Invisible Ties

Chapter 8

Robin woke, returning to consciousness as slowly as he possibly could. It felt like forever since he had slept in a real bed, and he wanted to savor it. Come to think of it, he honestly couldn’t remember ever sleeping in an actual bed. Groaning as he realized he should probably be more concerned considering the state of things when he had passed out, Robin opened his eyes slightly.

He was indeed lying in a bed, clean and crisp white sheets tucked neatly around his bare chest, concealing his body from the armpits down. The room he was in was clean and well-lit, and along one wall he could see piles of bandages and bottles of potions and ointments he assumed were to help them heal.

He was clearly in a makeshift hospital; the beds were too high-quality to be a true hospital. Robin assumed one of the rooms in the Duke’s villa had been co-opted into service for the wounded Shepherds, considering the state the town had been in.

Hissing in pain as he struggled to sit up, Robin was interested to see that the other seven beds in the room were empty, each spaced about a meter apart uniformly throughout the space. On closer inspection, the bed next to him actually did have an occupant; she was just mostly wrapped in tight bandages the same colour as the sheets.

Sumia looked over at the sound of Robin moving and smiled tiredly. “We were all wondering when you would wake up.”

“How…” Robin coughed, working moisture into his dry throat. “How long was I out for?”

“For the better part of three days,” Sumia told him, sitting up slowly herself, pushing up with one hand and holding the sheet to her chest with her other.

Robin blushed and looked away, realizing she was in a similar state of dress as he was. It wasn’t surprising, given the positioning of her injuries or the fact that she was practically covered in bandages, but the linen strips hugged Sumia’s form in a way that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. She didn’t seem to be bothered, though, and Robin forced himself to relax a little and maintain eye-contact.

“The others were here at first, too,” Sumia said, obliviously offering Robin a jug of water that he accepted gratefully. “Vaike, Miriel, Lon’qu and Chrom all left after the first night. Kellam was discharged yesterday morning. Lissa has been working constantly to heal everyone, too.”

“What about you?” Robin asked, wiping some overflowing water from his chin with the back of his hand, surprised at the feel of the stubble on it. “Are you okay?”

“Me?” Sumia asked, honestly surprised. “I’m fine; I’ll be getting out as soon as the doctor returns. It was you we were all worried about. You just dropped like a stone after the battle, and nobody could rouse you.”

Robin shrugged, draining the water jug and setting it down.

“I over-taxed my body’s mana reserves and passed out. I… think it might have happened quite regularly before I lost my memory.”

“Another of your ‘lifetime of bad habits’ habits?” Sumia asked playfully.

“Yeah, probably,” Robin grinned, leaning back. “It kinda felt like it’s happened before, anyway.”

“You were hurt pretty badly,” he added seriously, looking over at the pegasus knight. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Sumia actually blushed when she answered.

“I’m sure. My wounds still ache, but not as badly as they did at first. I’m… thank you, for saving me. Lissa told me about the way you fought off the Plegians and… carried me all the way back to the villa alone… So thank you. For that. And saving me…”

Robin shrugged again, winking. “If I had let you die, Chrom would have never let me hear the end of it.”

Sumia instantly went the shade of Sully’s armour and looked down, making Robin laugh aloud, the sound echoing slightly in the big empty space.

“I suppose I should sit back and relax while I can,” Robin said, rolling out the stiff muscles in his neck. “But I haven’t had downtime since… well since Chrom found me in that field. I honestly don’t know where to start. What’ve you been doing for the last two days?”

“I’ve been catching up on my reading,” Sumia said cheerfully, indicating to the small pile of books on her nightstand. “I even put a couple aside I thought you might enjoy, seeing as you spend all your time reading now as it is.”

Robin accepted the three books she passed him, looking at their titles.

Shanty Pete and the Haunted Pirates?” Robin read, flipping through the books. “A Simpleton’s Guide to Pegasus Care? Uh… Wyvern Wars: Terror at High Noon?”

Robin started laughing again, assuming Sumia was joking. “These look terrible.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, Robin,” Sumia said dejectedly, suddenly sniffling slightly. “I just thought they sounded interesting and that you would… Oh I’m so stupid! Useless, useless, useless!”

Robin looked over at the woman, recalling how sensitive she could be and realizing his blunder before randomly holding up the third book. “Hold on Sumia, don’t cry. Here, I’ll read this one. It sounds… Uh, fun. You know, exciting! Can’t beat that… high-noon!”

“Really? Chrom suggested I might pick some out for you… you know, in case you needed more time to recover,” Sumia continued in the most pathetic, kicked-puppy voice Robin had ever heard.

“So…” Robin goaded, eager to change the subject as quickly as possible, interlocking his fingers behind his head. “You and Chrom, huh?”

Sumia instantly, and to Robin’s amazement, went an even deeper shade of red.

“It’s not… not like that…” she stammered, balling up the sheets around her with her free hand. “I mean, yes, he’s… very, uh, important to… me, but he’s our Captain and, and our prince and… and he’s visited me in here… every day but you’re in here too and-”

Robin laughed too hard and moaned, clutching his aching ribs.

“Relax Sumia,” he said, holding his side and trying not to laugh. “Personally, I think you two would be great together.”

To Robin’s continued astonishment the pegasus knight went an even deeper shade of scarlet as she mumbled her thanks. Robin continued to chuckle lightly as he gingerly slid to the edge of his bed. As comfortable as it was and as sore as he was, they were still at war, and if any more blood rushed to Sumia’s head he was afraid that she would faint.

“Now, and perhaps more importantly; do you know where my pants are?” he asked, realizing he was still sitting in his smallclothes.

Robin and Sumia both hobbled together through the halls of Duke Themis’ villa, headed to where Sumia was sure that Chrom and the Duke had set up their operations centre. They had both dressed in the hospital and were both wearing their regular clothes; Robin his coat and plain cream travelling shirt, and Sumia her freshly-mended purple riding suit, the sleeveless top and short skirt doing very little to hide the bandages still wrapped around the woman.

The villa was quiet, and they saw no signs of anyone else in the back rooms that the hospital had been set up in until they found the main hall. Much of the damage to the hall remained, but the doors and windows had been hastily repaired, and now the Shepherds seemed to have moved in to the two front rooms.

“Hey, he’s alive!” Vaike called as he saw the two approaching.

“Of course I’m alive,” Robin said as the others rushed to greet them. “Alive and hungry. Somebody feed me.”

The next half hour proceeded to blur as Robin stuffed his face with whatever came within arm’s reach. Once he was satisfied after eating for the first time in days, he started to pay attention to the conversation again. Apparently Chrom and the Duke were taking turns leading scouting parties to the Ylissean/Plegian border looking for signs of the band that had kidnapped Maribelle. Robin also gathered that the Prince was still wounded, and depending on how bad decided he wouldn’t hesitate to wrestle Chrom back into a sick-bed. Frederick had been put in charge of the cleaning and repair of Themis, alongside the Duke’s vassal Roark, who he had yet to meet.

Plegia had so far been silent on the matter of Maribelle’s kidnap, even going so far as to recall it’s negotiators under the pretence of ‘changing conditions in the homeland’. Robin just assumed that they knew they had a stronger bargaining chip now.

“It’s a right pain in the arse,” Vaike sighed after Lissa and Virion had finished explaining the situation. “Captain’s too afraid to stop now that we’re on the offensive, but the Exalt’s worried for Maribelle’s safety if we hit Plegia’s borders.”

Virion let out a mock gasp at Vaike’s words.

“I do not believe my ears,” the archer said, pretending to be shocked. “Did our Vaike just adequately convey a complicated situation in a single sentence?”

“I think he did,” Lon’qu added with a nod.

“I’m so proud of you, Vaike!” Lissa cheered.

“Aw shove it the lotta ya,” Vaike shouted, crossing his arms and causing the entire room to burst into laughter.

All of the Shepherds minus Chrom and Frederick were present, sitting around the room that Virion had been forced to try to hold alone during the siege, the only room that the Duke’s servants hadn’t been bothered repairing. Robin had to admit, the holes in the walls around the window were at least letting in a nice breeze, and spirits were still high. Well, everyone’s spirits except for Vaike, who was currently grumbling to himself and shooting half the room dirty looks.

“Has anyone considered sending in a small infiltration team?” Robin asked as the laughter finally died down, chin firmly in his hand.

Lissa shook her head. “It was the first plan Chrom and the Duke came up with, but Emm expressly forbade it.”

Robin groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “She’s going to have to accept that this is a war at some point and that she’s making my life very, very difficult here.”

“She values peace above all else,” Stahl said with a shrug. “You didn’t see what it was like after the last war; what she had to clean up. Well, at least you can’t remember if you saw it.”

“And what are the warriors to do when there’s no fighting to be had?” Chrom asked, entering the room with Frederick in tow.

“Sit around and tease the Vaike, apparently,” Robin heard the man mutter from the side, earning a few more snorts of laughter.

“It’s good to see you’re both up and about,” Chrom said to Robin and Sumia, sitting down next to them as Frederick stood at his shoulder like a glowering, perfectly presented gargoyle. “Are you sure you’re ready to be moving around again?”

“I’m fine,” Robin said dismissively, waving a hand. “I’m more worried about the tactical corner the Exalt is backing us into. If we wait any longer, we’ll be back on the defensive. I can work with defensive, but I’d prefer to keep the offensive.”

Chrom shook his head.

“That’s what I came here to talk to you all about. King Gangrel of Plegia himself has suggested a peace negotiation right on the border; just him and Emm, face to face, without any more negotiators. She’s already on her way here with Cullen and the majority of the Ylissean army, and will most likely arrive by nightfall.”

Everybody was silent at this revelation.

“It’s a trap,” Robin said after a moment, breaking the silence. “After everything I’ve seen of this man’s tactics, I have no doubt that this is a trap.”

“I’m fully expecting a trap,” Chrom sighed, rubbing his temples. “That’s why I’m telling everyone. We’re going as Emmeryn’s honour guard.”

“Us?” Sully asked incredulously. “Why not the actual honour guard?”

“It’s part of the truce agreement,” Chrom explained. “No ‘official’ military units; technically we fall outside the jurisdiction of the Ylissean military proper. Besides which, I don’t trust Gangrel as far as I can throw him, and I’ll be damned if Emm is facing that crazy bastard alone.”

“We’re with ya, Cap,” Vaike said, the others all nodding agreement.

Chrom smiled, looking around.

“I knew I could count on all of you.”

After this the small impromptu meeting wrapped up pretty quickly, with plans to march to the border with Emmeryn the next day. All they could do in the interim was relax, spend more time with the healers and prepare however else they deemed necessary.

Lissa led Robin to a small room upstairs, explaining that Chrom had set it aside specifically for him while they were in Themis. Robin thanked her, honestly grateful for the solitude having his own space would provide. He found his things piled on the desk next to the bed, having been moved from the hospital room, and instantly set about making sure everything was still there.

Opening his pouch he emptied the contents unceremoniously on the desk top, sighing in irritation as the loose papers fluttered to the floor. Robin looked quizzically at the charred stuffed rabbit toy he had found, shrugging and setting it to one corner of the desk where it sat, almost as if watching him work. The thought forced a small smile to his face.

Robin sighed again as he began leafing through his notes listlessly, not quite feeling up to working again yet. The book Sumia gave him caught his eye, sitting separately from the other items on the edge of the desk, its cheap black binding enticing him with the promise of a few hours of escape.

“Oh, what the hell,” Robin muttered, setting down the notes and picking up the book. “Nothing could be worse than reading those notes again…”

Robin jumped as he heard light knocking on his door. He had been so engrossed in reading the book Sumia had given him and lost track of time; it was actually better than he thought it would be. And of course it was just starting to get good…

When did I light that candle? He thought quizzically as he sat up, noticing it was dark outside.

“Robin?” Sumia asked, cracking the door and peeking in. “Dinner’s ready and Chrom sent me to… were you reading the book I gave you?”

Robin nodded as he stood, stretching his stiff neck muscles with a satisfied groan.

“Yeah, it’s actually pretty damn entertaining,” he admitted. “I gotta admit that you have better taste than I pegged you for, Sumia. Thanks.”

Robin’s little off-hand compliment saw Sumia beaming the entire way to the dining hall and then all through dinner. At one point Chrom looked over at Robin quizzically as the woman practically sang and danced while she was cleaning up. Robin shrugged, pretending to have no idea what was going on.

The next day came far too quickly for Robin’s liking, and not just because he was up half the night reading. Vaike had found him in the morning with his candle burnt-out, lying awkwardly with the book resting on his face, and now his neck was sore again. Doing his best to ignore the various lingering aches and pains in his muscles he had fallen in with the others as they were preparing to march.

Sumia stretched, bouncing lightly on her toes as she prepared for the day’s travel. Lissa and the other local healers had worked nothing short of a miracle to get the woman battle-ready for the day, but Robin had still drafted plans that saw her in support roles all the same. Her pegasus never moved far from her side; apparently the animal, while escaping injury itself, was as concerned as Robin for its rider.

Roark and a Ylissean Captain named Hugo would hold at Themis, ready to march with all of the troops of Themis and Ylisstol at a moment’s notice. Hugo, sent by Cullen himself, was a short man with a barrel chest, wearing thick plates of armour of the same blue as the late afternoon sky. His thick, bushy beard hung down over it, and Robin had to stifle a giggle at the way every time the man barked out orders they seemed to simply appear from within the beard, rather than his mouth.

“Don’t worry, milord, we’ll be ready to back you up at a moment’s notice,” Hugo promised Chrom as they and Robin walked out from the Duke’s villa, which had quickly become the base of operations in the ruined city.

“I know, Captain,” Chrom said. “I am trusting you and your men with my life, as is the Exalt.”

“We won’t let you down, sire!” Hugo half-shouted, snapping to a smart salute before beelining for the other waiting officers, men that would be in charge of the various infantry platoons for the duration of the negotiation.

“He seems eager,” Robin commented as he and Chrom made for where the Shepherds were waiting, closer to the city.

“The eyes of the Knight Commander, not to mention the Exalt herself, are on this city right now,” Chrom explained. “This is an important post for him.”

“Should I be a little more tense, then, too?” Robin asked curiously.

“I wouldn’t bother,” Chrom laughed. “I think your calm is what’s keeping the rest of us from panicking.”

“Oh, right, good; so no pressure, then,” Robin said sarcastically.

Chrom laughed again as they reached the periphery of the Shepherd group, a few of the closer soldiers glancing up at their arrival. Robin and Chrom both hesitated, noticing the young mage Ricken trying to be inconspicuous at the back of the group at the same time, and with a resigned sigh on Chrom’s part, they walked over to him.

“Ricken, do you remember what I said when we got to Themis?” Chrom asked.

“Yes,” Ricken said dejectedly, looking down.

“It’s for your own good,” Robin told the boy, placing a hand on his shoulder in what the Tactician hoped was a comforting gesture. “It’s not as fun as Sully and Vaike make it sound; trust me.”

Ricken nodded, and Robin returned to where Chrom was giving the final instructions to the Captains that would be holding Themis. Robin looked over his shoulder to check on Ricken, but the young mage had disappeared already.

“I feel bad for leaving the little guy behind,” Robin commented to Chrom.

“You’re the one that said it was for his own good,” Chrom said. “He’s only fifteen; he should be back at Ylisstol studying. I’m not comfortable having him even this close to the front lines.”

“Is that what this has become, now? The front lines?” the tactician asked in a resigned tone.

“Look around you, Robin; it’s time for all of us to accept what’s happened,” Chrom said, shooting a meaningful look at his sister.

The Shepherds, along with Emmeryn, Duke Themis, Phila and Cullen set out for the border at dawn, moving at a brisk pace. Emmeryn rode with Cullen, flanked by Frederick and Duke Themis. Sully and Stahl took up the rear, with Phila and Sumia flying overhead and the rest of the Shepherds marching in the middle.

As they drew closer to the mountain range that separated the two nations Robin noticed the scrub growing thinner and dryer, and the general green-feeling that the parts of Ylisse that Robin had seen had was becoming absent, too; even the air itself was growing more arid. These sights and even the feeling of the drier air stirred something in Robin, a memory lying just out of his grasp. He was so focused on trying to recall the memory that he walked straight into Chrom, not realizing that the man had stopped.

“Sorry,” the tactician apologized bashfully.

Chrom just smirked over his shoulder, leaving Robin realizing everyone was either grinning or snickering at him. Except Frederick; Frederick was back to glaring at him, as always. Emmeryn was still smiling as she dismounted, helped by Chrom, her light boots making small puffs of dust as they hit the dry earth beneath her horse.

How long was I out of it for? Robin wondered, scratching his cheek absently.

Sumia and Phila both landed in much larger clouds of dust and brought their pegasi close to where the Shepherds were walking at a trot, the winged creatures far less graceful on the ground than in the air. Emmeryn had insisted on no scouting past the Ylissean side of the border, against both Chrom and Robin’s counsel, but her word was law. Robin would have at least liked someone to have skirted the border, but Emmeryn had expressly forbid it.

The Ylisseans, and whatever Robin was, came out onto a flat and open expanse on the road across the mountains where a small fort had been constructed to offer a base for ‘border control’ by the Plegians, which looked deserted from this distance. The hard-packed dry earth had small shrubs and plants sticking out of it at oddly spaced intervals, and small dust clouds were being kicked up with every step they took. The road kept going uphill and eventually disappeared over the lip of the mountain, but that was supposedly Plegian territory; although who decided that kind of thing Robin had no idea.

As clichéd as it sounded, Robin was uncomfortable; it was too quiet. The Plegians were supposed to have been here already, and that they weren’t was making Robin a little edgy.

“It’s too quiet,” Chrom muttered, echoing the tactician’s thoughts.

Damn. I always wanted to say that. Wait, since when? Urgh. Forget it. All this memory crap is starting to give me a headache.

“Ambush?” Robin muttered back instead, gritting his teeth against the lost opportunity.

Chrom shrugged, looking around the area. “Probably.”

They continued up the road, and up the mountain, until they were in a shallow valley just past the fort. Robin was just about to suggest they stop and take a break when someone began shouting at them from above.

“What’s this, then? The Exalt herself, in all her radiance!?”

“Ambush,” Chrom muttered under his breath, hand going to his sword.

The man shouting at them stood with a woman atop a small rise; he was slight, but the slight of a practiced swordsman, wearing dignified yellow and black clothes with a pronounced black-furred ruff around his neck and a red cape billowing in the dry wind. Over top of his neat red hair was sitting a golden crown.

The Plegian King, Gangrel, had been true to his word.

“I fear I must shield my eyes!” he went on, before cackling like a madman.

“King Gangrel,” Emmeryn greeted, stepping forward and performing a courtly bow. “I have come to negotiate the cessation of hostilities between our nations, and for the truth behind the wanton attack on Themis.”

“You want the truth?” the woman behind Gangrel purred, stepping forward. “I can give you the truth…”

Something instantly struck Robin about the woman, hitting him with the strongest sense of nostalgia yet; almost like before when he had been trying to force the memory that had eluded him. She was wearing... Well, if Robin were to be completely honest, she was barely wearing anything at all; a tight black skirt and an even tighter black blouse, slit down the middle to show off her ample… endowments and pristine flesh the colour of the light earth around them. Her white hair was held up by a delicate looking black headdress.

“Perhaps milady may first share her name?” Emmeryn prompted, still all smiles and calm.

The woman chuckled, before bowing in what was an undoubtedly mocking manner.

“You may call me Aversa.”

That name is way too familiar. I’m going to have to remember it.

Aversa’s eyes scanned the Shepherds before they stopped on Robin. As their eyes met, hers widened slightly in surprise, before a feral hunter’s smile stretched across her lips. Robin simply crossed his arms and raised his eyebrow. Obviously she was someone who was at least acquainted with him. Not that they would get a chance to talk any time soon, what with being on opposing sides of a brewing war.

“Very well, Aversa,” Emmeryn continued. “I trust that Lady Maribelle is unharmed?”

“Who? Ah, right, the blonde tart,” Gangrel said dismissively, waving to someone behind him.

As the Plegian soldier restraining Maribelle dragged her forward Robin could actually hear Duke Themis growling under his breath. She looked unharmed, but was covered in dirt and dried blood, and was limping slightly as she was brought forward to stand unsteadily by the King and Aversa. Robin could even see the swelling on the left side of her face from his position meters away, doing away with the notion of her being ‘unharmed’. Fortunately it didn’t appear that she was ‘seriously’ harmed.

The others all gasped at her appearance as Robin’s thoughts escaped him again.

“I swear by Naga I will gut that man like a fish,” the Duke growled under his breath from the rear of the group.

“Unhand me you gutter-born troglodytes!” Maribelle shouted, suddenly full of energy with her friends and liege’s eyes on her, struggling at her bonds.

At least she still had some fight in her, Robin mused as his opinion of the girl rose slightly.

“Does she even know what that word means?” Virion muttered at Robin’s shoulder.

“I don’t,” Vaike shrugged.

“You don’t say,” Lon’qu muttered, rolling his eyes.

“Maribelle!” Lissa called out, concern for her friend overriding the thought of the tense political situation they were in.

“Lissa, darling, is that you!?” Maribelle called back, astonished eyes falling on the Shepherds. “What in heaven’s name are you doing here!?”

At a nod from Gangrel the soldier stuffed a rag in her mouth and dragged her back. Duke Themis actually took a few steps forward, sword in his hand, before Chrom stopped him.

“This girl crossed the Plegian border without proper consent. What’s more, she wounded the brave Plegian soldiers who only sought to return her safely home,” Aversa said in a sickly sweet voice, fake concern dripping from her words.

“Liar!” Duke Themis thundered, pointing at the woman with his naked blade. “You speak nothing but lies, hag!”

“Ah?” Aversa chuckled, still smiling. “I see. No manners in the entire family, it would seem.”

“Such violent temper speaks of her guilt as a spy,” Gangrel said gleefully. “This calls for a weighty punishment and considerable reparations from our neighbours of Ylisse.”

“You raze my city, invade my nation and hold my daughter for ransom,” Themis shouted, “And still have the gall to demand reparation!? We have done nothing wrong!”

Maribelle continued to struggle against her bonds, earning a hard shove from the soldier holding her captive. Robin didn’t need a lot of memories to tell that tensions were at boiling point and the situation was deteriorating fast.

“Peace, Duke Themis,” Emmeryn said, holding her hand up in a calming gesture as she shouted above the clamour. “I believe you.”

In her most regal voice, which Robin had to admit was pretty impressive, Emmeryn called out “King Gangrel I request you release this woman at once. Surely you and I can come to terms of peace without the use of hostages.”

So there is to be no pussy-footing around the issues? Well, good, Robin thought with satisfaction as his own hand slipped unconsciously towards his sword’s hilt. He hadn’t been in the mood to listen to diplomatic prattle all afternoon anyway.

“Without so much as an apology?” Gangrel asked, a strange gleam in his eye as he feigned hurt. “Why should I even parley with you? This is Plegian soil! I’m well within my right to have her head on a pike and be home in time for supper!”

This time Chrom beat Themis to the punch, obviously snapping at the King’s disrespect.

“You black-hearted whoreson wretch!” Chrom shouted, drawing Falchion.

And this is the part where it all goes to hell, Robin thought with a resigned shrug as he and the others Shepherds all drew their own weapons.

Gangrel was smiling. He had backed them into a corner and he knew it.

“Control your dog, Exalt, before someone gets hurt,” he said in a low, dangerous voice.

Chrom growled audibly as Emmeryn shot him a look. With obvious distaste he stepped back, lowering the longsword in his grip as Gangrel cackled like a maniac.

“Good, good! Now perhaps we might organize a trade? I had over your precious blonde whore, and you give me the Fire Emblem!” the foreign King announced.

There was a small collective gasp from the Shepherds at the man’s demand; even Emmeryn looked slightly confused by this. Robin was confused, too, but only because he had no idea what they were talking about.

“Why would you want Ylisse’s royal treasure?” Emmeryn asked in lieu of an answer.

“What does it matter!?” Gangrel roared, his eyes wide as he drew his own sword. “I will have it, and in return you can have your subject back!”

The soldier holding Maribelle shoved her hard and she fell to her knees next to the King, the rag gagging her falling out, who held his sword to her neck.

“Or perhaps I should place her head on that pike after all!?” Gangrel went on, lowering his weapon to Maribelle’s throat.

“He’s utterly mad,” Chrom muttered in shock.

Maribelle glared up at him defiantly, but even from this distance Robin could see the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and the trembling of her lower lip.

“The purpose of the Emblem is to save the world in the hour of direst need, King Gangrel,” Emmeryn said, her voice becoming tight and clipped. “Would you claim such a noble wish?”

“Why your Gracliness,” Gangrel chided, his agitation growing. “I want what every Plegian wants: a grisly end to all Ylisseans!”

Gangrel practically doubled over in insane laughter, and Robin saw the fear growing in Maribelle’s eyes as, for the first time since he had met the noblewoman, she looked to be human. He also saw… Gods, was that Ricken on the cliff above Gangrel!? No one else seemed aware of the boy’s entrance, so Robin tried not to give his position away by looking directly at him, already adjusting and creating new plans on the fly.

Emmeryn looked shocked by Gangrel’s confession, her composure finally starting to slip. “What?”

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten what the last Exalt, your father, did to us in Plegia,” Gangrel mocked. “He and the Ylissean knights rode through our country, slaughtering, pillaging, raping and murdering, all because we had a different faith; because he named us heathens to your faith!”

“I have never denied Ylisse’s past wrongdoings, but have sworn to never repeat those past mistakes. Gangrel, please; together we can make this a realm of peace.” Emmeryn pleaded.

“You live in a realm of hypocrisy and blind lies!” Gangrel frothed, jumping up and down, his sword nicking Maribelle’s neck. “Now give me the Emblem!”

“No, your Grace!” Maribelle shouted, her voice breaking. “I would sooner die than be a bargaining chip for this madman!”

“Urgh! Talk talk talk talk talk talk,” Gangrel cackled. “It’s time we made action! The negotiations are over, your Luminosity! I will have the Fire Emblem if I must pry it from your cold dead hands!”

Plegian soldiers appeared from over the rise, marching in time as great reptilian Wyverns swooped in low overhead, their riders wielding wicked looking polearms and lances, black armour glinting in the afternoon sun.

“They were waiting for us,” Robin muttered, sifting through strategies in his mind. “This was never a peace summit; it was always designed to get us in one place.”

“This is an act of war!” Cullen warned, speaking for the first time as he moved his horse to shield Emmeryn.

“Then it is to be war!” Gangrel snarled, raising his sword to strike Maribelle’s head from her shoulders.

Before the blow could land, a gust of green-tinged magical wind bowled over the King, Aversa and the soldier that was standing with them. Maribelle, being closer to the ground, simply tumbled to her side, landing hard and crying out as her shoulder hit the hard dirt.

“Move!” Ricken shouted, sliding down the cliff side to Maribelle, breaking her bonds with a quick fire spell and dragging her to her feet. “C’mon, Lady Maribelle, we have to move!”

The two ran as quickly as they could ahead of the encroaching Plegian forces to the astonished looking Shepherds. Maribelle stumbled, but Ricken caught her and the diminutive boy half-carried her the rest of the way to safety.

“Ricken?” Chrom asked in surprise as they reached the group. “I thought I told you…”

“Later!” Robin interrupted. “Kellam, Frederick, Sully, Stahl. You, me, Chrom and the Duke will form a line. Cullen, Phila, Sumia. Get the Exalt out of here and send the army. Virion, Miriel, Ricken. Take out those bloody wyverns! Lon’qu and Vaike, strike whenever you see an opening. Lissa, do what you can for Maribelle’s wounds. We’ll retreat as we fight! No unnecessary risks; put as much space between us and them as possible!”

Everyone began moving, the Shepherds forming ranks while the commanders and Sumia, with a worried glance over the latter’s shoulder, charged off in the opposite direction. Duke Themis, too, cast his daughter a worried glance as he moved into line with the Shepherds, but shook his head and focused wholly on the field before him.

“Is it too soon to say ‘I told you so’?” Robin asked Chrom, eyeballing the encroaching Plegians as they stood together in the line. “Because I told you so.”

“You’re a bright lad, tactician,” Themis said from Robin’s other shoulder. “But no one like’s a sore winner.”

Chrom chuckled darkly, readying his sword. Robin just grinned, shaking his head a little as he studied the enemy’s forces.

Gangrel and Aversa were nowhere in sight, having disappeared behind the wall of black armour. Robin couldn’t see their exact numbers, but the Plegians just kept coming in an endless, inexorable tide. The only reason they were still alive at all was that the Plegian commander seemed to want to take his time and savour the victory. The Shepherds backpedalled quickly, eager to get back to the road where they could lose the enemy in the light forest on the side of the mountain, but Maribelle stumbled regularly, hampering their progress as Lissa practically dragged her friend along.

The wyverns began to fall from the sky, peppered by Virion’s arrows or dropped by magic. Ricken’s wind magic was proving exceedingly effective against the airborne foes, bending wings and knocking the reptiles out of the sky, something that Miriel took note of; the woman was more proficient with fire magic, but as Robin watched she showed a passable skill with wind, too, adapting her casting to exploit the wyvern-riders weakness.

The front Plegian ranks began to charge, and broke against the knights at the front of the Shepherds, Kellam standing firm in the centre of the line, flanked by Robin and Chrom. Frederick and Sully used the reach of their lances and higher positions to maximum effect, dropping Plegians before they could even get close as Stahl swung his sword in a tight figure-eight. Next to Robin Themis snarled, lashing out with skill that spoke of decades of training and fighting. Robin swayed left to avoid a spear being thrust by one of the soldiers, and stabbed out with his sword at the man behind him as Lon’qu took the spear-wielding man in the throat with a perfectly timed lunge.

The Shepherds continued to back up, Lissa half carrying Maribelle, and before long they hit the edge of the plateau and the start of the road.

“New formation!” Robin shouted over the din of battle, hacking away at a Plegian bandit who got too close. “Kellam and Frederick, block the road! Leapfrog with Sully and Stahl every five meters! Vaike, Chrom, Lon’qu, Themis, watch their retreats! Everyone else, keep up the pressure!”

They proceeded like this down the mountain, the knights and Kellam forming a moving wall of armour while the others watched their retreats and harried the Plegians, Robin switching to his spellbook and using small spells to take out individual enemies.

“Miriel, Ricken!” Robin called out as the road began to widen at the base of the mountain. “On three we hit them with everything we’ve got! Open up as much space as possible! Then we all make a break for the woods! Vaike, take Lissa and Maribelle and go now! We’ll catch up!”

Where the hell is the army? Robin thought, looking around at the empty lowlands. They should have at least been unmistakable in the distance by now. Wait… There, on the road! A small plume of dust was closing the distance fast.

“Hold on!” Robin called to the other mages as he saw a pegasus in the sky coming closer.

Sumia landed her pegasus hard, panting.

“Themis has fallen!” she shouted without preamble. “Captain Hugo is dead and Roark is coming with every soldier he can spare, but it will be a delaying tactic at best so that the Prince and Duke can escape! Cullen and Phila are already en route to the Capital with the Exalt!”

Robin nodded grimly. At least Emmeryn was safe.

“No!” Maribelle cried out at the news, falling to her knees in Lissa’s grip.

“Monsters!” Duke Themis roared, brandishing his sword at the encroaching Plegians.

“Can your pegasus carry Maribelle and Lissa?” Robin asked Sumia.

“I think so, but not far,” she gulped.

Robin motioned the two girls over, and with the three women crowding onto the pegasus Sumia was off again, flying low. Maribelle was shell-shocked now, her eyes wide and vacant even as Lissa did her best to soothe her friend’s pain.

“Prepare to disengage!” Robin shouted as the knights from Themis drew closer. “Reassume the earlier position!”

The Shepherds formed a line again, minus Robin this time, as he, Miriel and a shaking Ricken began readying the most powerful spells they knew.

If ever I needed the ‘Hammer of the Gods’, Robin thought, working through the hand motions for his Mjlonir spell, it’s now. It’s going to be fun finding out what this spell does.

Dark clouds began to gather, centralized over the Plegian lines as Robin crackled with magical electricity, eyes glowing white with excess mana. Ricken stared distractedly at the man and lost grip of his own spell, hastily focusing and reigning it back in. Miriel was engrossed in her own spellwork, but still cast a glance at Robin.

At Robin’s count of three they let loose, Miriel shooting a jet of flame across the front of the Plegian ranks, charring armour and forcing them back. Ricken’s green tornado picked up and threw Plegian soldiers as more backpedalled, but Ricken was spent afterwards and collapsed, gasping and shaking. Robin’s Mjlonir was truly devastating, though; with a flash and a sound like a hammer on an anvil, a rain of lightning bolts descended from the black clouds above the Plegians, striking indiscriminately, before a giant hammer-shaped blast impacted in the middle of the Plegian ranks, throwing up men and annihilating those caught directly in the blast. Robin sagged as the spell dissipated, exhausted. They had cleared a good twenty meters between them and the Plegians, who were now looking much warier about charging again.

Before the Plegians could make up their minds, Roark and thirty-odd knights were closing in on them.

“For Themis! For Ylisse! Give no quarter!” he shouted as the white-armoured knights from Themis ploughed into the Plegian ranks. Robin was sad to see that five of Frederick’s sky blue-armoured knights were among them.

“Retreat!” Robin called hoarsely. “Into the woods! Make for Ylisse! Retreat!”

The first official battle in the war against Plegia was over for the Shepherds.

And they had lost.

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