Basilio let out a mighty yawn as he stepped out of the Colosseum, idly scratching his rear as he staggered towards the forest behind the massive fortress. To his mind there was nothing better for reigning in a hangover like a quick jog through the early morning forest and a dip in one of the springs that ran through it; it worked even better when it was still cool out, like it was at this time of year.
He blinked his one bleary eye sleepily as he leaned his massive battle-axe against one shoulder, stomping towards the trees with the intention of heading towards his favourite spot; it was a small hollow created by a waterfall not far from the foot of the closest hill, nice and deep and bitingly cold even in summer.
He grinned a little, memories of drinking those Ylissean kids under the table the previous evening making him chuckle a little to himself as he sauntered through the forest. The second-best hangover cure, in his mind, was remembering that he won a drinking contest the previous evening.
The forests in the neutral Central Regna Ferox area were similar to the lower-elevated Western ones, however the snow had been new to Basilio at first. Sure it got cold in Port Ferox, but it only snowed for a little while at the end of the year. In the Central region there was snow on the ground for at least four months of the year; apparently even longer in Eastern Ferox. But, like all things, Basilio had gotten used to it. He had mastered the rugged terrain and become stronger because of it. Even now, travelling through the forest bare-chested with his breath misting in front of his face and snowflakes falling from the trees with every heavy step he took, he barely felt the chill.
After a little longer than an hour of walking, in which time Basilio had finally woken properly, he came to the small clearing where the sound of bubbling water called out to him like the song of a siren. He was already unbuckling the straps to his pauldrons as he came to the edge of the forest, but a louder, unnatural splashing sound made him hesitate and slow his pace.
With a grin he crept forward, gently lowering his axe and his pauldrons to the ground without a sound. As he reached the edge of the rocky bank his eye spotted a thin, blue-clad form hunched over the water, splashing the icy meltwater onto his face.
“Hunh,” Basilio commented, stepping out onto the bank. “You have hair like a girl.”
The enigmatic swordsman Marth nearly leapt a foot into the air as he regained his feet, making a girlish little squeak of surprise and doing his best to look at who had snuck up on his without letting Basilio see his unmasked face. At the same time he held the collar of his open tunic closed tightly in one fist, one arm clenched tightly to him as the other flailed about. His long cobalt hair was down, too, flapping wildly around in the weak dawn light. It was so funny a dance the boy was doing, sneaking glances at Basilio as he fumbled with his dark mask that the Khan actually burst out laughing.
“Ah boy, what the hell do I care what you look like!” Basilio roared, holding his stomach in the throes of his mirth.
“Khan Basilio,” Marth finally greeted, now that his mask was firmly back in place. “What… are you doing out here?”
“That’s my spot,” the Khan said, pointing to the small river by way of answer.
Marth nodded woodenly, inching slowly back towards the forest.
“They should have already left by now,” he said, stomping towards the water’s edge and beginning to take off the remainder of his clothing.
Marth quirked his head curiously, watching the bigger man’s progress until Basilio’s hands dropped to his waistline, making Marth’s head snap around and face away from him as a deep blush rose to his thin face.
“H-h-how did you know… I was following… I mean that I was travelling… I-I… uh…” Marth stuttered, doing his best to watch the now naked Khan out of the corner of his eye. “Why are you… naked?”
Basilio let out a low chuckle as he splashed into the water, heedless of the freezing temperature.
“Like I said, this is my spot,” the big man sighed. “Besides, even if you did attack me, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve killed a man with my bare-hands while naked. This one time I was staying in Port Ferox with this lovely young lass-”
“Please, Khan Basilio!” Marth yelped, his voice becoming strangely high.
“Ah, right, the Ylisseans,” Basilio laughed. “The tactician told me all about you. But, what you do with your time now that you lost the Tournament is none of my concern, and if you want to waste your time following them you would do well to take the East Road from the Colosseum rather than the South Road.”
Marth nodded once, before beginning to walk towards the forest. As he disappeared into the trees Basilio let out a confused snort.
“What a strange lad,” the Khan muttered, floating in the icy water. “It’s not like I’ve got something he’s never seen before… Bah. Ylisseans.”
Robin leaned back in his chair, idly twirling the ink quill in his hand.
They had been back in Ylisstol for a week and all he had heard was war preparation talk. More Plegian ‘bandits’ were striking small towns on the borderlands near the city-state of Themis; a few times Chrom and the knights among the Shepherds had ridden out in the hopes of stopping the attacks, only to return to the capital dirty, sullen and defeated, followed by a column of refugees. The Plegians were striking in the night, burning down villages and towns, and Chrom had tasked Robin to come up with a tactical response.
As if a tactical response to guerrilla-warfare exists Robin thought bitterly, running a hand down his face.
He had been doing nothing but combing over the volumes on tactics and war-history in the Ylissean Royal Library for days now, and all he could come up with was ‘prepare three squads of fast response aerial fighters, position them in key points around the border, and hope they see the smoke before it’s too late’. Numerous hunting parties had scoured the wilderness around the border, but the mountainous terrain left too many places for the enemy to hide, and they surely weren’t stupid enough to use the few mountain roads that crossed the border.
Robin groaned, standing and stretching his aching back.
I need some air he thought sullenly.
He passed Miriel on his way out of the library, engrossed in a pile of books almost as tall as she was. She was the only person who was in the library more often than Robin, these days; always there when he arrived, still working when he left in the evening. The wizened old librarian had hinted that he was considering asking the mage to take over for him when he retired, if only because she knew the massive room as well, if not better, than he did.
Robin hesitated after stepping out of the library, tugging his collar into place before he decided a quick walk down to the Shepherds’ barracks couldn’t hurt, and setting off at a brisk pace to get some blood flowing back to his neglected legs.
Ylisstol was bustling as usual, but the activity of the marketplace Robin passed through, seeing as the long way to the barracks was strangely rather appealing that morning, paled in comparison to the military ward. Soldiers marched in formation in full armour, as blacksmiths crafted plates of armour and weapons; quartermasters ran to and fro, preparing for the long march through the deserts of Plegia if it came to war.
The Shepherds’ barracks, however, was an oasis of calm monotony as Robin approached it.
Three horses and one pegasi stood in the stables; all looking well cared for, especially the pegasi that Sumia had claimed. The beast gave Robin a knowing look as he approached.
Even the flying-horse knows my brain is overloading Robin thought with a sigh as he walked around to the front of the barracks.
As Robin rounded the front of the building he found that Stahl was doubled over on the ground, Sully standing over him triumphantly like normal.
“Come on,” Sully was saying. “You call yourself a knight?”
“We’re not all endurance-freaks, Sully,” Stahl groaned.
“What a wimp.”
Stahl just groaned again, reaching for his practice sword.
“Alright, alright, we can go another round.”
Robin chuckled as he passed them, stepping over the small pile of broken training weapons; this was nothing new. Sully was a menace to spar with, and somehow more often than not it was Stahl who drew the short straw. Not that the other knight ever seemed to mind; he almost seemed to enjoy the time he spent with Sully. ‘Almost’ being the operative word, Robin thought with a grin as the sound of Stahl being repeatedly smacked with a training sword rang out behind him.
Inside was another scene of normality; Virion was sitting at the low table in the corner, teacup and saucer in hand, Vaike was doing push-ups, Kellam was polishing his armour, even though Robin had to look twice to spot the man, and Lissa and Sumia were working on the pegasus knight’s saddle together.
“Hey, Robin!” Lissa called cheerily as he entered. “Giving up for the day already?”
“No, I just needed a break before the weight of the books suffocated me,” he replied, stepping over Vaike to join the two women.
“The Vaike is not a throw rug!” the other man growled indignantly as Robin did so.
“Well, you are always on the floor,” Lissa teased as Vaike returned to his exercise with a raspberry blown at the others.
“What’s new?” Robin asked conversationally, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall.
Sumia shrugged. “We’re just making sure we’re all ready to move when the word is given. Chrom and Fredrick have been in talks with the Feroxi and Ylissean Generals all morning, and the Exalt has been working tirelessly via correspondence to try and make a peaceful solution.”
Lissa nodded, looking down.
“All signs are pointing to war, though,” she said sadly.
Robin sighed, grateful he was only the tactician for the Shepherds and not the whole Ylissean Army. Not that Fredrick would allow such a thing, anyway, Robin thought with a rueful chuckle.
“Don’t laugh!” Lissa cried, outraged. “This is serious!”
“No! Don’t worry, I agree with you!” Robin said hastily, holding up his hands. “I’m just imagining Fredrick’s reaction if Chrom tried to put me in charge of the whole army’s tactics!”
Sumia and Lissa stopped for a moment, obviously imagining it themselves, before bursting into laughter.
“That would be pretty funny,” Sumia said as Robin made his way over to Virion.
“Tea?” the noble asked, indicating the pot on the table with a grin at the other man’s earlier joke.
Robin sat heavily. “I could use one, thanks.”
They continued like this for some time, sitting and making idle conversation, waiting for the inevitable call to arms. In the afternoon Sully had managed to coerce Vaike into taking Stahl’s place as her sparring partner while the knight recovered, and the girls were taking care of Sumia’s pegasi out in the stables. Lon’qu had joined them, too, but sat apart from the others, observing silently as he sharpened his sword with a sour look on his face.
“Virion,” Robin asked casually. “Did I see you playing chess with Fredrick in Regna Ferox?”
“Indeed you did, good sir.”
“Would you fancy a game? I’m not quite ready to return to my studies yet and could use the distraction.”
Virion smirked predatorily, placing his cup and saucer down gently. “Of course.”
Six moves into the game and Robin could tell he was doomed.
“For a tactician, you’re not overly good at this game,” Virion drawled, taking the last remaining knight on Robin’s side.
Robin groaned. “I’m a battlefield tactician. Those tactics would have worked on the field.”
Two more moves. Virion was backing Robin into a corner.
Robin cursed. He had been utterly annihilated by the womanizing archer. Chrom would never live this down.
“Oh, don’t look so forlorn,” Virion practically chirped, pouring two more cups of tea. “After all, I am sure I’ve had much more practice at this noble game.”
“Don’t tell the others the tactician got beat in chess. It would be… bad for morale.”
“Oh, I am sure ‘twould be,” Virion said slyly. “Your most secret of shames is safe with me, sir.”
“Thanks,” Robin grumbled.
Robin stood, excusing himself and exiting the building before his pride took any more of a beating. It was getting late; dusk had fallen while he wasn’t paying attention, and he felt bad for shirking the duty Chrom had given him. Taking a deep breath Robin simply stood, basking in the evening air. The sky was a vibrant shade of purple, the few sparse wisps of clouds in the air darkened to the colour of bruises by the setting sun. This was Robin’s favourite time of day, when the sun was just finishing setting but night had yet to take hold; when children were being called home for supper and the marketplace was winding down for the evening, merchants shouting orders to their apprentices as they closed up shop.
He stepped out towards the stables where Sumia and Lissa were fussing over the pegasi, and at once a plan sprung up into his mind unbidden when his gaze fell on the brunette currently brushing her pegasus’ neck and cooing to the incredibly pleased-looking animal.
He rushed back inside then, smiling wickedly, and both Virion and Lon’qu looked up, startled. Kellam did, too, but Robin didn’t notice until after the fact.
“Get everyone together,” Robin said enthusiastically. “We’re going out for dinner.”
Twilight had fallen over Ylisstol when Chrom and Fredrick finally returned to the Shepherds’ barracks to find all of the Shepherds lined up inside the door, as if there were some strange military inspection going on. As he walked in, they all walked out, Vaike and Stahl grabbing Fredrick by the elbows and leading him back out the door, Vaike whispering animatedly in the knight’s ear.
Robin was last out, winking as he passed the very confused-looking prince.
“Where’s everyone going?” Chrom asked the retreating figures.
“Just out!” Robin called back. “And don’t worry! We’re not all going, and we didn’t forget your dinner!”
Chrom scratched his head quizzically, sighing.
What kind of hair brained…
“Uh… Captain?” Sumia asked tentatively from behind him.
Chrom whirled, anxiety instantly blossoming in his breast.
They don’t think that--
“I thought that… well, since everyone else was… going out for dinner… that you would dine… with me?” she asked, looking down, her voice growing smaller with each word. “I even baked a pie… F-for dessert. Um…”
Robin, I don’t know whether to hug you or kill you. I may just do both, depending on how this night goes.
“Of course, Sumia,” Chrom said, smiling reassuringly despite the butterflies in his stomach and stepping further into the barracks. “I’d love to.”
“Cheers!” the Shepherds all shouted, clanking mugs loudly.
Vaike had led them to an alehouse near the Ylisstol slums aptly named the ‘Drunken Goat’; one he claimed had the best food and beer in all of Ylisse. The rowdy group of Shepherds had intercepted Miriel on the way, wary of letting her ruin Chrom and Sumia’s forced date night (and by ‘intercepted’ of course they all crowded into the Royal Library and practically dragged the woman out, much to the exasperated librarian’s displeasure), before arriving at said tavern and all piling into one of the large booths at the back of the place. Attentive serving girls had kept bringing the group drinks and food, and everyone was having a good time; even Fredrick and Miriel looked to be enjoying themselves. Dinner was already done at this stage, and the Shepherds were busy entertaining themselves.
Miriel had cornered Vaike, and was busy discussing the combinations of alcohol in the various cocktails available as the axeman struggled to answer her, while Virion sipped from a glass of wine that Robin had no doubt cost more than everyone else’s drinks put together as he wooed the serving girls who were hanging on the archer’s every word, much to Robin’s chagrin; Fredrick was refereeing the arm-wrestling contest Sully had started, while Stahl looked on, holding her drink in one hand and his own in the other as his sparring partner destroyed men twice her size without so much as breaking a sweat, something that had drawn a sizeable crowd. Robin scoped the bar and… there Kellam was, buying another round for the others and Robin made a mental note to thank the man later; Lon’qu was busy talking swords with what Robin assumed were either foreign merchants or mercenaries, either way the tactician was glad that the stoic swordsman had found some form of entertainment. Lissa and Robin both sat comfortably at the table, watching the others and nursing their drinks.
“This was a great idea, Robin!” Lissa slurred, smiling up at the taller man. “I’ve never even been to an ‘ale-house’ before!”
“Just… Tell your brother we went somewhere a little classier,” Robin said, realising with a slight sinking feeling that he had taken the Princess of the kingdom to a dive bar.
“Aw, that’s no fun!” she giggled, sloshing her drink around.
Lissa had opted to drink what everyone else but Virion was; that being large mugs of beer. She had even tried valiantly to keep pace with the rest of them, but was obviously very new to the world of alcohol. Robin hated himself a little for admitting it, but Lissa was incredibly cute when she was drunk; her cheeks had taken on a rosy tint and her hair had somehow become dishevelled, stray locks sticking up in random directions from her pig-tails as she leaned heavily against the table with her elbow.
“How many have you had?” Robin laughed, taking the mug from her hands and putting it on the table before she spilled it everywhere.
Lissa’s head drooped cutely, thinking hard.
“I lost count after four,” she slurred, her head snapping back up with a goofy smile plastered to her face. “I gotta say, I can see why everyone does this so often! This is great!”
Lissa swayed and hiccupped, Robin having to reach out a hand and steady her. By his count she was on her sixth mug now. At least. He had to admit, she was doing well.
“You’re a real light-weight, aren’t you?” he laughed, nudging the mug a little further away from her.
“Awww…” Lissa mumbled, slipping herself off of the tactician’s hand to lean bodily against him. “Are you saying I’m thin? Because I work real hard to maintain my figure…”
Robin rolled his eyes, motioning one of the servers over as he sat Lissa up again. Kellam beat the server to the table, though, placing a cup of water down in front of Lissa.
“I figured the princess would want some water,” the man said with a smile.
Robin nodded, waving the irritated server away and trying to at the same time both hold up and coerce Lissa into drinking the water.
“Come on, Lissa,” Robin goaded. “You’ll feel really sick tomorrow if you don’t drink some water now.”
Wondering how exactly he knew that, Robin looked up to thank Kellam only to find that the man had already vanished, leaving a fresh mug on the table for Robin. He made a mental note to thank Kellam twice the next chance he got as he started in on his new beer, one arm around Lissa’s shoulders to hold her up as she timidly sipped at her water, eyelids clearly growing heavy.
Vaike was right, Robin thought with satisfaction. This is really good beer.
A cheer went up from the other side of the bar as Sully beat her seventh challenger in a row, jumping up and down and pumping her fists in the air. She snatched her own beer from Stahl and downed the remainder of it in one go, making the crowd cheer again as she belched loudly when she was done. Just for good measure she snatched Stahl’s own mug out of his hand and upended it into her mouth, too, much to the other knight’s resigned irritation. With a sigh Stahl turned on his heel, clearly set on getting a refill for them both as Sully settled in to face her eighth straight challenger.
“Robin?” Lissa asked drunkenly, bringing his attention back to the table as her head bumped into his shoulder again. “I’m gettin’ kinda tired…”
Robin chuckled, rubbing comforting circles on the inebriated Princess’ back.
“So lean on the table and rest a little,” he suggested, sliding Lissa off his arm and onto the table as gently as he could.
He managed to get Vaike’s attention over the table as he stood; admittedly not a difficult task as the warrior looked to be growing bored of Miriel’s incessant talk of centrifugal force, and gestured to Lissa. Vaike nodded once, returning his attention to the mage. Now confident that the man would keep an eye on Lissa while she was passed out Robin found himself free to mingle.
He spotted Lon’qu standing alone by the bar, and Robin guessed he had nothing to lose by attempting to talk to the man again. Stumbling a little as he approached, Robin revised his approximation on how drunk he was. After all, a good tactician could revise battlefield plans on the spot, even if he couldn’t recall how many drinks he had had, exactly.
“What’s up, Lon’qu?” Robin asked, internally congratulating himself for managing not to slur the sentence.
The swordsman looked up from some strange, tepid-looking drink in his hands.
“They have Feroxi firewine here. I was not expecting this,” Lon’qu admitted hesitantly.
“Is it good?” Robin asked, somewhat curiously.
“It... tastes of home.”
“But is it good?”
Much to Robin’s surprise the swordsman chuckled a little and cracked a weak grin.
“Honestly? Not really. But I feel duty-bound to drink it. And… well, I already ordered it.”
“Well in that case, allow me to join you,” Robin said, signalling for the bartender to bring over another of what his friend was drinking, setting his beer momentarily to the side.
As soon as the barman filled Robin’s cup, he raised it to Lon’qu.
“To new friends and being away from home! May the faces we meet remind us of why we left in the first place!”
Lon’qu laughed again, echoing the toast as he clinked his cup against Robin’s.
Robin drank, and instantly had to fight the urge to spit the strong alcohol out; it was like someone was pouring hot coals down his throat. Even so, there was a musky flavour that sent warmth spreading through Robin’s extremities; he could see why it would be popular in a place as cold as Regna Ferox. Robin coughed as he set his empty cup back down on the bar at the same time as Lon’qu, who was laughing much harder now.
“I tried to warn you,” the other man grinned as he motioned for a refill, completely unfazed by the strong liquor.
Robin, however, found himself gagging, placing his hand above his cup and shaking his head as he choked before the bartender could fill it again.
“One’s quite enough,” Robin rasped, making Lon’qu laugh more.
Robin returned to nursing his beer while Lon’qu took small, savouring sips from his new cup.
“The others say you have amnesia,” Lon’qu said suddenly after a moment of silence.
“I do,” Robin admitted with a shrug, wondering where the conversation was going. “I have knowledge, but no memories to enforce it. Nothing more than about a month back; that was when Chrom and the others found me lying passed-out in a field.”
“You have my sympathy,” Lon’qu said after another moment, before adding “And, perhaps, my envy.”
Robin arched an eyebrow at the Feroxi’s words, but didn’t press the issue. If he wanted to talk about it, he would.
Robin looked up as Lissa began calling drunkenly for another drink, her face still pressed to the tabletop as she waved her empty mug around in the air.
“I suppose I’d best get her back to the castle,” Robin sighed, finishing his beer in one go and placing the mug back on the bar.
Fredrick stepped forward behind the tactician, placing a restraining hand on Robin’s shoulder before he could leave the proximity of the bar.
“Allow me,” the big knight offered. “I have had much less than everyone else and I feel I should retire early, anyway; there is to be another war council in the morning and I must be rested.”
Robin shrugged, stepping aside and motioning for him to do as he liked.
Fredrick nodded, moving to the table before he effortlessly scooped Lissa up as if she weighed nothing, and with a few farewells, Lissa’s being very animated and endearing in a drunken sort of way as she clung to Robin’s neck and shouted ‘but I’m the designated princess!’, the duo were gone into the night.
Robin grinned a little, crossing his arms next to Lon’qu as he watched them depart. There was another cheer from behind him, no doubt the sound of Sully winning again, before the tactician almost fell over as Sully half-leaned, half-fell on top of him.
“Hey-ya, Tactician,” she slurred in his ear, cheeks rosy from the beers she had consumed, “You and me, right now, that table.”
Robin’s face instantly turned scarlet as Lon’qu scooted further up the bar away from the drunken woman. She was heavy even without her armour, but not so heavy that the personal contact was unpleasant. He was assailed with the woman’s scent like never before, too; a mixture of sweat, beer, leather and horse that was strangely nicer than it sounded. The pressure on his back, coupled with the over-stimulation of his senses and the fact that Sully was breathing, panting more like, in his ear, made Robin’s blood pump a lot faster than it usually did.
“Sully, I… uh… that is…” he stammered, trying in vain to escape.
The female knight grabbed his arms and forced him over to the table she had been using for her arm-wrestling tournament.
“Oh no,” she all but roared. “You’re not getting out of this! I’ve wrestled everyone else here tonight but you and the grumpy Feroxi, so butch up!”
Robin sighed in relief as a new kind of fear set in. Sully assumed her position across the table, thumping her elbow down and grinning predatorily at him.
She’s going to break my arm, isn’t she? Robin thought with a certain sense of impending doom as he set his own elbow on the table.
Robin woke to a splitting headache and hard earth beneath him. He could feel the sun warming his face, but refused to open his eyes. It didn’t take a head full of memories to know that sun plus hangover equalled pain.
Slowly, the tactician moved his arms around on the grass he was resting on.
Shielding his eyes with a hand, Robin cracked them open slowly.
“Aw crap,” Robin muttered, sitting up. “Not again.”
He was in a grassy field with no idea how he had gotten there.
Robin cringed as the events from the previous night caught up with him.
Getting creamed by Sully in arm-wrestling…
A push-up contest with Vaike…
A spirited and exceedingly drunken conversation with Miriel about his ideas for the new spell he was developing…
A light-hearted argument with Virion over the qualities of good wine…
More firewine with Lon’qu…
A shots contest of some local grain alcohol with Kellam, Stahl and… Vaike.
“Vaike, you son of a bitch,” Robin growled, recalling the other man’s offer to take the passed out Tactician back to the barracks. “This is not the barracks.”
Robin stood shakily, turning to see the sun rising over Ylisstol’s outer wall.
At least I’m not far from the city, Robin begrudgingly thought, beginning the trek back to the walls, the barracks and eventually, his own bed.
Robin stumbled slightly as he cleared the threshold to the barracks.
“Vaike!” he called out as harshly as he could; considering the hangover, it wasn’t very harsh at all.
Ten sets of eyes looked up at the tactician.
“You and I are going to have a very long talk about your sense of direction,” Robin growled menacingly; or, again, as menacingly as he could.
All at once the Shepherds burst out laughing, and Robin quickly joined them.
Sully and Stahl sat him down next to Virion, who poured him a particularly strong-smelling tea, while Vaike still howled with laughter. Even Lon’qu was snickering at Robin’s predicament. Lissa had dark rings around her eyes and looked much the same as Robin assumed he did, Fredrick never far from her side.
Vaike began to tell, in gratuitous detail, the story of his master plan to fool Robin, and the Shepherds all stopped to listen.
Robin was pleased to note that Sumia and Chrom seemed to hover near each other, trading surreptitious glances at each other, even on occasion being so bold as to brush up against each other. Chrom looked truly at ease for the first time since Robin had met the prince.
Robin smiled, happy his plan had worked.