Invisible Ties

Chapter 5

Robin grinned next to Chrom as they were led through the snow-coated roads of Regna Ferox, looking at everything with wide-eyed wonder like a child on vacation for the first time. He paid particular attention the roving bands of warriors that populated the frozen countryside, Chrom noted, further reinforcing the Prince’s decision to hire the amnesiac.

Robin looked up to the sky, a giant grin on his face as he studied the snow that had just started falling from the clouds above them again.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Chrom commented idly as they walked.

“This is all so fascinating,” Robin admitted excitedly. “This is all new to me! I mean, I know I don’t have any memories anyway, but still…”

Chrom chuckled a little, lifting his own face to look at the grey clouds hanging overhead. It only snowed briefly in Ylisstol during the beginning of the year; the snow never lasted in the lower city-state like it did in Regna Ferox or the Ylissean city-state of Jagen in the mountains to the east. Chrom was first to admit that, while he found the snow to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing, he found no joy in his training being interrupted by it every year.

“You should do what Lissa does and try and catch the snowflakes on your tongue,” Chrom suggested jokingly.

“Chrom! I do not do that anymore!” Lissa cried shrilly, going red out of embarrassment. “I’m not a child!”

Both of the men in the front of the column, and a fair few other Shepherds, laughed at the Princess’ eruption while Lissa grumbled incoherently and glared daggers at her brother.

“That sounds great!” Robin said after he finished laughing. “I’ll bet I can catch more than Lissa ever did!”

The tactician increased his pace, rushing ahead as he spread out his arms and tilted his head upwards, tongue sticking out as far as it could go. The young princess actually flinched at Robin’s declaration, eyes narrowing as she turned her glare on the tactician.

“Oh, it is so on,” she announced, darting forward to try and beat the man.

Lissa gave Robin a little shove when she caught up with Robin, her own head thrown back and tongue extended as she tried desperately to beat him.

“I think the squirt’s got the advantage,” Vaike laughed. “She’s got the bigger mouth, after all.”

The other Shepherds simply grinned or chuckled at the childish display, allowing the two their fun. Even Chrom was content to allow his sister to relax a little; something she couldn’t really cut loose and do back in Ylisstol often any more since she had come of age. Everyone’s spirits were high, and Chrom didn’t want to do anything to put a damper on the mood. Except, of course, for Miriel, who had a look of stark revulsion on her face.

“How unsanitary,” the mage muttered, pushing her glasses further up her nose as she walked.

They passed quickly through the mountains containing the Longfort and into the forested lowlands, heading west to the nation’s ‘capital’. After only two days’ journey they came to the centre of Feroxi power, the massive fortress known as the Colosseum. The steps up to the great amphitheatre were coated in snow, and Chrom had to watch his footing, lest he fall and make an arse of himself. After that debacle at the North Road Gate, the last thing he wanted was to lose face. Again.

Robin walked alongside him; apparently having won some sort of recognition amongst the Feroxi for taking out their commander is single combat. It had been amusing watching them make sure he marched at the front of the column with Chrom and their guide, the flustered tactician literally being picked up and carried to the front at one point by their guide, the commander that Robin had bested at the Longfort.

“Welcome to the seat of Feroxi power, your highness,” the guide, Rami, said in a tone Chrom couldn’t decide whether it was mocking or serious.

The Shepherds all crunched through the snow behind them; the Feroxi had offered them little more than curious glances as they passed through the small villages and farming towns on the way, which Chrom had found confusing at first. However he recalled something Cullen had mentioned during his lessons about the Feroxi warrior caste being predominantly nomadic, so travellers in the region they had passed through probably weren’t all that surprising. They had stopped to rest the night in one of the nameless small villages, using a barn to shelter them from the snow as there was no inn or even tavern for them to impose on, but the barn had been clean, and the Shepherds had been grateful for the shelter, even though Virion had complained about picking bits of straw out of his cloak all of the next morning. At dawn Raimi had kicked them all awake, Robin probably a little harder than necessary, and after a cold breakfast they had set out for the Coliseum; the city-sized amphitheatre that was the seat of the Khan’s power.

Admittedly, the Coliseum was an impressive sight. Huge gates set into a towering, curved wall were the only entry points; there were uncountable positions for archers or snipers; the colossal edifice was more fortress than a sporting arena.

Raimi looked proudly at the walls that stretched off into the distance; obviously it was a great source of pride for the people of Regna Ferox.

The Shepherds stared, too; not even the Grand Cathedral or Exalt’s Palace in Ylisstol were as big. Chrom was sure he even heard a little awed gasp from Lissa. He was struck by the way that Regna Ferox spent so much time building their walls and fortresses. To his mind they truly were a martial race of people.

Raimi led them through the outer wall and past dozens of other darker-skinned Feroxi soldiers, and Chrom noticed that no two of them wore similar armour or bore similar armaments. Furs and leathers adorned the warriors, seemingly chosen and cobbled together at random. Trophies from hunts and coloured tabards denoting what Chrom assumed was either rank or home village clashed with long hair and braided beards wherever he looked. Even more surprising to Chrom was the amount of women he saw serving alongside the men; it wasn’t unheard of in Ylisse for women to take up arms, but they usually stuck to support roles such as the Pegasus Knights, Sully being part of the exception. But these Feroxi women seemed to be equal, if not higher ranked, than the men.

“Why is there no uniformity to the Feroxi troops?” Robin asked, obviously on the same thought process.

“As warriors we are individuals,” Raimi explained, leading them down a wide open-air marketplace. “We serve individual warlords, who in turn serve the Khans. A warlord’s army is only as big as they can maintain, so our leaders must earn their armies.”

“And who do you serve?” Chrom asked conversationally.

“The Wall Guards answer directly to the reigning Khan,” Raimi answered bluntly.

Chrom nodded. Apparently the Feroxi weren’t big on idle conversation. However, Chrom noted that Raimi wore only bare steel plates and simple earthen tones to her clothes underneath, rather than the furs and brightly coloured clothes of the majority of other warriors he had seen. In fact, all of the Wall Guards had been adorned similarly.

The market they passed through was lively, though, tanned Feroxi moving about wrapped in furs and cloaks against the cold, life going on as usual despite the stirrings of unrest in the Southlands. Vibrant colours were everywhere, what Chrom guessed were familial groups wearing similar clothes, but everyone was individual, even the children. Another thing Chrom noticed was just about everyone was carrying a weapon of some form or another, again even the children. Fortunately the Risen threat hadn’t appeared so far north; there were a lot of soldiers around, but Chrom knew from his readings that this was just the way of Regna Ferox.

They followed Raimi between buildings and around various places where Feroxi industry had spilled out onto the streets; blacksmiths hammering on anvils outside their shops, herders moving livestock to tanneries and so on. The city-stadium gave off an air of heavy industry, like the nation was preparing for war; a controlled chaos that Chrom found at once irritating yet uplifting. Obviously the Khan had caught wind of the political climate in the south and was preparing accordingly; even if they didn’t get involved, the idea that they would leave their defences lowered while war raged just across their very heavily defended borders was laughable.

Before Chrom even realised where they were, he was standing inside a large receiving hall; not quite as elegant as the Great Hall in Ylisstol, but it was impressive in a simple way. A rich blue carpet occupied the centre of the hall, running its length, while hunting trophies of particularly ferocious beasts lined the walls. Pelts from just about every animal Chrom had ever heard of hung alongside the creatures’ skulls; weapons and armour of master class hung, too, obviously spoils of war, as Chrom recognized numerous suits and weapons from Plegia and Valm, and even a few older ones from Ylisse. At the far end of the hall hung a massive crest of Regna Ferox fashioned from polished steel. The symbol of a wolf and bear rearing up at each other locked in combat, with an axe and sword crossing behind them.

A stern-faced man with messy brown hair in a blue coat with fur around the collar came and led the rest of the Shepherds to where they would be able to wait comfortably, leaving Chrom alone with Fredrick, Robin, Lissa and Raimi. Vaike had looked slightly dejected as he was led away, but perked up quickly at the mention of food.

“Prince Chrom, please wait here while I summon the Khan,” Raimi said, bowing slightly and leaving through a door at the end of the hall.

“Of course,” Chrom answered, taking a deep breath to steady himself.

On the outside he was the picture of calm confidence; on the inside he was more nervous than he had been before his first duel. At least, just like during that duel, he still had Fredrick to back him up as his second. But now he had Robin, too, and for some strange reason that thought put him more at ease than any other.

“The Khan is away?” Robin asked quizzically once Raimi had left.

Chrom shrugged, grateful for the distraction. “Out training, I’d wager. The Khans are said to prefer battle to politics; much like the rest of their nation.”

Robin chuckled, crossing his arms and leaning back.

“A warrior ruler, huh? I can picture him now; a giant of a man with arms as thick as my head; swinging an axe that would take two average men to lift; his chest a forest of thick hair…”

“Am I now?” a new voice said laughingly from behind the group. “I don’t know about the chest hair, and I prefer my sword to an axe, but do go on.”

They all spun to face the direction Raimi had left, Robin going pale while Chrom tried hard to stifle his laughter at his new friend’s reaction, reminding himself that he was present as a representative of the Haildom. Fortunately he was doing a better job than Lissa, who was quite obviously choking on her giggles.

The woman striding towards them was easily as tall as Fredrick, and clad in masterfully crafted red and silver armour she cut an imposing figure. Her skin was the usual Feroxi tan colour, a few shades lighter than had been prevalent in the marketplace, and her long blonde hair was tied back in a messy ponytail. Chrom guessed she was at least forty, but she carried herself with the spring in her step of a much younger woman. Chrom also noticed the large sword resting on her shoulder, and instantly began regarding her as a warrior, rather than a ruler. Raimi stood just behind her, a wicked grin pointed in Robin’s direction as her ruler sheathed the massive weapon in her hand.

“Er… the Khan, I assume?” Chrom asked in an attempt at diplomacy.

“One of them, yes,” she answered, still eyeing Robin in amusement as the tactician was indiscriminately trying to make himself as small as possible beneath his coat.

“I am the East-Khan. My name is Flavia. I apologize for the incident at the border, Prince Chrom; you and your Shepherds are welcome in Regna Ferox.”

Chrom nodded and stepped forward, offering his hand. Flavia looked at it for a moment, bemused, before grasping Chrom’s wrist in a warrior’s greeting. Chrom returned the gesture, and Flavia grinned a little.

Warrior people indeed, Chrom thought with satisfaction as he conquered the first hurdle.

“So I assume you’ve had a similar problem with bandits? Posing as Ylisseans and me no less?” Chrom asked as they stepped back from each other.

“Yes, those Plegian dogs,” Flavia spat, distaste written clearly on her face. “I wasn’t completely sure until I personally took the field and heard the accent. No Ylissean speaks the way a Plegian does, no matter how good an actor he thinks he is. And, no offence Prince Chrom, but I’ve killed six ‘Chroms’ at six spate gatehouses. Their king must see some benefit in trying to pit our nations against each other.”

“Damn them,” Chrom growled before he could stop himself.

A look of embarrassment flitted across his features as he realized what he had said, bowing slightly in apology to Flavia.

“I… Forgive me, my lady; that was indelicately put.”

To Chrom’s surprise the Khan threw back her head and let out a deep, throaty laugh.

“Yes, damn them and damn delicacy!” she said loudly, smiling and laughing as she slapped Chrom’s shoulder approvingly. “Here in Regna Ferox we prefer plain speech, Prince Chrom.”

“Well in that case you should have a word with your damn border guards,” Chrom said, grinning and shooting a glance in Raimi’s direction, eliciting more loud laughter from Flavia.

“Yes, I can tell I like you already, Princeling! You understand Feroxi diplomacy!”

Before Chrom and Flavia could continue their conversation both Raimi and Fredrick cleared their throats at the same time.

“Ah, but I know why you’re here, Princeling,” Flavia said, mirth fading from her voice as she became serious again.

Chrom perked up, standing straight and seriously as he waited expectantly for Flavia to continue.

“Unfortunately,” Flavia continued, frowning, “I cannot provide you the reinforcements you have come seeking.”

Chrom didn’t flinch, didn’t deflate, and didn’t show any outward sign of his disappointment, as was proper during international negotiations. Lissa, however, held no such compunctions and showed enough for the both of them.

“What?” the girl cried in dismay. “But why?”

“I lack the authority,” Flavia said nonchalantly.

Now Chrom was growing confused. “I do not understand. I thought you said you were the Khan?”

“As I said,” Flavia explained casually, “I am one of the Khans. There are two of us, East and West, and every few years we hold a tournament to see who will become the new Khan Reagent, as well as who leads the armies. It’s the Khan Reagent that has the final say in whether or not you get our troops, and the West-Khan won the last tournament, so…”

“So we are to receive no aid at all?” Chrom interrupted, beginning to lose his very limited patience.

Flavia crossed her arms and sunk back to a hip, winking at the Shepherds.

“Not if you give up so easily.”

“So we show up during the middle of their big ruler tournament, when the nation is effectively leaderless, and the East-Khan is proposing an alliance if you enter this tournament and win for her, because Khans don’t fight in it themselves,” Robin said, making notes in the back of his spellbook; apparently the cold climate had given him ‘ideas’.

“Basically, it’s one on one, you fight to the death or until the other concedes, and the Khan that the winner represents gets the top job. No pressure.”

“Gee, thanks,” Chrom muttered.

“Look at it this way,” Robin suggested with a light shrug. “It’s also kind of a national holiday, right? So even if you lose, we still get to go out drinking afterwards.”

“Not helping,” Chrom groaned.

He, Robin, Fredrick and Lissa stood just outside the central fighting arena, a great stoned field located in the exact centre of the Coliseum. Hundreds of Feroxi crowded the stands around the arena, chanting and cheering. Chrom was to represent Flavia as the East-Khan’s champion; if he won, Ylisse got its troops. If he lost, he would simply have to grovel to the West-Khan. Not that Chrom was inclined to lose a duel.

“I’ll be right behind you, milord,” Fredrick said reassuringly, shooting the tactician a glare. “I won’t let any harm befall you.”

“We can’t interfere with the duel, Fredrick,” Robin said distractedly, still scratching notes in his spellbook.

“If milord’s life is in danger, I will not hesitate,” Frederick stated.

“Will you two give it a rest?” Lissa groaned. “Neither of you is helping. Chrom, go out there and kick that other guy’s butt! I know you can do it!”

The Ylissean Prince grinned and shook his head at his sister’s antics, giving her head a thank-you pat before turning to the arena.

Flavia had stated the rules of the duel simply; two champions, no time limit, victory to the last man standing. Chrom repeated this over and over in his head like a mantra, using it to calm himself. Taking a deep breath Chrom strode forward into the arena, standing as tall and proud as he could manage.

The crowds roar was deafening.

Chrom stopped near the centre of the arena and waited, unconsciously kneading the grip of Falchion.

Robin closed the spellbook with a loud clap and slipped it back into his pouch; despite what he had said to Fredrick he wanted to be ready to intervene if Chrom’s life appeared to be in danger, too. He had no doubt that the knight wouldn’t hesitate, but it never hurt to err on the side of caution in a foreign nation where everyone could be a spy or assassin.

He had been making notes that he hoped would eventually amount to a whole new spell utilizing cold air and the moisture in the air, but this was slightly more important.

“Fredrick, Robin!” Lissa said in a shocked tone. “Look!”

A man was walking up to Chrom, obviously his opponent; a man wearing fine blue clothes and armour, and wearing a familiar dark slit-eyed mask on his face.

Much to their surprise, it was Marth, the man that had saved Lissa and helped them fight the Risen during their first encounter with the creatures in the forest south of Ylisstol.

“I see him,” Fredrick muttered, eyes narrowing as his hand drifted to the sword at his belt.

Robin dropped his own hand to rest by the hilt of his rapier. This was going to be a brutal fight.

“You?” Chrom asked incredulously, drawing Falchion. “You’re my opponent?”

“I am.”

“I would speak first, before we fight, Marth,” Chrom said, lowering his sword.

Marth stood impassively and unspeaking, simply looking at Chrom as if he hadn’t spoken.

“Fine. You saved the lives of my friend and sister, so I will attempt to show you mercy,” Chrom growled, raising Falchion with an over-the-shoulder flourish. “Our blades will speak for us.”

Marth hesitated a moment, before nodding and reading his sword in the same style of flourish as Chrom.

He’s mocking me now, Chrom thought incredulously.

“Wait… Where did you get that sword?” Chrom said, heart skipping a beat as he recognized Marth’s sword.

It was, impossibly, an exact copy of the one of a kind blade in Chrom’s own hands.

“Where did you get that?” Chrom asked, eyes wide. “There’s no way…”

Again, Marth was less than forthcoming with an answer as he stood in silence.

Fine then, Chrom thought, setting his face in a scowl and clearing his mind. If that’s how he wants to play it, I’ll show him his parlour tricks won’t unnerve me so easily.

With no further warning Chrom sprung into motion, leaping into the air and flipping end over end, bringing Falchion down. Marth parried the blow easily, knocking Chrom’s blade aside and twirling around him. Chrom spun, blade extended, and the two swords blurred through the air as they struck again and again. Minutes passed as the two obviously equally matched warriors traded blows.

“Tell me,” Chrom grunted between blows. “Who taught you to fight like this?”

He was beginning to breathe heavily, but so was Marth. Chrom was unnerved to admit that the man’s fighting style was exactly the same as his own, which he had been forced to develop himself after his father died. A mixture of Ylissean fencing, Feroxi high striking and his own creations sprinkled throughout; no one else could possibly know it as well as Marth did. The only other people even acquainted with it were Fredrick and Lissa, the man who taught him fencing and the girl he was in turn teaching.

“My father,” Marth answered, springing into the air and performing the same flipping downward strike Chrom had minutes before.

Chrom rolled to the side to avoid the unexpected blow, one he had adapted from a Feroxi axe-fighting move.

Chrom shook off his shock and struck low, overbalancing himself in a surprise attack, aiming for Marth’s legs. The trick worked, and Marth stumbled back, sword dropping as Chrom threw his entire weight forward, rolling and coming up, leading with his shoulder and planting it in Marth’s chest.

The other man grunted as the air left his lungs, and Chrom followed up with a swift headbutt, cutting himself on the corner of the other’s mask. Marth reeled, and Falchion flashed, missing the other man’s neck by millimetres. Chrom was through playing, and pressed his advantage as blood began seeping from his own forehead.

Chrom switched his weight to his rear foot and spun, slashing diagonally. Marth again narrowly avoided the blow, but Chrom saw he had cut through the top layer of the man’s clothing.

Marth tried to get his own sword up, but Chrom was still too close. The prince grabbed the wrist of Marth’s sword hand, and yanked hard, pulling the other man onto his knee, hard. Marth doubled-over, his copy of Falchion clattering to the arena floor as his hand went to hold his stomach, the air in his lungs rushing out in a strangled gasp. Chrom rested his own sword against the man’s neck.

“Impressive…” Marth coughed. “If not surprising. I yield, sir.”

Chrom nodded and lowered Falchion. The duel had been ferocious, but had barely lasted more than a few minutes. Still, though, the crowd erupted in deafening cheers, and Chrom raised his blade above his head in victory, making the cheering even louder. He turned as he lowered Falchion, intending to help his opponent to his feet, only to see Marth’s caped back as the man left the arena.

What a strange man Chrom thought, reaching up to wipe the blood from his face.

After the duel Chrom and the others were reunited, the rest of the Shepherds apparently having already been brought to a special room overlooking the arena, before being led to Flavia’s new chambers as other warriors began competing to work out the other high military ranks in the Regna Ferox army.

But the duel for Khan-Regnant was finished, and thanks to Chrom Flavia was now the ruling Khan.

The sitting room the Shepherds were brought to was plain but homey, like everything else Chrom had seen of Regna Ferox. A happily crackling brazier sat in the centre of the room, illuminating the space and providing heat for the occupants sitting on the plain wooden benches covered in animal furs.

“I have to admit,” Robin said idly as Lissa tended the small wound on Chrom’s forehead. “I never expected to see a prince fight like that.”

“Like what?” Chrom asked, wincing as Lissa prodded the still tender area above his brow.

“So… brutally, I guess. I expected there to be a lot flashier, useless sword moves in a duel. That was almost like watching a real battle.”

“Most nobles might fight like that,” Chrom said, rising. “I don’t have the patience to pretend. Ylisse is still in a precarious position, and I don’t have time to waste showing off.”

Robin nodded, satisfied.

“Well spoken,” Flavia commented, entering the small sitting room, a wide smile plastered on her face. “And well fought. I was right to put my faith in you, Prince Chrom. You have my respect, which is not something easily earned; and perhaps more to the point, you have your alliance.”

Chrom and Flavia clasped wrists again.

“Ylisse will have her troops, and I will lead them personally.”

“Thank you, Khan-Regnant.”

“I should thank you!” Flavia smiled, dropping Chrom’s hand and laughing. “It feels like forever since I’ve held full power. Come my new friends! Tonight, we celebrate Feroxi style!”

Before the Shepherds could respond by asking what, exactly, that would entail, Flavia had swept out of the room and was already calling out orders for the feast.

“Bah!” a gruff voice from behind Chrom exclaimed. “Any excuse to get drunk and that woman’s all over it.”

Chrom turned, being presented with Robin’s description of what he thought the Khan would look like come to life, the giant of a man now leaning against the doorway opposite the entrance. The bald, mahogany-skinned Feroxi man in gold armour was wearing an eye patch that couldn’t entirely cover his frown as he surveyed the Shepherds.

“I’m sorry,” Chrom said sardonically, turning. “Have we met?”

“I’m the West-Khan you so rudely deposed, boy!” the giant of a man said, coming forward. “You’re quite skilled for one so young, lad, I’ll give you that. And to think I had just gotten my chambers the way I like them.”

The firm look on the West-Khan’s face dropped as he grinned and offered his hand, laughing heartily.

“But I’m quick to forgive and forget! This just means that all those annoying advisers and hangers-on will stop following me around for a few years! At least until I reclaim my throne next tournament, that is. My name is Basilio the great and mighty, Prince Chrom, and I am honoured to know you.”

The two clasped wrists and Chrom decided quickly that he liked the giant of a man. He was unlike Flavia, charismatic and loud, but Chrom could tell he was a formidable warrior and obviously a natural leader all the same. Chrom also noted that the West-Khan seemed older than Flavia; it was the way he held himself, the look in his eye that told Chrom the man had seen much in his lifetime.

“What do you know of the man I fought?” Chrom asked as they stepped back.

“Who, that ‘Marth’ guy?” Basilio snorted. “He’s just some sellsword with delusions of grandeur. Just turned up one day and knocked my old champion flat on his arse, so I asked if he wanted the job. It was love at first sight, I’d say; and I’m usually too old for such things!”

Basilio roared with laughter again before quieting and continuing. “Anyway, he’s up and disappeared; fled off into the night as soon as you beat him.”

Chrom nodded, lost in thought as Lissa sighed.

“He’s so dark and mysterious…” she said in a far-away voice.

“Well, at least he has one fan,” Robin chortled, earning a glare from Fredrick.

“Hey, come on,” Lissa stammered. “I’m just saying, he is kinda dreamy, isn’t he?”

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know, milady,” Fredrick said tonelessly.

“Am I the only one who thinks Marth looked kinda effeminate?” Robin asked, this time earning a glare from Lissa.

You’re kind of dreaming,” Chrom said to Lissa, rolling his eyes and earning another booming laugh from Basilio.

Lissa held up her hands in mock-surrender.

“Sheesh, big brother, excuse me for being human.”

Fredrick cleared his throat.

“As interesting as this discussion is, perhaps we should be preparing for our return to Ylisse?” the Knight suggested. “The Exalt must be informed of the reinforcements with all due haste.”

“But you’ll miss the great feast Flavia’s no doubt set about planning!” Basilio said in mock surprise.

“Yeah!” Lissa said, stomping down and setting her hands wide to bar the doorway. “You already cost me one feast, as your princess I order you not to deprive me of another!”

“Besides,” Basilio added, “I took the liberty of sending one of my fastest messengers to inform the Exalt of just that. She’ll be back here before you even make it halfway to the capital, even if you leave now. Think of it as my last act of good-will as Khan-Regnant.”

“Well, I guess a little break wouldn’t hurt…” Chrom sighed, rubbing the back of his head.

“Yes!” Lissa cheered, jumping up and down in victory.

Even Robin breathed a sigh of relief, Chrom noted, although the tactician was trying to be more subtle than his sister.

“Then I trust you have lodgings prepared for us?” Fredrick asked the imposing Khan, effortlessly switching tracks.

Basilio smiled and clapped his hands together.

“You just leave everything to old Basilio.”

“Wow,” Lissa breathed, awed by their surroundings.

The four Shepherds walked out into a wide open area in one of the upper levels of the Coliseum, an expansive room easily as large as the great hall in Ylisse, but with a much more moderately heighted ceiling. Feroxi finery was everywhere; animal skins and pelts, braziers and tables of food and drink. Off to one side was a gratuitous amount of training gear, and further on Robin could see an entire armoury, complete with a miniature smithy. The other Shepherds were already present and clearly very comfortable, and Robin ached to join them; he had been on his feet all day and would kill for a mug of ale.

“Ah, there you are!” Vaike called around the leg of turkey in his mouth.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” Basilio said, with a good-naturedly mocking bow. “At least for the next few days, anyway; then Flavia moves in, and I get stuck wherever my junk falls!”

Basilio laughed raucously as he led Robin and the others to the centre of the room.

“Make yourselves at home,” he said, flopping down onto a couch covered by a great bear pelt. “We have time before the ceremony where Flavia gets my fancy crown.”

“Of course, Khan Basilio,” Chrom said, sitting with Fredrick and Lissa not far from Sumia, whose eyes were watching the prince like a hawk’s.

Robin opted to sit closer to Vaike and Virion, which also happened to be nearer Basilio.

“Bah!” the older Khan snorted, leaning back. “It’s just Basilio, boy; even when I was Khan-Regnant. I hate titles; besides, you’re clearly strong enough to address me as an equal, boy.”

Lissa wasted no time regaling the others with the blow-by-blow of Chrom’s duel with Marth, something everyone seemed rather interested in. Robin only half listened, sneaking glances at the Khan when the older man wasn’t looking.

“What is it, boy?” Basilio rumbled quietly, so he wouldn’t interrupt Lissa’s story.

Robin started. He was sure he had been more subtle. Not to mention he was sitting on the Khan’s blind side.

“I’m just curious as to why you’re being so hospitable,” he answered honestly.

Basilio chuckled softly. “Well, the boy and the squirt are technically visiting royalty. Plus, at my age, I like to live vicariously thorough young warriors such as yourselves; makes me feel young again myself.”

Basilio was smiling wistfully as Lissa went into great detail about her brother’s unorthodox tactics; her description involving heavy use of hand gestures and miming.

The blue-coated man Robin had seen lead the others away came and whispered something into Basilio’s ear, which made the man groan softly.

“Well she can wait,” Basilio said to the man. “I just got comfortable, and technically I’m still Khan-Regnant for now.”

“Something we should know?” Robin asked as the other Shepherds laughed at something particularly funny Chrom had said.

“Just Flavia wondering where her new drinking buddies have up and disappeared to,” Basilio said dismissively. “It’ll do her good to have to wait; keep her humble.”

Robin shared a quiet laugh with the Khan as Lissa wrapped up the tale.

“I’m just sorry I missed it,” Sully was saying, looking particularly fierce.

Even Stahl was starting to edge away from the woman, and they had been nigh inseparable since he had caught up the day before.

“It was a good duel,” Fredrick said. “I’d say that I taught milord well.”

“Oh, so you taught him that headbutt?” Basilio asked loudly, a playful grin on his face. “I’d never have expected such underhanded tactics from a Ylissean knight!”

They all laughed as Fredrick blushed and muttered something unintelligible.

“Anyway,” Basilio said, sitting up and motioning over his shoulder with his thumb at the man in blue. “This is Lon’qu, my previous champion. The one Marth knocked on his arse.”

The severe looking man, Lon’qu, frowned even more at Basilio’s glib tone, but held his tongue.

“He’ll be going with you when you leave,” Basilio continued. “He doesn’t talk much, but he’s damned good with a sword; just as good as Marth, in my mind. I honestly can’t figure out he was beaten so handily. Anyway, consider him Western Ferox’s contribution to the war effort.”

Chrom looked confused, but it was hard not to be taken in by Basilio’s good attitude. After a few moments of hesitation the Prince and a few of the others stood to greet the swordsman.

“Marth beat him?” Lissa asked, eying Lon’qu and taking a few steps towards him. “But he looks so big and strong!”

Lon’qu retreated as many steps as Lissa took, paling.

“Away, woman!” he growled after his fourth step.

Lissa reeled, shocked. “What? What did I do?”

Basilio burst out laughing, holding his stomach and doubling over.

“That never gets old,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. “Lon’qu here has a… thing about women. They tend to put him on edge, make him nervous. Nonetheless, he is the best warrior under my command; he may even make Khan one day if he can get over his fear!”

“Alright then,” Chrom said after a moment, turning to Lon’qu. “Welcome aboard, Lon’qu. You’re sure about coming with us?”

Lon’qu shrugged, eying the women in the room warily.

“He gives the orders, I stab people. I think our roles are clear. Now I just stab who you tell me to.”

“I like the way this guy thinks,” Vaike muttered to Robin.

“There are quite a few women in the Shepherds,” Robin pointed out, stepping forward.

Lon’qu looked Robin up and down a moment.

“You’re the one that bested Raimi,” he said after a moment. “The Tactician?”

“I am.”

“It will not be a problem. There are many woman warriors in Regna Ferox. I am adept at avoiding them.”

Before Robin could continue the conversation, Flavia burst through the double doors at the end of the room, making as much noise as possible with Raimi in tow, followed by a train of servants carrying platters of food and kegs that no doubt held the best wine and ale she could get her hands on.

“Here you all are!” she shouted merrily, swinging a half-full tankard around, some of its contents sloshing over the edge and going ignored as they pattered to the floor. “I was beginning to think I’d be drinking alone!”

She walked right up to Basilio, who hadn’t risen, and pointed to the golden crown now sitting on her head.

“You’re in my seat, oaf,” she said drunkenly.

Obviously not having anyone else to drink with hadn’t stopped her, Robin realised with a barely supressed grunt of laughter.

Basilio rolled his eye and rose, bowing low in an unmistakably mocking manner.

“I see you wasted no time acquiring a new hat befitting your station.”

“Bite me, you overgrown mule.”

Flavia flopped down, much the same way Basilio had. She fidgeted around, twisting and getting comfortable before she leaned back and threw a leg up over the arm of the low couch, breaking out into a satisfied grin.

“Great! Now we drink!”

Robin stepped out onto the great balcony outside the Khan’s chambers overlooking the forest outside the Colosseum. The noise and alcohol were going to his head, and the last thing he needed was a hangover.

Basilio had roped Chrom and Vaike into a drinking contest, one which he was clearly winning; and the women were all congregating around Flavia as she told stories about rising to such a high position in a male-ruled nation, Sully in particular listening raptly; Stahl hadn’t left the food alone since it arrived some time ago, and Virion sat with Fredrick, trying to figure out some local variant of chess.

Robin took a deep breath of the frigid air, some of the dizziness abating as his exhalation misted in front of him; the Feroxi liquor was strong stuff, and the thought of marching all the way back to Ylisstol with a hangover sent chills down his spine. Sipping at some water, he noticed Lon’qu watching the Shepherds from the balcony not far from where Robin was leaning.

“Is this kind of celebration normal?” Robin asked the other man. “It seems kind of underwhelming, considering the change in hands of a ruler.”

Lon’qu shrugged. “Happens that often people barely notice.”

Robin stood awkwardly, shuffling from foot to foot.

“How did you beat Raimi?” Lon’qu asked after a moment of silence.

Robin stammered for a moment, before explaining his unorthodox tactics of combining magic and swordplay. Lon’qu listened raptly, before nodding approval.

“You are a gifted tactician to think so lightly on your feet. I look forward to serving under you. I look forward to duelling with you even more.”

Robin thanked the Feroxi for his praise and returned inside. Lon’qu had a burning intensity about him that was at once terrifying and awe inspiring; coupled with the whole not speaking often thing, the man was pretty intimidating. Robin sighed as he walked by the belching contest between Basilio and Vaike. It seemed Chrom was a magnet for strange individuals.

The tactician hesitated, pausing mid-stride when he realised that Chrom had passed out, and was slumped backwards over his low chair.

“Can’t hold his liquor, huh?” he asked the two shirtless men.

“It’s okay, he’s still young!” Basilio laughed. “But now that you’re here…”

A stein full of amber liquid was pressed into Robin’s hands as he was forced down onto a seat next to a dangerously swaying Vaike by Basilio, an expectant glint in the Khan’s eye.

“Time for round two!” the older man announced.

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