caught up and he bolted upright. “Where’s Gregor!?”

The Shepherds around the deck, obviously they were back on the Dragon’s Claw, were all milling about aimlessly, avoiding looking at him.

Lon’qu was gripping his sword’s hilt so tight that Robin thought he could hear it creak; Lissa walked up to him slowly, laying a hand on his arm. In one movement the Princess was in Lon’qu’s arms as she burst into tears, the usually stoic swordsman burying his face in her hair.

Kjelle sat down heavily off to one side, ignoring the others around her as she ran a hand down her face. Frederick approached her, laying a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder as she stared into space; the older Knight’s face strained and drawn tight.

No… Robin thought desperately, looking around the deck.

Cherche was holding Virion from behind, the archer kneeling in the foredeck, fists clenched as he silently sobbed. Minerva crooned sadly, laying her large reptilian head next to the distraught archer.

Panne limped over to where a shell-shocked Gaius was standing with Yarne; the ginger thief snapped out of it, wrapping an arm around his wife as she rested her head exhaustedly on his shoulder while Yarne bowed his own head respectfully.

Libra stood to one side, quietly saying a prayer that Robin quickly realized were last rights for the departed.

No no no no no no NO! Robin thought, staring around at the others.

Donnel collapsed to one side, pulling his helmet off and wiping at his face, trying to hide the fact that he was crying.

Vaike was letting Miriel hold him, shaking with anger at a failure he would never forgive himself for.

“No,” Robin finally whispered, the simple denial catching in his throat.

He caught Chrom’s eye from where the Prince was standing, holding his wife while she sobbed against him. Chrom silently shook his head before looking back down at his wife and leading her past Robin towards the cabins.

Lucina burst onto the deck from the galley staircase opposite Robin, looking around desperately as the other Shepherds began to disperse.

Robin became aware of Morgan holding onto his arm, quietly sobbing for a man she had only known a few weeks as Lucina approached them.

“Who…” she asked hesitantly.

Robin looked up, unable to answer as tears formed in his eyes.

“Gregor… didn’t make it,” Morgan answered for him when he wordlessly looked back down.

That night Robin was leaning on the railing on the foredeck, watching the flaming Valmese ships burn themselves out. They wouldn’t be able to advance through the wreckage until the fires had died down, so that meant waiting.

Robin let his head droop, his hair falling forward to cover his face.

Everyone had been so kind, saying that it wasn’t his fault that Gregor had died; that his plan hadn’t been responsible for the mercenary’s death; that he was blameless.

Everyone had been lying to Robin.

The blame fell squarely on his shoulders.

He had taken up his position watching the flames as soon as he had stood, leaving Morgan, such a sensitive young girl that had been crushed by the death of her new friend, to grieve with Tharja and Noire.

Robin wanted to be alone.

He needed to be alone to figure out how to properly atone for the death of a man that had trusted him implicitly.

A man he had let down.

In the war with Plegia he hadn’t lost a single Shepherd; soldiers had died, and he had felt guilty, but he had never lost one of the elite fighting force that followed the Prince around. He had never lost a friend before.

Robin looked back up to the flames, seeing Gregor’s last easy smile in his mind’s eye as he stared at the conflagration.

He glanced over his shoulder as he heard footsteps on the stairs that led up to the forecastle deck, looking away again when Lucina entered his field of vision.

“Robin,” she said gently. “You need to eat something.”

Usually the smell of food would make him feel ill while he was so close to the water, but he was numb and the smell did nothing to him.

“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled.

“Today was a fierce battle, from Father’s telling of it,” she persisted. “You need to keep your strength up.”

“I’m not hungry,” Robin repeated, his tone unchanging.

What if I had brought Morgan with us today? He thought for the hundredth time. Or Tharja? Or Chrom didn’t come back? What if Lucina had been there? What if I hadn’t been able to save her?

There was a light clatter as Lucina set something down behind him.

Robin started as soft arms wrapped around his chest from behind and Lucina pressed herself gently to his back.

“It’s okay,” Lucina whispered to him. “You did everything you could.”

Tears Robin thought he had long exhausted sprung to his eyes again as he started sobbing uncontrollably.

“No,” he said, his voice rough and broken. “It’s not okay. Gregor died because… because my plan didn’t account for the… the travel time of the ships… and… and…”

Robin trailed off, letting his head fall forwards, chin against his chest as he squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to wake from the horrible nightmare he found himself in.

Lucina released him, moving over to his side and gripping his face with both hands, forcing him to look up at her.

“Robin, Naga knows I’ve lost my fair share of friends,” she said, tears in her own eyes as she spoke fervently. “I watched my army slowly destroyed by forces we could never hope to match. I lost my parents, and my country, and my kingdom, and I blamed myself for the longest time. But it wasn’t my fault.”

She gently wrapped her hands around Robin’s head and pulled him into another soft embrace.

“Just like this isn’t your fault,” she added quietly as Robin lost control again, tears flowing freely as he collapsed against the woman.

They stayed like that for a long time, even after the tears stopped, Robin simply allowing himself to be comforted.

She meant well, but she was wrong.

It was his fault that Gregor was dead.

But Robin vowed that he wouldn’t give in to despair. He would go on and win the war in Gregor’s name, and when victory had been secured Robin would return to Ylisstol and carve the old mercenary’s name into the rafters of the Shepherds barracks, so he would always be looking down on them.

“Thank you Lucina,” Robin said at last, drawing away from the Princess. “I think I’ll be okay now.”

She nodded, smiling a little as Robin stretched his back.

“You still need to eat something,” she said quickly before turning and walking to the stairs back down to the main deck.

“Good night, Robin.” She said over her shoulder as she descended.

Soon Robin was standing alone on the foredeck, wondering why Lucina had been in such a hurry to leave as he bent down to pick up the tray she had brought him.

“What was that about…?”

The tactician cast a questioning look at Sumia’s pegasus where it was tied to the railing with Cordelia’s and Minerva, rolling his eyes when he realized he was hoping for an answer about her behaviour from two flying horses and an overgrown flying lizard.

Lucina closed the door to her tiny cabin bellow the quarterdeck, leaning against it and willing her heart to slow.

She had been comforting Robin completely innocently, holding him while he poured out all of the wretched emotions pent up inside of him. She hadn’t thought about it at all until he had calmed, and she realized that they were in each other’s arms, and her thoughts had turned to how good it felt to be held by him…

No, she told herself vehemently, shaking her head. I will not interfere with this timeline any more than I have. I will not give in to my baser urges just to hurt him when I leave after the war.

She drew Falchion, her Falchion that had been brought back to Ylisstol by a broken and bleeding Frederick after her mother and father had died; the last reminder besides her name of her old life, the cold steel glinting softly in the weak moonlight streaming in through the cabin’s small window.

That is what I need to be, she repeated to herself again. I need to be like cold steel. I need to strike strong and true at Grima’s heart so that no others suffer the way I have.

She sighed sadly, sheathing the divine blade and slipping out of her armour, preparing to take rest for the evening.

I have no time for anything else.

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