The night was still, the only movement the dancing flames of the fires in the camp. Most of the Shepherds had already retreated to their tents, leaving the center of camp empty and silent. A single man sat before the warm blaze, watching the ribbons of glowing heat twist in the air. The flames almost matched the color of his vibrant hair, and he stared into the light, searching deep within his feelings.
He had come so far to get here—well, it felt very far, but he remembered nothing about that journey. But at last he had found who he was looking for. He just hadn't been expecting all this turmoil.
Morgan remembered nothing about his father aside from a few fuzzy memories of his mother telling him that he and his father were the most important people in her life. Not even the man's face had escaped the destroying amnesia.
The young thief would have been lying if he said his father's identity hadn't come as a shock. But all the evidence lined up: Nisha was engaged, Gangrel was a trickster—which meant he too had been a thief—and their hair color was identical. Granted, the last one was very circumstantial, but what else did he have?
He'd overheard the other Shepherds calling Gangrel "the Mad King" during the aftermath of Nisha's announcement. Out of curiosity, Morgan had "borrowed" a recent edition of Ylisse's history—published alongside the Ylissean census the previous year—looking through the last few chapters to see what significance that title might have. There, on the last page of the book, was a single paragraph written about the Ylissean/Plegian war. A few scattered lines remained embedded in his mind:
"This conflict would cost thousands of Ylissean, Plegian, and Feroxi lives...the Mad King Gangrel, determined to seize the Fire Emblem from the Halidom, began this war when he kidnapped a young noblewoman to use as a bargaining chip in their negotiations...Exalt Emmeryn was to be executed...the Mad King's own army turned against him...Gangrel was killed by Prince Chrom on the Plegian border wastes, bringing peace back to the Halidom..."
Morgan could not believe that the monstrous tyrant described in those words was the man whom his mother was engaged to. Perhaps they just shared a name. Maybe "the Mad King" was a nickname of sorts. These unknowns would drive him insane; he was sure of it. It wasn't like he could just ask the trickster about this—they had only just met after all.
There was no other choice: to understand this world, Morgan first needed to understand his own roots, and that meant he would have to get his memories back. And the best way to do that would be to get close to his parents...one in particular.
"Looks like the force of Risen number only thirty," Nisha was saying to the assembled Shepherds. "All the same, stay close; these ones are mostly warriors and berserkers, so expect them to survive a few hits. Everybody understand?"
There was a general murmur of assent and the tactician folded her arms.
"Gear up, then we'll head out."
Gangrel went to the convoy like the rest of the army, ignoring their glares and hissing whispers. It had taken four days for the Ylisseans to forgive Nisha after her confession, but it hardly seemed that he could expect the same treatment.
Taking up a sword and staff as always, the trickster stood off to the side of the crowd of Ylisseans, waiting for the chaos to die down. It was then he spotted a flash of bright red and saw Morgan standing next to the convoy, comparing two swords thoughtfully. The young thief caught sight of Gangrel watching and waved excitedly, putting one of the blades back and jogging over like a cheerful puppy.
"Father!" he called when he came within earshot. "I didn't know you were here! Do you want to pair up with me? I'm sure it'll be great! I bet we did it a thousand times in the future!"
"Not sure that's such a good idea," the trickster warned.
Morgan's face contorted in confusion.
"What makes you say that?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe the fact that I'm cursed?"
"Cursed? Who cursed you? When did this happen? Why haven't you gotten rid of it yet?"
"You do realize," the Mad King interrupted dryly, "I can only answer one question at a time, do you not?"
The boy's expression morphed into one of both shock and shame, and he opened his mouth, no doubt to apologize. Gangrel sighed.
"That was a joke. Seriously kid, you need to lighten up a little!"
Now Morgan's face resembled that of a stunned sheep, surprised and stupid, eyes wide. Did this boy have a mental problem or something? It wasn't that difficult to understand that he was just trying to relieve the tension between them.
The red-haired thief opened his mouth a second time, but as he did so, the call came for everyone to form up and move out. Gangrel took his usual place at the back of the attack force, out of the way and fairly isolated. As the march began, Morgan fell into step beside him, a contented smile stretched across his features. The trickster felt a stab of envy for the boy's ability to forget and move past his troubles seemingly without effort. Then again, he did have amnesia; no past mistakes to bog him down.
Once again, Gangrel realized how very much unlike him Morgan was, and for some reason the thought was an strangely saddening.
Gangrel found himself in a very ill-tempered mood a few days later as he sat sharpening his knives not far from camp. Morgan seemed to have made it his personal mission to cling to the Mad King like an oppressive burr: every time the trickster tried to get some alone time, it was inevitably interrupted Morgan with some harebrained idea for getting his memories back. To say these experiments had not been very helpful would have a severe understatement.
"Father! Do you have a moment?"
Right on cue, Gangrel thought with irritation, inspecting the edge of his blade. He had hoped that looking busy would deter the future child, but it hadn’t worked. Aloud he said: "I'm sure I can carve out some time from my busy schedule."
"Great!" the young man crowed. "Now back to Project Get Memories of Dad back! No flashbacks have happened since last time, so maybe I should bang my head against a stone wall next. Perhaps a combination of physical and mental shock will jar some of the memories loose! "
"You're going to bash what little brains you have left right out of your head," the trickster informed the boy. "And I can't imagine your mother condoning this self-abuse."
"Mother doesn't know," Morgan stated calmly, his expression contemplative. "How to get both the mental and physical to occur in conjuction...that might be difficult..."
Gangrel slowly looked up from his work, his crimson eyes harder than the whetstone in his hand.
"What do you mean Nisha doesn't know?" he inquired softly, his tone dangerous.
"Exactly that," the young, red-haired thief replied in surprise. "Why do you ask?"
The Mad King got to his feet, sheathing his knife and folding his arms, looking down at his son.
"What do you want from me, Morgan?" he asked bluntly. "What is it you're after? I know this isn't really about your memories, so don't even think about lying to me."
Morgan shifted uncomfortably—his expression sheepish—rubbing the back of his neck as he stared at the ground. Gangrel recognized that gesture—he had done it himself multiple times during the many moments of stress throughout his life.
"Well...but...you see, it does have to do with my memories. I mean, I want them back—"
"But not just because you forgot them."
The boy swallowed and refused to look up.
"Delicacy is a privilege reserved only for peacetime," Gangrel snapped, losing what little patience he had. "Just spit it out, Morgan!"
The thief flinched as his volume, but visibly steeled his nerve and finally chanced to look up into his father's face.
"Everyone here—well most everyone—they all hate you, shun you. I don't understand why it's such a bad thing for you and Mother to be engaged and...I didn't want to pry; they are your private matters, after all. I was just hoping that-that if my memories came back, I would know why the Shepherds treat you the way the do—I would know why they always call you the Mad King! I-I just want to understand. I mean, I can remember tactics, the sites of great battles and where certain places are on a map but I can't even remember your face. Do you know what it was like to find out who you were? To look at your own father and not recognize him at all? You were a stranger to me...you still mostly are."
There was silence. Morgan folded his arms and turned away. Gangrel could have sworn he saw the young man tearing up. Could it be...it was really that important?
"You wouldn't want to know me," the trickster muttered, mirroring his son's motion. "I have done nothing in my life worth your respect."
"I don't care!" Morgan burst, whirling back around. "I don't! You're my father! I don't care that you're not my real, biological father, you are my family! And families don't keep secrets from one another!"
Gangrel looked at the boy, keeping his face void of any emotion. The thief's hands were clenched into fists and his face was so full of frustration it was near unrecognizable.
"Heh," the Mad King chuckled before the floodgate opened. "AHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Morgan's expression was priceless.Which just make Gangrel laugh even harder. It took a few minutes before he recovered enough to breathe.
"Is that right?" he asked, smirking. "You don't care? You wouldn't care if I turned out to be a homicidal killer and a complete maniac?"
"Mother would have never married you if you were!" Morgan shot back. "I'll take my chances. I mean, if Mother decided you were worthy of her, then that's good enough for me."
Gangrel snickered again.
"And what if I seduced her? Tricked her? Cornered her in such a way that she couldn’t escape me?"
The redheaded thief hesitated as this new idea was offered, slowly shaking his head.
"You wouldn't..." he said weakly. The Mad King heard the uncertainty and the grin slid off his face. He folded his arms, becoming serious once more. He sighed.
"I get that you want to know—I really do—but...I don't like to talk about it."
"Because then I remember. You know Emmeryn?"
"Lucina's aunt? The older one?"
"Yeah..." Gangrel paused, gauging Morgan's reactions and wondering if he really should be saying this. He shoved his doubts aside; the kid would find out sooner or later.
"You've heard the way she talks and...probably have seen some of her scars. But she...she wasn't always like that."
"What do you mean by 'like that' Father?" the young man inquired.
"She used to be an ordinary woman," the trickster replied slowly. "Whole and unblemished. And then...I happened; I pushed her off a cliff."
Morgan's jaw dropped. The Mad King swallowed, but pressed on.
"I broke her body and her mind. Killed the Exalt she used to be and left a husk behind. And you know what," he paused to laugh once, bitterly, "that wasn't even the worst of it. All the things I've done...ruining Emmeryn is tame."
Gangrel waited as silence fell for his son to respond. When the boy didn't, he kept on with his monologue—though it was now closer to a soliloquy.
"And look at you: you're already shocked speechless. That's why I don't want to tell you these things. They're just awful, every last one of them. My bloody past belongs in the shadows, forgotten. In any case, how could you be proud of a father like me? I've done nothing worthy of you in my whole life...nothing."
Gangrel felt something pricking in the corner of his eyes. What was this?! Was he, the Mad King of Plegia, getting all weepy just because this brat claiming to be his son might be ashamed of their affiliation? No, he would not stand for it; Morgan needed nothing to do with him and that was that. Agh, what was this awful itching pricking the corner of his eye?! Furious, he swiped at it.
"All the same," Morgan murmured, halting Gangrel's thoughts, "I don't want you to be a stranger. I...I want you to be my Father. And I don't want to find out your past from history books and secondhand accounts. You-you don't have to tell me everything all at once, but...I still want to know."
The Mad King stared at the boy for a long moment. Suddenly, he reached his arm out and captured the red-haired thief in a headlock.
"Who are you, my grim young friend, and what have you done to that annoyingly cheerful kid who was bothering me earlier?" he teased. Morgan paused for a moment, then pulled back, struggling to free himself from his father's grip.
"Ah ah ah!" The Mad King chastened, holding the youth's head all the tighter. "There will be no escaping until you answer me."
"Let me go and I'll bring back the cheerful one!" Morgan shot back, still twisting around trying to get free. Gangrel chuckled and continued to wrestle with him.
"What are you two doing?"
At the sudden sound of Nisha's voice, both father and son looked up at her guiltily. The tactician surveyed the scene for a few long moments before she sighed, smiling.
"What were the two of you up to?" Nisha asked hours later as she stood with Gangrel in the shadow of a tent. Her hands were lightly clasped behind his neck, his arms wrapped around her waist.
"I'm not entirely sure myself," the Mad King replied mischievously, smirking at her. "I believe it is something called...'bonding'."
"You would call it that," his lover murmured, resting her head on his chest. Gangrel removed one of his hands from her waist so he could hold her head in place and run his fingers through her sleek black tresses. She sighed lightly at the contact.
"Better than Morgan's idea of it," he remarked casually. "He thinks slamming his head against a wall to get his memories back is the perfect activity to bring us closer."
"Wait," Nisha interjected, looking up. "Morgan thinks what now?"
"I told him you wouldn't approve. Ask him about it sometime; I don't want to think of anybody aside from us right now."
Gangrel kissed her forehead, pulling back to watch a smile spread across her face. These little moments of quiet were pieces of heaven—and he knew they were because there was no possible way this kind of paradise could be found on Earth nor could he have experienced them without this angel.
"It's nice to see you getting close to Morgan," Nisha said softly, replacing her head back on his chest.
"Eh, the way I see it, he's going to be following you around everywhere, so I figured I might as well get used to him."
Nisha chucked at his joke as he buried his face in her hair, breathing in her scent. He pulled her tighter against him, feeling her grip tighten in response.
All at once, a sudden chill struck the back of his neck. Gangrel recognized the sensation of a curse and slowly looked up, searching for the caster. The icy spot seemed to be...shrinking, the sensation fading like evaporating water. He frowned. Normally, the cold would spread and deepen, so why was this one—?
The trickster's eyes landed on a slim dark figure, standing hunched in the shadow of another tent. His eyes narrowed as he recognized who it was. He had a sneaking suspicion of what was going on now, but he still couldn't believe that it was happening.
The cold lifted entirely, and the spellcaster stepped out into the orange afternoon light. Their eyes locked. Tharja glared at the Mad King intently, her dislike evident on her face. Her shrewd black gaze flickered to Nisha, still held close in his embrace and her expression became grudging. With a whirl of her cloak, she stalked back into the camp.
Gangrel smirked. The warning had been made quite clear: You don't take care of her, I'll curse you to death. But he hadn't needed that incentive to care for Nisha; he had already committed to doing that.
"Is something wrong?" the tactician asked. Gangrel laughed once.
"Why would something be wrong?" He tilted her face upwards with his index finger so he could look at her lovely dark eyes. "We're together, and that's all I could ever need."
"How did you fall so madly in love with me?" she asked, grinning."No idea," he replied, returning the smile. Anything else that could have been said was insufficient compared to the sweet kiss they shared a moment later. Yes, this was indeed paradise.