“Are we there yet?”
“Are we there yet?”
“Are we there yet?”
“What? Really?” Robin asked, jumping up and looking over the rear of Anna’s horse at further and endless-seeming expanse of mountain trail they were on.
“No!” Anna shouted, driving her fist down into the top of Robin’s head. “Now shut up before I throw you off this mountain!”
“Sheesh,” Robin muttered as he rubbed the top of his head and sunk back into the tray of the wagon with a snickering Gaius and Inigo. “Somebody’s crabby this morning.”
“I swear to Naga if you weren’t so important to the Ylissean League I’d…” Anna muttered under her breath, her fists tight around the reins of her sturdy draft horse.
“I should probably stop harassing her so much,” Robin muttered, Inigo shaking his head as he scooted to make room for the tactician, shaking his head and chuckling as he did so.
“What is it with you and poking the bear lately?” Gaius asked, popping another of his seemingly endless supply of candies into his mouth.
“I think dying might have made me braver,” Robin said nonchalantly, putting on overt false bravado so that they knew he was joking.
They had been travelling for nearly a day now, but had passed into Chon’sin’s borders the previous evening and were due to arrive at the capital that afternoon. Once they had crossed the border Panne had insisted she and Yarne run back on their own, intent on pushing her future son even harder in his ‘Taguel training’ now. As well as giving Robin another good smack for bringing up the topic of riding them again. However, by racing back first they would be the ones to give Chrom the debriefing, meaning Robin would be free to collapse wherever he decided was a good spot to sleep.
The forests had eventually given way to grasslands and farms, before giving way again to the rockier terrain as they climbed into the mountains. The majority of the Chon’sin farmlands were to the south, the north being mostly dependant on the lumber trade and fishing. Robin had considered utilizing these docks at first so that they wouldn’t have to follow the coastline all the way back to Valm Harbour, but had given up on the idea when he’d read that they were barely worthy of being called ‘docks’ they were so small.
He sighed happily, leafing through the papers that Morgan had lovingly prepared for him and left with Inigo as Anna’s wagon trundled onwards. He’d picked up on the coded message she’d put in them almost instantly as well, but it was nice that he had a little background geographical and cultural information now. Even if his daughter’s handwriting was just as bad as his own.
“Mom’s mad. Need reinforcements. Not life-threatening yet, but rabbit-stew might make it back onto the menu really soon if things go bad. M.”
That had been her message; apparently Say’ri had found out about Yarne. Fortunately for the half-Taguel Robin’s opinion of him had vastly improved over the last twenty-four hours, and it didn’t hurt that Morgan was outright asking for his help now.
The tactician stretched his arms above his head, wincing a little as his hands brushed some hanging pots, making a soft clattering sound.
He leapt to the side as Anna’s knife buried itself next to where he’d been sitting.
“Not again!” she roared at him. “Straighten them up! Now! Or the next one won’t miss!”
I was wrong! Robin thought as he moved as fast as he could to put the pots exactly back the way they had been. I’m still scared of death! Holy crap!
Morgan anxiously wrung her hands as she stood between Yarne and her new second shadow, Sei'ko as they waited at the entrance of the castle the Shepherds were being housed in. Anna’s wagon had been spotted on the mountain road not that long ago, and they should be rolling into view any second now.
“Relax,” Yarne soothed. “They were better than fine when we left them. Er… well, actually, Anna had her dagger at your father’s throat, but that’s… I mean… she, uh…”
“It’s alright,” Morgan giggled, resisting the urge to lean back against the taller boy as they waited, reminding herself that they were in public and she had an image to maintain as Princess. “It’s not Anna I’m worried about.”
It irked her, to be honest, that the Chon’sin culture was so reserved. She had been deceived by Sei'ko’s easy demeanour and dry wit into thinking that Chon’sin wouldn’t be all that different to Ylisse, but she had found herself rudely awakened very fast by the quiet soldiers and submissive serving class. Even General Keiji had become something of a different person to the brash commander that had shouted orders back and forth over the battlefield and argued tactics with Lord Liung. It was a subdued culture of quiet subtleties and aesthetic form; a beautiful world Morgan was happy to be seeing and becoming a part of, but sadly not something she saw herself adopting permanently, even if it was her birthright.
The thought of disappointing her mother now that they were finally getting along and creating common ground was weighing heavily on her, and she still hadn’t fully recovered after the last few battles with the Imperials, physically or emotionally. Just last night she’d woken in a cold sweat, biting her tongue so she didn’t cry out as nightmares assailed her sleeping mind.
She just wanted to see her father for a little while; that was all. He always knew exactly how to cheer her up, no matter the problem. She would talk to him for a little while, recharge her batteries and then she’d go back to being the princess again.
What she would do when the time came to go back to Ylisse, though…
Morgan sighed, tugging at the flowing kimono she was expected to be wearing around the capital while she was out and about. She missed her coat. She had almost put it on over the kimono, but Seiko had pointed out that it wouldn’t be able to hide her identity; it would just make her stand out more.
Yarne nudged her out of her reverie, indicating into the distance with a nod of his head. Morgan looked, shielding her eyes from the sun and a wide smile instantly broke out on her face. There in the distance was the small plume of dust that signified Anna’s wagon.
“See?” Yarne said with a smaller grin of his own. “Right on time.”
Morgan nodded, stepping towards the road from the small gatehouse they had been occupying to meet the wagon. Anna brought the sturdily built horse to a stop just next to where the trio was standing before reaching behind her and dragging out a sack-full of rags and dumping them at their feet.
“He’s your problem now,” she called as she lashed the horse into movement again.
Yarne shook his head and chuckled, kissing Morgan on the cheek before leaping up into the back compartment of the wagon to meet his own father. The younger tactician smiled for a moment before looking down at where the rags were sitting up of their own accord.
“That woman is dangerous,” Robin muttered, rubbing his shoulder where he’d fallen and eying the disappearing wagon with distaste. “Dangerous with a capital ‘crazy’. Yeesh. I think I broke my-HURK!”
“Dad!” Morgan cried, composure shattering as she practically threw herself on top of him, image be damned. “Welcome to Chon’sin! It’s so good to see you again!”
“Morgan… can’t… breathe… hugging… too tight…”
Morgan let out another sniffle as Sei'ko poured them both cups of local tea, the fragrant scent of garden weeds wafting up to Robin’s nose being ignored in favour of his daughter. The usually talkative woman retreated after that, no doubt lingering just outside the door where she could hear whatever they were saying; she was a spy, after all.
“I’m sorry I lost it there,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her sleeve. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“It’s just culture shock,” Robin said reassuringly.
“You sound awfully confident about that,” Morgan sniffled, taking a sip from her cup. “How can you be so sure it’s that and I’m not just caving under the stress?”
“Because I’m the father and it’s my job to sound confident?” Robin said, phrasing it as a question in a joking manner.
A rough laugh escaped from Morgan’s throat before she clamped down on it, sniffling again and shifting a little.
“How’d you get so good at cheering people up?” Morgan asked, sounding a little more at ease now.
“Comes from being cheered up a lot,” Robin shrugged. “Besides, you’re my daughter, which means you’re a lot stronger than you think. Now drink your tea and tell me what’s been happening.”
Morgan nodded, draining her cup before launching into a long and detailed explanation that basically boiled down to her being nervous about suddenly being thrust into the spotlight as a member of the Chon’sin Royalty and her mother’s negative reaction to the news about her and Yarne.
“She really didn’t take it well,” Morgan muttered afterward, looking downcast. “She just went all ice-queen on me and refused to talk about it until she’d had time to ‘think’.”
“Yes, well, I’m sure she didn’t run around camp for half an hour screaming about bunny-eared grand-children,” Robin muttered into his cup.
“What?” Morgan asked curiously.
“Er… nothing,” Robin said hastily. “Do you like Yarne?”
“What?” Morgan repeated, looking confused.
“Simple yes or no question,” the older tactician said. “Do. You. Like. The Bunny?”
“Yes, of course I do,” Morgan said without hesitation. “But…”
“No buts!” Robin interrupted her. “I’ll go straighten this whole mess out. You just… go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before I got here. Nice shoes, by the way. Hardly combat rated, but I guess they’ll be okay for around the Capital.”
Morgan blushed a little, taken by surprise at the sudden change of topic as she glanced over at the sandals she had left at the door of the small room they were in next to her father’s boots.
“You’ll really talk to mom?” Morgan asked quietly. “Because she seemed pretty upset.”
“Urgh. Don’t tell me that,” Robin groaned, flopping backwards to lie on the floor. “She scares the bajeepers out of me at the best of times… Yes, I’ll talk to her, just not right now. Things are going to be crazy enough around here without me making them worse by marching up to the castle and beating up her guards until she comes out to see me.”
Robin heard a very unladylike snort of laughter from Sei'ko on the other side of the door.
“I heard that!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. “You don’t think I could do it!? I’ll go and do it right now, just to prove the point!”
“Dad, sit down and drink your tea before you hurt yourself,” Morgan laughed.
Robin sighed, running a hand thorough his hair, getting ready to moan about its ever-increasing length and sighing instead, giving up on the idea of ever getting a haircut any time soon.
Morgan was stressed; that’s all there was to it. They all were, to be honest. It was a stressful lifestyle, trying to win a future of peace and prosperity and make sure it endured. But Morgan was so young. She hadn’t been emotionally prepared for the reality of leadership, and he’d known that.
And yet I thrust it on her anyway.
He knew it was cruel to leave the entire League in her hands, but it couldn’t have been helped. She was the only one with the knowledge and skill to adapt his strategies in the field; Virion might have been able to cope if things had been a little more level, but the war had been going badly and the intelligent archer lacked that spark that seemed to exist in Robin and his daughter, the uncanny ability to make leaps of logic to fill in the gaps and come up with a perfect strategy.
She’s overworked, Robin thought, rifling through the things that had been left in his small room. She needs a break. We all do. A vacation, a rest, even just a couple days of R and R would do us all a world of good.
Robin grinned a little.
Plus a few days of R and R would give me a chance to get a little closer to Lucina, too.
The tactician let out a tired sigh as he tumbled down over his shoulder to his futon, the common bedding that had been provided for the Shepherds staying in this castle, cursing the fact that he and the Princess both had so many duties that kept them apart.
He had intended to go looking for Lucina almost immediately upon his return, but Morgan’s welfare came first, and he’d spent the entire afternoon sitting and talking with his daughter about everything and nothing, just spending time with her. By the time Seiko had stuck her head back in and told her it was time for them to head back to the palace Morgan had almost been back to her usual chirpy self, much to Robin’s relief.
But after that, and the bath that he so desperately needed, he’d even wound up missing dinner. Fortunately it seemed that Tharja was still up to her old tricks, and a plate of fried something on top of some form of noodles had been waiting for him after his bath.
“She’ll never change,” Robin muttered to himself with a small grin. “I wonder when she’ll finally settle down with Henry?”
Robin rolled onto his side, exhaling through his nose and glancing up at the sword leaning against the desk. Morgan had stared at it for a little while, and when he’d asked her about it she’d said it had seemed somehow familiar, but she wasn’t sure how. She was supposed to ask Say’ri about it tomorrow; Robin prayed to Naga that she didn’t want it back. It was obviously an old heirloom of some kind, but Robin had grown attached.
“She can have it over my dead body,” he muttered, closing his eyes and trusting the candle illuminating the room to burn out without catching anything else on fire.
He was tired, and tomorrow was a big day.
Robin resisted the urge to shudder, overcome with the lingering sense of unease that had only grown since he’d set foot in Chon’sin’s borders. He poked listlessly at his breakfast, a large hearty tray of Naga-only-knew-what that the locals had prepared for the Shepherds; it wasn’t like it was bad, just unidentifiable.
Is that fish? Robin wondered, gently nudging what looked like fried something on a small plate, trying in vain to distract himself from his anxiety.
Everything was going well. The wounded were accounted for and the grim task of identification of the dead was progressing at a steady pace; the Ylissean League proper, minus its local allies, were on their way to Valm Harbour to await Seth and Raimi’s arrival under the watchful eyes of Duke Roark; the Imperial forces had been all but silent, submissively following any orders that the League gave them; the Shepherds were settling in nicely to their temporary lodgings, even if Vaike and Inigo were already starting to cause trouble for the staff and locals. So there was only one reason that he would be feeling this anxiety.
“Don’t the peace talks start today?” Cordelia asked conversationally as she inspected a similar tray of food to Robin’s.
The tactician groaned, letting his face fall forward and hit the table next to his tray with an audible thump.
“Oh do not over-exaggerate,” Virion said, rolling his eyes and sipping a cup of local tea before making a sour face.
“How they can call this brew made out of garden weeds ‘tea’…”
“Where’s Cherche this morning?” Robin asked into the table, desperately trying to change the subject.
“She is off trying to coax the most ornery of sons out of his shell,” Virion said with a sigh. “She seems to make further progress when I am not present, much to my great dismay. I believe it has something to do with subconsciously being put at ease by the scent of wyvern. But I have not lost heart! I shall reach my son from the future, even if it costs me my life to do so, for-”
“Alright, alright, sheesh,” Robin groaned. “Sorry I asked. Moving on, where’s your other half this morning, Cordelia?”
The Wing-Commander went as red as her hair, smiling to herself as she answered.
“He needed to prepare the duty rosters for the Shepherds guarding the assembly,” she said, swooning. “His sense of duty is amazing, isn’t it?”
“And once again, I’m sorry I asked,” the tactician muttered, resisting the urge to retch.
Robin was, as usual, sharing breakfast with Virion, Tharja, Cordelia and Noire, the group playfully trying to guess what their breakfast was as they talked about the planned days ahead for the peace conference; every member of the Shepherds had a part to play, even if it was simply security. Virion would be attending with Cherche as a representative of the smaller nations that had been swept up in the Imperial conquest, while Cordelia would be attending as a member of Chrom’s Honour Guard with Frederick and the other Knights. Noire and Tharja, along with Severa and Owain (if he could keep his trap shut for more than a few minutes) would be joining Robin as his ‘Official Staff’ in his capacity as Chief Tactician of Ylisse. They were really just going to be there to make sure he stayed awake and maybe take some notes, but it would be nice to have some other people there as bored as he was; Robin really didn’t even need to go, it was just for appearances.
Noire seemed to wilt under the added pressure of Robin’s request, but had dutifully been following him around with a clipboard exactly like the one Laurent usually carried, the hyper-intelligent mage having been snatched up for Chrom’s entourage already, and making notes about everything Robin told her to.
At least her handwriting is nicer than Laurent’s… Robin thought dismally, rolling his head to the side and reluctantly sitting back up.
Tharja would be there because… well, she went just about everywhere with him, so she would no doubt have spent the day sitting outside of the hall the meeting was being held in if he hadn’t invited her. He was also allowed two soldiers to act as an Honour Guard, and the only two not patrolling or on guard duty for the day had been Severa and Owain. Robin had added them to his list without even thinking, sleep deprivation getting the better of him at the time; at the very least trying to keep Severa from throttling Owain should prove to be mildly amusing and distracting. Besides, the two had to learn how to cooperate as part of a squad; they were both complimented each other’s strengths too well to leave in separate units.
Morgan was out, too, seeing as her heritage, or at least part of it, was being made common knowledge and the new princess of Chon’sin was welcomed by the masses as Say’ri and Yen’fay’s long lost baby sister. He felt like he’d barely gotten the chance to talk to her the previous evening before Seiko had appeared to whisk her away for something or other. It was nice to see her spending time with her mother and her culture, but it made Robin feel a little alienated if he were honest with himself.
First a boyfriend and now this, he thought dejectedly. Next she’s going to want her own posting instead of being my assistant… There’s a depressing thought. Ah, they grow up so fast.
Robin had desperately wanted Lucina to be in his little group, too, but she had been ear-marked for the main Ylissean party with her parents and the military leaders, so that plan had been shot all to hell before it had even coalesced.
He let out a sigh, wondering when they’d get to actually spend some time together again before lingering on the fact that he wasn’t part of the main Ylissean party.
“I hate politics,” he grumbled, popping something resembling a plant into his mouth and trying not to register the taste.
“So we’ve heard,” Virion drolled with a grin. “Truly you wound up in the wrong profession, my friend.”
“Not for lack of trying!” Robin exclaimed. “I even tried dying to get out of this job, but I just keep getting sucked back in!”
The table chuckled a little at Robin’s theatrics, Henry making an unexpected entrance and setting a tray in front of Tharja before sitting down next to her.
“Thank you,” she said, far less coldly than she usually treated the other Dark Mage.
Robin quirked a brow at this strange behaviour; he smelled an opportunity to make mischief, and his mood did a one-eighty turn almost instantly as he focused on something distracting and, hopefully, fun.
“Wow, Tharja, your personal skills have really improved from hexing everyone that so much as looked at you,” Robin said with a sly grin. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were making new friends.”
The dark mage blushed heavily, angling her head down to hide her face with her fringe the way she usually did as Henry laughed.
“Nya ha ha! I should hope so!” the white-haired mage chuckled.
Robin looked back and forth between the two a few times, his mind working overtime until the situation clicked and a big grin spread across his face.
“Oh my gods!” he exclaimed, jumping up and pointing at the two. “You two are a couple now! When did that happen!?”
Tharja’s blush simply intensified, as did Henry’s laughter as some Shepherds from the other tables turned to look at the ruckus.
“So? Give me the juicy details!” Robin demanded, leaning across the table. “Have you tried to make a baby-Noire yet?”
The atmosphere at the table dropped along with the ambient temperature as everyone froze in place, eyes wide at Robin’s inappropriate candour. Noire looked like she was about to have a panic attack. Cordelia and Virion both stared at him with mouths hanging open and wide eyes, while Henry looked like he was holding in a fit of giggles so serious he might laugh himself to death.
Tharja was the only one seemingly unaffected by the atmosphere, her hand a blur as she waved her fingers intricately in front of her, still looking down as a spark of dark magic accompanied her hex, dancing along her slender fingers before winking out.
That was the last thing Robin saw before his own hand, seemingly compelled by a mind of its own, snapped up and punched him in the face, knocking him clear off his chair and onto the stone floor.
“I deserved that,” he managed to mutter before he passed out.
When Robin came to it was to a familiar set of faces looking down at him, Lissa leaning over him with a healing staff while Chrom looked on, shaking his head and trying not to laugh.
This isn’t even funny anymore… Robin thought, suppressing a smile.
“Hi guys,” Robin said groggily as his mind struggled to regain consciousness. “We really need to stop meeting like this.”
“Yes, well, at least we’re not outside in a field this time,” Chrom laughed, Lissa giggling a little as she finished her healing spell.
“That was either the bravest or stupidest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do,” Lissa said, finishing her spell and patting Robin once. “How’d she get you so easily?”
“I don’t think she’s ever hexed me before,” Robin theorized, sitting up and rubbing the back of his head where a magnificent lump had formed. “I don’t have the resistance that, well, everyone else in the camp has built up to it, so I think she got a little carried away.”
“Really now,” the Exalt chuckled, extending a hand to help Robin up. “What were you thinking, harassing her like that? You had to know that would happen.”
“I’m just grateful I’m still alive, honestly,” the tactician said, gratefully allowing himself to be pulled to his feet; he was still feeling a little unsteady, to be honest.
The dining hall of the castle the Shepherds had been put up in was almost empty now, save the three Shepherds still standing and talking. Robin spotted another blue-haired Ylissean royal standing just behind Chrom, bumping the count up to four as Lucina cast Robin a gaze equal parts glare and worry.
“Now behave,” Chrom said, clapping him on the shoulder before leaving, and adding over his own shoulder, “I can’t have my chief tactician show up with a broken nose, can I? Lucina, make sure he gets cleaned up and doesn’t piss anyone else off before the first meeting today.”
“Of course father,” she answered as he left, Lissa following after giving Robin a big smile and a playful wink and leaving the tactician and Lucina alone.
They looked at each other a moment before a huge grin broke out on Robin’s face, making Lucina roll her eyes.
“You are an idiot,” the Princess sighed, forcing him back down onto a chair.
“Did I really break my nose?” Robin asked, experimentally reaching up and prodding at the centre of his face.
“You did,” Lucina replied. “It was quite the mess. Now hold still while I clean you up.”
“You know I could probably do it myself,” Robin said as he glanced at his fingers, eyes widening when they came away from his nose wet with blood.
“Damn, how hard did I hit myself?”
“Hard enough for you to be unconscious for the remainder of the meal,” Lucina chuckled as she moved to stand directly in front of him, a small cloth in her hand as she leaned in close. “Now hold still.”
Robin couldn’t help but grin as she gingerly wiped his face clean, a slight blush creeping to her cheeks as she focused intently on her task. He was perhaps overly aware of how close their faces were at present, not to mention how gentle she was being, making his face heat up a little, too; but Robin wasn’t embarrassed. Robin was excited by the prospect of being alone with Lucina.
“You know, I did want to spend more time with you, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“Yes, apparently you did not have a lot in your mind this morning,” Lucina quipped, her blush intensifying a little. “However there was something I wished to speak to you about, anyway.”
“Hey, I got some laughs,” Robin said defensively, not noticing the second part of Lucina’s statement.
“They were laughing at the fact that you knocked yourself out cold,” she said.
“Well… you’re still smiling,” Robin said, his face breaking into another sly grin.
Lucina sighed again, no longer attempting to hide her smile as she finished cleaning Robin.
“I am not smiling at your foolishness. You truly are insufferable sometimes.”
“Yeah, but that’s…”
“Part of your charm, I know,” Lucina cut him off, playfully nudging his face to one side. “There. Try not to make anyone else hit you.”
“If it bothered you that much I could have cleaned myself off,” Robin teased, standing and stepping in closer to the woman.
“It was… not a bother,” Lucina replied, looking up a little at him in surprise at first before her smile set back in, an almost expectant set to her features now. “After all, I was told to make sure you cleaned yourself up.”
“I’m sure that’s what it was,” Robin muttered, his hands reaching out automatically to Lucina’s waist, pulling her closer to him.
She offered no resistance, and Robin leaned his head down, pulling their bodies flush against each other and reaching out to-
“Ahem. I can come back later if I’m interrupting something.”
Robin and Lucina separated as if someone had lit a fire between them, faces both instantly vermilion with embarrassment.
“Virion!” the tactician shouted in surprise. “What… uh… I… we were… she was…”
“His nose was broken and I was… ensuring it was… properly set and healed!” Lucina supplied, just as flustered as Robin was. “Yes! Yes, he is all healed and now… now I… I must prepare for the summit! Farewell sir Virion, sir Robin!”
And with that the princess bolted from the room, leaving Robin to turn a glare that could melt steel on his friend.
“You dog you,” Virion commented slyly. “I had felt guilty about leaving you for dead at breakfast, but now… well I had no idea… the princess? Ho ho! This is truly delicious! And answers so many of my questions, yet raises so many, many-many-many more! You and I shall have to have a deep heart-to-heart, my friend! That you thought you could keep this a secret from me, who was formerly the loveliest of lovers, is ludic-”
“Virion, I love you like a brother, but I have never been so close to repeatedly lighting you on fire in my life.”
Robin pulled off his shirt, the small amulet Tharja had given him swinging wildly with the movement before settling as the tactician sighed and poked his fingers through the holes he’d earned in the forest the previous night. This had been his nicest shirt once… Now he was out of clothes, hence why he was subjecting himself to Virion’s constant barrage of questions as the archer dug a spare set of clothes up for him.
“So?” Virion pestered. “How long has this been going on, my good man? And am I the only one fortunate enough to know of this most secretive of loves?”
“You talk a lot, and yet say so little,” Robin grumbled.
“Come, you must tell me!” Virion insisted, holding out a frilled monstrosity to Robin and blinking at the golden amulet around his neck and bulky ring on his hand. “And at what point did you start wearing jewellery?”
“No. Frills,” the tactician repeated sternly, making Virion sigh and return to digging through a surprisingly large collection of clothing that he apparently lugged around everywhere with him.
“I guess… since Steiger,” Robin muttered, finally relenting and answering both questions at once.
“Oh-ho!” the archer practically shouted, shooting to a standing position. “But of course! The lovely princess, captured and held against her will, waiting for her gallant hero to rescue her; then he arrives, with naught but a rag-tag band of vagabonds at his back, sacrificing himself to ensure her survival… It is beautiful!”
I can’t decide if I’m upset because I’m embarrassed, or because he hit the nail on the head, Robin thought, desperately wishing he was elsewhere.
“But…” Virion pondered, growing sombre. “What of young Morgan and the Lady Say’ri?”
“I will not press the issue if you do not wish to talk about it,” Virion added hastily.
“Look, Say’ri and I already talked about it. Kinda. And, well…” Robin’s face dropped, becoming pale as he pulled Virion’s least-ruffled shirt over his head. “Oh gods I haven’t told Morgan yet.”
Virion chuckled and shook his head, giving his friend a good-natured slap in the back of his own head.
“You truly do lack all sensibilities unless battlefield tactics are involved.”
“Er… I should probably do that, huh?” Robin muttered, scratching the back of his head.
The tactician made a face as the tight, form-hugging shirt restricted his movement.
“How do you wear these every day?” he grumbled, pulling his coat back on and attempting to hide the lace ruffles up his sleeves.
“They are custom fitted,” Virion drolled, returning to dig around in his clothes-chest. “You do not look it, but you really are becoming quite broad in your chest. But I digress; were I you, I would hold off on having that particular… conversation with Morgan for now.”
“I’m sure you’d tell me anyway, but please enlighten me, oh ‘loveliest of lovers’,” Robin snickered to his friend’s back.
“Do not mock me,” Virion warned. “I have killed for less. But on the subject of your daughter, is she not in the Lady Say’ri’s entourage for this summit? You will distract her, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime event that shan’t be repeated! She would do well to witness it with eyes unclouded by familial drama, no?”
“Your perpetual infinite logic continues to astound and infuriate me,” Robin deadpanned, running a hand through his hair.
“Do not fret,” the archer said, crossing to stand before Robin and laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. “The war is finished now. There will be plenty of time to stumble your way through that particular conversation later. Now hold still; I finally found a cravat that will match that forsaken coat you insist on wearing everywhere.”
“Not in a million years, Ruffles,” the tactician laughed, batting his friend’s hand away.
Robin grumbled wordlessly, tugging at a dark grey cravat as he lead a small group of formally dressed Shepherds through the grounds of the Chon’sin Royal Palace that would be playing host to the peace summit.
“Curse that man and his infinite logic,” Robin muttered under his breath, stopping to let the guards do a sweep of the group.
Somehow Virion had talked him into the cravat; even Tharja had snickered at him when he’d shown up at the meeting point. Owain and Severa had flat out laughed at him, while Noire giggled quietly for a little bit before she noticed the vein standing out on the tactician’s forehead. Fortunately for Robin it seemed like everyone else had used their common sense and had dressed appropriately; the three time-travellers had cleaned their clothes and armour to a presentable standard, Severa’s shoulder-plate was practically a mirror she had shined it so well, and Owain was complaining, in his usual theatrical fashion, that his mother hadn’t let him leave the compound the Ylisseans were housed in until she was ‘satisfied with his appearance’. Tharja was also wearing her best robes, and Noire looked like she was trying to emulate her mother’s surprisingly noble bearing every time the other woman wasn’t looking.
That is so hopelessly cute I think I’m going to puke, Robin thought, supressing a smile as Noire tried to copy Tharja’s stance while her mother’s back was turned.
“Okay, we know why we’re here,” Robin said to the small group once the security guards in full regalia waved them in. “Noire, Severa, keep eyes on everything. If something goes wrong, Owain your first priority is to get the girls out. Tharja you… I don’t know, just do what you normally do.”
“Of course, master! You were right to place your trust in me!” Owain saluted, very loudly, hand resting on the sword he had chosen to wear that day; one of Lon’qu’s old swords, or what would become one of Lon’qu’s old swords, or…
Freaking time-travel, Robin thought, rubbing his head and attempting to avoid the familiar time-travel related head spin he usual wound up getting by looking at the surroundings as they walked to the castle.
The grounds were sparse and the gardens not particularly impressive, but there was a strange harmony with the natural and man-made elements to the space. No space seemed wasted, and everywhere Robin looked he saw hints of careful culturing and caring on the gardeners parts. His opinion of Chon’sin’s horticulturalists jumped up a little.
In a strange decision on the host’s part all the diplomatic parties were being allowed to retain their weapons, ceremonial or not; Robin just assumed that Say’ri was thinking that with so many enemies in the room none of the Imperials would cause a ruckus, even if they kept their weapons. But it still seemed a little strange to him.
Noire had swapped her old and beaten up bow for a loaner from Virion, a finely detailed and beautifully finished longbow slung over her shoulder with her quiver, but also had Henry’s dagger strapped to her hip ‘because she would get more use out of it than him on the politicians, nya-ha-ha!’, while Severa had her usual sword strapped to her hip as well. Deciding it would be a better idea to try to avoid a diplomatic incident, Robin had opted to leave Sol in his room, doing like Tharja and bringing only his spellbook. Just in case the sword really was an important heirloom. Plus he was beginning to get attached to it, even if he would have to do a lot of training before he was as comfortable with it as he had been with the rapier Chrom had given him, now safely sitting on top of the pile of things that poor Jake had to mend, reforge or simply repair.
Huginn the Raven, otherwise known as Tharja’s familiar and carrier pigeon fluttered down to land on his master’s shoulder. A moment passed between the two, Tharja no doubt communicating however it was she did with the bird before whispering a small set of instructions to him and urging him to take flight, all within the space of less than a minute.
“How come he never listened to me?” Robin wondered aloud as he watched the bird disappear into the distance.
Tharja shrugged. “How come I never listened to you?”
“You still don’t listen to me,” Robin deadpanned.
“I feel naked without my sword,” he added, grumbling as they crossed the carefully manicured grounds on a winding stone pathway.
“You should have said so earlier, master!” Owain said cheerily from behind him. “You could have borrowed one of mine! I know that Foe-Hammer has been aching to feel the grip of a valiant hero once again!”
“Didn’t I tell you to stop giving your weapons stupid names?” Severa groaned. “It’s so childish!”
“But it gives the blade a true soul!” Owain insisted.
“Here they go,” Robin groaned under his breath to Noire, who giggled a little along with his sigh.
“You two behave, or I’ll have the guards throw you in whatever Naga-forsaken pit these people have for prisons, am I clear?” Robin said, stopping and rounding on the two Shepherds. “I chose you two to come here with me for two reasons; one, because you constantly bicker and we’re meant to be a team. Owain, simmer down; Severa, get over yourself. The second reason is, well… everyone else was busy.”
“And apparently misery loves company,” Tharja muttered just loud enough for Robin to hear.
She’s probably still mad about this morning, Robin thought, cringing a little as their eyes met and Tharja’s narrowed at him. Yup. Still mad.
“Of course master!” Owain exclaimed, a look of deep regret crossing his features for irritating his ‘master’. “Owain shall restrain his mighty sword hand in the presence of his fated companions, if you so decree.”
“Urgh… just shut up already…” Severa moaned, rubbing her temples and apparently ignoring Robin.
“Please,” she added, rolling her eyes when she saw the glare he levelled at her.
The tactician let out a tired sigh, beginning to question his own sanity at the brilliant plan ‘bring Severa and Owain to an important diplomatic function’.
“Let’s just… go in already. Before you two tear each other apart and I get stuck telling your parents how I killed you both in a fit of frustrated rage.”
Chrom tugged at the tight collar of his formal suit with one finger, the constricting clothes driving him mad as he finally popped the collar open and managed to take a breath. He hated wearing his formal clothes; it had taken long enough just to get used to wearing full armour almost everywhere, rather than his preferred training gear, but this was something he would just never get used to.
“Stop playing with your collar,” Sumia admonished, suddenly at his side and re-fixing the high collar that was vexing him so.
“You’re the Exalt now; if you’re not going to act the part you may as well look it,” she added when he moaned.
Sully and Stahl snickered from the honour guard waiting behind them, being silenced by a glare from Frederick even as Chrom cast his own over his shoulder. The two Knights were lined up beside two of Cordelia’s Pegasus Knights and Cynthia posing as a third, all five resplendent in their polished armour and parade uniforms. The two commanders, Frederick and Cordelia, were also wearing the finery that came with their positions; in fact this was the first time since his promotion ceremony Chrom had seen Frederick wear the Knight Commander’s mantle, the long red cape attached to it falling to the floor. Along with the Knights were Lissa and Lon’qu, both wearing formal attire, and Lucina in a dress uniform of similar cut to Chrom’s.
Wait… why are there odd numbers of… Chrom wondered before he noticed Kellam, resplendent in shining and perfectly presented armour standing behind the other two Knights.
Right. Kellam. I can’t believe I forgot about him. Again.
Chrom’s eyes kept wandering, settling on his sister and her husband. At least Lon’qu looked as uncomfortable as Chrom in the stuffy formal clothes, clutching at his sword’s hilt and kneading it restlessly. Lissa didn’t even seem fazed by the large yellow dress she was wearing, probably because it was so similar to the one she usually wore. Chrom always thought she would make the better day-to-day ruler of their people than he would, but being Exalt was his duty, and he wouldn’t shirk it.
Lon’qu wasn’t the only one that seemed distracted, though; a few times Chrom had noticed his daughter, usually so focused and driven, staring off into space as though there were something else on her mind, and he couldn’t blame her. He’d give anything to be literally anywhere else right now.
“I hate politics,” the Exalt muttered, smoothing the front of his suit down again, wishing he could be wearing armour like his youngest daughter currently chatting happily with the other two Pegasus Knights.
The dark blue and white jacket covered in gold gilt had a tendency to ride up since he’d bulked up during the war; he’d have to have another made when they returned to Ylisse. Sumia was wearing a matching dress, one that Chrom always thought she looked amazing in. As he admired his wife he felt his concentration slipping again…
“Dear, focus,” Sumia reminded him.
“Er… sorry,” Chrom muttered, reigning in his wandering eyes before sighing. “How long are they going to make us wait?”
“It’s a pretty big summit,” Sumia soothed. “I’m sure it’ll start soon.”
I am beginning to regret not having Robin as part of this group, Chrom thought. At least he would have been entertaining. But if I want him to watch my back, he needs to be in a position to do it…
“Really?” Robin grumbled as he and his party shuffled into one of the galleries overlooking the main floor. “I get roped into running this army again and I still get stuck in the nose-bleed section?”
“To be fair Morgan did do all the work,” Severa pointed out.
“No, she stole the spotlight,” Robin huffed, flopping into his seat and crossing his arms. “I laid all the groundwork. I did all the planning. I should be down there with the important people.”
“Perhaps you aren’t quite as important as you thought,” Tharja said as she settled into the seat next to Robin, the noticeable lack of ice in her tone suggesting that she was joking... or at least half-joking.
At least they had been given a private balcony to watch the summit from; in fact, it had been Robin’s idea to split the Ylissean contingent and have himself, another mage and one of the best snipers in the Shepherds watch from above. They weren’t expecting any trouble, but Chrom had agreed with him when he’d suggested they not take any chances.
“Eyes on everything,” Robin instructed the two younger girls in the small space, while Owain leaned against the back wall, watching the hallway behind them and muttering to himself about something no doubt ‘heroic’ in his mind.
Noire nodded, watching every subtle movement below them, while Severa sighed, rolling her eyes as she lazily leaned against the balcony’s railing, eyes on the floor below.
Robin caught Virion’s gaze from below, and the archer gave him a wink and a lazy salute before leading Cherche and Gerome, trademark mask still in place, to their seats on the opposite side of the room. Another part of Robin’s plan; they had the room in a cross-fire from their positions.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little paranoid?” Tharja muttered from next to him as she spotted Virion as well.
“No such thing,” Robin muttered back with a grin before pointing to various spots around the room. “Besides, look there, there and there; you think we’re the only ones with this plan? This is just par for the course at this stage. And, remind me again how many times has my paranoia has saved our lives?”
Tharja didn’t respond, leaning forward instead to watch as the first diplomatic parties started arriving.
Morgan resisted the urge to groan, tugging at the tight neckline on the dark and intricately patterned formal kimono-y… thingy her mother had prepared for her to wear to the summit, irritatedly wishing she had argued harder for the sake of her coat. She couldn’t even wear a sword with this stupid thing, so not only did she feel uncomfortable, she also felt naked and exposed, and it was starting to grate on her.
“Do not play with it,” Say’ri said over her shoulder as they walked down the halls of the Royal Palace in Chon’sin.
“It’s soooooo uncomfortable though,” Morgan moaned, skipping a little to keep pace. “Why couldn’t I just wear my coat?”
“Because it is filthy and ratty and hardly fitting of a member of the Royal family attending an important peace summit,” Say’ri repeated tonelessly for the tenth time.
“I still like it,” Morgan pouted, earning another sigh from her mother.
The older woman simply sighed, waiting patiently for the servants around them to open the grand doors to the reception area for them, because apparently royals didn’t even open their own doors.
This is going to take a lot more getting used to than I thought, Morgan moaned internally, straightening her back and copying her mother’s posture as the doors were opened and they stepped into a crowded room full of soldiers and diplomats and their respective parties for the summit.
Morgan recognized a few faces from the various planning meetings she had run with Exalt Chrom, although there were far more unfamiliar ones that gave off the insufferable haughty air of life-time politicians.
“The main parties will be arriving soon, my queen,” Seiko said softly from Say’ri’s other side. “They insisted that the hosts would arrive first.”
The other, smaller parties began to disperse, taking their seats in the galleries around the main floor where a number of large tables were set up facing each other, one for each of the main participants of the summit.
Say’ri took her place at the head of the largest table, Morgan sitting at her left hand as she had been instructed. Seiko remained standing behind her master, and General Keiji joined them, taking his own seat opposite Morgan while other politicians and local nobles filled the rest of the chairs.
One by one the other parties arrived, Exalt Chrom, Khan Flavia and Lord Liung all giving her discreet greetings, or rather overt ones in Flavia’s case. The Imperial contingent filed in, all red armour and dark uniforms, shined and perfectly presented, yet obviously nervous or still reeling from their defeat; Morgan doubted that any of these men had been higher ranked than a Lieutenant before the war had ended. The ten men from the resistance were the exact opposite of the Imperials; they had obviously made some attempt at cleaning themselves up, yet still exuded an air of scruffiness completely at odds with the ordered and proper surroundings of Chon’sin. They carried themselves with a calm assurance, though, bowing to Say’ri with respect before taking their seats and silently waiting for the summit to begin.
Say’ri cleared her throat and stood, graceful and dignified as she prepared to address the leaders.
“Fellow rulers and esteemed visiting diplomats,” she began in her best ‘I’m a queen’ voice. “I and all of Chon’sin welcome you. Over the course of the coming days and weeks I hope that we can…”
That was about the point Morgan drifted off, wondering absently what Yarne was doing right now.
Robin stifled a yawn, struggling to keep his eyes open as the Imperial ambassador gave his opening speech, his chin propped up on his palm as the older man in red armour droned on, some crap about wanting to mend bridges and foster long relationships and yadda-yadda-yadda. He’d drifted off almost as soon as Say’ri had begun to talk, if he were being honest.
Noire’s hands moved like lightning, constantly scratching notes and taking in everything going on down on the main floor, never missing a thing. Robin had wanted to tell her not to bother taking notes during the opening speeches, but it didn’t hurt for her to get used to taking notes while she could afford to miss some things. Tharja was calmly sitting perfectly still like a statue next to where Severa was nodding off sitting with her arms crossed, her head drooping forwards and her chin bumping onto her chest, signalling her to lift her head, blink a few times and repeat the motions. Owain was still taking his role as ‘security’ way too seriously, and had almost drawn his sword on some poor servant that had only been looking to ask if they’d wanted any refreshments. Robin had been about to order a bottle of wine before the blonde boy had declared they needed nothing that could potentially have been poisoned, and sending the startled looking woman away in a hurry.
A pity, too, Robin thought, eyes scanning the crowd. This would be so much more interesting after a few cups of wine. Or a couple a bottles…
Robin chuckled when he spotted one of Flavia’s lieutenants discreetly nudge her awake, the Khan’s own head beginning to droop a little as the speeches wore on. So far Say’ri had given her speech welcoming the others and offering Chon’sin’s hospitality, which had taken about half an hour; Wallace, the shorter, bearded man that very closely resembled a bear filling in for Priam had given a quick ten minute speech about what the Resistance wanted to see out of a united Valm; Liung had surprisingly eloquently stated his own goals for the summit over the course of half an hour; and now the Imperial Ambassador, obviously a bureaucrat that had never addressed more than three people at a time had spent nearly an hour apologizing for Walhart’s brutality and kissing-arse to the other leaders. Flavia’s speech would probably be short and sweet, something along the lines of “I just came here to fight, you lot figure this out yourselves”, but it was Chrom’s speech Robin was really looking forward to. He hadn’t actually heard the Exalt speak in public before, so this was going to be interesting.
“Tharja,” Robin whispered, leaning over a little. “Remember that ban I put on ‘instant death’ curses? I’m officially lifting it. Please kill me.”
“No,” the dark mage muttered, not even looking at him.
Severa snickered at the reply, and Robin made a dissatisfied face before sighing and leaning on the railing again.
I would give anything right now to be anywhere else. Anywhere. Hell, I’d even take being dead again.
Robin perked up as something began to happen down on the main floor; well, something had been happening the entire time, but now something actually worth paying attention to was happening. The guards began milling around, and the Imperial ambassador looked at a loss as to whether he should continue talking or not. Robin stood at the same time as Tharja, a few seconds before Noire stood, unslinging her borrowed bow and placing the clipboard she was writing on down in one fluid movement. Across the hall Virion was doing the same, discretely keeping his bow held low and an arrow close at hand.
The crowd had begun muttering, but was silenced when the doors at one end of the hall burst open, a terrified messenger coming up short when he realized that countless arrows and other weapons were being pointed in his direction.
The man, wearing a local uniform, took a deep breath and strode directly to a very upset looking Say’ri, bowing respectfully before bending to whisper something urgently in her ear and handing her a roll of parchment.
“These reports are verified?” she asked without preamble, already scanning the papers.
“Good Queen, I would ask you allow us the respect to at least finish our opening statements,” the Imperial Ambassador blustered, upset now for being interrupted.
“The security of my kingdom comes before all else,” Say’ri responded icily as the messenger practically ran from the room. “It appears that one of the villages close to the capital has been attacked.”
“Cravens!” Liung roared at the Imperial contingent. “You trick us by extending the olive branch with one hand and stabbing us in the back with the other! I should tear you apart with my bare-”
“I assure you our forces have not moved from the capital!” one of the Imperial officers shouted back, rising to his own feet. “Not that we have any men left for such an attack!”
“And whose fault is that?” Flavia asked with a cruel grin. “Last I checked we’re all here because you lost.”
“Enough,” Chrom said, placing his hands flat on the table in front of him. “Queen Say’ri, are there any reports about what the attacking force was?”
“The villagers reported creatures of darkness and ashes,” she said, shaking her head. “Obviously they were scared and-”
“Risen,” Morgan gasped, cutting her mother off and leaning to look at the reports.
“I beg your pardon?” the Imperial Ambassador said huffily. “If the Princess has some knowledge on these creatures I think it only fair it get shared. What are ‘Risen’?”
“Dark monsters summoned from another time,” Chrom explained without preamble.
The Imperials began to laugh disbelievingly, falling silent when they saw Chrom’s unamused look.
“I assure you all they are real,” Chrom said in a stern tone. “They have ravaged my own lands in past, and we have encountered them in Valm in the past. It would not surprise me to find a pack roaming the mountains.”
“And who is to say they aren’t just a mere guerrilla force?” Liung asked, his barbed tone obviously directed towards the bristling Imperials.
“It’s Risen,” Morgan confirmed to Chrom across the room.
The Exalt sighed and nodded before standing.
“Queen Say’ri, these creatures are not unknown to us,” he said. “I suggest we take a brief recess and resume the talks tomorrow. For now, we need to look at securing the region.”
“Absurd,” the one of the Imperials scoffed. “For one little town? Hardly worth interrupting the summit for. Send some outriders and-”
“Have you fought Risen before?” Chrom asked, cutting the man off with a sharp glare. “They don’t move in small packs, and they rarely move without purpose. We will need to formulate some sort of retaliation.”
“Are… are we in danger?” a reedy Imperial asked in a quiet voice.
Say’ri shook her head. “I have sworn an oath to the safety of all members of this summit, and I will stand by it. I agree with the Exalt of Ylisse on the matter of a recess. I suggest we reconvene tomorrow morning. Is this acceptable?”
The different parties all answered in the affirmative, some sounding a little more reluctant than others. Flavia looked excited at the prospect of a good fight; the Imperials, terrified of another threat; Liung just looked grateful that the Imperial Ambassador had stopped talking. Chrom and Lucina had already moved to converse with Say’ri and Morgan, beginning to hammer out details.
Robin took this all in at a glance before he spun and jogged out of the small balcony and down the hallway, shouting orders to hold position to Owain and the others as he made for the stairs, brushing past the crowd of dignitaries that had been occupying the outer tier of seats leaving now that the summit had been adjourned for the day.
“-up in the mountains,” Say’ri was saying as Robin came out onto the main floor, walking purposefully towards the small group of people leaning over the parchment the messenger had delivered. “It is not a tactically important area. It is… a tourist attraction.”
“Tourists?” Robin asked curiously, nodding a greeting to the others as he walked up. “What do you mean?”
“It appears the Risen have attacked a town famous for its hot springs,” Say’ri muttered, stroking her chin in thought.
Robin’s eyes widened before he whirled on Chrom, gripping the man by his shoulders and bringing them face to face.
He needed to take the opportunity to strike while the iron was hot.
“Chrom we have to take care of this threat. Now. We have to leave today. Right now.”
“What?” the Exalt asked, shocked. “Robin, why…?”
“Just trust me,” Robin said quickly, cutting off his friend’s question. “The Shepherds can handle this; if it gets out of hand, we’ll hold them and send for reinforcements. This is important.”
“Er… I don’t have a problem with it…” Chrom said hesitantly, making Robin step back with a nod and look expectantly at Say’ri.
“Fine,” she sighed after a moment. “But do not think you are fooling anybody.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Robin said, taking a moment to wink conspiratorially at Morgan. “All I want to do is repay our kind hosts for their generosity and good-will thus far.”
“I’m coming too!” Flavia declared, suddenly at Robin’s side and draping an arm over his shoulders. “I’m already bored of all this talking, and I’m itching for a fight!”
Robin grinned victoriously as they began to discuss rosters and which paths they would need to take.
Vacation time! he sang in his head, struggling not to laugh out loud.