Morning pickup of the camp was normally a group effort, every member of the Shepherds working in seamless unison to take down tents and load everything into the supply wagons. Today, Gangrel had been left out of the general labor, waiting by the wagons and lifting whatever was dropped at his feet into the empty carts. He worked alone and he was okay with that: the fewer people he had to see, the better. After the fiasco with Stahl yesterday, the Plegian was in no mood to push his luck.
Tharja walked over, magicking a shapeless tent canvas so that it hovered before her. Upon reaching the caravan, the fabric collapsed into a heap at the Mad King’s feet. He scowled at the dark mage. It would have only taken her three seconds to load it herself, but instead she gave him another job to do. He considered snapping at her for a moment, but thought better of it; getting into another fight with the Shepherds was not worth a few moments of satisfaction. Not today.
Taking hold of the large canvas, Gangrel tossed it into a wagon, refusing to look back until he heard Tharja leave. The sound of her retreating footsteps never came, so he chose a spot on the horizon to glower at rather than face the Grimleal woman. A loud "tsk" sounded behind him, to which he gave no response. The disapproving noise repeated four more times, and his irritation rose each time.
"What are you tsk-ing about?!" he snapped. His hands curled into fists and he struggled against the rushing desire to place them around her throat and choke the life out of her. Tharja's gloomy monotone answered him after a moment.
"You've gotten boring," she drawled. "You used to be exciting—making threats and such. Now you're just like the others: no fun at all. Ugh."
"I am nothing like them," Gangrel replied, his voice a low growl and shaking a little as he failed to mask his rage. "Nothing."
"Yeah yeah, say what you want," Tharja said, clearly unconvinced. "Still doesn't change anything."
Gangrel heard her walking away, but he didn't trust himself to look. He was shaking with anger, unable to stop. Tharja was just another Grimleal trying to get to him, that was all. Her words meant nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Yet, despite their empty, meaningless nature, those words still somehow made his chest feel as if it were filled with shattered glass. It was all the Mad King could do not to scream from the pain's intensity.
"Form up! Break is over!"
The midday sun was blinding as the reluctant army shuffled back into lines for marching. Gangrel didn't move until he saw the cloaked form of the tactician take her place at the group's head. Only then did he rise from the ground and walk towards the back of the ranks.
It took nearly twenty minutes for the Shepherds to get moving, and even then the march was lethargic. Separate as always, he trailed after the Ylisseans, moving as slowly as he could. Soon the marching army was only a distant clump of people, and the trickster walked alone.
As long as he didn't lose sight of the Shepherds, he would be fine; Gangrel didn't want company. But, as he mounted the top a hill, he was surprised to hear familiar chuckling. Looking down over the ridge, he saw Henry running up the hill from the other side before throwing himself down on the grass and rolling to the bottom. The Mad King paused for a moment to watch this unusual turn of events and the next time Henry came up the hill, he didn't immediately roll down.
"Heya!" the smiling dark mage chirped. Gangrel narrowed his eyes in annoyance, but didn't respond. He turned his back on Henry and began walking down the hill, and heard footsteps jogging after him. There was a loud scuffling sound and the younger man rolled by, yelling "whooooooaaaaa!" as he went. The trickster didn't change his pace, walking resolutely by, his eyes fixed on the distant army.
"Hey, wait up!"
Henry caught up, seemingly oblivious to the other man’s irritation. The young Plegian brushed his snow-white hair from his eyes, but didn't bother to wipe away the dirt and grass sticking to his cloak.
"I asked you to wait, ya know," Henry said, still shamelessly cheerful. "I wanted to talk with you, but you've been avoiding everybody like they have the plague. Do I count as Ylissean now or something?"
"You're married to one," Gangrel replied stiffly, hands curling into fists. "That's all it takes."
"Ouch." Henry didn't sound hurt, however; he sounded delighted. "But it's not like the Shepherds are overflowing with Plegians to choose from to start with. And Ylisseans are very good at killing things."
"I am not talking about this," the Mad King growled. He knew what Henry was up to, and he was not going to enter this conversation. Henry apparently thought this was funny and chuckled.
"Nyahaha! Okay, don't talk about it. But I will. So what's up with you and Nisha? Did you fight? Was there blood? Did she cry?"
The questions, fired at top speed, bombarded Gangrel with as much force as actual projectiles, making him want to flinch. But he held his tongue: he was not giving in. The hardest part would be keeping his temper in check, because the young dark mage seemed to be trying—with extreme effort—to be as annoying as possible.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. Twenty. Still Gangrel kept his mouth shut, but it was getting harder: Henry would not shut up!
"If I tell you, will you stop talking?!" he snapped, unable to bear it after another endless fifteen minutes. The dark mage nodded happily, falling silent for the first time in almost an hour. The trickster gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to do something drastically violent. He'd shut Henry up, but now he had to tell else risk the truth curse. That didn't necessitate the whole truth however.
"The tactician figured that I would be fine on my own," he said, struggling to keep his voice level and emotionless. "She let me know, then ran off to Stahl without another word."
Henry tilted his head to the side, considering this. He didn't seem upset by the short answer, just intrigued.
"That makes sense," he remarked. "Stahl's a nice guy, ya know. Nisha likes that sorta stuff."
"Nice is overrated," Gangrel growled to himself in frustration. "I could show her things so far beyond nice, it would make her head spin."
The Mad King realized that Henry was close enough to hear him a minute too late, but he didn't even seem fazed. Without hesitation, the young man chuckled, but not in a mocking way: the laugh was good-natured and friendly, a laugh of empathy and understanding.
"Yeah," Henry chirped. "You love her."
Gangrel froze. Henry's smile grew wider as he watched the trickster struggle with his words and thoughts. Finally the dark mage spoke again, since it was clear that Gangrel was in cable of doing so.
"I'm not gonna tell ya know. That would be rude! Anyways, I would never make fun of you."
"You mock me at every opportunity," the Mad King replied flatly, defrosting a little.
"Aww, I only do that 'cuz I like you! You're fun!"
"Fun..." Gangrel repeated tonelessly. That's what Tharja had said: he had been fun. Fun to play with, fun to mock. He stared blankly at the ground. Never before had he felt so...so helpless, so vulnerable. It was pathetic; pathetic and infuriating.
"Hey, don't take it that way," Henry said, sounding a tad more serious than before. "You got it rough. But hey, I don't think Nisha's got it any better than you."
Gangrel didn't want this to continue: he was already feeling half-dead inside, and this conversation was making it worse. But, despite his apparent mind-reading, Henry kept talking, each mention the tactician landing a sharp blow in the Mad King's chest.
"Yeah. Woke up with no memory, failed to save Emmeryn, lost Chrom to Olivia...oh, and then there's the nasty mess with her dad and Grima...and on top of it all, she's the only single woman left in the original company. I don't think she's ever had a date or been kissed. Isn't that silly? She's really pretty and kind and—"
His voice soft and ready to break, Gangrel closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. He was pleading. Was this how far he'd sunk? Begging an inferior Grimleal to stop speaking? Henry seemed to finally catch up to the trickster’s mood and—thankfully—lapsed into silence.
The sun was shifting in the sky, the light it sent no longer radiant white. The red-haired man could see only a few straggling Shepherds now. One in particular stood the farthest behind. Even from this distance, Gangrel could see a ponytail silhouetted by sunlight and a too-big cloak billowing in the wind. He stopped in his tracks and stared at the figure, trying to remove the feelings that threatened to show up. Henry passed him, and turned around so he could speak and walk at the same time.
"Don't get eaten by a bear!" he crowed cheerfully, before turning around and running flat out back to the marching army. The Mad King saw the dark mage pause and say something to the distant tactician, gesturing back at him as he spoke. Henry then ran out of sight, and Nisha's distant form hesitated for a moment before vanishing as well.
Gangrel looked up, squinting at the sun.
"Why me?" he asked the heavens. "Isn't this enough for you?"Nobody answered.