Life at the Shepherd camp was slowly winding down for the day; Sully had beaten all comers into submission on the training field, including a number of Feroxi and Chon’sin warriors looking to test their mettle; Inigo had apparently snuck off to the Ylissean army camp, more specifically to the nurses’ quarters, heedless of the danger he was putting himself in by violating the Head Nurse’s strict fraternization policies; Noire and Henry had given up on trying to undo whatever irritating hex Tharja had come up with to torture her daughter with that day and slunk off to the mess tent; Frederick, as always with Donnel in tow, had completed his inspection of the Ylissean and Feroxi camps, ensuring that everything was up to standard – his standard, not military standard which was apparently still too low; the healers in the Shepherds, now with the addition of Brady joining them, had returned from assisting the wounded villagers from the surrounding area and, in an act of incredible good-faith on Lissa’s part, had been in the capital all afternoon healing the wounded Valmese soldiers, too; Say’ri had given out her orders, and the majority of the Chon’sin army had begun returning to their homeland, including the conscripts from the Imperial army, although she would follow with the wounded and the Shepherds the next day; Cordelia had gotten reports from all of her Pegasus Knights, beaming like a proud parent when she learned that none had been killed all throughout the war as she looked over her paperwork at the end of the day; Cynthia and Lucina, true to their father’s orders, had been in the mess tent with Stahl since late afternoon, doing their best to keep up with the experienced cook; most of the rest of the Shepherds had congregated in the mess tent, preparing for dinner to be served before they went about their nightly rituals.
Robin sat at a long table in the corner of the mess tent, possibly the only one actually frowning in the entire camp, gripping his knife and fork pointed upwards in his hands so tight his knuckles were white. With him were Tharja, Cordelia, and Severa, all looking with raised eyebrows at Virion who was doing his best to ignore the tactician.
The awkward atmosphere had intensified when Morgan and Yarne had arrived together, the smiling young tactician using the Taguel as a crutch, talking animatedly as he practically carried her to a seat. A seat as far away from Robin as possible, he had noticed. However the younger man’s hands had never wandered, he had been a perfect gentleman, serving Morgan’s food for her, a weak and nutritious gruel that many of the wounded Shepherds were still eating as a matter of course to help them heal, and had been rewarded with a perfectly chaste kiss on the cheek. Robin was, on the one hand, happy his daughter was happy. However on the other he was about to jump across the tent and turn Yarne into a fur scarf, and he wasn’t sure entirely why yet.
“He seems… tense,” Cordelia whispered to no one in particular, eying Robin over the small stack of papers she was perusing while waiting for dinner to finish being prepared.
“He is merely being childish,” Virion said haughtily. “If you ignore him he will stop. Do not validate his most ridiculous of fantasies. Does anyone know what the most beauteous Princesses of Ylisse are serving for dinner tonight?”
“I think someone said something about rabbit stew,” Severa said, clearly bored with the conversation as she lazily propped her chin up with one hand, elbow resting on the table.
Robin and Virion both went silent.
“I swear I had nothing to do with this,” Robin said, corners of his mouth twitching a little before he and Virion began snorting with laughter.
“Ah, I knew you could still smile,” Virion said as Robin’s anger act finally dropped and the two men calmed down a little.
“Dammit,” Robin chuckled, setting down his cutlery. “You knew if I laughed I’d break. Ah, I don’t care anymore anyway. Because now he has to deal with Say’ri, and she scares the hell outta everyone. Including me.”
Virion was about to respond, no doubt some witty rejoinder about all women scaring Robin to some degree, and the others around the table all raised curious looks before a commotion from the entrance to the tent drew everyone’s eyes.
“Hark, noble companions and allies!” Owain cried as he exploded into the long tent. “Prepare yourselves, for Owain Dark, hero of the future and scion of legend has deemed fit to join you all in-”
Whatever the blonde boy was about to ramble was cut off when his father Lon’qu slapped him in the back of the head before silently stepping past and joining a giggling Lissa and perplexed looking Chrom and Sumia at the head table.
“Oh gods,” Severa muttered as Owain spotted them, a big grin breaking out on his face again.
“Do we want to be elsewhere?” Robin asked, finally paying attention to something besides Yarne. “Because we can totally be elsewhere for you.”
“Gods no,” Severa said in an angry whisper. “Don’t leave me alone with him! I caught him naming every piece of equipment in the supply tent today, for Naga’s sake!”
“Aw, that’s cute!” Cordelia cooed, holding her face in both hands.
“That is not the only strange happening of the last few days,” Virion muttered, eying Robin.
“Yeah,” the tactician muttered back. “I could swear I saw Miriel emit actual human emotion this morning.”
“No,” the archer responded in a mock-shocked tone.
“Be nice,” Cordelia warned, obviously trying not to laugh as she lightly nudged Robin’s arm. “She was just happy you were alive.”
“Oh gods…” Severa repeated, sinking in her chair.
“What-ho, Severa!” Owain greeted loudly once he was closer. “Might I join you and your boon comp-”
“Table’s full,” she said quickly, cutting him off and turning to face away.
Robin and Virion both winced sympathetically for the boy’s sake, but rather than get down from Severa’s harsh treatment it actually seemed to encourage Owain further. Fortunately, before either could begin shouting Cynthia’s high girlish voice rang out calling that dinner was ready, and Severa made her escape while Owain was distracted.
“Ah, to be young again,” Virion said with a wistful smile as the blonde swordsman made off after her. “So full of energy! So full of life!”
“So noisy,” Tharja muttered darkly as she, Virion and Cordelia all stood up to get in line for the food.
“I think it’s cute,” Cordelia repeated, smiling at her daughter’s back as she tried desperately to ignore Owain. “Oh? Robin? Are you not… eating? Robin?”
The tactician had disappeared, having spotted the Ylissean messenger peeking through the mess tent’s entrance.
“Don’t tell him I’m here,” Robin whispered desperately from beneath the table.
“Of course, my friend; we would never dream of it!” Virion said soothingly, making wild gestures and pointing at the table, mouthing ‘he’s under here’ as obviously as he could to the perplexed messenger.
“Er… Lord-Tactician Robin?” the messenger asked cautiously, approaching the table.
“Nope,” Robin said from his hiding spot, voice muffled by the table. “Robin’s dead. No one here but us camp fairies.”
“Just leave the papers and we’ll see that Robin gets them,” Cordelia said to the poor messenger, who gratefully did as he was told before beating a hasty retreat away from the eccentric Shepherds.
“Dammit,” the tactician muttered as he popped up from beneath the table and reaching for the package of papers the messenger had left behind.
“You should eat first,” Tharja said, always the first to worry about Robin’s health.
“I’ll eat later,” he sighed, hanging his head as he rose. “Frederick must finally have tracked me down. You know the saying; no rest for the wickedly handsome.”
“I think you added an unnecessary word to that saying,” Virion muttered, rolling his eyes.
“Make sure Vaike and Stahl don’t eat all the food on me!” Robin said, waving over his shoulder as he left the tent.
I hate this job sometimes, he thought to himself, casting one final glare at Yarne before leaving. Despite his earlier statement apparently he did still care somewhat.
Forty percent Ylissean and Feroxi casualties, keeping in mind we only had about half of our standing army here, Robin thought, leafing through the large stack of papers and reports while making notes on more sheets. Twenty percent Chengshi casualties, limited mostly to the outriders and scouts; sixty percent Chon’sin casualties, due in no small part to the battle at the Demon’s Ingle. Only five percent Resistance casualties; Priam really is as good as I thought. Valmese Imperial Regular casualties are still being tallied, but it looks like… a little over seventy-five from preliminary reports. Dynasts and conscript casualties are still unknown; estimated at… thirty percent? Or is that a ‘two’? Gah! I can’t read this handwriting!
Robin sighed, leaning back in his chair and letting his head hang back.
What a mess. The wounded are another matter entirely; how in Naga’s name are we supposed to get so many seriously wounded soldiers back to Ylisse and Regna Ferox? Oh, right. That’s my job to figure out. Damn.
He had returned to his tent almost immediately, stopping only long enough to grab a small bread-roll to fill his stomach from a passing Ylissean cook delivering them to the Shepherds’ mess; good timing really on the baker’s part. Lighting an oil-lamp Robin had diligently set to work, knowing that it would just continue to pile up if he didn’t start now, especially while Morgan was out of commission.
The reports were all pretty bleak, but at least there was still positive activity from all of the armies. Liung had ordered the majority of his army back to Chengshi, although one hundred men and two of his Generals were to accompany him to Chon’sin. The Chon’sin army and the conscripts from Say’ri’s kingdom were already on the move, carrying most of their wounded with them; apparently they were under orders to simply return home for the time being. The Resistance army were acting as a police force in Valm Capital while the regular army was stood-down, assisting the city Guard in maintaining order; so far there had been no rumblings from the Imperials, and a number of the higher ranked officers still alive were in talks about who would be attending the summit in Chon’sin.
Leaders attending that have been confirmed so far… Robin thought, searching for a particular report he’d seen a second ago. Ah! Here we go… Queen Say’ri of Chon’sin; that’s a given. Lord Exalt Chrom the First of Ylisse; try saying that ten times fast. Khan Regnant Flavia of Regna Ferox; I hope Say’ri has a lot of beer on hand. King Liung of Chengshi; of course he’d go. The as-yet-undetermined Imperial delegation, which has twenty-four hours to finalize a response; I hope they get their butts in gear. And…
Robin sighed, his eyes closing for a moment after he took a look at the sheet. “’Sir Wallace, former Second to the Captain of the Valmese Capital Guard and Current Leader of the Resistance is attending with a delegation of ten men, despite his wounds’. Dammit, Priam. We could have used you.”
Robin tossed the sheet uncaringly to the top of the pile on his desk.
“Good for Wallace, though,” the tactician muttered, sinking back into his chair and resting his hands behind his head. “Smart man. He’ll keep the Imperials in line.”
Chon’sin was going to be a madhouse; Robin could already tell. Despite not having any memories of ever attending a summit like this, he somehow got the gut feeling that it would turn into a circus.
At least if it turns into a circus there’ll be some entertainment… Robin thought, chuckling quietly at his own turn of phrase as he looked at the names listed for the Ylissean delegation. Of course, just below Chrom and ‘Queen Sumia of Ylisse’s’ names was his. Right at the top of the list, exactly where he hated being.
Didn’t I quit politics? He wondered, rocking on his chair. I wonder if the ‘I’m dead’ excuse will fly? Probably not. What’s next, what’s next…? Casualty reports… Gaaaah… Bugger it. I need some air.
The tactician stood, stretching his arms above his head and wincing when his back gave an audible crack, vowing to look into getting a more supportive camp chair for the next campaign as he stepped out of the tent, slinging his oversized sword over one shoulder as he went.
As big as it is, I think I like this sword, Robin thought idly as he strolled through the darkened camp. What was it supposed to be called? Sol? I hope Say’ri doesn’t want it back.
Robin had been at the paperwork for a few hours now and had already exhausted his meagre emergency ‘work stash’ of dried fruits and nuts he kept on hand for just such an occasion. Procuring more was just one more thing to add to the list of things to do, but he would rather avoid the Shepherds’ wagons for a little while; Anna was still viciously hunting the ‘vandal’ that had assaulted her wagon, so Robin felt the urge to lie low overpowering his urge to eat.
She couldn’t stay mad forever… could she?
At least it was late, so she would have given up her attempts to locate the culprit for the evening; in fact most of the Shepherds would be asleep right now. Robin had long ago given up on a regular sleeping pattern, resigning himself instead to napping when he could rather than sleeping a full eight hours. Wandering through the camp in an attempt to let his over-worked brain cool off, Robin sighed as he stared upwards in a small puff of white as a cloud moved to cover the moon in the chill night breeze. Winter truly was getting close; another year gone. How many more would Grima wait to act? Perhaps he already was, and the Shepherds just had no idea. Reports of Risen in the Valmese countryside were increasing, but now that the Dynasts and conscripts were disbanding they should be able to defend the villages a little better...
The tactician stopped and spun when he heard a sudden scream echo from the direction of the mess tent, melancholy thoughts instantly pushed to the back of his mind; between meals the Shepherds often used the large open tent as a common area, but being so late there wouldn’t be many that would still be there…
“That sounded like Cordelia,” Robin muttered, beginning to jog in the direction of the mess.
That would be just my luck, Robin thought with a grimace as he raced through the gaps between tents, steadily picking up speed. Assassins attacking the Ylissean command structure, no doubt. It’s a smart move, though; strike while our guard is down. Dammit, we can’t afford this right now! Cordelia wouldn’t go down that easily, though; none of the Ylissean leaders would!
Robin rounded a corner, pulling Sol free of its sheath over his shoulder as he did and sprinted the last stretch to the mess tent, skidding to a halt as his worry turned to confusion.
Cordelia, Sumia, and Severa were in the tent with Frederick, and Cordelia had her arms wrapped around the Knight Commander’s neck in a… hug? She was half laughing, half crying as Frederick actually smiled for the first time in the three or four years Robin had known the Knight.
“Robin!” Sumia said excitedly when she spotted him, before her face dropped when she spotted the sword in his hands. “What’s the sword for?”
“Er… nothing,” the tactician said sheepishly, returning Sol to its sheathe and stepping into the tent. “I just thought we were under atta-ACK!”
“Robin I’m getting married!” Cordelia cried, wrapping her arms around his neck, unfortunately still wearing her armour this time.
“Congratulations,” the tactician managed to choke out as the life was hugged out of him.
“Thank you, Robin,” Frederick said solemnly with a nod.
He still hates me, Robin thought with a jerk as Cordelia shifted, moving him with her. Gods she’s a lot stronger than she looks!
“Geez, mom,” Severa groaned as she pulled her mother off of Robin. “Are you trying to kill him?”
The younger redhead let out a little shriek as she was wrapped in a hug now, too.
Fortunately for the both of them, Frederick is possibly the only one in the world with the constitution to stand up to one of those hugs, Robin thought, gasping for breath and trying not to laugh as Severa made the same face he was just making over her mother’s shoulder. This’ll definitely be good for him, too. Mellow him out a little.
“Run before… she gets you too,” he gasped to Sumia.
“I’m so happy for you!” the Queen sniffled to her best friend, oblivious to Robin’s warning. “And I can even help you plan your wedding!”
“Oh, please do!” Cordelia gushed, finally releasing Severa, who managed to stumble without falling to stand next to Robin. “Your wedding with Chrom was so beautiful… I still tear up just thinking about it!”
“Don’t cry or you’ll make me start!” Sumia said, hugging her friend and letting out an even more pitiful sniffle.
“Oh brother,” Robin muttered, rolling his eyes.
Severa let out a chuckle from next to Robin, smiling widely as she watched the two women discussing table decorations and dresses; not many children got to say they were present during their parent’s engagement and subsequent wedding, so this situation must have been quite the novelty for her. Frederick had a much more subdued look, but it was still a vast improvement over his usual glower; no doubt he was only now realizing what he was getting himself in for wedding-wise. The two highest-ranking officers in the Ylissean Haildom were getting married, to each other, no less; this would wind up being a huge deal.
“I’ll find some other people that can help us, too!” Sumia went on. “Chrom was such a big help I’m sure he’d be delighted to do so again, and there are so many organized people in the Shepherds, too! This is so exciting!”
Robin’s eyes went wide at the implied meaning of Sumia’s statement. I think that’s my cue to leave. Now. Right now. Before she gets any more ideas.
“Well, since nobody’s at risk of being assassinated, I’ll get out of your hair,” Robin said, clasping his hands behind his back and stepping backwards towards the opening of the tent. “I wish the happy couple all the best; Sumia, don’t take over all the planning; Severa, have fun helping plan the wedding.”
With that, Robin beat feet, no one but Severa realizing he had left they were so wrapped up in the moment. He hadn’t even helped with Chrom’s wedding, so he wasn’t about to be suckered into planning anyone else’s, no matter how happy he was for them.
As Robin rounded the corner of the mess he let out a relieved sigh.
Crisis averted and arrow dodged. The only wedding I’m planning is my own, and maybe helping out with Mor…gan’s… The tactician twitched and sighed, realizing what he’d just thought given the current situation.
Aw. I made myself sad.
“Good evening, Robin” a voice said from behind the tactician, making him yelp and jump.
“Lucina! Don’t do that!” he gasped, heart racing. “You scared the hell out of me!”
“My apologies,” she laughed. “You have gotten to be quite jumpy lately.”
“With good reason,” Robin muttered, turning his head when he heard Sumia call his name. “Run. Run away. Don’t just stand there, go!”
With panicked whispers the tactician grabbed Lucina’s wrist and led her away from the mess tent as fast as he could, the Princess obviously stifling her laughter as he did so. Unfortunately it seemed like Sumia had spotted him after all, as footsteps followed them through the camp.
“Why are we running?” Lucina asked, still laughing and obviously not seeing the gravity of the situation.
“Have you ever planned a wedding?” Robin whispered, leading them around another corner. “No? Well, trust me when I say you don’t want to do it more than once. I didn’t help plan your parents, I was out of Ylisse for everyone else’s, and I’m not getting dragged into this one. Quick, in here!”
Robin ducked into one of the dark supply tents, pulling Lucina with him and straining his ears to see if they were still being followed.
“Robin, I am-”
Lucina was cut off when the tactician pressed a hand to her mouth, stepping forward and staring intently over her shoulder at the sliver of light that marked the entrance to the tent. A shadow passed in front of it, lingering a moment before moving on.
“Okay,” Robin muttered. “We should be safe now.”
He glanced over to Lucina, not having to look far, his hand snapping back as he stepped away, so caught up in the moment he had obviously not noticed just how close he was standing to her; they had been barely inches apart, and while he had been staring over her shoulder they’d been even closer.
Oh gods. If Sumia had found us like that… in a dark supply tent… I shudder to think of the consequences.
“Are you just about done now?” Lucina asked, her tone, while lower, still full of mirth as she straightened her clothing.
Robin could tell she was smiling in the dim light coming in from outside the tent, but apart from that it was hard to make out any other details in the gloom.
“I would prefer it if you didn’t give away my position by leaving just yet,” he whispered pleadingly, sinking down to sit on a crate.
“I see,” Lucina said, sitting opposite him on another box. “I had hoped to speak to you at dinner, but you left before I had the chance.”
“A tactician’s work is never done,” Robin sighed, thinking of the gigantic pile still sitting on his table. “It wasn’t anything too important, was it?”
Robin heard the sound of Lucina shaking her head in the dark, imagining her silken blue hair swaying with the movement.
“I had simply hoped to spend more time with you.”
Robin felt himself blush a little.
“However I had also hoped to speak to my cousin today, too,” Lucina went on after a moment’s pause. “Fortunately your absence created that opportunity. I am glad to find him as spirited as ever.”
“That’s one word for it… The word I would have used is ‘loud’. What about Cynthia?” Robin asked conversationally. “I heard something about you two pissing off your father this afternoon.”
Lucina cleared her throat, obviously embarrassed. Rumours circulated fast in a small community like the Shepherds, after all.
“Yes, well… It is a long story.”
“You’ll have to tell me it some time.”
“Not likely,” Lucina muttered under her breath.
“What was that?” Robin asked curiously.
“Nothing,” she answered hastily.
“I’m glad you got to spend time with your family,” Robin chuckled. “I know it can’t have been easy being away from them for so long.”
Lucina scoffed. “Although I did miss her, my sister spent two hours grilling me about my relationship with you; I felt less like we were spending time together and more like I was being interrogated.”
“What did you tell her?” Robin asked cautiously after a moment of thought. “All good things, I hope.”
“I told her the truth,” Lucina replied with a shrug, saying nothing more.
“Er, that could be interoperated in many different ways, Lucina,” Robin pointed out, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.
“I am aware of this.”
“You’re totally messing with me right now, aren’t you?” Robin deadpanned after a moment’s silence, envisioning the grin on her face and cursing his luck it was too dark to actually see it.
“I am,” Lucina admitted before she burst out laughing.
Robin sighed and shook his head. “Nice to see you’ve been developing that sense of humour. But I think that you might have been spending a little too much time around Severa and Virion.”
“What makes you say that?” Lucina asked, still chuckling.
“Because they’re both mean to me, too,” Robin moaned.
Lucina started to laugh again, and Robin joined her. It was nice, just spending time together like this. He made a mental note to set aside time to at the very least take meals with her. It was too easy to get caught up in his work, but now he had a reason not to.
Well, I had reasons not to before, but my health and social life hardly count, and usually most of my planning time involves Morgan anyway, Robin thought as their laughter died down.
“So is that it then?” Robin asked hesitantly. “Are we… in a relationship?”
“That is a strange question for someone who professed to ‘coming back from the dead’ for my sake,” Lucina pointed out.
“Hey, this is all uncharted territory for me,” Robin said, crossing his arms and turning away a little as he felt his cheeks darken. “I don’t want to overstep any boundaries or anything. I mean, it is kind of a, for lack of a better word, ‘weird’ circumstance you and I are in.”
“How do you mean?” Lucina asked, sounding genuinely curious now.
“Well, you know me from the future,” Robin explained. “You grew up with my daughter. I’m… well, not much older than you, but the you in this timeline is… uh… gods this is so confusing. I had it thought out better before…”
Lucina responded by laughing quietly.
“Robin, the man before me isn’t the man I knew in the future,” she said softly as she moved to sit at his side. “You were a completely different person in the future, and not one I see you becoming in this timeline. You were cold and aloof, even to those closest to you. Your sarcastic wit was still similar, though.”
“Nice to see some things are universal,” Robin drolled, rolling his eyes.
“What I am trying to say is that for me, you are a different person,” Lucina explained, taking one of Robin’s hands in both of hers. “The Robin I knew would not have risked his life to rescue me, and he surely would not have leapt from the back of an airborne pegasus.”
Robin cleared his throat. “It seemed like a good idea at the time… But how do you know I won’t become that Robin?”
“I feel it,” Lucina said simply. “So do not fear overstepping any boundaries. If you do, I will surely let you know.”
A mental image of Lucina swinging her huge broadsword around, blue flames burning from within it passed through Robin’s mind, making him shudder involuntarily.
“But, as I was trying to say before,” Lucina added as she stood, releasing Robin’s hand, “I am meant to be on guard duty tonight.”
“Aaaaand I grabbed you, took you away from your route and made and arse of myself,” Robin said, wincing and holding a hand to his face. “Sorry. I guess I got a little carried away.”
“I forgive you,” Lucina said, suddenly at his side reaching up and planting a light kiss on Robin’s cheek before making for the tent’s exit.
The tactician smiled stupidly, bringing a hand to the lingering sensation of warmth on his cheek before he remembered what they had been talking about.
“Wait! You still didn’t tell me what you said about me!” Robin called after her.
“I am aware of that,” she laughed over her shoulder, leaving Robin alone and flustered, blinking in the dark supply tent.
Crap, Robin thought. I wanted to ask her when we should tell everybody. I guess I’ll do it later. Like when her mother isn’t snooping around trying to force me into planning a wedding…
As Robin stepped out into the brisk night air, carefully checking to make sure Sumia wasn’t around, another thought occurred to him that made him falter in his steps.
Huh. I’m in a relationship now. I thought this would make me feel a little more… Oh. Oh gods. There’s the panic of the unknown. Yup, right on cue. Now how am I going to sleep tonight?
“Anybody seen Morgan?” Robin asked no one in particular the next morning, yawning as the last of the camp was disassembled around him.
He had wound up working late and oversleeping a little, but that was hardly unusual. It was surprising just how fast things had returned to normal around the camp now that things were calming down. A few of the other Shepherds shrugged at his question as they carried on with their duties, making Robin scratch his head. After a moment of contemplation his countenance darkened as a name popped to his mind.
“Yarne,” the tactician muttered darkly, spinning towards one of the equipment tents when he heard a terrified squeak.
He crossed the distance in a heartbeat, reaching under the limp canvas of the half-disassembled tent right in front of a very perplexed looking Inigo and dragging the Taguel out by the scruff. Obviously the two boys had been tasked with disassembling and loading this particular tent.
“I won’t take much of your time,” Robin said pleasantly to Inigo, before turning a frosty smile to the trembling boy his hand was still gripping.
“Now. Yarne. Where, exactly, is my daughter, hrm?”
The young Taguel trembled, blinking pathetically as his rabbit-flight instinct kicked in and he began struggling.
“You’re making yourself seem guilty!” Robin shouted as Yarne pulled out of his grip and he was forced to put the boy in a headlock. “It was a simple question! Answer me and I might not kill you!”
“I don’t know, I swear!” Yarne wailed, panicking as Robin flexed his bicep under his jaw. “Please, I saw her to her tent last night and that was all! Don’t make me extinct!”
“You dog, Yarne,” Inigo said in a low voice, clamming up when Robin shot him a warning glare over the struggling Taguel’s head.
“Er… R-Robin?” a hesitant voice asked from behind the three men, making them all turn and freeze at once.
Noire stood there, wilting under the curious gazes of the three men as she desperately tried to deliver her message.
“I… uh… Morgan went to… the healing tent before they took it down…” the black-haired girl muttered, looking down. “She said something about… marching with Queen Say’ri…”
I guess she was in too much of a hurry to tell me, Robin thought, reminding himself that there was no reason to feel disappointed about this turn of events when he was the one that had overslept.
“Ah,” Robin said cheerily, releasing Yarne who fell to the ground with a soft thud. “Thank you Noire. Have you eaten breakfast yet?”
“That’s good,” Robin said with a big smile, planting a foot between Yarne’s shoulder blades and pinning him to the dirt. “We wouldn’t want you to have an anemic attack during the march, would we? Has your mother got everything in her menagerie of hex tools packed up yet?”
“N… Uh… I don’t think so…”
“Why don’t you and I give her a hand then?” Robin asked with a wink.
Noire nodded and Robin smiled again before he reached down and dragged Yarne to his feet.
“This isn’t over, Bunny,” he warned in a low growl, before nodding once to Inigo and taking Noire’s arm, leading her towards her mother’s tent.
“What in Naga’s name did you do to piss him off so much?” Robin heard Inigo ask in a low voice as he and Noire departed.
“I don’t know any more…” Yarne whined pathetically.
“It is a long way to Chon’sin,” Say’ri said. “Are you sure you will be alright?”
Morgan nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah! I’m pretty much all better now that the healers are done with me, so I’ll be fine to ride with you!”
The two women were sitting atop horses at the head of a column of soldiers and carts marching down the road heading east from Valm Capital; Morgan was once again clad in her beloved coat, having been cleared to travel by Princess Lissa a little over an hour ago.
Morgan was travelling as Say’ri’s ‘long lost sister that had been travelling the world’ for ease of explaining her royal heritage to the officers and the courtiers waiting for them in Chon’sin; apparently it wasn’t uncommon for noble houses to keep the births of children secret after the firstborn, and luckily for Morgan she looked strikingly similar to Say’ri. In front of the general Chon’sin public Morgan’s alias would be ‘Princess Mor’gan’, which was, according to Say’ri, a perfectly normal Chon’sin name and also probably why she had been named that in the first place; it worked in both the Chon’sin and Ylissean dialects. It honestly sounded a little guttural to Morgan, but she wasn’t about to say as much to the woman that had chosen the name for her. Fortunately it seemed most people would be calling her ‘Princess’ anyway, or whatever the local version was; there were a lot of terms in Chon’sin’s language that didn’t have exact translations.
The only other people from Chon’sin that knew the truth were Say’ri’s two retainers Seiko and General Keiji. Sei'ko knew because she was an excellent spy and Keiji simply because Say’ri had chosen to put her trust in the man. Keiji had seemed a little confused at first, but had taken Morgan’s outlandish story in stride and vowed to serve his Princess with the same fervour that he did his Queen.
“Besides,” the young tactician added. “I’m going to take the whole Princess of Chon’sin thing seriously! All I did before was study tactics and planning with Dad! Now I’m going to learn how to be a proper lady of my homeland!”
“You have the right attitude,” Say’ri laughed as they continued down the road. “But there is much to learn. A lifetime’s worth of culture and manners.”
“I’m sure I learned it once already,” Morgan said offhandly. “In fact, I can understand pretty much all of what everyone around us is saying already, so apparently I know the language. I’m sure once I get started I’ll remember everything else, too!”
“You… speak the tongue of Chon’sin?” Say’ri asked sceptically.
“Hai!” Morgan answered affirmatively happily, bouncing in her saddle a little.
“That will admittedly make life much easier,” Say’ri said, switching to her native dialect.
“I will not be stopped!” Morgan exclaimed in the same language, flourishing her hand and pointing into the distance theatrically. “Today, Chon’sin! Tomorrow, the world!”
The talking from the soldiers behind them grew quieter, and Morgan glanced over her shoulder sheepishly as Say’ri fought to remain composed.
“Maybe I oughta not yell that kind of stuff so loud, considering what the war we just finished was over…” she muttered sheepishly when she noticed the strange looks that the officers were giving her.
This proved to be too much for Say’ri, and the usually sombre woman burst into a fit of hysterical laughter so hard she doubled over her saddle as Morgan joined her mirth.
Admittedly Morgan felt a little guilty about ditching Yarne and her father to travel with her mother’s people, but they were her people too, and she wanted to get to know them. She just hoped that her father didn’t do anything too… overbearing to her new boyfriend while she was away.
“There will be much to do once we reach the Capital,” Say’ri explained once they had both calmed down. “First there will be a small coronation ceremony; only the two of us, a handful of other nobles, Sei'ko and Keiji and the monks presiding over the ceremony will be present. Then we will have a funeral ceremony for the Yen’fay, which will most likely be open for the public; he was a popular ruler, despite his ties to Walhart. Then there will be a naming ceremony for Keiji where he will take a second name to announce his elevation to General…”
“Stop,” Morgan begged. “Please stop. There’s no way I’ll remember all of this. At least let me write it down.”
“Do not bother,” Say’ri said as Morgan began digging through her pouch for paper and something to write with. “Keiji will no doubt be preparing itineraries for us every time the column breaks for rest.”
“He seems really similar to Commander Frederick,” Morgan commented in a low voice.
Say’ri laughed again. “I should hope so! Sir Frederick seems to run the daily workings of the Ylissean camp single-handedly! I almost offered him the same position in Chon’sin!”
“Good luck with that,” Morgan snorted. “He’s practically attached to Chrom at the hip.”
“So that’s the situation,” Robin said gravely as he walked along next to Panne and Gaius.
The Taguel woman nodded, obviously lost in contemplation, while Gaius waited to see what his wife would say; Robin had just laid all the facts out before them about Yarne and Morgan, as little as he knew, but neither of the younger half-Taguel’s parents seemed surprised.
“And you both already knew, didn’t you?” Robin said, making it a statement rather than a question.
The tactician pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned his head back, willing the headache he’d gotten after inadvertently taking a whiff of something in one of the jars he had helped Tharja pack up to disappear. Just like most of what his friend did, he didn’t want to know what the jar had contained.
Gaius chuckled, rubbing the back of his ginger hair as they marched.
“Yeah, kinda,” he admitted. “The boy needed a little coaching; he’s pretty spineless, and that’s coming from his father.”
Robin grimaced. Apparently he was the only one left out of the loop here.
The Shepherds had been marching through the forested Valmese countryside most of the morning and right through lunch; Chrom was in a hurry to get out of what he still perceived to be enemy territory, and Robin agreed with him. They were due to hit Chon’sin’s borders sometime the next day while the Ylissean League proper followed behind at a more relaxed pace, led by Frederick and Roark. Flavia and her entourage were travelling up front with the Exalt, the warriors from Regna Ferox laughing and carrying on with the Shepherds like old friends. Robin supposed that was what a war did to people, built camaraderie; at least the bonds between Ylisse and its northern neighbour would be better than ever once they returned.
“I do not see why you are upset, man-spawn,” Panne said after thinking. “Yarne may be a coward, but he is brave at heart. I believe this is a good thing; your daughter is strong and intelligent, both are superior breeding stock. They will create many strong offspring together.”
A vein above Robin’s brow twitched.
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t just refer to our children as livestock,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “And ask again why nobody felt it necessary to tell me.”
“Well, they are adults,” Gaius shrugged.
Robin groaned and slouched, defeated.
“Besides, they’re young, Bubbles!” Gaius went on, wrapping an arm around his wife’s waist. “Let them have their fun. It wasn’t too long ago it was us acting like them. Morgan’s a responsible kid, and Yarne’s a pushover; what’re you worried about?”
Robin actually hesitated a second.
What am I so upset about?
“I think it’s the fact that Morgan didn’t tell me,” Robin admitted. “I thought we were closer than that.”
Gaius chuckled a little while Panne squirmed in his grip.
“Robin, do you have any idea how a Taguel chooses a mate?” the ginger thief asked as he released his agitated wife.
“Do I want to?” the tactician muttered with a sour face.
“It’s like a lightning strike,” Gaius explained, punching a fist into his open palm for emphasis. “All of a sudden ‘BAM!’ they’re in love. Plus, from what Yarne hinted at, they were pretty close in the future, so there’s that to take into consideration; even if Morgan doesn’t remember specifics she still feels trust towards people she knows from before, yeah? I don’t think Morgan knew enough time in advance to tell you.”
“And we mate for life,” Panne added absently, sniffing the air. “So I would get used to the idea of having my son around were I you.”
“You’re both very calm about this,” Robin deadpanned as Panne moved off the road a little.
“What’s there to be upset about?” Gaius repeated. “While I don’t agree with my honey-pot’s phrasing I do agree with her point; Morgan and Yarne’re both good kids. Let them live their own… Panne, what in Naga’s name are you doing over there?”
The Taguel woman continued to sniff the air as she wandered further from the road, bending down occasionally to check something on the road.
“I thought I caught a scent…” she muttered. “One that is familiar… but it can’t be…”
“Good familiar or bad familiar?” Gaius asked as both he and Robin reached for their weapons.
Panne shook her head, leaning forward and transforming without a word before racing off into the forest beside the road, disappearing soundlessly between the trees.
“Panne!?” Gaius called confusedly, jogging a few steps after her before stopping.
A few of the other Shepherds and the Feroxi had noticed her disappear, and the convoy stalled. Yarne rushed over to where Gaius was standing, obviously at a loss.
“Dad?” the younger Taguel asked.
“Keep the convoy moving!” Robin called to Chrom at the head of the column. “We’ll catch up!”
The Exalt nodded once and the convoy began to move again, leaving Robin, Yarne and Gaius standing at the side of the road looking into the forest.
“Well, what now?” Gaius asked, scratching the back of his head with the point of his short sword.
“I guess we go after her?” Robin shrugged, sheathing his own sword before snapping out an arm to stop Yarne with an audible ‘thump’ to his chest.
“Not you,” Robin ordered the quivering Taguel. “You go find Morgan and tell her where I’ve gone. Then you catch up right away; no funny business, clear?”
“Y-yes sir!” Yarne shouted, snapping to attention before shifting into his rabbit form and bounding off to the Chon’sin column that was ahead of the Ylisseans in the distance.
“Kinda free on the orders there, arentcha?” Gaius chuckled, sheathing his own sword.
“If he wants to date my daughter he’s gotta earn it,” Robin muttered darkly, stepping into the woods. “If that means being my bitch for a little while, then with Naga as my witness I’ll work him to the bone.”
Morgan growled, struggling with the two little sticks in her hand and dropping a portion of rice back into the little wooden box on her lap.
“Maybe I’m not as cut out for this culture as I thought,” she mumbled, trying and failing to pick up her food with ‘hashi’ again, the favoured cutlery of Chon’sin.
“You will learn,” Say’ri chuckled, effortlessly eating from her own small box. “Everybody starts with baby-steps.”
“Although you may wish to grab a fork from the Ylisseans, just in case,” Sei'ko added from Say’ri’s other side, laughing just as much as Say’ri.
The convoy had stopped for a late lunch, which for Morgan and the other two women consisted of rice, some sort of fried… thingy and what Morgan assumed were vegetables of some sort? She couldn’t tell. But Sei'ko had been kind enough to prepare a meal for them, and it did smell quite good, despite being impossible to eat, so Morgan was trying her hardest.
“The food’s going to take some getting used to, too,” Morgan mumbled, poking at a green thing that looked like a bean of some sort.
“Make sure you don’t eat the skin,” Sei'ko laughed, popping some of her own free of their pod before eating them.
Morgan nodded, poking at them some more.
“They are just steamed soybeans,” Say’ri explained, still laughing a little. “They’re not as bad as they look, and they are very nutritious.”
Morgan nodded again, popping some from their pod and managing to bring one to her mouth with her sticks. It was… bearable; almost tasteless, really.
“Is all Chon’sin food this weird?” Morgan asked as she continued to eat.
“This is actually quite average,” Say’ri said. “Rice is eaten with most everything, and…”
Her explanation trailed off as a clamour arose from further down the column of resting soldiers, shouts and the sound of weapons being drawn starting to rise in volume as something raced through their ranks.
“Wait!” Morgan cried, jumping to her feet as she recognized the creature frightening the men so much. “Wait! He’s friendly!”
The soldiers hesitated long enough for the giant rabbit to bound to Morgan’s side and turn back into a breathless Yarne.
“Why… does everyone… want to kill me… lately…” he panted, hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.
“Good timing!” Morgan chirped, latching onto his arm and dragging him over to the other two women. “I can formally introduce you to-”
“Morgan, wait,” Yarne said seriously, pulling away from her.
The young tactician tilted her head quizzically at Yarne’s behaviour.
“I only came to tell you that my mother’s run off into the forest and we’re going after her. I mean me, my father and your father. He told me to come tell you and…”
“Right,” Morgan said, switching to tactician mode. “Do you guys need backup?”
Yarne shook his head, eying the weapons still waiting in the hands of the soldiers behind them.
“No, we should be fine,” he said. “We’ll just be a little late. Everyone else is still on time though.”
“Alright,” Morgan said, relaxing again. “Be safe.”
Yarne nodded, exhaling before shifting back into his Taguel form and bounding off for the forest past ranks of surprised soldiers staring with wide eyes.
“He seems nice,” Sei'ko commented offhandly as the three women sat down to resume their meal, the soldiers behind them doing the same.
“He is one of the Shepherds,” Say’ri commented. “Yarne, I believe his name was. Quite the warrior, if I remember correctly.”
“He’s my boyfriend,” Morgan said with a huge smile on her face.
Seiko’s expression dropped at the same time her chopsticks did while Say’ri started choking on a piece of whatever she had been eating.
“Er… surprise?” Morgan added as her mother started gulping down water from a flask that Sei'ko helpfully provided.
“I am beginning to notice a trend here,” Robin grumbled as he followed the much lither Gaius through the thick forest. “Why is it always me that gets sucked into these little escapades? Can’t anyone do anything without me around?”
“Hey, you volunteered to come along,” Gaius said over his shoulder. “In fact, I seem to recall you suggesting that we go after her.”
Robin mumbled wordlessly as they continued to tromp through the underbrush. The forests were thick and wild this far from the Valmese capital; woodsmen had yet to reach this area, if Robin recalled the reports, and no one was sure what was in the deep, old parts of the woods. Thinking about the maps he’d been studying that morning before they had set out Robin recalled that there was an uncharted mountain range close by that few had dared to brave the forest to investigate. There weren’t reports of any natural resources on the mountain besides lumber, and that could be found in abundance closer to more civilized areas, so there was no real need to investigate the forests, even in this day and age.
“Okay, fine, this was my idea,” Robin conceded as they stepped into a small clearing. “But why do I always seem to do this without a local guide? Or a trained tracker?”
Gaius chuckled. “Winging it seems to be one of your favoured tactics lately, Bubbles.”
The ginger thief squatted down near the opposite edge of the small clearing, studying the bushes.
“Look here,” he said, growing serious. “The branches are broken. It looks like she came this way.”
“It also looks like she’s not trying to be subtle,” Robin commented over Gaius’ shoulder.
The entire bush was basically crushed and pushed aside, and every so often in the distance Robin could see another in a similar state.
“Think she wants us to follow her?” the tactician asked.
“I honestly don’t think she cares at this point,” Gaius sighed as they began to push through the bushes again. “I hate it when she goes all ‘alpha predator’ on me like this.”
“This happens a lot?” Robin asked curiously.
“Nah, only once and a while,” Gaius sighed. “But when she goes nuts she really lets loose. I’ve had to buy a new bed like three times, which let me tell ya, isn’t cheap.”
“Ew. Sorry I asked,” Robin gagged exaggeratedly.
“What? No, I mean she tore it up in the middle of the night!” Gaius laughed. “What the hell’re you thinking about?”
“Ah… never mind…” Robin muttered, ears going red.
“It happens two or three times a year,” Gaius explained as they continued to follow the trail. “The best guess we can come up with is it’s a territorial thing. There’s not really a lotta other Taguel experts out there, and she was pretty young when her people were wiped out, so she has no idea either.”
“A little healthy bloodlust, eh?” Robin muttered darkly, recalling something he’d heard not that long ago.
“I wouldn’t even call it that,” Gaius said solemnly. “We talked to Church about it, and he seemed to think it might have something to do with the phases of the moon and her beastial instincts, but…”
“Church?” Robin asked, scratching his head in confusion. “Who’s church?”
“Church,” Gaius said distractedly. “You know, always wears priests robes, swings that scary axe around all mean-like, looks like a lady…”
“Oh,” Robin said, recalling Gaius’ penchant for nicknames. “You mean Libra.”
“Yeah, whatever,” the thief muttered as they came out onto a stony creek bed. “The trail ends… here…”
“What’d you find?” Robin asked, looking up apprehensively through the gap in the trees over the creek at the deepening red sky; thinking that it was getting late, and they hadn’t brought any camping supplies.
Gaius shook his head nervously as he stood, motioning Robin over. “Take a look.”
The tactician did as he was told, stepping over the rocks to small sandy area of soft earth.
“That’s… a footprint,” Robin said dumbly.
Gaius nodded as Robin bent down to inspect it further.
It wasn’t a rabbit’s print, like Panne would leave behind. It was far, far too big to belong to an average animal, but it definitely wasn’t one of Panne’s.
“It looks like it belongs to…” Robin began, trailing off when a mournful howl cut through the still air in the distance, followed closely by three more that grew steadily closer to the two humans.
“Wolves,” Gaius muttered, looking around the small clearing nervously.
“I have a good feeling I know why no maps of this forest exist,” Robin muttered as he and Gaius pressed their backs together, drawing their weapons as the bushes around them began to rustle violently in the twilight.
There, in the lengthening shadows, something was watching them. Something altogether inhuman.