Chapter 1: Misconceptions
The barracks was not a place Robin hung around often.
Her presence was a fluid thing. Something not unlike the building, nor the enigma of the woman herself.
Its structure was always changing. From the painfully rare walls of stone or clay to the more common barriers of harsh covers of tarp and stiff linen. It's location ever-changing, depending on where the soldiers were staying in the country if they were outside of Ylisstol at all.
Most everyone was used to pitching camp for a night or two. War lead to dire straits. Rain, snow or desert one had to be prepared to sleep anywhere. But on this day, the well-loved band of Shepherds were lucky enough to have had an empty village building lent to them for use by a, particularly giving village.
A rarity that coupled with a human presence even rarer indeed. For as many times they’d begged and pleaded, Robin’s fellow shepherds saw no change in the way Robin declined their offers of talking in the barracks. Not in the month since Chrom had first found her, alone and confused in a field.
Perhaps she'd pop in there on a whim. Maybe once or twice a week, in an effort to ask whisper quiet questions or bark a sudden call for a meeting.
If she was going to sit somewhere, in her relaxation time, it would be in her own tent with her books, away from the clutter of barracks and everywhere else.
Which begged the question— one she'd been asked many times today- what was she doing there now?
It was getting to around 4 hours she'd been cooped up, sitting in an oddly guarded position on an undoubtedly uncomfortable wooden seat in the building's corner. Nothing for company but a teetering stack of books and tomes.
She looked happy enough at first glance. Seemingly immersed in a space that was hardly suited for reading. Many had walked by and done a double-take, seeing the familiar sight of a platinum ponytail poking out from behind a thick-paged history book. Lissa, Stahl and even Miriel had inquired to the new arrangement, and she'd answered them all similarly.
'I just needed a change of scenery!' Was the sentence on constant repeat. Spoken each time with a bright smile and warm tone. They'd all accepted her reasoning, and after a nod or smile in return, said goodbye and moved on.
Cordelia was not so easily convinced.
Robin was new, and as an amnesiac, a complete mystery to all including herself. They could not learn about her in the way you would any normal person, for every question you could ask she would only create more. All her interests and hobbies were unshareable, as they simply had not re-manifested in her memory yet.
But Cordelia was an observer and a quick learner at that. And under all the nerves and book covers, there was one thing Cordelia knew Robin liked.
Sure, she didn't like other people's rules. Yes, she had many a complaint about Ylissian law, after reading through a few books leant to her by Maribelle. But she always adhered to her own rules and routines. Working like a fine-tuned, completely predictable watch.
So a sudden change like this out of the blue? With no self-set reasoning that she was always so honest about giving?
Something was off. And Cordelia intended to find out what.
Setting her lance against the far side of the barracks wall, Cordelia's eyes were drawn to Robins hunched figure once again. How the woman had not utterly destroyed her spine with such a posture was beyond the Pegasus Knight.
Nevertheless, Cordelia supposed that at a glance looked normal. Same long, purple coat hanging off the chairs back. Same bright, inquisitive eyes, scanning the pages with meticulous scrutiny. And the same sweep of silver hair pulled into a tight ponytail at the back of her head. Yes, she looked normal at first glance, but that was only on the surface.
Cordelia could see the way her foot tapped on the floor. Anxious and repetitive, letting off soft, barely audible clacking sounds as it's hard toe hit the slate ground, drowned out by the conversation occurring across the room.
Her fingers would twitch, letting go of her book to play through her hair, no doubt thinking by the share number of times she'd repeated the action. Tugging, twisting and worrying.
Finally, and most tellingly, each time the door would open, her eyes would snap to it. Staying on the entering figure until they were identified, and then back to her book. As if nothing had happened.
Cordelia was worried. Was there someone following Robin? Was she in danger? It would explain the sudden change and jumpy behaviour. Surely if that were the case, would she not have spoken up? Or at least told Chrom? Something was up, and if it was affecting the tactician, then it was going to affect the army. And that was going to affect their performance, off and on the field. Cordelia was not about to let that happen.
"Good afternoon, Robin," Cordelia called out to Robin's corner, the last of her gear discarded on a nearby crate. Robin's head poked up from behind her book, eyes meeting hers, lips pulling into a smile. Taking the chance, Cordelia moved swiftly towards the table and took a seat on the chair opposite the woman.
"Oh, uh— Good afternoon, Cordelia. How are you?" Robin clapped the book shut, setting it down on the table between them. For once, she didn't even look annoyed that her reading had been interrupted. Odd.
"I'm well. A little confused. I must admit. Finding you in here when you're always so insistent on staying away has surprised me. Are you sure you aren't feeling off?" Cordelia spoke plainly. She hadn't talked to Robin many times and wasn't quite sure how to approach the issue subtly. Subtlety, when it came to situations off the battlefield was hardly Robin’s strong suit either.
The woman took no offence, shrugging casually. Robin done well, putting up this calm air. Cordelia could only think herself lucky that she was one of the more observant people on the army. Well, not quite as observant as—
“Oh, yeah. I came by to see what it was like to have an actual building for our equipment. It's a true rarity.” Robin joked before smiling pleasantly again. Such a smile gave Cordelia the opposite impression, but she didn't say anything. Not yet, at the very least.
Robin pushed her book to the side, a short laugh leaving her as she spoke.
"And you aren't the first person to ask me that today. I just needed a—"
"Change of scenery, so I've heard," Cordelia spoke swiftly, watching as Robin quickly shut her mouth. She cursed silently, in her head.
"Sorry, that was rude." She apologized quickly. Robin, in turn, spoke again.
"It's okay! I guess I should come up with something a little newer to say. It must be a little boring to hear over and over. I guess it's easier? It feels easier” Robin began. Perhaps looking up more about amnesia would have helped here. She had no idea if the memory loss was causing issues in social interaction, or if Robin was simply just that awkward.
Loudly, Robin cleared her throat.
“So. I— I, uhm— What about you Cordelia? You've been in here a while. What have you been up to?" Though Cordelia was loath to change the subject, she conceded to the quick, anxious rambling of the tactician. Her eyes trailed to her gear, nodding at the belt, straps and armour pieces.
"I was just cleaning and organizing things. You'd be surprised how many people just leave their stuff lying around.” She sighed heavily, watching as Robin's nose wrinkle up.
“I hate mess.” She admitted, earning a quirked eyebrow.
“I find that hard to believe. I've been in your room before.” A half smile formed on Cordelia's face as her eyes flickered over to a near table. A bout of loud laughter, courtesy of Sully and Vaike caught her attention momentarily and drowned out everything else.
“It's my mess. I like my mess.” The tactician grumbled, but Cordelia could tell just from listening it was all in good jest. Vaike Caught her eye and raised a hand, to which Cordelia mirrored.
“I suppose you have your own system. You seem to have things together most of the time, so I'll believe you. Maybe try to keep space on your desk to write, however.” She said, eyes still glued to the other table as Sully reached for a tankard of some kind, Vaike and Stahl cheering her on. Briefly, she registered the noise of the door opening, while waiting for Robin to respond.
“Robin? Did I say—” Cordelia began, only to cut herself off as her eyes returned to Robin. Finding her conversation partner with near blank eyes, staring.past Cordelia, into the distance. Stiff as a board and paralyzed. Whipping around in her seat, Cordelia strained to see what had enraptured her friend, brow furrowing as her eyes rested on the doorway.
Cordelia blinked again, looking once, and then twice between Robin and the newly entered knight.
She was staring at Frederick. Who had just walked in, fully armoured as always, with a lance at his side. The man looked as if he had finished with some task, likely walking around camp looking for work to keep himself occupied. He looked normal, unharmed. With that strict, cold resting expression as always.
It was Frederick.
It was just Frederick. But from Robin's expression, she could have sworn the woman had seen a ghost. Knuckles white as they gripped the edge of the table in a death grasp, completely unmoving and unblinking. Frozen in place.
Because of Frederick?
Was… this what was troubling her so?
Cordelia looked back at the knight for what felt like the umpteenth time, this time finding herself meeting his stare. That same polite smile crossed his lips as he gave her a nod of acknowledgement that Cordelia returned. It was then that he seemed to notice Robins presence, his face changing accordingly.
Cordelia's brow went from furrowed to high as his expression steeled, holding Robin in a stern and cold stare. He looked like he was ready to scold the woman in some manner, but stayed still, hands placed neatly behind his back and his stern gaze holding her in place.
And then his name was called. Lissa, who had gone largely unnoticed by Cordelia, in her own corner of the room waved excitedly and stepped towards him. And suddenly the smile —wider now she noted— returned to his face as if nothing had happened. Like he hadn't tried to bore holes through Robin's skull. Cordelia turned to Robin, brows still raised.
"What... was that?" She asked, staring at Robin who had grabbed her book again, hiding her face with it. She peeked over the top at Cordelia, speaking quietly, as if the knight would be able to hear over Lissa's loud chattering.
"Ah, Frederick doesn't... well, you know he just. Doesn't… like me... very much... at all," Robin mumbled sheepishly, As Cordelia waited for the punchline.
Because she had to be joking.
The two had to speak every single day, what with them both constantly being around, and being at war meetings with Chrom. How could they not get along, especially after all this time?
"What? Why not?" Chrom loved Robin dearly, as much as it pained Cordelia to admit. And Frederick cared about Chrom and the exalted family more than anything. Should he not at least like whoever his lord was friends with? Robin was hardly someone Cordelia associated with trouble.
"He doesn't trust me," Robin said, moving a hand to her book briefly, before thinking better of it, setting the whole thing down entirely. Her hand pressed to her cheek like she was taking a temperature, but Cordelia paid that no mind, listening on.
"I understand, of course, the circumstances we met under weren't exactly normal," Robin said, making a fair point. Waking up with amnesia in a field was fairly suspicious. And that was doubled with her Plegian coat.
"But... it's been months. And you're the tactician. Surely he would have gotten over it by now?" Vocalizing her thoughts. Robin shook her head, waving her hand like she was waving away a fly.
"It's really not that big of an issue, Cordelia," Robin said, lying through her teeth. Cordelia didn't have to be a mind reader to know that. Nor that this was the reason Robin had moved into here.
Her schedule and reading spots, they'd been changed to try and limit time with Frederick, she assumed. So that when he did come looking for her she'd be in an open place full of people. Cordelia could feel her stomach knot as she stared at Robin in pity.
"I could have a talk to him if you'd like," She told her sincerely, moving to push herself up from her seat, completely prepared to do so.
"If you're afraid of him—" Robin jolted, shaking her head firmly before sputtering and begging for her to stop.
"What? N—No! I'm not afraid of him, at all. It's alright, honestly Cordelia." Robin assured, waving her hands forward wildly like Cordelia was the one who needed to calm down. Her eyes were wide and nearly manic, her cheeks flushed and as Cordelia went to ask her why, the two were silenced by a laugh she'd never heard before.
Breathy and hearty, both women turned their attention to Frederick, who, shockingly it seemed, was the source of said sound. It was short, but it was real. Evidenced by his genuinely bright smile. It seemed to be something that Lissa had said which had brought around the strange noise.
"I've never seen him smile like that," Cordelia noted, only a little shocked that such a warm expression could form on the cold knight's face. Robin sighed heavily, and Cordelia turned to her with a start.
"It happens when he talks to Chrom. About Lissa, and Emmeryn." Robin explained, her voice a tad softer. Her eyes returned to her book cover, not daring to look anywhere else. And had she known better, Cordelia could have sworn there was a touch of jealousy in her voice. But that couldn't be possible, considering what she'd just learnt.
"Robin, you aren't implying..." Cordelia trailed off and grew quieter. Robin shifted in her seat, responding swiftly and curtly as if she wanted to talk about something else.
"Wh—, no, no. No, I’m not implying anything. I'm just saying that he cares about them all. A lot. It's his job." Her eyes went back to Frederick, a flash of sharp attention in her eyes that Cordelia knew all too well. Like a pauldron attaching to a breastplate, it all clicked into place.
"Oh," Cordelia said aloud, as Robin's eyes widened a bit and she dropped her book to her lap.
"I—I mean absolutely nothing against the Exalt or Lissa or even Chrom! I swear. I used the wrong words, and I'm sorry about that. Lissa is lovely to me and Emmeryn is a wonderful leader and woman. Chrom's never been anything but sweet, and I look forward to working with them all more after the war. I shouldn't—” Robin rambled, but Cordelia was too wrapped up in her thoughts.
This was all starting to make sense. The move to the barracks, a place Frederick went frequently, the hurried glances to the doorway— not of fear, but anticipation. All of her restlessness and anxiety…
"You wanted to see him more, didn't you?" Cordelia asked, cutting of Robin's ramblings and turning her face all hues of red and pink.
"I—I wouldn't— I would never—"
"Do you love him?" Cordelia pressed on, stunning Robin into a short silence. Her eyes trailing to tabletop, where she picked at an unsanded edge.
"He doesn't—" Robin began, but Cordelia lifted a hand, repeating herself in a firm tone.
"But do you love him?" Robin didn't speak, she didn't even raise her gaze, staring into the grain quietly, giving Cordelia all the information she needed. Her chest ached with sympathy, heart twinging as she spoke.
"He despises me, Cordelia. " Robin spoke mournfully, sinking low into her chair with a quiet moan. Cordelia sighed as she watched her friend turn into a puddle of misery.
"What was your plan?" Robin always had a plan, no matter the situation. At least, that was what Cordelia thought before she watched the woman cringe in front of her, sinking lower into her seat.
"I don't know, just... wait. Until I stopped feeling this way." Robin said slowly, wincing at how much worse it sounded aloud. Cordelia let out a long sigh, giving her a tired stare.
"No plan to confess?" Robin returned Cordelia's look, raising her eyebrow.
"Would you confess to Chrom in this situation?" Now it was Cordelia's turn to be silent, her face and ears turning pink and Robin gave her a knowing look. Gods, she wasn't that obvious, was she?
"Oh, don't worry," Robin sighed and extended a hand, patting Cordelia's with it gently. "I'm pretty sure only I've noticed. And Chrom, bless him, is as dense as a brick. Your secret is safe with me." Flustered, Cordelia gave her a nod, averting her eyes out of sheer embarrassment.
"Likewise." She answered before an awkward silence hung between the two. Robin liking Frederick. Though the woman had admitted it, Cordelia found it hard to believe it was true. She'd never even thought of Robin as the type of person with the time to have feelings for anyone, especially during a war. In the woman's defence, many people had the same wrong idea of Cordelia. Then again Cordelia didn't have amnesia...
And then there was Frederick. Stoic and austere. The mere thought of him being in love, or being in a relationship was quite... absurd to Cordelia. Besides, she wasn't sure the man had any more love to give with his pure devotion to the royal family. She couldn't begin to think what loving a man so strait-laced and strict would even be like. Bringing herself out of her thoughts, she addressed her forlorn friend.
"Can I ask you something?" Robin's lifted her head, shrugging spiritlessly.
"Why not? I've already let everything else spill." She said with a noise that sounded like the offspring of a sigh and a laugh. Cordelia grimaced at the sound, pressing on.
"Why... do you love him?" Her eyes set on Robin's face at it twisted, contorting into one of confusion.
"What do you mean?" She addressed Cordelia with an incredulous tone, taking the woman by surprise.
"Well, all that he shows you is disdain and distrust. How can you love someone who thinks that of you?" Cordelia explained. Just having Chrom barely notice her presence killed Cordelia inside. To have feelings for someone who doubted your every word? Who held you in the lowest regard? Viewed you as a threat? It sounded nightmarish, yet there Robin was, eyes trailing over to the knight where he still stood. Tall, proud and listening to Lissa's every word.
"Have you seen how he acts with her? With Chrom? Emmeryn?" Cordelia followed her gaze, nodding just a bit. It's true, he was different. Still stern and watchful, but more like a doting parent or caregiver then a harsh instructor. Cordelia watched Robin let out a soft sigh as the corners of Frederick's lips turned up in response to something the young princess had said.
"He's gentle. Stern, absolutely. No doubt about that. But it clearly comes from a place of love. He cares for them, for everyone— well, nearly everyone here. He'll clear pebbles to stop Chrom from tripping, and wake up in the early hours of the morning to repair tents so no one gets cold as they sleep and..." Her tone sounded giddy, and Cordelia could see the light in her eyes as she tried her best not to gush, before they dimmed again, her tone returning to a heartbroken state. Another sigh and Cordelia began to work it out.
"And you want him to act that way with you?" Robin bit her lip.
"Yes, and no..." She began, pulling herself out of her slumped position, sitting straight up. She moved her hand like a scale, tipping back and forth.
"It's not just that. I don't want that complete level of dedication. I just..." Robin cut herself off, shaking her head as she rubbed her eyes.
"Still I... It's selfish to want it, isn't it? To take away from the others." Cordelia thought back to her dreams about Chrom. Fantasies were all they were, but how her heart ached for them to be real. To have him there when she woke to every difficult morning and to lay with during every cold night.
"Everyone wants to be loved, Robin. It's natural." A little more emotion seeped into her voice, far more than Cordelia had intended. Her hand extended and she returned the supportive pat she'd received minutes ago.
"I just feel displaced," Robin began, her eyes misting up a little. Like she was lost in memories she didn't have.
"Especially when I'm alone. It's not just that I don't have a partner. I don't have anyone. No family. No memory. It's all so... empty. I feel like I'm empty."
Robin's vulnerabilities being laid in the open air, Cordelia felt at a loss for words. She'd lamented the woman's amnesia many a time, wondering just how someone would cope waking up as a blank slate. The answer Robin was giving seemed to be one lacking any coping method at all. There was no base to start consoling Robin from, and no training to tell Cordelia how exactly go about this discussion.
"You know that's not true, right? Lissa and Chrom, they care about you. So do the other Shepherds. So do I!" She tried, and to her credit, it worked a little. Robin's eyes clearing up after a few blinks, looking at Cordelia's face with an expression that was just a little more grounded.
"I know. But sometimes I wish I had someone to hold onto after battles, you know?" Cordelia didn't answer. She didn't need to. She knew. Of course she knew.
Robin's head turned to one of the dirtied windows. Even with its clouded state, Cordelia could tell by the light it was well past the late afternoon now. The people on dinner duty would be starting with their preparations now, the jobs and shifts changing hands as fires were lit and tents were checked. As if she'd read Cordelia's mind, Robin stood up and stretched, flashing a weak smile her way.
"Anyway, I mustn't keep you any longer, Cordelia. I'm sure we both have work to do." The woman said, lifting her coat off her chair to throw around her shoulders.
"And where are you off to?" Cordelia asked. There was no way they could simply leave this on such an abrupt end.
"I've got to go over some plans for tomorrow's march. Up over the mountains? I haven't had a good enough look at the terrain, I need to talk about a flyover with Sumia— Don't offer, you have enough on your plate already." Robin explained, pointing in an almost accusatory way at Cordelia, given away by her smile. Still, Cordelia was hesitant. But still, Robin brushed it aside.
"I'm okay. Better now that I've talked about this." She added before Cordelia could get another word in. There was that stubbornness coming back again.
"Just... come to me if you have any more issues. Or Sumia, or Maribelle even. I'm sure they'd both be happy to help." Cordelia murmured as Robin picked up her book, biting her lip as she tucked it under her arm. She hoped Robin would consider it. Maybe Cordelia hadn't exactly vented about her own romantic feelings to the girls but knew that they had advice that would help Robin. Advice hopefully better than what Cordelia had given herself.
"I'll... I'll keep that in mind. Have a good evening, Cordelia." Robin said, genuinely thinking a moment before making for a quick exit.
"You too, Robin," Cordelia said with a nod as Robin left, brushing quickly past boxes of supplies and crates of weapons before darting through the dark wooden door, and out of sight.
And then Cordelia was alone at the table, eyes on Lissa and Frederick who had paused their conversation, Fredericks gaze following Robin all the way out of the room, before returning to look at Cordelia herself.
Their eyes locked, and Cordelia could hear his thoughts through the look in his eyes. 'Where was she going so quickly?' 'What were the two of you talking about?' Interrogative question after interrogative question. An affair that would give Cordelia no time to reflect on the eye-opening conversation she'd all but tossed herself into.
Cordelia was first to break the stare, eyes flickering momentarily towards the recently emptied chair, before back to Frederick. She sighed.
"You owe me one," Cordelia mumbled under her breath, lifting herself from her seat, raising a hand in greeting towards the still staring Frederick with a warm, out-of-her-depth smile.
Was it a bad idea for Cordelia to involve herself in the love life of Robin? Probably. Was this issue of love going to affect the quality of Robin's battle plans? Was the personal life of a Robin quite frankly any business of hers, much less the man who she'd fallen for? No. Not at all.
So with this in mind, was Cordelia really about to confront the object of her friend unrequited affections? With no decided end goal yet in sight?
Frederick wasn't making it easy, standing at full attention like he was at some royal event, and not standing in some makeshift barracks in a village, thousands of miles away from the capital.
Rigid and alert, he was ready for imminent orders or battle at a moments notice. What Cordelia was about to busy him with was hardly that.
She'd caught his attention with her wave, but walking across the room was harder than she'd expected. A weight was pulling her down, like Robin herself was clinging to her, holding her back from even coming within vast kilometres with the knight. Still, she steeled herself and walked faster.
"Ah, Frederick?" Cordelia asked, finally reaching the man, and Lissa, who had gone quiet while watching Cordelia approach. Curiosity glinting in the young princesses eyes. Cordelia did her best to instead concentrate on Frederick, turning her body and eyes to him with full attention.
“I was wondering if we could discuss something?" Her eyes flickered to Lissa, who stared at the two with a smile that spelled trouble.
"In private?" Her voice hushed, and his eyebrow lifted. The princess glanced between the two.
"I guess I'll talk to you later Frederick." She said, raising an eyebrow at Cordelia as she passed by. Cordelia kept a straight face, looking to Frederick as Lissa left. He cleared his throat, looking a little annoyed.
"What is the matter, Cordelia? I mean no offence but I have arrangements to meet—"
“I'm worried about Robin." Cordelia cut him off. She wasn't about to beat around the bush, not with Frederick. Though it seemed as if he almost wished she had, frowning and tilting his head just an inch.
"Pardon?" He asked, sounding taken aback by her comment. Cordelia would have smiled at the irony of it, were she not trying to be serious in the moment. Trying to gauge any and each reaction to her words as she pressed on.
"She seems off. Have you noticed?" She questioned, and again he simply blinked, shoulders untensing for a moment as his hands moved from behind his back to his sides. Cordelia did her best not to be unnerved. He was rigid all the time, seeing him nearly deflate like that was jarring.
"I... admit I have noticed her acting strangely." So Frederick had been watching Robin. And she definitely wasn't overreacting when she said he disliked her. Cordelia could hear the testy bite in his tone at the mere mention of her name.
The thought of hearing Chrom speaking her own name in that tone was enough to nearly re-break her heart, and send her right off the deep end.
"Oh?" Cordelia pushed him to elaborate, watching his expressions closely. For a moment his eyes averted her gaze. It's deep brown irises flickering with worry as they looked at the door, before back to Cordelia. She took note of that.
"She has been… quieter. Hanging back with milord and I, after battles. And the staring..." Cordelia felt a prick of fear. She wanted to nudge Frederick towards Robin subtly, not out any feelings for him. He continued, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"It's her eyes, I feel as of they're always on me. She's always jumping or freezing up when I get near..." As he spoke on, his brow creased more.
"I'm starting to wonder..." He mumbled quietly, and locked eyes with Cordelia as her breath caught in her throat.
"If she is a Plegian spy, trying to single me out in an attempt to get to Chrom." Cordelia nearly screamed. Honestly? Honestly?! Naga, for all the awareness he prided himself on having, he was just as dense as his lord.
“Oh my gods," Cordelia whispered under her breath, fighting the urge to clap the man upside the head. Frederick blinked a few times and for a moment she was scared he had heard her.
"What was that?" He asked as she shook her head, giving him a tight smile.
Oh, this was going to be difficult.
"Nothing, it was nothing." She said quickly, waving her hands nonchalantly, yearning to change the subject before he could inquire any further. Pinching her the bridge of her nose, she took a deep breath.
"Frederick, I'll admit, a spy isn't what I was going for. I was thinking that she's more..." She trailed off, seeing if Frederick would follow. He stared at her, a delay in his speech.
"More...?" He prompted her back, and Cordelia choked on the sigh she fought to hold back, coughing into her arm for a moment. It was like she was trying to drop hints with Chrom all over again. Like firing cotton cannonballs at an iron wall, nothing seemed to be getting through.
"Lonely, Frederick,” Cordelia practically barked out.
“I think she's lonely." She explained, her heart, sinking for Robin when his expression changed to one of discomfort and scorn. How he could hold such virulent feelings for someone he barely knew was beyond her, though she supposed a lack of knowledge was the source of such negative feelings.
“Lonely? Beg my pardon, milady, but how does that have to do with me?" He sounded almost accusatory in his words, eyes narrowed again. The way he was acting you would have thought Robin had brainwashed her. For all that was good on earth, he probably did think that all things considered.
Cordelia needed to be careful how she worded her next words, insulting Frederick or seeming like she was taking Robin's side was the easiest way to getting into an entire other world of trouble.
“You..." She started, taking a deep breath before pushing ahead. "You have a tendency to... single... her out?" Cordelia explained slowly, cringing as his eyes widened, his straight-line of a mouth opening like it did when he was about to yell at training soldiers.
"How— How utterly absurd! The fact that you would think— I'd!" Cordelia had braced herself, only to find Frederick spluttering over his words. Had she not known better, Cordelia would have thought him flustered. But she did know better, looking him dead in the eye as she spoke.
"You just accused her of being a spy not 30 seconds ago." She pointed out in a flat voice. She didn't want to be blunt, but acting sharp didn't seem to be getting the message across. He went silent, pausing for a moment before clearing his throat.
"Well, I—I'm being cautious. And besides, what would I be to do about it? Put aside my duties to milord? Ignore my better judgement?" At this, suddenly, Cordelia paused.
What did she want Frederick to do? What did Robin want him to do? It what she'd said was anything to go off of… then...
"Just— just talk to her, Frederick. Not just on the battlefield or in war meetings, but in camp. In the mess hall. If anything, you'll be able to gather more information on her." Cordelia proposed, fully prepared for the idea to be shot down faster than a pegasus by a bowman.
But Frederick stayed quiet a moment. He thought it over, and for a second she saw the slight shift in his expression, and the hesitation before his next words.
"I suppose I could... gain to learn some things from a conversation." He conceded with a small sigh, and Cordelia had to hold in her own sigh of sheer relief that threatened to leave her lips. Maybe he was simply saying it to get her to back off, but at the moment, it was enough for Cordelia.
“Good. That would be good. Great, even.” She smiled at him sincerely, sighing out the words like a prayer. Frederick only shifted his stance, eyes returning to the door and his hands affixing behind his back.
"If that is all you wished to say..." He trailed off, almost fidgeting in his anxiety to leave. Cordelia gave a quick nod, waving her hand towards the door. He was always so quick to jump to work, she supposed, from the tactician point of view, she could understand Robin's interest in someone that devoted.
“Go, I wouldn't want to keep you from your duties any longer." She said simply as he bowed his head and exited the room.
Leaving Cordelia standing in the barracks, free to let out a long groan, leaning against a nearby box.
“You alright?” Sully called from where she'd just won her arm wrestling competition, but she simply waved a hand and pinched her nose.
“Just peachy.” She said shortly, looking down at the floor.
She had set something in motion. With no idea whether the outcome would be a good or bad one. Robin was never going to do anything about her feelings, and that they were better handled quickly. That was the excuse she made in her head. Another was that pushing Frederick towards a more amicable relationship with Robin was a good cause.
All these ran through her head as she did her best to convince herself that this definitely wasn't a vicarious outlet for her own situation.
Not at all.
Heaving yet another sigh she rubbed her face, acutely aware of the fatigue-like exhaustion that the 2 short conversations had caused her. She felt she had played the part of the concerned bystander well. Perhaps it was immoral, meddling in two of her comrade's lives. But if it was to lead Robin to the happiness that she herself felt unreachable, and at the very least to ease Frederick's constant worrying about internal threats to the crown, then it was worth it.
Yes, she had played her part well. Now whatever was to happen was up to fate.
Chapter 2: Scouting
With Robin's secret revealed, Robin has a little chat with Sumia.
Stepping into the cooling air of the outside world, Robin did her best to shake off the anxieties she'd just aired in the cool stone walls of the barracks.
Hours ago she had been sitting around like a lovelorn fool. Now, as of a few minutes ago, another human being knew of her embarrassing situation. It should have been liberating, and a weight of her shoulders, but if anything, Robin just felt heavier.
It was like a nightmare, without the benefits that came with being asleep.
Pulling a hand down her face to rub her tired eyes she scanned the small road that ran right through the small town. What few shops there were, were closing. People shutting windows and setting up for the night. There were smiles and laughter as kids played up and down past the houses, clinging to their parents' legs where they peeked out.
There was a war going on, even if you couldn't always see it. Sometimes it was clear, on days there were battle after battle against rotting risen, dragging themselves up from the soft dirt of old farming field. Bandits taking advantage of the poor situations of innocent people, and Plegian soldiers looking to sow chaos throughout Ylissean land.
Tents as homes, constant moving and training and planning. She’d spent maybe one night in an actual bed in Ylisstol before moving around again, slotting into the constant daily rounds of The Shepherds.
Technically, it was all Robin had ever known. All she could remember, at the very least.
“Robin!” Before she could lament her situation any longer, a bright and friendly voice caught her attention. Looking to her left, she found her eyes resting on the fully armoured Pegasus Knight, Sumia, who had just knocked her hip into a barrel while jogging over.
“Ah, Sumia— Are you okay?” Wincing at the sudden stumble. Sumia recovered quickly, as she always did, blushing a little at the trip as she came to a stop in front of Robin.
“Are you ready to do some scouting? We only have an hour or so left of daylight.” Looking at the clouds and sky, Robin hummed. It was clear, but the fading light was obvious. They were going to need to get a move on
“Yep, I have my book and pencil. I just need to get a quick layout, we’re going to need to get to Regna Ferox quickly.” It had been a few days since leaving Emmeryn with her guard, and time was running short. The assassination attempt had everyone on edge, and the sooner the Shepherd reached the Khans for aid, the better.
“By the end of tomorrow we should have enough supplies to get our army to the city,” Robin began, as the two women walked down the street towards the edge of the village.”Then it’ll be a matter of convincing them to join us.”
“That shouldn’t be so hard. Basilio let us have Lon’qu. We have their trust.” Sumia made a good point, but they had to be prepared for anything.
“You certainly did make an impression, the way you flew down and saved Chrom. He was so reckless fighting on those walls....” As they began to step from the packed dirt road to loose ground, Sumia blushed.
“I... I did what anyone would do.” She mumbled shyly, as Robin smiled. Everyone seemed to have a soft spot for the prince. Which made sense to her, he’d always been kind.
“Are you sure your pegasus will be okay carrying the two of us?” Robin asked, changing the question. Now away from the small, unassuming buildings and out in the fields, Robin could see her there. White and feathery, in between the grass and away from the other horses.
“She’s strong, I wouldn’t worry too much,” Sumia assured her, stepping through the long grass, approaching the animal with a confidence mostly absent from her day to day. Robin watched on in awe.
She’d never even really tried to ride a horse, much less a pegasus. So big and strange, Robin thought herself far more stable on the ground than a few feet up, teetering on its back. The thought of being so high up made her nauseous. And now here she was, about to clamber onto it’s back. Robin swallowed hard.
“She won't hurt you.” Sumia giggled, running her fingers through one of the outstretched wings. They were huge up close, and though she’d seen Cordelia and Sumia in the sky battling before, they were truly that much more intimidating up close.
“I know that…” Robin mumbled, still staring from the sidelines. She felt like she’d swallowed a live eel as she watched Sumia climb up and offer a hand. Her insides squirming with nerves. Hesitantly though, she took it.
“C’mon!” Sumia cheered, and with one strong pull on her end, and some scrambling for the stirrups on Robin’s, she was finally pulled atop the Pegasus. Instantly, her arms went around Sumia’s waist.
“I’m going to fall.” She said as the pegasus began to trot, quickly picking up speed.
“We haven’t even left the ground yet!” Sumia called back to her, seconds before the beast broke out of the long grass and into the less tangled field, launching off the ground and into the air with alarming speed.
“Now I’m going to fall!” Robin yelped, sure that her voice was lost to the rushing wind around her body. Below, the grass and village seemed to get further and further away, the mountains far more impressive from all the way up. Clouds became closer and closer until she could feel the water in their light mass. Her feet dangled, fingers digging into Sumia’s thick clothes and armour. How did she do this every day? In battle as well? It was insane!
“You’ll be fine.” Sumia laughed and looked back, giving Robin a reassuring smile. Rising higher towards the sky, Robin remembered why exactly she was up here in the first place, and without responding to Sumia, used her shaking hands and fingers to retrieve one of her many notebooks from her coat, and a pencil. Her grip was like a vice, laying the book on her lap, the other hand still clinging to Sumia as she glanced down over and over, and began to write.
For a long while after that, neither woman spoke. Save for some directions from Robin, and a few hums, on Sumia’s end. Robin’s grip relinquished just a bit, and she let herself relax for a little, despite the harshly cold wind and air.
“I’ve been meaning to ask for a while…” After a short amount of time, as they glided over some green hills, Sumia spoke up.
“Hm?” Robin asked, not looking up from the path she was sketching in her book. If they managed to get through here, then it would only take a few hours to reach the city. But running into risen could mean a major setback they couldn’t afford. Robin chewed her lip and took another look down at the ground.
“I just…” Sumia trailed off, and Robin could feel her body tense.
“I guess I’ve been wondering how you… You know, one day you were in the barracks, and joining us, and Chrom said he’d found you in a field. An amnesiac. And everyone was really curious but we didn’t want to ask questions, y’know? Because that would be rude...” Robin went stiff for a moment. Of course, they were curious. It made absolute sense, but it didn’t make it any less anxiety-inducing. Because there wasn’t really a straight answer she could give.
“You want to know how much I remember?” Robin asked, looking up to find Sumia looking back at her, worrying her lip.
“O—Only if that’s okay! If it makes you uncomfortable…” She trailed off again, looking away. It wasn’t malicious, she didn’t have any bad intent. Robin could tell that much, so she relented with a smile.
“It’s okay.” She said, taking a deep breath and shutting her eyes as she let memories of that sunny afternoon a few months ago seep into every corner of her mind. Recalling the first things that she’d ever truly known.
“I remember waking up really… sore. Like my body was aching all over. My head hurt, and my muscles hurt but I could tell I wasn’t… hurt, hurt y’know? Maybe I’d been running or over-exhausted myself... I’d been turned over and was just... caked in mud. I could hear people talking, and when I opened my eyes and let them adjust I found Chrom and Lissa standing over me.” She could see the trees, and the light filtering through them. Chrom and Lissa’s faces, breaking into smiles as she roused that, even then, filled her heart with comfort.
“That must have been scary.” Hearing Sumia’s voice made Robin remember where she was, jolting a little as she looked down and breathed in. After a second she relaxed again, giving a soft laugh.
“It was confusing, more than anything,” She said, using her free hand to stash away her book and pen, before tiredly rubbing her forehead. Then she was back in that moment again, being pulled to her feet.
“Chrom helped me up, and I looked around and realized I didn’t know where I was. The cobbled road, and the green trees. I didn’t know them… but I knew Chrom.” It was absurd, even looking back. And Robin could tell Sumia thought the same, looking back with wide eyes.
“You knew Chrom?” Robin supposed the prince had left that bit out when talking about Robin to the Shephards. Sweet of him, but ultimately useless now that she’d gone ahead and told Sumia anyway.
“Yeah. It was strange and… really suspicious, but I knew his name before I even remembered mine.” More than suspicious. It should have been impossible. But she knew it nonetheless, only bringing about more questions on her end to her fuzzy past.
“That’s crazy!” Sumia exclaimed in awe and Robin gave her the slightest of smiles. No sudden doubt, no sudden hostility at that fact which, in Robin’s opinion, was damning to most in regards to viewing her as anything but a quiet threat.
“I know!” She laughed, remembering the shock on his face, fading to confusion, and then another bought of worry. But never wariness.
“But he was nice. And so was Lissa. I could tell they were worried about me. I was worried about me. And then all of a sudden I heard this really doubtful voice and…” Their faces flitted through Robin’s head before the images stopped. Freezing in time.
“Frederick?” Robin could see him now. A sharp handsome face, on a stiff, poised body. Standing only a little bit away from his lieges. Eying her with complete distrust and scepticism.
“He did not like me at all. He still doesn’t.” Robin hoped the disappointment in her voice was unnoticeable to Sumia. And how her whole demeanour seemed to soften for just a second before the pegasus rider spoke.
“He’s just… slow to trust. He’s a good man.” She knew that.
“I know that,” Almost indignantly Robin spoke up, as the snapshots of those moments gave away. Flipping through all the memories after that, and then… nothing.
Blank, black and fog. Not even distorted images, not even disembodied voices speaking unintelligible words. Just nothingness in a void, and dreams she couldn’t remember when she woke up.
“I understand why he’s hesitant. Everything about me is so suspicious. Nothing makes sense. I don’t make sense, even to me.” He was right to be wary. She was wary of herself. Her Plegian cloak, her abilities in magic. Who knew who she was. Who she might still be. She’d seen the cruelties of the Grimleal in person, their bone masks and the smell of blood made her skin crawl. If she even had a sliver of a connection to them...
“Are you okay, Robin?” Sumia’s voice cut through her thoughts, and Robin found herself holding her grip tighter than intended. Knuckles visibly losing blood with the sheer force behind it. Her stomach churned for a moment before it settled. She cleared her throat.
“Yeah, I’m just tired. It’s been a really long day… We should head back down anyway. It’s starting to get dark.” Even as they spoke the light was fading. Evening blues and purples seeping in over the mountains which got further and further away. In front of her, Sumia encouraged the Pegasus down, humming quietly as they began their descent.
“You know you can talk to me, right? And everyone else as well.” For a moment Robin's chest constricted. She thought back to Cordelia, questioning her wellbeing in the barracks, not an hour before. Chrom wiping the mud off of her face with careful hands when they first met. Lissa, healing her wounds after their first battle and… Frederick...
“I know. It’s like I said, I’m just… I’m tired.” Robin sighed, speaking pointedly and finally.
And that was the end of that. Complete silence fell between the two women as they continued their decline towards the same field they’d taken off from. Robin’s body still feeling as heavy as it had when they took off.
Chapter 3: Encounter
Lissa shares some sceptical information and Frederick makes what could be considered a move.
When Robin returned from her flyover, she expected the village to be empty. Dismounting with Sumia in the field, the two walked back to the village entrance before parting ways, giving thanks and a goodbye she walked down the compressed dirt road.
A few people lingered the streets, sitting in chairs in front of doors, eyes resting on the setting sun behind her. Just simple people. Leading wonderfully simple lives, strong with each unique extraordinary character. Lives that Robin was curious about.
How was law handled out here? How often were they attacked, or defended? Did they all know each other? Did people always pass through? In every house there was a hearth and a family, even those solitary figures being invited by neighbours for dinner. It was such a small community, but Robin had never seen anything so tightly tied together by each other. Watching these people, for however short a time it may have been, she could feel a growing warm ache in her chest.
It was a figure catching Robin's eye that gave her stroll purpose. Lissa leaned against the door to the 'barracks' where Robin herself had spent most her day. And although it was getting dark, the torchlight on the outside of the cobbled walls let her see the young lady's eyes light up as they laid on her figure. A bundle of nerves wrapped themselves in Robin’s stomach. Something about the look in Lissa's eyes made her think back to the moment she'd awoken to her nostrils blocked by thin, cheeky fingers. Or found her belongings infested with frogs. But alas, the tactician had been spotted. It was too late to run now.
"Robin!" The girl called, waving her arm in a beckoning motion that Robin was loathe to ignore, especially in front of all the staring townspeople. With an embarrassed blush, she approached her friend, a few notebooks and knapsack in her hands.
"Hello, Lissa." Robin smiled as she came to a stop, eyes flickering from the girl briefly to look inside the unlit building. Despite the hustle and bustle when she’d left, if now seemed to be completely empty. Robin's brow furrowed, turning back to address Lissa.
"Why aren't you at dinner? Why are you out here?" Robin questioned curiously, catching the spark in Lissa's eyes before she pouted, giving Robin a long look.
"What, a girl can't wait for her friend to come back from— whatever you were doing?" She asked, prompting a small smile and an eye roll from Robin. She supposed she would have fallen for the diversion had she not known Lissa for this long.
"It was a flyover, just some tactics stuff— And don't try to change the subject, why are you standing in front of a dark, empty storeroom?" Robin questioned as Lissa let out an over-the-top groan, throwing her arms up dramatically.
"I'm being honest, I was waiting for you! You haven't eaten, and I wanted to check up on you!" Lissa said, and this time it was Robin’s turn to blush. Despite being at least a few years younger than Robin herself, Lissa seemed insistent on mothering her all the same. As she spoke, she took Robin's arm, an act of affection Robin all but leaned into, letting the girl lead her towards where the Shepherds had set up their eating tent. Around the corner and away from the main road, out in a field, not 5 minutes away.
It was peaceful. Bulbous lights hung along buildings, decorated for the Shepherds as if a festival were on. Summer crickets sang out, nearly drowning out the distant sounds of laughter getting louder and louder as they made their approach to the tent, the smell of roasted meats filling the air. As they walked arm in arm, Robin took a deep breath.
Her flyover had been tense, especially after her talk with Cordelia. Simply thinking about it left Robin's stomach reeling. She was sure Sumia's pegasus had sensed her discomfort, as did Sumia herself.
By the end of it all they both were utterly silent, Robin handing over the booklet for Sumia to take to Chrom and Sumia, again offering an ear to listen to any troubles Robin may have, before nervously retreating to go find Chrom. Robin sighed quietly, and for a moment she worried that Lissa had heard her before a hand cupped around her ear and Lissa leaned up to whisper, the sensation of sudden air giving her goosebumps, making her jump.
"I need to talk to you," Lissa said in hushed tones as they turned a corner around a farmhouse. The tent was in sight, covered on all sides save a gaping entrance where people spilled in and out. Soft lights like big orange fireflies hanging off of there as well, shepherds, soldiers and villagers alike walking around both inside and out. Robin stopped in her tracks, eyes training on Lissa sharply. The serious tone was not one she heard often from the girl and was unsettling, to say the least.
"Why?" Robin asked with a frown, Lissa coming to a stop as well. What could have made Lissa change her tone, and so suddenly? Had someone been spreading rumours about her? Robin’s background, her role? Had they found something out about her life from before she was found? Something she didn’t even know? Gripping the edge of her coat, Robin did her best not to rip the fabric as Lissa cast a glance to the tent, taking a deep breath before stepping towards the barn's shadow and opening her mouth to drop a crushing verbal bomb.
"Cordelia and Frederick were talking about you." She said in a low voice, and just like that Robin felt her heart drop. Going from beating her chest to breaking up her guts in seconds, stunning her into a short, wide-eyed silence. They had been talking? Cordelia and Frederick? About her? What did Cordelia tell him? What did Frederick know?
"What? What did they say?" Robin tried to look calm and keep her voice steady. Keyword tried as it raised an octave and broke anxiously and she nearly slipped while trying to lean against the wall. Lissa went to speak but bit her lip, making Robin feel even worse.
"Weeeell," She said, moving her hands in a rolling motion. "I'm not completely sure. I wasn't there." And Robin's heart hesitantly returned to its place, her shoulders slumping. Did Lissa really almost give her a heart attack over that?
"If you weren't there, how do you know they were talking about me?" Robin asked, her voice dull and doubtful as Lissa gave her an apologetic giggle.
"I mean— I'm pretty sure they were talking about you. You've been acting weird lately!" Robin wasn't sure how the two things were related but decided to drop it, playing dumb with a tilt of her head.
"Have I?" She asked, eyes flickering back to the tent. It occurred to her now that Frederick was likely in there, spiking up her heart rate. She wondered if she could figure out the quickest way to grab her food and see him, but not have to interact with him. Lissa cleared her throat.
"Yes," Lissa said, eyes following to the food tent, before snapping back to Robin. "Is something wrong?"
Robin's shoulders dropped, her gaze not meeting Lissa's eyes. Was she really so transparent that Lissa could see something was wrong as well? Fighting the urge to groan or deny it, Robin stayed silent, staring at the ground until a hand found its way to her shoulder.
"Look, I'm not saying you have to but... If you want to- Need to talk about it, Maribelle and I meet up every week or so to gossip and such. Sometimes the other girls come along! You'd be more than welcome!" Robin's heart warmed to hear these words, forcing herself to look up into Lissa's bright eyes. She gave a gentle smile.
"I'll... keep that in mind." Thrice, had this offer now been made. And with each time it seemed all the more appealing. To talk with friends freely, her without worry of judgement, them with an actual want to listen to her troubles... Robin's heart ached. Though she couldn't remember much, she was sure she hadn't had support like this before her life now. Such comfort was the kind she'd only dreamed of, and for her to reject it after having it so freely offered wouldn't just be rude, it would be cruel to herself.
Returning to Lissa's side, arms intertwining again, Robin let Lissa lead her to the food tent, feeling lighter on her feet at the simple thought of venting her strifes into the open air. Laughing with Lissa she lifted the tent flap, nodding to Virion, who flashed them a wink on his way out as they stepped into the warm structure.
It seemed that most had finished with their dinner. Tables lay mostly empty, save for Sully and Stahl who sat down the far end, definitely on their 3rd meal. Dishes and ladles on the main table lay stained and empty, and Robin felt her heart sink and her stomach grumble.
"You're hungry!" Lissa laughed, not even knowing the half of it. Thinking back, Robin had been so busy preparing for their next push that she'd forgotten breakfast and lunch. Ever since the attempt on Emmeryn's life, she'd taken extra measures. Spending more time on plans, working later. It wasn't healthy, but it was necessary if she was going to keep the Exalt alive.
"We really missed out on everything..." Robin said with a sigh as she looked over the mountain of empty pots, the remnants of soups, meats and bread caked on its sides. Lissa looked it over, her nose wrinkling.
"I think I have some cold rations..." Robin offered half-heartedly, moving her hand to her pocket before she was stopped by the sound of someone clearing their throat, directly behind her. Robin's blood ran cold.
She didn't need to turn around to see who it was, and she didn't want to. Frederick. As tall and looming as ever, cast a shadow over Robin, one that she was embarrassed to admit she had not noticed. She saw Lissa jump and turn, smiling wide at the knight, who no doubt had a solution to her food problems. More rations for Robin, she supposed, trying to look on the bright side.
"Frederick!" The joy-filled voice of Lissa reached Robin's ears just as her body began to move, putting so much energy into a simple turn. Robin knew she had to get over this tendency to freeze up. It was only causing more issues, and at the very least was just… Embarrassing. At eye-level with his chest, she felt the urge to form any more of a connection fade more and more by the second. Still... she wasn't about to just stare at his chest. That would just be creepy.
Raising her head a few inches was an effort worse than mustering a spell in the heat of battle, but Robin did it anyway, looking up and succumbing to the same sensation she always felt whenever she locked eyes with Frederick.
Oh, his eyes. Robin despised how they affected her so severely. Making her weak in the knees and short of breath. A wonderful, dark brown colour, like hot chocolate she'd once tasted while in the Ylissean capitol. They had a warmth that she both ached for and had never been shown. No, as always she was held in a gaze of steel, as cold as the lance he wielded. In search of a smile that she'd once seen him show Chrom as he landed yet another blow in training, Robin found herself staring at a hardened brow and a stiff upper lip from a face she wanted nothing more than to hold.
Naga, she sounded like a ditsy protagonist from one of Sumia's romance novels.
"Hello, Frederick." Her voice was steady as she gave him a smile that barely reached far enough to be counted as such. She was always so good at pretending whenever he was around. If only she could do as well with the girls. They were just far better attuned to this awareness of things she supposed. Beside her Lissa was fidgeting, tapping her arm, but Robin barely noticed. Now that she had her eyes on Frederick, it was hard to tear them away.
"How was the flyover? Successful?" It took 5 full seconds before Robin realized Frederick had addressed her. Business-like as ever, his tone conveyed no interest in Robin herself. Just on the terrain, and the tactics she had brought up. Robin did well to mask the hurt on her features.
"Yes, I think it’s good we’re waiting a day before making our next move. If we start tomorrow, we'll be boxing ourselves into a cliff area where at a time where Risen are most frequent. I expect that time is all we'll need before we head out. You can see Chrom for the full report." Robin explained plainly, placing her hands behind her back, mirroring Frederick. He nodded a few times as he listened, but didn't say anything. He couldn't with Lissa groaning so loudly.
"This is so boring, tell me you didn't just come here to talk battle." Lissa moaned, drawing Robin's attention and bringing a smile to her face. Frederick let out a long, tired sigh, breaking the eye-contact the Robin and he had held for so long.
"Milady, as the lieutenant of this army I have a responsibility to go over subjects like these with the army." He explained, already losing Lissa's attention as she rolled her eyes, settling on Robin, who grinned.
"Thank Naga you aren't in charge of anything here." Robin laughed, not even finishing before she had to avoid a finger jab towards her sides. Lissa pouted and crossed her arms.
"I would be an amazing lieutenant!" She said, not even making it halfway through the sentence before breaking into giggles from the mere idea of it. Robin opened her mouth for another dig towards Lissa when a soft laugh caught her attention and her heart.
Fredericks' laugh was one of her favourite sounds, as cheesy as it was. Short, and sparingly given, it was a blessing whenever she heard it, even when she knew it wasn't ever towards her. The tiny smile still on his face, eyebrow raised he stared at Lissa with a doubtful gaze.
"As you say, Milady." He said with a respectful nod, prompting Lissa to laugh even harder, sharing her smile with Frederick and Frederick alone.
A familiar feeling washed over Robin as she watched the two interact. Such warmth, such positivity. A friendly relationship built on trust and history, two things Robin didn't have. Just like that, she felt like an 'other'. Like she was watching the two through a window, or reading about their interaction in a book. There, but not actually with them. Never close enough. She took a step back, ready to take her leave.
"Robin, I nearly forgot." Frederick caught her before she could take another step, his hands moving from behind his back to his front, bringing with it two small containers. Her brow creased as she stared at them. Had he been holding that the entire time?
"I realized halfway through dinner that neither you, Sumia or Lissa had returned, so..." He hesitated for a second, turning his head and clearing his throat awkwardly, extending a box her way. Robin's eyes widened.
"I saved some food. Chrom took some for Sumia. Here." He held out a container to Robin, and she could feel her entire world shutting down around her. Frederick? Had done something nice? For her? Was the world going mad?
Doing her best to keep her hands from shaking, Robin took the box from his hands, cradling it like some treasure as she looked back up at Frederick, eyes still wide.
"Thank you." It was hard to miss the little shake in her voice as she pulled the box close, taking another step back. Frederick gave an awkward nod, Lissa giggling behind her hand. Robin's stomach flipped as she snapped out of it.
"I'm going to my tent." She stated rather loudly, giving a quick nod to the two, becoming all too aware of how she was standing and where her hands were and her surroundings, like she was becoming more inelegant by the second. She needed to retreat now.
“But you haven’t even had a chance to sit down, or talk to anyone!” Lissa exclaimed, but it was too late. Robin was backing up, like a bear cornered against a cliff. She wasn’t going to lash out or anything like that, but the fear and feeling was much the same. Damn, socialization was stressful.
"I’m just very tired. I’ll sit with you at breakfast tomorrow, I promise. Goodnight. Goodnight." She nodded to each of them again, before turning on her heel and walking out, faster and faster till she was out of the tent and the sight of everyone else and on a beeline for her own tent. She didn't stop or hesitate as she kept an eye out for anyone watching her go by, anxiety heightening with every step until finally, mercifully, she ducked under her tent flap, her bag of books dumped to the ground and her body flung towards her cot, face pressing into the nearest pillow.
Her tent was nice, but it was simple. A cot in the middle, with 2 blankets and 2 pillows, stark white. A trunk with nightclothes and nothing else. A portable, easily movable tent in the corner held a few pencils, quills and papers, 2 tactics books leant to her by Chrom, and a chair. That was it. There was nothing else, she had nothing else. Nothing from her past, nothing she could pick up from any towns from the near-nothing she had in terms of money in her pockets.
Without the army, her role here, she would have woken up alone, and likely died alone with nothing but fear and paranoia. She had people supporting her at her sides, so why did she still feel… nothing.
A frustrated scream left her as her fingers tightened around her gift, mind replaying the last few moments of her social interaction over and over again. Could she have been more awkward? More mortifying to watch? For the first time in the three months, she'd known him the man she had feelings for had done something nice for her.
And she froze up.
Spoke 3 sentences.
And then ran away.
Fingers nearly breaking from the tension she was placing on her muscles, Robin took the moment to feel the box pinned under her body. The food was still warm to the touch, she could feel it through whatever material Frederick had encased it in. It was strong, to resist the crushing force of her hands.
Taking deep breaths, Robin made herself relax for a moment, tried to clear her mind of everything that had happened today. Every conversation, with Cordelia, with Sumia, with Lissa. She let it pass. Relaxed her muscles and kept her eyes tightly shut until the only thing Robin could think of was the emptiness in her stomach. Carefully she pushed herself up from her bed and cracked the container open.
The smell of roast beef and vegetables filled Robin's tent, and her stomach growled in reaction, like a wild beast. She stood up and fumbled around her belongings for cutlery, brandishing a fork in victory when she found it, returning to her cot and ready to devour it. She stuck it in the meat, raising it to her mouth and ready to enjoy its full flavour—
And then her mind threw her back into the tent. Back where she stood under Fredericks stone-cold gaze, picking her apart. Back to where she stood, there but not really there as she watched him laugh with the people he cared about. Back to when Cordelia stared at her like a madwoman, for thinking about Frederick in that way.
She was right, though. Having feelings for Frederick was one of the worst tactical errors Robin had made. Stuck with an ever-aching heart, getting her hopes up on acts of the most basic act of kindness. Acts of pity, maybe? If Lissa was right, and he had talked to Cordelia maybe Frederick knew of her feelings? No. That couldn't be true. Cordelia would never do that. She was far too nice. But her heart still ached. Because regardless of whether he knew, Robin didn't doubt what Frederick had done was not of his own volition.
Robin's fork still hovered in front of her face, but any urge to eat had left her. Her stomach churned and twisted, nausea making an unwelcome appearance as she stressed herself into a mood. Hand lowering back into the container, Robin snapped it shut, placing it on her bedside table before burrowing herself into her cot.
She was too tired to feel anything else. Her stomach turned like a stormy sea but her mind simply blanked, the aching giving way to make her chest a cavity. Her utter aloneness in her plight made more aware as it closed around her like shadows in the night. Curling further and further into herself, all she could do was pray for sleep.
She was too empty for anything else.
Chapter 4: Practise
Frederick isn't sure how the army continues on without him.
You wouldn't think that the Shepherds and, by extension, the entire army had all of their incredibly important, life-saving plans set back an entire day. Not just by looking at them, at the very least. All around the local area, they were spread, slacking off in their downtime. Many soldiers and shepherds alike hung around the village, helping the people with menial tasks, standing in and around the tavern telling stories, and lounging in the temporary barracks. On the street, some took to playing and laughing with young children and further out too, exploring the nearby forest, taking the time for walks through the trees or dips in the small nearby river. Even in camp, there was an air of relaxation.
Frederick found it entirely detestable.
With a decisive move of his hand, he sharpened his sword. One of the many weapons that he had been working on in the past hour as he prepared for the coming battle, grumbling as he heard people outside his tent laugh and chat.
No army should be worked to its bone, of course. And as cold-hearted as some people thought him, he couldn't deny that hearing his comrades so joyful brought him some level of happiness. But he also knew that there was a time and place for everything, and after 3 full days in the village, Frederick could not fight his anxiety when it came to the thought of leaving. They were at war, and at any moment the enemy could strike. And unprepared like they were now? The results could be catastrophic.
Taking a new blade into his hands —the lance now discarded— he repeated his work, trying not to let all his frustrations seep out as he tested the sword with a controlled swing.
Was he the only one who thought of the soldiers caught on the battlefield at this very instant, Plegian swords at their throats? Was he the only one who remembered what was at stake? How close had they all come to dying in the palace not long ago? How close were they to losing Emmeryn?
Memories of the assassination attempt flooded his mind, as a cold feeling crept it's way onto his skin, like ice through his veins. His sharpening faltered.
She'd looked so calm, even in the knowledge that she'd been condemned for death that night. Like the crickets outside the window, she was humming and standing peacefully in her room. Hands on her lap, grey eyes like a calm ocean right after a raging storm. Sitting like the castle wasn't being invaded that second. Like possible death wasn't a mere few hundred metres away. Frederick had positioned himself close by. Stood guard by the door, he did his best to keep Lissa and Chrom in his sight as they fought off Plegian after Plegian.
And they succeeded, in a manner of speaking. Emmeryn, thank Naga, was safe. From The Masked Man's appearance and the threat to the Exalt family to the recruiting of a Taguel woman and one of Emmeryn's would-be assassins. There wasn't much more to be said once the last of the enemies were picked off, and order was restored. Attempts to move her to a safer place were thwarted, and Emmeryn decided it would be better for her to return to Ylisse, leaving them with a promise from Chrom to keep the Fire Emblem safe.
He wished he could've done more, to have even just simply talked to her before they parted ways. A queen she was, but not superhuman. Looking at the same smile every day makes you familiar enough to know when it's forced. And Frederick had known her too long to ignore the turmoil behind her eyes, stirring in her mind as nightmare scenarios became worse and worse.
War. The horror she'd tried so desperately to prevent. Needless death, wanton destruction. It posed a risk to her legacy, her family. Her life.
Placing the sharpened blade in the finished pile, he took a deep breath and moved to the next.
Maybe these risks had been forgotten by the rest of the army. Maybe they did not take them seriously, or perhaps they just couldn't comprehend the severity of the situation. But that wouldn't mean he would slack or falter. No. He would be ready. If the others fell, he would be her army. If their weapons shattered, he would be her sword. Her lance. Her axe.
To keep Emmeryn safe, along with Chrom, and Lissa. The closest thing to family he had. He would give to get whatever they needed and become whatever to achieve their goals. He would be there for them, there with them.
He would be ready.
He would be, that is, if he was able to concentrate on his work. A goal that became less likely by the second as his ears caught a loud, repetitive thud of a blade, along with familiar grunts, originating right outside the tent wall.
Frederick could barely be angry. He was only minutes ago scolding his comrades in his head for not taking the time before the push over the mountains into Ferox to train. Someone seemed to be making the most of it.
They just didn't seem to be doing it well. Just the sound of their swings told him that whoever they were, they'd likely never held a sword before. And if they had, it was a miracle they weren't dead at the hands of the enemy by now.
Frederick's eyes moved from the small pile of weapons for sharpening left, then back to the figure through the thin layer of tarp before he sighed and stood up to brush down his clothes. He could get someone to finish with upkeep later. This person and their lack of ability was more important. If anything, he could use the training session he was already formulating for them in his head as a good outlet.
Throwing the tent flap open Frederick walked into the light, moving to walk around the tents circumference and confront the trainee. A new recruit was what he expected, or some young farm boy, sneaking out to the outskirts where camp met forest, trying his hand with a weapon in hopes of joining up before the army pushed forward. That was what he expected.
Not the army's very own tactician.
Frederick had to give her credit, it wasn't often he was caught off guard. And this was something she had certainly achieved. Coat and heavy cloth discarded, he found her in a linen shirt and rolled up trousers, hair and body slicked with sweat, shining in the heat, a bronze sword embedded in a nearby tree, her fingers still wrapped around its hilt.
"O—Oh, hello!" She greeted him with wide eyes, faltering in her movements as she stared, red in the face from her exertion. Frederick did not respond.
He was surprised, it was true. But only momentarily as his eyes fixed on the way she held her weapon. Limp, a loose grip that could be disarmed in a moment. She held the sword like one would hold a tome. Like she had no idea what she was doing.
"Training, Robin? I didn't take you for a warrior," It occurred to him momentarily that he had not greeted her, but she hardly seemed to notice as she turned back to the tree, pulling the sword free with some great struggle.
"Yeah, you-oof. You know, I thought it would be better to improve with my melee abilities." She explained, wiping sap off of the blade, not meeting his gaze. Fredericks' eyes narrowed. Why try her hand at a sword when she'd proven herself so capable with her spells? Why bother picking it up now, and so secretively?
"Why are you training out here then? Away from the others?" He asked with a raised brow. For a moment he saw her movements cease, and then relax as she stopped her cleaning of the sword, flashing him a small, awkward smile.
"I'm, uh... I don't want to look silly in front of... the others." She trailed off sheepishly. Frederick was taken aback. Look silly? What would looking silly have to do with training? He gave her a long stare.
"Robin, that is the least of your worries. Constructive criticism is important, especially with something like this. Would you rather run into battle unprepared, deluded about your skills with swordplay?" Robin flinched at the thought, eliciting a long sigh from Fredericks' lips. She made him do that often.
Still, he couldn't just leave her there with that awful training technique. With the way she was swinging that sword, Robin was putting herself in danger more than anyone else. Even if he didn't trust her, she was still the tactician. And he knew Chrom would never forgive him if something were to happen to her. Against his better thoughts, he found himself stepping forward, extending an arm to the sword.
"Allow me to assist." He said with another sigh. He'd done this a billion times with recruits. She would be no different. Swiftly he moved forward, ready to adjust her grip on the hilt. Completely unprepared for how defensive she suddenly got.
Retracting inwards, Robin took a step back, nearer to the treeline in a movement so quick it seemed natural to her. Holding the sword closer to her chest as Frederick stayed still, surprised once more by her strange behaviour.
"You want to help me?" Doubt was thickly layered in her voice, with eyes that watched him intently. He blinked for a moment, Deja Vu washing over him as he remembered a similar freeze up last night when he had offered her leftovers.
"Yes," He said slowly, feeling as if he were talking to some spooked animal. "You're our tactician. Keeping you alive means keeping everyone else alive." He explained, seeing an unrecognizable emotion flicker in her eyes. She gave it a few more seconds before relaxing, hesitantly holding her hand out to his.
Frederick took her wrist in one hand, and the hilt in the other as he moved her hand into a more comfortable position, nudging her fingers to the correct places as he spoke.
"Here, like this, you'll find it easier to swing." He told her, but she stayed silent. Tense again at his touch. He couldn't help but frown. Had he ever touched her before? Not likely, he was barely physically affectionate with his own family. Though he supposed the Royals were his exception.
Aware of how long his fingers had laid over hers, Frederick pulled back, discomfort settling in his stomach. The last thing he wanted was her getting any strange ideas, especially with how little he knew of her. Clearing his throat he gave a stiff nod.
"Swing." He told her, and she did, still silent, and still with an awkward stance. Yet the difference was obvious at a single glance, her actions more controlled now that she actually knew how to hold it.
Embedded once more in the tree, Robin let go of the sword and let out a soft cheer, her mood shooting to levels he didn't think possible in such short a time frame.
"I did it!" She laughed, eyes lit up with an excitement he only really saw around Lissa or Chrom. That happy lilt, compared to her quiet mumbles before. How anyone could change their mood so quickly was beyond him. It was strange. She was strange. And the moment she locked eyes with him it was gone, and she was averting her eyes again.
"Uh, thank you, Frederick. I... owe you one." She smiled weakly, but the thank you was sincere. Frederick simply hummed in response as once again she went to pull her sword out of the tree.
"It's nothing, truly." He responded as she broke the sword free, inspecting the edges.
"Though, next time I'd advise fighting against the straw dummies we have. Hitting that tree will do your sword no good, especially with a metal like that." He added as her cheeks flushed, looking back down at the blade for another inspection.
"Oh, thank you again," She said, wiping it off. Frederick had assumed she had finished, ready to turn away when her voice reached his ears once again.
"And— I do mean it, about owing you one. This, and dinner last night, and that one time you fixed my tent. I owe you a favour. Whatever you need, name it." She sounded confident, and Frederick could not help but find himself raising an eyebrow.
A favour? From her? Was this a distraction? A tactic to get closer to him, only to strike? She looked so genuine, but Frederick had served long enough to know the tricks of deceit. But a favour did mean getting something. Information, a trade. It was a tempting offer.
"I will keep that in mind, should the need arrive." He answered noncommittally, watching for any change in her expression. Nothing happened, however, as Robin gave another nod and sheathed her sword, earning a look from Frederick.
"Already finished?" Surely she was not already worn out? She looked fine, if a little sweaty, and had barely started before he'd intervened. Robin only shrugged in response.
"Chrom wants to spend some time training with me. Hence… this. And— Lissa, she uh— she wants me to spend time with her and the other girls," She said pausing to pick up her coat and other things. "You can check with her." She added on, no doubt reading his unimpressed expression.
Frederick was still not sure how to feel about his charges budding friendship with this... well, he could hardly call her a stranger any longer. But no matter. With the presence of the other women, especially Maribelle, he knows nothing bad should come of it, however...
Before he could even make a move to question her, Robin was off. Darting around the tent and out of his sight. But not quick enough to miss that relieved, happy smile on her face. A smile reserved for Chrom, Lissa, and every moment she was walking away from him.
And again, Frederick found himself alone. Outside his tent, away from his work and duties, doing exactly what he'd scolded the others in his mind about not minutes ago. Standing in a grass patch this time, with the laughter of soldiers and villagers alike dancing through the air. The sound of a distant creek running, and the birds singing freely as they flew.
Sounds and imagery that Frederick knew would seem far, far away once they crossed into their allied Feroxi territory. With Ylisse, it's people, and it's leader left far behind, out of his sight and out of his reach. He knew he was going where he could no longer protect them. He could only pray their tactician would get him there and back home, to the palace soon.
Chapter 5: Rest
Robin takes some time to get to know her fellow shepherds.
This had to be the first day Robin had ever had that was actually free.
On most ‘break days’ she’d spend her time in her tent with some books, doing what she always did. This was the first time she’d been invited to do some actual hanging out during time off. Twice, in the same day, which she found utterly shocking.
“Chrom?” Robin called into the tent where he’d asked her to meet him. She knew it was technically time to be spent training, but she had a feeling that Chrom wanted to talk about something more than how well she could swing a sword.
Nevertheless, she’d woken up early to practise. Not that she got much time in before Frederick had shown up. It was nice to get some help and likely would have been nicer had she not been shaking in her boots the entire time.
“Ah, Robin!” Behind her Chrom's familiar voice sounded in her ears, and she turned to find him at the tent entrance, two practise swords in hand.
“Hey, Chrom.” She responded softly, looking to the swords as she spoke. Wooden, but sharp, they were likely the exact blade she should have been using during her embarrassing assault of the tree earlier.
“Did you want to talk about something? Or are we just training?” She asked, looking back up to the prince's face. Despite his strong stance and stature, Robin saw the shyness that often bubbled to the top whenever he talked to someone about anything other than battle. He was awkward, and she found kinship in that.
“Ah, well, you see it's both. Sort of.” Waiting patiently and happily as he chose his words carefully.
“Things have been tense, and I've been finding… difficult, to rest at times. But your presence is… calming in a way.” He explained to her, handing over the practise sword as he did. Robin, though puzzled, took it happily with a tilt of her head.
“You want to just train in… silence?” Robin asked as he brought a hand to his neck, rubbing it nervously.
“Well, when you put it like that…” He trailed off, clearly expecting her to start teasing or something. But she didn't, as laughter, soft and free of any malicious nature bubbled up within her.
“No, no, it's okay. I think some peace and quiet would… it would be nice. I've been talking to so many people lately.” She confessed, as Chrom's eyebrows raised.
“Tell me about it! Just yesterday night I was meant to simply receive a report from Sumia, but we just kept talking! Back and forth, I couldn't find a way out. And I- I didn't want a way out exactly, I just had no idea what to say without sounding foolish!” As they walked to what Robin assumed was going to be an open clearing or field, Chrom vented about his issues. Girl issues, not that he was able to identify them as such. He could be very… obtuse, when it came to it. Robin's mind flashed back to Cordelia for a moment, feeling a strong ache of sympathy for the poor woman.
“Maybe… you could think of things to talk about the next time you two meet?” Robin offered, knowing full well she was spouting advice she herself should follow. Would follow, were Frederick not completely opposed to her very presence in his vicinity.
“Like what? The weather? Risen? I'm not cut out for all of this… talk.” He grumbled, and Robin caught sight of an empty field with a few training dummies and no other people in sight. A grand relief in her eyes.
“Okay, well you can't just go all your life without talking to people. You're a royal.” Beside her, Chrom let out a loud sigh.
“I can try…” He grumbled, and Robin, though she tried everything, was unable to hide the sharp snort of laughter that escaped her, which in response made Chrom wheeze.
“Thank you for listening, Robin.” He said once they were finished giggling. Robin shrugged and gave him a half-smile. Listening… it was nice to not be the one talking for once. Chrom, he was so kind. And a good friend. And were she brave enough, and not so doubtful all the time she likely would have labelled him her best friend, in this army.
We're she a smarter woman, she would have fallen in love with him, maybe. But though she knew little, she knew the happy lift in her heart when she saw him smile could only be defined as the purest, and most affectionate of platonic love.
“It's no trouble. I really don't have anything better to do.” She confessed. Nothing better to do than read the same book over and over. Je quickly waved the dismissive statement off.
“Still, I appreciate it.” He said with a smile, as the two came to a stop. It was then they found themselves in the field. A few standing dummies scattered about, the sun at high-noon in the sky, giving them plenty of time to practise. Robin lifted her arms above her head and stretched.
“So… now we just hit some training dummies in total silence?” She asked, cocking a brow as their eyes locked for a few moments. Chrom sighing once again, this time in relief.
And so, that was what they did. For hours, swinging their swords, clashing blades and at one point even breaking a dummy. Even as they ate, they were quiet. Until dinner, where Robin was pulled away by Lissa and said goodbye. They were quiet, and it was probably one of the most enjoyable things she'd ever done. Leaving towards the temporary girls' tent beaming, before the new conditions of socializing that she was now suddenly under sank in.
When Lissa first invited her over, Robin wasn't so sure what a girls night was, or at the very least what it would entail. Having no memory made it difficult to gauge how often she ever just simply... hung out, with people. Not training, not fighting. Actually spending extended periods of time in contact with other people. It was exciting, and also nerve-wracking.
Lissa and Maribelle, with all their tricks and their charms, had managed to commandeer a massive tent for which the small party could take place. The ground had been covered, all traces of grass concealed with the blankets and sheets which had been laid everywhere. A small tray of sweets lay tucked in the corner and all around the room, the nightgown-clad girls had draped themselves over piles and nests of pillows.
Lissa and Maribelle sat close together, Maribelle's fingers tracing through her friend's golden locks as she tested out new styles on her willing friend. Not too far away was Sumia, with a pile of colourfully covered books, currently being shared with an interested, if not cautious Panne. She regarded the books with some curiosity, much like how Miriel was regarding her, taking notes and quick glances as she wrote, and listened to Sully who was leaned against her, reading through her studies.
Robin herself was positioned near the entrance of the tent, where a warm summer breeze was floating in, ruffling her pyjama sleeves. At her side was Cordelia, who was doing her best to reassure Robin with kind smiles.
"Has your day been well, Robin?" She asked, shifting to face her, legs pulled up to her chest. Robin had never seen Cordelia so free of troubles, safe. No- thinking of it, she hadn't seen any of them so relaxed. Unbothered, and unburdened by the stresses of the war.
"Yes, a little different." She said, doing her best to loosen up a bit as well. They all seemed so comfortable together, leaning on one another and playing with hair. She couldn't even think of the last time she'd actually touched someone, or had them touch-
No wait, she could.
Her brief encounter with Frederick earlier that day definitely counted. And it hadn't been anything short of 'different'. Not that he had seemed noticed. Or maybe he had? He had to have heard how hard her heart had been beating when his fingers made contact with her skin, trying to guide them to the right grip of on her blade. She knew he for sure had noticed the sharp way she'd pulled out of his reach the moment his hands made contact with her. Calloused, gentle contact-
Forgetting she had been in conversation mere seconds ago, Robin snapped back to reality. In the middle of trying to figure out if she'd already spoken, a smile tugged at Cordelia's lips, almost like she knew what had happened. But that was just silly. Right?
"Different? How so?" She questioned, and Robin paused for a moment, eyes flickering around the room. None of the girls seemed to be listening in.
"I trained with Chrom, it wasn't very noteworthy but…” She bit her lip, glancing around.
“Do you... remember what we talked about the other day?" Robin asked diplomatically. Cordelia's eyes flashed with instant recognition, as she nodded in response. Robin lowered her voice.
"Well, he ended up talking to me. Twice." It was strange to act so hushed and whispery, the setting making Robin feel like a giddy young girl at a secret sleepover. It wasn't a bad feeling.
"What about?" Cordelia had leant in, propping up her chin in her hands as she listened intently. A light blush made its way to Robin's cheeks, thinking back to the conversations. They weren't exactly models of human interaction.
"Well, first he saved me some leftovers, and then he gave me tips on my sword technique. I think it was the longest I'd ever talked to him, outside of tactics that is." Aloud, it hit her how lame that was. Cordelia didn't seem to think so, a warm smile on her face.
"Was it nice?" Robin's thoughts reached a standstill.
Was it nice?
On one hand, he had done something positive for her of his own volition, twice. She'd been able to see him, and not be glared at and scrutinized. Well- No, that wasn't true, he certainly had when on both occasions, but not the entire time. Which was a win she supposed?
But on the other, it had been incredibly awkward each time. She couldn't meet his eyes and had shut down completely when he'd reached for her. And she liked that kind of thing. Contact. Linking arms, and the likes. Even with friends. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was off.
"It was... strange," Robin concluded, close to continuing when Sully, who'd just seemed to catch onto her words, laughed.
"Never thought I'd find a day of peace during all this. 'Strange' is about right." She said, misunderstanding the context for Robin's comment. While Robin herself smiled at the cavalier, a contentious sigh exited Maribelle, who gazed at Sully with disdain.
"Sully, please. These meetings are for discussions other than war, or training. Heavens forbid we confer about something nice these days..." She sighed audibly, removing her hands from Lissa's hair, proud of the braids she had woven. Sully groaned and tipped her head back.
"What do you want us to do, Maribelle? Pretend we aren't facing death every day?" She shot back, as Maribelle's face turned a rich red.
"Of course not! I simply-"
"Ladies!" The sharp voice of Miriel cut through the argument, pointed and tinged with irritation.
"Perhaps we would be better suited to leaving such... vexing topics behind? It's impractical to begin such heated discussions at this time of night. Especially in front of such new company." Robin felt a sharp stab of anxiety all eyes turned to her. Maribelle cleared her throat.
"Ah... apologies, Robin. We meant you no discomfort." Robin, with her fingers tightly grasping the pink-patterned woollen blanket she'd been graciously gifted, offered a warm smile.
"No need to apologise, I don't mind." She responded, eyes flickering back to Cordelia, a sort of anchor in this unfamiliar setting. Cordelia, in turn, stared back with her own smile, the conversation moving on.
"It's okay if you do feel that way, Maribelle makes everyone uncomfortable." A cheeky smile pulled its way onto Sully's lips, one that Robin only caught a millisecond before a fluffy, embroidered pillow made swift contact with her face, eliciting a laugh from Lissa.
And just like that, the warm, jovial feeling in the room had returned. Even with Maribelle's sharp scolding, Robin herself couldn't help but hide the soft giggle that left her own lips as she watched her comrades.
"Are you happy to be here?" With her previous conversation topic effectively cut short, Cordelia opted to change the subject. It was likely the easiest thing Robin had ever answered.
"Yes." She said simply and firmly. It was no secret that Robin liked being isolated. Preferred it, even. But there was something about being around these people that made even she, who was so used to sticking to the shadows, happy to be involved in something.
"It's just... nice to be around everyone, I'm not just one the sidelines." She breathed out. Maybe she wasn't directly talking to everyone, but simply being there was nice. Nicer than sitting in her bed alone, crying over some leftovers.
"Do you still get lonely?" Cordelia asked, drawing back memories of their conversation a day prior. And, again, the leftovers. With reluctance, Robin nodded.
"Yes, but it's... easy to ignore. Like now." She said with a growing smile. She wished she could put it into words more effective than easy. That barely covered the difference in how she was feeling now compared to then. Cordelia went to answer, before pausing, her eyes flickering behind Robin as a warm expression grew on her face.
"Ah- Robin?" Hearing her name being called, Robin turned her head to find Sumia looking at her, a nervous expression on her face, and a few books in hand. She took a few seconds to comprehend the Pegasus Knight's question, before answering and shuffling herself a few metres over to the small collection of people and books.
"Oh! Y-Yes?" She nodded quickly, focusing on the assortment of volumes. There had to be at least 20 there. And from what she could see, the subjects were all the same. Covers depicted illustrations of young, fair maidens, all in different states of disarray, draping themselves over muscled, normally shirtless men, who held them tightly to their chest or over their shoulders. Robin could feel a blush rising to her cheeks.
"You like to read, right?" Sumia sounded so eager, that Robin only found herself able to nod in response. Panne lifted the book, looking at its title, before lending her eyes to the others in the pile.
"Hm... 'Ruby Desire' 'The Servant and The Consort' 'Illusion of Love'. You humans have strange taste..." Panne trailed off with a frown, dropping the book back down with a heavy sigh as Sumia failed to catch it. Robin wondered for a moment if she should defend humanity's wide range of book genres, but thought better of it. Before Sumia could defend her trove, another voice joined in.
"You're not trying to convert Robin into reading this twaddle, are you?" Cordelia's teasing tone piped up from behind Robin. She moved closer, her head craning over the tactician's shoulder to get a better look at the open page. Sumia huffed.
"You didn't say that when I leant you 'Requiem Requited' the other night." Sumia shot back with a smile. It was Cordelia's turn to blush as she turned her head, hiding her face from all the girls' views.
"What? 'The Sultry Empress and her Loyal Queen'. How can someone be an Empress, while married to a Queen? How utterly absurd-" Miriel had just begun to rant about one of the novels, when Robin found her eyes trailing to a particular cover, one that had done more than catch her eye.
The title was obscured, but it's cover wasn't. Unlike the others, the cover depicted two people, fully clothed. Standing outside in the rain, in a thickly canopied forest, a man in full armour stood rigid and tall, hand out in rejection of a tearful woman, wrapped in a cloak, looking in utter despair. It set no fire in her heart, nor did it spark any lurid images in her mind. No, if anything, Robin felt a tight twist in her chest.
"What's that one?" Robin asked with a tilted head, drawing Sumia's attention. The girls' fingers trailed over to the book, her eyes lighting up in recognition as a bright smile took her face.
"Hm? Oh! That's 'The Promise and The Lass'. It's a good one. Sad, but good." She retrieved the book with one hand, leaning over to press it into Robin's lap. Lifting it as gentle as a baby, Robin took a closer look at the artwork, mumbling as she stared.
"What's it about?" Delighted to have someone take such an interest, Sumia went right to explaining it, a glitter to her eyes.
"Oh, well there's this girl, and she's head over heels for this knight- He's the real strict type, y'know? Well, she falls in love with this knight and pursues him, but he's so attached to his job that he never notices her, so she decides to join the army to catch his attention but-" She cut herself off quickly, looking back up at Robin hesitantly.
"Should I spoil it?" She asked, testing the waters. Robin responded with a quick shake of her head, Sumia's excitement bleeding into her own emotions.
"No, I think I want to read this one." Robin said sincerely, before stumbling over her words "I-If you'd be okay with that?" Anxious to not overstep any boundaries. Not that there was any risk in the first place, with the way Sumia's entire being seemed to light up, and her hands grabbed at Robin's.
Warmth flooded her veins, up into her body, and Robin found herself in a position not dissimilar to a few hours prior when Frederick had taken her by the wrist. What he saw, she did not know, but what she felt was overwhelming. Like a healing spell, made to restart her heart with stutters. This time it was like the warmth of a fire or a hug. This time, it made Robin comfortable and on edge all at the same time. This time, she did not pull from the touch. Instead, her body locked up and tensed, taken off guard. Sumia didn't seem to notice.
"H-Have you read many of these books before, Cordelia?" Robin asked, trying to distract herself from how hyperaware she'd become about her body. Were her hands too sweaty? Was she being too weird? Was anyone noticing? Questions tumbled through her mind as she concentrated on Cordelia's voice.
"A few-" She started, looking over Robin's shoulder before Sumia interrupted her with a laugh.
"A few? You've read at least half the books here!" Robin could hear Cordelia's breath catch, leaning further over her shoulder, resting against her back.
"And you've read them all! Over and over, since we were teenagers!" Sumia's grip loosened so that her hands rested atop Robin's as, in the corner of her eye, she saw Lissa moving closer to look at the books.
Cordelia shot back her own retort, she and Sumia arguing playfully with Robin still seated between them. Though the situation was absurd, there was something oddly enjoyable about being able to continue talking while in such close, familiar conditions. For once, she felt could slot in with these girls- this group, easily.
"This is nice, right?" A hand tapped at Robin's thigh, and she turned her head and looked down to see Lissa, laid out across the pillows, flicking through a novel's pages absently. It seemed most everyone in the tent had come to take a look at Sumia's horde, bunching up close to look at the books with varying degrees of interest or distaste.
"It is." Robin conceded with a laugh, her new book laying snugly in her lap.
"So... you'll come along next time we do this?" A half smile pulled onto Lissa's lips. Robin already knew her answer.
"Of course, if I'm welcome." She said, earning a tsk from Maribelle. Before Robin would have worried she'd said something wrong, now she knew this was just how Maribelle was. Sumia's hands loosened their grip as she moved to grab some book Sully had pointed out, and Cordelia did the same, leaving Robin with her hands free, listening in to Maribelle's eloquent tone.
"Why wouldn't you be? Goodness, you really do overthink everything..." The noblewoman trailed off, hiding the hint of a smile as she spoke. Robin rubbed her arm awkwardly, giving a shrug.
"I don't know, I guess I just don't want to intrude." She admitted as Lissa gave her a confused smile.
"Intrude? You're our friend, you never do." Something about hearing that aloud sparked something in Robin's heart, a feeling of warmth not dissimilar to the one she'd felt before coursed through her body, bringing a shy, but bright smile to her face.
"Do you want to read through this book and place bets on how many gross kiss scenes there are?" Lissa asked, and Robin snorted, moving her eyes to the pages as she shifted to lay down beside her.
"Yes," Robin said, smiling at the sounds of her friends tittering and laughing around her. "I think I'd like that."
Chapter 6: Proposal
Robin faces the cold, Frederick makes an offer.
The road to Regna Ferox was a gruelling one. After such a sweet pause and escape, many found it quite the shock to be walking, trekking through the snow and wilds with the urgency an army at war should have.
It was less difficult for Robin than her last- and first- journey. Back then she had been unprepared, nervous and new to this world and to herself. Now she had a support system in place, watching her steps and keeping her mind in check.
Offers of rides on horses or pegasi left her flustered. No matter how many times she insisted, the girls seemed set on helping or sharing in whatever way they could. That alone did much more to warm her core than any blanket or thick coat. Nevertheless, she would decline and often change the subject. They had more things to worry about than her.
In her spare time, she would read the book Sumia had leant her. What started out as a stereotypical love story had quickly turned into the most enrapturing thing Robin had ever laid her eyes on. The main character Gwendolyn was far more sympathetic than she likely should have been. And likewise, her love interest, Peter, and their story only did well to bring Robin's attention to her own lack-lustre love life. Dismissive, work-attentive and stern, it was no surprise that Robin found herself drawing comparisons.
Even so, she would much prefer to be sitting in her cot with a candle and the aforementioned romance novel, then walking through this hellish landscape. Biting cold and cutting ice meant that the army, however small they were, were being pushed to their limits. Robin was no exception.
No matter how many mounds of snow she kicked away, she seemed to be tripping and stumbling. She'd had Lissa laugh at her for falling forward into an icy creek already, having to have Frederick fish her out with a severe scolding for the two of them. Robin knew it was only a matter of time before things became worse, and they had several days ahead. She was lucky to find distractions where she could, conversation doing well to keep her mind active.
"I don't want to bother them," Robin explained to Lissa as the two women trailed a bit behind the horsemen. Chatting and smiling, Robin could not help but cast casual and not-so-casual glances forward to where Chrom and Frederick rode ahead, side by side. Lissa hadn't seemed to have noticed. At least, that's what Robin had thought up until she responded with a shrug.
"Fine, why don't you just do what I do- ask Frederick for a ride!" Somehow, her explanation as to why she'd refused rides from Sumia and Cordelia's had turned into this. Robin nearly choked on her spit, coughing from the shock. She had to be joking, right?
"I'm... not going to do that," Robin said, heat rising to her cheeks as she tried to look away from both Lissa and Frederick. Just in time, she manages to catch one cheeky smile, before Lissa returned to feigning ignorance.
"Why not?" The question is innocent, but the way Lissa drags out her vowels is not, spreading the flush of heat to both Robin's ears and neck. Oh no, she was not putting up with this right now. Not in this cold.
"Because I- He'd- I need to go." Robin spluttered, storming ahead a few paces, only realizing she was moving in the direction of the knight and his prince when it was too late.
"Robin?" Chrom's voice cut through the embarrassed rush of blood to Robin's ears, catching her attention as she looked up at her friend.
It wasn't often that Chrom was seen on horseback, but with the harsh weather and Fredericks fussing he had been all but chained to the back of his poor stallion. She wouldn't be surprised if the animal dropped dead on the way there.
"What are you doing up here?" He inquires, as Robin looked back with a huff, finding Lissa laughing and waving back at her.
"Lissa just wound me up..."She sighed, looking between the two before slowing down a bit. She looked rather out of place. She felt rather out of place, gods why did she always have to act before she thought outside battle? It was as if a flip was switched, the moment she had to become social.
"I'm sorry, I'm interrupting aren't I?" She said more than asked, narrowly avoiding tripping over a snowdrift. Frederick stared with a straight brow, opening his mouth to no doubt inform her that yes, she was being a bother. He's unable to get a word in before Chrom speaks up.
"Not at all. In fact, I think I could use your clear mind." He said with a gleaming grin, before leaning off his horse and offering a hand. Robin raised a brow, looking at the horse with a look that surpassed doubt. This would not end well.
"Chrom, I don't know if-" She began, cutting herself off when she saw the determined look in his eyes. There was no point arguing. He was far too stubborn for that. So, with a sigh she grabbed his arm, letting herself be pulled up.
Everything is fine, up until the part where she needs to gain her footing. If not for Chroms’ ridiculous strength, she's sure she would have fallen right off. Instead, her foot catches on one random part of the saddle, knocking her stomach first onto the beast. The speed his horse is moving at is a shock, and she could feel herself tipping back over the other side before Chrom pulled her fully up, an arm wrapping around her, keeping her on with a steady, awkward grip.
"Shit, crap-!" She swore, fully aware that Frederick had just witnessed the utterly unladylike display, and fully aware of the influence Sully's language seemed to be having on her. Chrom laughed his head off, trying to help her shift while controlling his steed, but it was a difficult job. Gods, why did this always happen when Frederick was around?
With a face burning red, Robin adjusted herself so that she was holding onto Chrom, arms around his middle and face against his shirt. She could feel Frederick's eyes boring into her as she groaned, letting out the slightest laugh as she did.
"That was, uh..." Chrom started, before she hit his shoulder lightly, pulling her hood up and over her head to block out the snow, the noise and the people. She wanted to curl up back in her tent and hide, feeling Chrom's body begin to shake from withheld laughter.
"Shut up." She grumbled, but it's hard to keep the amusement out of her voice as Chrom burst out laughing, moving a hand back to awkwardly pat what he intended to be her shoulder, and end intended up being her face. Even she cannot hold her laughter in now. And the thought of people staring fades from her mind, for just a moment.
She thinks this is the longest she's gone in company without overthinking things. That's just how it was with Chrom, who trusted her so freely and offered no judgement. But not even Chroms’ near foolhardy trust was enough to shake the prickling anxiety in her stomach lining.
Her moment of brief amusement lifted as a quick glance behind her confirms that, yes, more people were indeed staring at her. And judging by the laughing and whispering, she'd not done well in presenting herself as a figure of grace. Let alone their gracious prince, who was already rattling off his rather dangerous battle plans and suggestions, in an effort to change the subject no doubt. Robin steals a glance to Frederick, finding his stony gaze settled on Chrom as he talks. She has no proof of it, but from experience, she knows he had been staring at her. Likely with the same expression he carried whenever he scolds the royals or his trainees, or when he's looking at her in general.
Robin makes a note to be quieter about these things from now on, lest she bring down her friends with her daft social nature.
And that worked for the last few days of the journey, certainly. The colder it got, the less she found herself having the energy to speak and argue. It was fair to think that, wherever she had hailed from before her amnesia, it had been warm. Warm enough that her clothes had been suitable, for they were certainly nothing of the sort here.
One look at her cloak, purple and embroidered, would make one assume it was more than enough to fight the Feroxian cold. Wearing it meant Robin knew better. Loose, with no pins or buttons to clip down, cold wind flowed freely in and out, nipping at her cold frame through her thin tank top. But she saw her comrades walk freely in clothes more revealing and open than that, with ne'er a complaint. So she held her tongue and kept her mouth shut until finally, mercifully, they arrived.
"We made it." Travelling ahead a few meters from the party, Robin had simply wanted time to clear her head. Travelling off the path, into the forest wasn't entirely intelligent, but she needed peace. And besides, she could still hear the army in the distance.
She'd known they'd be reaching the city today, but nothing could prepare her for what she finally saw. The bleak stone walls of the city warmed Robin more than her measly army tent had in its 4 days of travels. Her knees nearly gave out in relief when she spotted it, gate and soldiers at the ready. She hoped it would be a warmer welcome than what they received last time.
Leaning against a nearby tree to regain her strength, Robin laughed. Finally, she could be back inside a real building, eat proper food and sleep in a proper bed. The happiness inside her was unbearable as she swivelled around, ready to call out to Lissa or Cordelia, or whoever it was that she could hear approaching behind her. But of course, it's neither of those people. The fates seem to be set on her embarrassing herself today.
"I see we've arrived," Frederick commented with some amusement, armour clinking as he walks up beside Robin, keeping his eyes on the city. She had not talked to him or even seen him since what happened with Chrom and his horse. Strange indeed, seeing how set he always was on keeping an eye on her.
Silence hung between them, Robin herself unsure of what to say. She just kept her eyes on the city, feeling a shiver up her spine when he cleared his throat.
"I've been meaning to ask..." He trailed off, and Robin spared a glance in his direction. She meets his eyes, finding hesitance in place of doubt. Hands behind his back that she can see now are clearly fidgeting. It's like he wants to say something but thinks better. Robin raised an eyebrow, and he lets out a sigh, struggling for a moment before finally speaking.
"Robin, what on earth are you wearing?" Her face blanched, and she blinked. Once, then twice.
"My... my clothes?" She frowned and looked down. Of course. Of course, there was an issue with her clothes. Is it how awful they look, covered in snow and dirty water? How tatty and uncouth they were? How tidy they weren't? Robin resigned herself to whatever criticisms he had. She lacked the energy to argue and readied herself for a flurry of complaints. 'Your lack of decorum is showing.' 'You must present yourself better.' 'As the armies tactician-'
"They're hardly suitable for this weather. You look cold." With furrowed brows, Frederick spoke, and Robin felt her heart stop.
Oh. She felt a quick rush of blood to her cheeks. Was... no, he couldn't be worried. She brushed herself down, fiddling with some of the many loose threads that littered her coat.
"I mean- I don't have much choice?" She told him, and he gave her another frown with the slightest hint of concern. It's strange to be viewed like this by him, but certainly not unpleasant. In fact, it alights the smallest spark inside her chest.
"Pardon?" His nose crinkles, and Robin takes a moment to appreciate how cute it looks. How cute he always looks, honestly, when he gets that distant expression off his face. It's a shame she has to spoil it with her following words.
"I don't- I don't have anything, Frederick. Just the things you found me with." It's embarrassing to Robin, seeing the look of utter horror that spreads on Fredericks' face. Almost like he forgot for a moment that she was a dirty, homeless amnesiac. She was sure it was all flooding back to him now, as he went quiet and looked her up and down.
"No warm clothes at all?" He asked, and she shook her head with a grim smile.
"Nothing. I basically own absolutely nothing." Robin responded, and she watched as Frederick brought a hand to thread in his hair. It's very attractive and very amusing. She'd never seen him in such a stressed state and didn't know to be happy or apologetic that she was its cause.
"You mean to tell me you travelled this entire way in- that." He spat a final word and Robin raises her arms and shrugs, leaving him to stand silently as a number of emotions battled themselves inside his mind.
This was the longest conversation she's ever had with him, she thinks. The longest with her responding with sentences more than 3 words long. And with him not glaring or acting begrudging with her. Was this an achievement? She thinks this is an achievement. She'll take it, for sure.
Frederick was still standing there, a hand on his chin as he stared. Snow building on his shoulders and armour, ice probably crushing up its joints. She has no idea if she's supposed to be speaking, or what she's supposed to be saying. Instead she just... stands there too. In silence, with the sound of the army marching in the distance. Frederick once again cleared his throat.
"This an... oversight. I'll see what I can do to rectify it." That... was unexpected. Eyes widening at the offer. It was sweet, and it made her heart race but under no circumstances could she accept.
"I wouldn't want anyone wasting money on that." Frederick gives her the front-facing equivalent of a side-eye, before letting her comment go in favour of explanation. It doesn't do well to lessen the fluttering feeling in her stomach.
"I have some wool, I could make you garments in my spare time." Oh. Oh, now she knew she was blushing, and she couldn't stop. She couldn't care. He wanted to make clothes for her? Himself? Because... because he was worried? Her stomach turned flips, her palms going sweaty, somehow she could feel herself burning up in this bitter cold.
"Oh- gosh no, Frederick, you don't need to do that." She tried to argue, but even she doesn't want to. If he offered it couldn't mean he'd think it a bother, right? She tries so hard not to implode on the spot as she sees it- faint, but there. The very slightest of smiles quirking at the corner of his mouth, setting her heart ablaze.
"I must insist." He says, making her knees feel weak. It's such a romantic offer, and so kind. Gods, it's almost like it's come right out of her romance-
"We cannot let our tactician get ill. The lives of many lie on your shoulders, including my wards. You cannot afford to get sick." Fredericks smile is gone, taking on a serious expression as he discusses what is, of course, the most important thing to him. Ylisse.
"Of... course." Ah. There it was. The disappearance of all the giddy happiness she'd cherished at that moment. Robin visibly deflated. That was what she got for hoping. For tricking herself into believing that he'd actually-
"Thank you, Frederick." She smiles and nods, but it's forced.
"I should be making my way back to Chrom." He said, stepping back a moment before pausing. It took her a moment to realize he was waiting for her to follow.
"Oh, no," Robin shook her head, running a hand through her hair, pulling out some quickly melting snowflakes. "I just need a moment to myself." He's hesitant but respects her decision, and Robin smiles and waves him off. He gives her one last nod and then, that's it. He's simply gone. As quietly as he'd arrived.
Once sure of his absence, Robin shuts her eyes, taking a deep breath. And then another, and another, before turning and slammed her forehead into the nearest tree.
Why did it have to be him? Why did he have to be so difficult? Why was she so bad at- this. All of this. Absolutely everything. Robin knocked her face one more time into the tree before groaning at a volume that could have disturbed even the deafest of birds.
The cold was starting to seep in again, and the shouts were getting louder. And the last thing she needed was to continue her assault, which would only create a need to explain to her friends and dearest comrades why she had a bleeding forehead stuck with bits of bark.
She could lament this travesty of a social interaction later, in the privacy of a warm room with her books. Rubbing her head and looking back at the trail Frederick had made, Robin sighed. Naga, honestly.
How could this day get any worse?
Chapter 7: Harsh Truths
Grim news awaits the Shepherds as they reach their destination.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Getting inside the city was easy. The guards, far friendlier than they had been on their first visit, ushered Robin and the rest of the shepherds in. Up the streets, most of the army stopped off at the large barracks, where food and beds were being laid out for the night. It was rest well earned, but not rest available to Robin or her friends. No, they were needed by the Khans.
“How can they stand this cold…” Robin mumbled, looking around the Feroxian civilians that filled the streets. Snow was so thick in the air she could barely see the sun, let alone tell what time it was. Anywhere close to afternoon maybe, she surmised by the time they’d spent on the road.
“I would assume they’d be resistant, considering they likely grew up here.” From her side, Frederick commented, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Robin’s cheeks burned, and it wasn’t due to the cold.
“Maybe we could get some warmer clothes while we’re stationed here,” Stahl muttered from her right, kicking at a snowdrift half in his way. That wasn’t a bad idea.
“After we convene with the Khans. I’m sure you can endure the cold a little longer.” Frederick lightly scolded the two, before walking ahead to keep up with Chrom, some meters ahead. Stahl let out a long, heavy sigh.
“Easy for him to say, huh?” He joked, sending Robin a smile, which she returned.
Not too long after, they finally reached the arena where they’d first fought on behalf of Flavia, winning her leadership of her country. Though months ago, the giant colosseum seemed completely unchanged.
Largely, Robin was distracted. Maybe it was the exhaustion or the cold, but even as Lissa and Chrom talked with Sumia, Robin found herself trailing around the arena’s edges, looking into the gates and openings. Seeing these entrances where all manner of gladiator or beast came out made her skin crawl. From bears to wyvern, she could only imagine the kind of blood that had been shed here. And her imagination was more than enough.
Her eyes moved on and went flickering around to stare at the empty stands. Before she’d seen them stacked with person after person making up swathes of roaring crows. Somehow, the space seemed smaller, without all the noise. The shouting and clanging of blade on blade.
“Ow! What the hell was that for?!” A sudden shout caught her attention, snapping her out of her trance. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Sumia landing a punch on Chrom’s face, sending him stumbling backwards a few steps. It seemed she wasn’t the only one who wasn’t quite on the ball today.
“Oh, no- Did I do it wrong? Captain Phila said sometimes a good slap will break someone out of their doldrums!” Watching Sumia’s hands raise to her chest, Robin lifted her hand to her mouth to cover a rising bout of laughter.
“Sumia, when you slap someone you do it with an open palm. You just punched Chrom in the face!” Chrom, who was still rubbing his cheek, hummed in agreement with his sister.
“Gods, that seriously hurt…” He mumbled, but as she approached Robin could have sworn she saw the corners of his mouth turn up a little. Almost like he was impressed.
“Oh, well… it’s the thought that counts?” Sumia tried, as Robin walked up to stand at her side. They all looked half ready to continue the almost-bickering when nearby the doors opened, and the small group turned to see Khan Flavia walk in, a big smile on her face.
“I hope you have good news.” Chrom greeted the Khan as she walked forward, he offering his hand.
Flavia looked much the same. Tall, muscled and as threatening as she was beautiful. Fully armoured with a sword in hand, she met Chrom with a hard clap on the back. He was getting hit a lot today, huh.
“If you call an entirely mobilized army on your side, itching to fight and ready for you order good news, then yes.” Flavia wasted no time beating around the bush. “I must say I’m looking forward to saving a skirmish or two for myself.”
“Wait, you’re coming along?” With a hint of concern, Chrom spoke, Robin herself feeling her eyebrows raise. As much of a threat as Plegia was, surely the Feroxians needed their Khan? Now, in times of overseas turmoil more than anything.
“Of course! A khan must have her fun. I’m even bringing my insignificant other.” Basilio too? Were Robin a braver woman she would have questioned the choice to take two leaders from their country into a foreign battle. But she was not.
“Really? Are you not worried about what would happen, were you two to…” Fall in battle, Chrom was likely about to say (hypocritically), but he was interrupted by her sharp bought of laughter.
“I assure you we have no intentions of dying yet. You underestimate our strength, prince Chrom. You’ll have our support as we walk to Ylisstol, and then further on at the borders. We can fight from there.” Her words were strong, as was her will, but they did not do well to shake the uneasiness that had settled in Robin’s stomach. Grimleal were nasty. And there was no telling what could happen out there. Still, Flavia was confident. Something Robin herself was not.
“Come, we’ll walk to the palace. When I left Basilio was receiving news of the Plegian movements. From there, I’m sure your tactician can form us a plan.” Robin’s back stiffened, standing to full attention as she recognised the eyes on her.
“I- I’ll do my absolute best!” She promised, cringing a little at how juvenile she sounded. It was enough for the group, as they started on their way out, no doubt to the palace, where Basilio likely awaited them.
Walking out they reconvened with the other shepherds, who had stood outside keeping guard. Frederick stayed to the door, only stepping away to shadow his lieges. There was no doubt in Robin's mind that he’d waited. Completely still and patient. Walking near the back with Cordelia, she found her eyes continued to linger on his back.
“The Feroxi army…” Cordelia murmured under her breath beside her, and Robin cast her a sad smile. Had they managed to get this kind of support earlier, things likely would have been easier. And it did not take a genius to know that Cordelia’s mind was lingering on the Pegasus Knights lost the day she and Robin met.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to finish this with them at our side.” The woman brightened, but it was too quick to be genuine. Robin nearly reached a hand out. The intent to rest on her shoulder or take hers but she simply could not. What comfort could she offer? None was the answer. Not with her empathy skills, anyway.
Robin doesn’t say a word as they walk up the steps to the palace, listening to the chitter chatter of the Shepherds, both shouting and whispering as they walked. A bit raucous to say the least, but it was understandable.
It’s a short walk, at the very least. Meeting solemn soldiers at the entrance, walking through the halls with high ceilings. Where Ylisse was like a cathedral, Ferox was like a warm barracks. Simple but still grand and wide, with wooden hallways and carved stone for its floors. Flavia lead them on, Robin struggling to both gawk at her surroundings and keep up.
It’s a little further before they’re in the doors, Robin’s speed letting her catch up to walk alongside Chrom and Lissa, through the doors and into the main throne room.
Wide, stone and carpeted, it was certainly a sight to behold. Braziers lit the edges, with some tables and chairs in the corners. It was not empty by any means. No, there were servants bustling around with trays and chair covers, some guards at some doors and Basilio himself, in the centre of the room talking with a scout, a creased brow on both their faces.
Something about the energy in the room was almost… manic. Off. And as the group approached, each one of the walking in the room, Robin felt her anxieties begin to rise. They do not falter when Basilio looks up, eyepatch and all, with both relief and worry in his eyes.
“Chrom! Gods, I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” He stepped away from the scout, and as they came to a stop Robin could see the concern carved into his face. Chrom went rigid beside her, before stepping forward, speaking.
“Is something wrong?” Robin began to think, looking between Basilio, the scouts and the servants whispering in the back corner of the room. Perhaps a town had been skirmished by Grimleal, or a segment of knights like Cordelia's had been cut down in battle? Robin’s mind ran through the scenario, as with the growing tension, her palms became warm as sweaty.
“Our scouts have reported back. It’s…” He trails off, and Chrom takes another step forward, Lissa a step behind him. Both look tensely wound.
“It’s what?” He demands more than asks, as Lissa’s eyes flickered back to lock with Robin’s before both women looked back to Basilio. The room was quiet, so quiet Robin could hear the blood in her ears. The nervous shuffling of feet behind her, and the snippets of whispers from servant to guard, and shepherd to shepherd. Basilio swallowed, looking between the two royals.
“Ylisstol… has fallen.”
Somehow, the room falls more silent than before. Crushing silence, silence that ripped and invaded and killed.
3 words are spoken. And after their initial shock, Robin can only look back and forth around the group as they destroy the shepherds. Disbelieving whispers, pained moans and gasps swept through them, filling the air with their with rising levels of distress.
Footsteps faltering, quiet sobs. Robin felt her entire being go distant as Basilio's words echoed through her head. Over and over and over again. Stabbing at her chest like a sharpened knife.
Chrom's voice spoke up, but in her numbness, Robin registered none of his words. Snippets passed through her mind as she stared down at the purple carpet, fingers shaking. Was this her fault somehow? Had her plans led them wrong?
It had been going so well. The Feroxi were mobilized, Khan Flavia was itching to fight at their sides. They'd made good time, Emmeryn had Phila for protection, so how could…
“The Plegians captured your exalt and took her back across their lines.” The next blow comes as they’re down, and it leaves Robin physically reeling. Her head close to spinning.
Emmeryn. Kidnapped. Border. Plegia. Some words caught in Robin's mind as she lurched, eyes fixed on Lissa and Chrom's faces, ivory white with horror, tears filling the princess's eyes, as they did her own. They'd been laughing not hours before, minutes before. Proud and ready to battle for their home and their sister.
‘Executed’ is the next thing out of Basilio's mouth that she hears, and suddenly the mornings' breakfast rises in her throat. Publically, no doubt. Her skin crawled, world blurring as the weight of what Emmeryn’s death would mean.
Robin is close to vomiting there and then, but Lissa's stumbling form catches her off guard. She has to lunge to grab her friend before she hits the ground, arms wrapping around her middle to stop a collision with the hard cobble ground.
“Lissa!” Holding Lissa as firm and steady as she could, Robin was powerless to do anything. Say, anything that could comfort her friend as she sobbed.
Around her as well he could see the other shepherds. Leaning against walls and pillars for support. Stahl with his hand out, looking for support from Sully. Donnel looking to Maribelle and Ricken, both looking just as physically sick. And Frederick…
Looking over, Robin found him to the side, against the wall. Frederick looked blank. Not stoic, or stern. But blank. Disbelieving. A hand resting stressfully in his tousled brown hair.
In her chest, Robin could feel her heart cracking, breaking, and her mind whirring.
“It's a trap.” You'd have to be a fool not to recognise it. Basilio commented in agreement. No doubt, were they to go to Emmeryn now, they'd all be slaughtered in some manner of assault or ambush. They needed to be careful. They needed to stop and think before risking any more atrocities.
“Are marching to Plegia.” Chrom cut Robin off, silencing his tactician through sheer shock and horror. He couldn't be… no. No, he was serious. He had that look in his eye.
“Well, that's one option but-”
“I don't care if it's a trap, Basilio, he's going to murder my sister!” With Chrom's harsh words came the harsher, cutting reality. Murder. A war crime. That was what this was. What would be remembered in the history books, if they did not stop it.
“Peace, Chrom. No one's saying we shouldn't act. We're saying we should act wisely,” Flavia interjected sternly, stabbing her sword at the ground. A serious look painted her face, as she locked eyes with Robin for the second time that day.
“We’ll need guts and wits in equal measure if we’re to save your sister.” Hesitant as she was, Robin nodded, and with an arm still around Lissa, she took a step towards Chrom.
“The Khans are right,” She said softly, reaching out to rest a hand on his shoulder. A lump was forming in her throat. “I…” She began, looking to the ground before taking a deep breath.
“I’ll think of something, Chrom. I promise.” Robin said, not so sure about how confident she was in those words herself. She’d thought on her feet a thousand times before. In the canyon where they met Cordelia, the night of Emmeryn’s assassination. Even back in the village the day she first woke up. But that was when the adrenaline was pumping her blood and body to the limit. Not when she was a state of grief and despair.
“All right, Robin…” Chrom said, looking to her as he spoke. A pit beginning to form in her stomach as he agreed. “I’ll leave formulating a plan up to you.”
Just like that he’d agreed. Because she’d been so sudden to offer. As the nerves begin to rip at her insides, Flavia addresses her in full.
“Are you certain you’re up to the task, Robin? It won’t be easy. You hold the Exalt’s life in one hand, and all ours in the other.” No, she wants to answer. She wants to tell them how sure she is that she isn’t ready, to have so much possible blood on her hands. She wanted to say ‘I don’t know’ at the very least. Sure, she could plan. Maybe most days that was all she was good for, but this…
Her eyes flickered over to the shepherds. Sumia, leaning against Cordelia as the two friends watched for her answer. Her close friends. She looked at Donnel and Ricken, Sully, Stahl, Vaike. Maribelle and Panne, Miriel and even Lon’qu. Her eyes finally, painfully resting on Frederick. Finding that same blank expression, locking eyes with an intense, fierya glare. Her stomach steeling, she looked back to Flavia.
“A responsibility I do not take lightly,” She said, taking in a deep breath, straightening out her back. “But I am equal to the challenge.” She stated, ignoring the doubt at the back of her mind that grated at her every word. Her shoulders dropped when she heard Flavia’s bark of a laugh.
“Ha! You’ve got stone, at least. I like that!” ‘Thank you?’ Robin nearly answered, but thought better of it.
“No hesitation, no mincing of words… She’s either a genius or a fool.” Oh, fool. She was a fool alright, but any tactician had to be to choose the job by which they defined themselves.
“I suppose we’ll find out when we march.” Walking over to Robin, he gave her a slap on the back that nearly knocked the wind out of her.
“Hold onto your tassets, Ylisseans.” He shouted to the melancholy group. “We’ve an Exalt to save!”
With that, the meeting was over. The Khans insisting for the group to rest. Each shepherd was allotted their own private room. Many of them opting to stay with each other in some cases. The shock and exhaustion still washing over them. Tears dried and wet still staining their faces as one by one they slipped away, all unsure of what exactly they could say.
The room gifted to Frederick by the Khan of Regna Ferox was a fine one indeed. With rich red curtains and beds laid with thick woollen sheets, this room and the others that were briefly lending themselves to the temporary aid were sure to leave the group well rested, under the assumption that this would be a night where they could get any rest at all.
It is a shame, in Fredericks mind, that he can scarcely remember how such a room came within his possession. Well- Remember he could, the matter of making sense of the past few hours? Of coping with its cruel revelations?
That was another story entirely.
He remembers travelling with his lieges through the snow and the long walk to Regna Ferox. He remembers talking with Lissa about the horror of facing another dinner with bear meat, planning with Chrom over where to move next after reaching the Khan's city. He'd been worrying himself over the smallest details of everything. The horses, the growing time it was taking for them to arrive in the allied country, he’d even found himself worrying over Robin’s attire. Such small details had seemed so big, all those hours ago.
Flashing images in his mind made from an all too vibrant imagination clashed with pain. Pain in his chest, sharp like a serrated edge to a blade. Pain stronger, more virulent and mind-numbing than any attack, physical or magical, could ever manage.
How could this happen?
How did he get here?
After such a long and gruelling trek into the country, Frederick found himself happy to be met with the intimidating, bleak stone walls of Regna Ferox. High and mighty, towering over the half-frozen group, the could have been made from the wood of the sweetest, friendliest looking cottage, for that was all the exhausted group of Ylissians saw.
The chill was not something that affected him badly, unlike some of his less fortunately clothed allies. No, it was anxiety more than anything that drew him towards the palace gates after the brief meeting in the arena. The guards who stood in their solemn duty went to strict attention at the fast approach of his lord.
"They certainly look happy to see us," Chrom had commented to the knight, who bore the words no mind. He'd served long enough to recognise a grim situation. Blood pounding in his ears, the anticipation for fresh news overtook the knight.
Not that the anticipation prepared him for what was to unfold in that throne room.
In the room that the Khan had so graciously given him for the night, Frederick thought he could find solace, but it was not so. Rather the quiet was deafening and deadly. Feeling dragged down, sluggish almost. His armour, though removed from his body, does nothing to lift the crushing weight upon his ribs. Ripping into him like a wild animal, and it reminds him of a time in his childhood he would much prefer to forget. On both sides of his walls, up and down the hallway lined doors were the rooms that held his fellow Shepherds.
His hands rested on the stone windowsill with an eerie stillness, white with the tight grip he has on the carved rock. His eyes focusing past the window, looking further than the snow-capped roofs of the homes outside. From behind him, vaguely, he hears the slow, creaking opening of a door.
"I'm sorry, Chrom." Flavia spoke with a deep sincerity that Frederick was reluctant to say shook him to his very core. Outside the throne room, the news had just hit. Everyone was standing in the foyer, spread out and silent, a pin could have been heard, dropping down the stone staircase like the hearts of all those who stood beside him. For this information could not be right- there had to be some mistake.
"Ylisse..." Lissa murmured, stepping back for a moment as Maribelle surged forward to hold her arm, pain painted across the noble's own face. Frederick, in the face of the news of the destruction, stayed still. Like the statue of a solemn athlete, the inner workings of which could not be determined, by even the most perceptive of people. No. Frederick stayed steadfast, as he always must.
The knight bears no mind to the sound of an opening door just behind him. A maid, a servant. A person who did not come before his current thoughts, before his bitter mourning.
Ylisse stormed, destroyed. Many of its people slaughtered by the Plegian army. Fire in the streets and blood on the roads, Frederick can imagine it all too viscerally. All so detailed, gruesome and well.
The Exalt. His Exalt, gone. Taken by the Mad King himself.
And what was he doing? Enjoying the quiet leisure of a peaceful village, hundreds of miles away from the people who needed him most. The burning buildings, the dead that likely lay in the streets. The thought was enough to send his stomach lurching.
“Are you okay?” Lurching, and then diving, as he is brought out of his memories. Recognizing the owner of a cautious voice from the doorway. Not a servant, and certainly not a maid.
“No, Robin.” Without turning around, the knight speaks with alarming coolness. Knuckles turning white as they strained, before relaxing, as he turned to face her. “I’m angry.”
To this, it seems the tactician has no reply. No nervous, suspicious smile that he'd seen her use following an awkward comment. No solution, like she seemed so quick to offer when looking over maps and battle plans with Chrom. Robin simply said nothing and stared.
“Why are you here?” His fingers pinch at the bridge of his nose, and for the first time, he sees no point in hiding his exhaustion, or indeed any weakness from the suspected spy's gaze.
Still only inches from the half-closed door, Robin ran a nervous tongue across her lips. It was only a few feet of room between them, but the two seemed worlds away.
“I was checking in on everyone,” She started to speak, eyes flickering to the door, her fingers pinching the skin on the back of her hand. Frederick took note of the bags under her eyes and the slump of her shoulders.
“I’m fine.” He interrupted swiftly, like the killing blow of an axe. Noting a quick flash in her eyes, before she shot back a quick reply.
“You don’t look fine.” Any other day, Frederick would have taken offence to the suggestion he wasn't working at his full capacity. But this was not any other day, and he wasn't in the sort of situation that allowed him to pay mind to something as trivial as his own wellbeing. Not at a time like this.
"Do you have a plan?" Arms firmly crossed, the knight stares Robin down. He's sure it's quite a sight, the low light of the night sky, painted with stars and carpeted with snow as the background to his intimidating figure. Complying quickly with the subject change, Robin finds confidence in the sudden structure and safety that came with discussing plans.
"Yes.” She responded, sharp and quick, and Frederick is left to inhale deeply when she follows the definite statement with a less than convincing retraction. “I think I do."
"And it's going to bring her back?" He pushes the subject, taking a step forward, and paying close attention to the woman's body language. How her eyes flickered around the room, anywhere but his face. How her hands fidgeted with her clothes and picked at her own skin. How well she walked the line between an anxious, amnesia plagued woman, and a terribly trained, awfully suspicious spy.
So much so that Frederick was hardly sure for which character she was playing most the time.
"I... I think so." She tells him, crossing her own arms so tight she might as well have wrapped them around her body. Frederick, he shakes his head. A defensive action. The kind Lissa would do when he was questioning her about missing sweets from a jar. Resting his hand on the back of a nearby chair, pushed into a neatly organized desk, Frederick does his best not to think about what would happen were he and the Shepherds to fail. What would happen to Ylisse were they unable to win this fight. What would happen to its people, were they to be left leaderless.
What life would be like, were they unable to recover Emmeryn at all.
Swallowing hard, Frederick takes the same tone he would when speaking to newly trained troops. One laced with the hardened temperament he’d grown to define himself by.
"That's not good enough. Not for Chrom or Lissa, and not for Ylisse.” With a cold fire burning within him, Frederick repeats his question.
“Will it bring her back?"
And with a sharp tongue, and a similar temperament, Robin, for the first time, talks back.
"I don’t know!” She snaps, her hands quitting their idling to throw out at her sides, palms facing the ceiling.
“I don't know, okay? I can't predict the future, I can't promise that right now. I can't just make every plan perfect with a snap of my fingers. Not without a lot of thought." With every word her volume changes. Rising, wavering, with a hesitant, unsure energy throughout that only made the tightness in his chest worse.
A tactician couldn't have this sort of self-doubt. They couldn't stutter or stumble, and they certainly couldn't risk instilling this sort of insecurity or wavering bravery in their fellow soldiers. And like it or not, a tactician was what Robin was. And if Frederick had to be the one to remind her of this harsh truth? Then so be it.
It's with swift, long-striding steps that Frederick closes the gap between them both, barely noticing as Robin stumbled backwards, her back hitting the wood as the knight stopped, just short of half an arms reach in front of her.
“Then think, Robin. And make it perfect." He spoke harshly, watching her wide eyes as they fixed themselves on his solely face.
"It's more than just her life on the line." She looks like she has more to say. A thousand words kept behind her tight lips, bitten back by gritted teeth and a set jaw. But they are words Frederick never hears, as with a soft exhale, and one final intense look, Robin slips out the door and into the hallway, leaving Frederick to rest his head against its wooden body, blood pumping in his ears.
It's frustrating to him that he is now more grounded than he was before she came in. That his grasp on the physicality of his surroundings is that much more tangible than when his head was clouded with destructive thoughts.
She'd come here to check on him. After likely checking on all the others as well. She had to know there was nothing she could have said to fix the pain he felt. That anyone felt. She had to know.
But she'd tried to help. And though it vexed him to such a great degree to admit it, she did, in a way. Focusing him. Giving him a glimpse of a goal. Even if that tightness was still ever present, tugging and prickling at his chest.
Only now is the weariness taking his body. Days travel and hours of emotional torment taking their toll, weighing down on him like the heaviest armour. Sleep still feels so far and foreign, like an unattainable goal. But a goal he would pursue nonetheless.
Pulling back from the door, with slowly opening eyes, Frederick sighed, and without his normal decorum, began to pull off his day clothes, and settling into the too-warm, too-comfortable Feroxian bed.
Tonight was time for sleep. Rest, at the very least could he manage it.
And come tomorrow, he would make sure that in the very least, someone had a plan.
Hey! If you're reading this, this means that I've finished updating this entire story for edits and am now done with my rework, and working towards writing more! I'm thrilled to now be at this point, so I can get into the deeper parts of the story, and I hope you all enjoy what I've written and the changed and additions I've made!
Chapter 8: Cold Absence
Hey guys! If it's been a while since you've read this story I'd advise going back and rereading as I've merged chapters, added new ones and changed some things. If not, please enjoy!
Outside of Frederick’s room, was a long stretch of hallway. Empty save for a few dimming scones and a table holding a flowerless vase. Lukewarm in its temperature, Feroxian in its design. Robin would have appreciated it more were her eyes not screwed so tightly shut.
With her head resting on a barrier of a wooden door, she was with laboured breath. Heaving like she’d run a marathon. Her eyes stinging, and her teeth grinding.
That was, going off of her very broken memory, the first time anyone had ever raised their voice with her off the battlefield. Sure of it, she stands still with clenched fists. Yes, as far as she could remember, that was her first time being in a fight with someone.
It was so… stupid. This entire situation.
Sucking in another breath she let her mind wander to Fredericks form at the window before it’s suddenly gone with the air in her lungs.
How entirely stupid of her to try to see him after such awful revelations. How completely idiotic of her to think he’d want comfort from anyone, or at the very least from her. Walking in there with no ideas on what to say and the full knowledge of how deeply he felt about the royal family and his country. Her, going in there with the intent to talk him down and into a better headspace? Her, standing there, when it was well known that he hated her presence. Hated her everything.
Feeling a sob choking in her throat, and her frustrations rise once more, Robin stepped backwards till her back hit the opposite wall, her head resting against its surface as her arms wrapped around her middle protectively.
So stupid, Every single thing about this situation, about her- It was stupid.
Robin hated that a part of her would be content just standing here all night. Bubbling in self-loathing out in this hallway until inevitably passing out here or in her room from exhaustion. She'd be fine with doing just that if it weren't for the fact that it wouldn't solve anything. Self-pity or wallowing wouldn't fix this. Her fingernails digging into her arms as she screwed her eyes shut, trying to block tears from escaping her.
Where was that confidence she had back in the throne room? Maybe it had only been a surge, but she’d felt it. She could feel the ghost of it now. It was proof that she could muster her courage and speak up, if only for a second. She wished she could cling to it and use it to face that which was tearing her down both inside and out. Her heart burned to feel fueled by that fire, to be driven to a new purpose.
But in the hallway, she found nothing but the sting of tears in her eyes and heartache of another kind.
And it is there she would likely have lingered, did approaching footsteps, echoing towards her not trigger a mad dash to scrub any evidence of her strife from her face with her hands.
“Robin? What are you doing out here?” Exhausted is the voice, but still so full of sweet concern. Unsurprised as to his ability to hone in on her, Robin looked up to found Chrom standing just a few meters down the hall, dressed in casual clothes.
“I was just… wandering around,” She lied, shrugging as she let out a sniffle. She'd have worried about being questioned, but something in the bags under his eyes and the messier than normal blue hair told her that she could get away with this dishevelled state this time. She cleared her throat.
“Are you… well. No, you're not okay.” Robin started and then backtracked immediately. Chrom looked to the floor for a moment, eyes glassy, before flicking up to meet hers. The eye contact made her instantly nervous. Then again, when didn’t it.
Chrom had seemed fueled by her words in the throne room. No, she knew he had been. That fire that was always present within him burned brighter after she spoke. She should have felt happy to have such an effect on her friends' mood, but the only emotion coursing through her right now was sharp, virulent guilt.
“No but… I will be.” Confidence floods his tone and a feeling of dread tugs at her stomach lining. Because there's something in the brief flash of fire in his eyes that tells her that what he's about to say, will be nothing good.
“With you planning this I'm sure… no. I know we can win this.” The sure strength in his tone could have killed her. It should have killed her right then and there. Just stopped her heart and had been done with it. But as Chrom stared on at her with such a dedicated look in his eyes, Robin found no release through death.
“R-Really?” She stuttered, trying not to sound like she’d been shattered just then. Her planning wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even a plan yet. She’d just spoken out all of the sudden, with no basis yet to work off of.
“Yes. You've never once let us down,” Yet.
“And I've seen you in action,” Not closely enough, apparently.
“You're talented,” Because wielding a tome made her so clever.
“I know that whatever you come up with, it'll work.” How? How could he be so sure?
Genuinely, she wanted to drop to her knees and ask him how. Beg him for an answer as to why he had put so much faith in her from the very beginning when she barely trusted herself.
She wanted to ask him how he could be standing here in front of her with dry cheeks, and not sobbing in his room, or giving up altogether. She wanted to plead for a morsel of that resolve to use in her everyday life. But she knows the answer was simply that those things were not Chrom. That sort of weakness wasn't who he was.
So who was she?
It's in complete silence she stares on at him. There’s nothing she can say or do. Nothing at all as he looks on with the confidence of an army of a hundred thousand men. She cannot say a word in response that can affirm his trust, nor destroy it.
Was that who she was?
In that quiet, his eyes fog for a moment, before his throat clears. Followed by a purposeful gaze looked past her, down the hall. He begins to walk.
“I… I should head to bed. Lissa is sharing with me tonight, and I don't want to leave her alone any longer. Goodnight, Robin.” Resting a hand on her shoulder as he passed, Robin gave what could barely be considered a nod.
“Goodnight, Chrom.” She murmured half-heartedly, as his figure leaves her peripheral, the footsteps turn to nothing and he simply disappeared.
She didn’t notice. Her mind was somewhere else.
A full minute of being wrapped up in her personal crisis passes. With Robin swaying a little as her thoughts consume her. All that time feels like an eternity, and it’s only just after that that Robin finally decides to part ways with the hard exterior of Fredericks room, and the hall. Walking and turning corners to approach her room, the same 3 words echoing in her head
Who was she? Who was she?
There's no answer beyond the fog that clouds her mind whenever she looks to her past giving her nothing but strife and confusion.
No answers, but there is another question. One that has awoken her many times through the night. And one that is cruel enough to do the same on this awful, cursed day. Attacking her long after she reaches her room and quickly locks the door.
That invasive thought poking and prodding her, like the tip of a dagger on the crown of her head. Giving her painful headaches. Permeating in her mind as she stripped down to her nightclothes and threw herself under the covers, moaning in desperation at the intrusive thoughts.
Who was she? No.
Who is she now?
She was… she was...
No one at all
Burrowing further under the covers she tries to block it out. Building a downy fortress as her weak defence.
She was no one.
With her fingers grasping at her head, Robin sat up with a soft cry. Tears springing at her eyes. No one. No one. No one at all.
That was the answer to that insufferable question, wasn't it? The reality haunting her every time she tried to talk and joke with her comrades. People she was knowing more about every day. Who had more to them than she could even begin to hope for or imagine.
Stumbling to her feet, nearly getting caught in the bedcovers, Robin stood, a hand on a wall keeping her upright. Her cheeks stained with tears, her eyes burning with exhaustion and pain.
There was a war going on. There were people dying, right now. People who were suffering as she sat there and cried for herself. People who were relying on her. Chrom and Lissa. Frederick. Emmeryn. Every friendly villager she'd met, every shepherd she'd bonded with. Everyone was relying on her.
An empty person.
Empty, save for the melancholy that always tugged at her heart. Empty, like the cavity in her chest while the space in her head whirred with a sharp intelligence that meant nothing without a personality behind it. Cracking her eyes open, she blinked away tears till she could take a proper look at her surroundings.
Walls. Door. Floor. Furniture. Shapes undefined. Dark.
Short of breath, she focused on the details. One hand holding her stomach as she heaved and blinked.
Her romance novel on the bedside table. Closer, the outline of the poor heroine’s rejection. Her stomach turned and she looked away.
No. Something else.
Her coat lying at the end of the bed. Purple, patterned. Unfamiliar yet the possession she identified with above all.
A pillow, discarded by her tossing and turning, lying dejected on the floor. She breathed sharply.
The doorknob. Brass, metal. Shiny and eye-catching, reflecting… reflecting...
Moonlight. Cutting through the inky blackness of the room. Peeking through the half pulled curtains on her window.
Moonlight so sharp it grabbed her attention, and briefly took her breath. Letting her follow it across the room, to the door as she reached its end the space beside it.
On her borrowed wooden desk. Messy and laid out with blank paper and numerous writing utensils. It's chair pushed out, waiting.
Robin swallowed, her mouth turning dry.
Waiting for its blank pages to be filled.
Robin was… empty. This was an unavoidable truth. She was battle plans, wrapped up in a purple coat and a timid frame. Not human, not a person. She filled notebook after notebook in the hopes that the words she constructed and communicated would be enough to fill her own self up.
But it never did. And she was never sated. No matter how many ideas she pushed out, in the hopes of pulling something new in.
What did she want to be?
Stepping forward, she shook. Letting the sound of bare feet against stone floor ground her. A sound as sharp as the feeling of the cold wood against her hand as she rested it on the back of the chair. The smell of long burnt candles hinting in the air.
And now she found herself in her chair.
And her fingers found a pencil. Comfort following, in turn.
Robin had spent night after night alone. Pouring her fleeting being into plans for fleeting moments. She'd poured over books till her back would crack and pop at any movement. Written till her hand was ink-stained, cramped and strained.
She’d known glimpses of that something more. Like the flickering, dying flames of fire from her flash of determination hours ago, that still lingered there. Decisive. Confident.
She liked the sound of that.
Robin had been empty for what felt like an eternity. From the moment she'd woken up in that field, she'd felt like nothing more than an amnesiatic husk. For months, she'd searched for meaning in a job gifted to her by those who she clung to for support.
For so many sleepless nights before, Robin had drained herself. Thinking of ways to keep the others happy, to keep herself by their side. To learn. To grow. To change. To change into anything but she, who was so hatefully nothing inside.
Clenched, her fingers moved to scribe the first letter. A hallow being forcing the dregs of courage into actions. Grasping the sense of another, better self for purpose. A light, however fleeting, building to a ghost formation. Built with the goal to push away the cold, avaricious obscurity that hung around her in the last hours of the dusk and threatened to seep in.
In a cold and empty room, Robin wrote her way to a night unlike the others.
Chapter 9: Introspection
To say Cordelia slept much that night would be a lie.
The events of the day prior were heavy in her mind, long after she'd risen to get dressed. Every Shepherd she crossed paths with on her way to get food and any further information on their situation walked with shoulders drooped, eyes red and weighed down by dark purple bags.
Chrom, though working with a heart that seemed close to breaking, planned and worked with a furious determination that was frightening in a way. Though Cordelia was not always privy to what happened behind closed doors, she could see it in the way he talked to Frederick and Lissa. The fire in his eyes. The strength in his voice. It was a fire and strength that pushed her to her own limits. Checking every piece of her armour, practising every swing of her arm and stab of her lance. Preparing, while the army built up their numbers to swell, for the coming war.
It took a day for them to gather themselves. And the very next morning at the break of dawn, 2 days after the news, the army moved out.
This time nobody complained of the cold. Nobody talked, really. Even Vaike with his constant little instigating comments was silent as everyone moved as one conglomerated swarm.
Cordelia was quick to take point on her pegasus, with Sumia helping as they soared over the endless line of troops, moving like a dark metal river through the pure white snow. There is no risk of a risen attack. Not with forces this big and overwhelmingly armed. But Cordelia still patrolled over the moving soldiers, in the hope that it would bring some small comfort that they all desperately needed.
Below she could make out the shepherds, quiet as they moved. In the hour that had passed since they'd exited Regna Ferox's gates, some conversations had bloomed. Quiet, but just audible if she were to swoop down low enough.
“Lissa, dear. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to ride with me?”
“Uh, hey. Stahl. I know you get real hungry on these things, so I snagged you some bacon before we left. Don’t look at me like that, you bastard. Just take it.”
Obviously, now more than ever, the Shepherds were looking out for one another. Each offering the other support in their own ways. Careful not to fly too low, in fear of hitting her companions heads with her pegasi’s hooves, Cordelia watched her friends as they all talked.
All but two.
Cordelia can't find it in herself to feel surprised as she watched Frederick and Robin moving silently.
Not together, no. Never together.
Frederick and his horse kept near the front of the group, keeping a close watch on Chrom, while Robin trailed behind, with her head in a tactics book.
The two had been solemn since leaving the city walls. Frederick was always serious, yes, but there was something far more intense in his focus, with more force in his movements and strides. And Robin…
Robin was different. Now more than ever she was reading, writing and handing things off to Chrom. There were whispers about the fire she showed in the throne room. And whispers about her elusive past, and that Plegian coat.
But most interesting was the tension between the knight and the tactician. It was sharper and edged with conflict. Some murmurs suggested they were close to a full-blown argument, but Cordelia…
Something had happened. And the pegasus knight was determined to know what.
The army made camp some hours later. Though they’d only been walking a day, they were pushing themselves harder and further than when they’d been on their way to Regna Ferox. The Feroxian army was used to the cold as well, which meant they were moving quicker over the land. It would likely only be a day more until they reached the village the Shepherds had taken their rest at all those days ago. This time, however, they wouldn’t be stopping.
They marched a few more hours before finally stopping just before night had fallen. Making camp took an hour and after dinner, most were settling in, more than ready for a long sleep.
Army tents, both Ylissean and Feroxian in design spanned outwards like a never-ending sea of harsh tarp. Their bland colours would have looked vibrant against the snowy wastes, were it not for the heavy clouds blocking the moon. Leaving dim, weak torchlight to haphazardly light the way.
Cordelia's own tent was long set up, her weapons and armour deposited precisely beside her cot and her pegasus carefully hitched with Sumia’s, in a field not far from her.
Logically, she knew she should be in bed. The army would be rousing early, and there was little time for rest. But as she laid out her nightclothes, she was unable to fight off the curiosity that poked and prodded at her mind.
Robin’s tent as only a row or two away... And Cordelia had more than enough time for a quick chat… right?
It wasn't like the tactician slept much without the distraction. In fact, with all that had happened, a distraction was surely exactly what Robin needed, right?
Yes. Yes, she was sure of it.
Quietly, Cordelia slid through the tent flap, as if she were a teenager sneaking out of their parent's house. Walking to a friends tent was hardly the most illicit thing Cordelia could do, but she still found herself moving swiftly, deftly hopping over ropes and tent pegs, lest she trip and collapse a tent upon some poor foot soldier. The cold air nipped at her heels and casual clothes and she thanked Naga she had not yet donned her nightclothes.
There wasn’t much to Robin’s tent. It was bland enough that Cordelia was sure that she’d never have found it; without the sheer luck of spotting the tactician moving her sparse collection of things into the temporary abode.
She considered knocking for a second and then thought better of it when she remembered there wasn’t much to gain from effectively punching fabric. So instead she simply pulled aside the flap and stepped inside, calling the tacticians name gently.
There was, of course, a risk that Robin was asleep and Cordelia was about to wake her up. A tiny risk. An utterly minuscule risk if the constant purple bags under the tactician's eyes were any evidence. But a sleeping Robin was certainly far more likely in Cordelia’s mind than what she beheld as she stepped inside. A sight that had her words fall dead on her tongue.
They covered the ground, stacked high in corners and the little nightstand table. Even spilling over into the cot, covered in quickly drawn squiggles and diagrams, mixed intermittently with tactics books, tomes and god knows what else. It was like a library had been hit by an Elwind and exploded. And then been pushed into a pile with some surviving books. And then exploded some more with a Rexcalibur.
It was a nightmare, and seated in the middle of it, on the floor of all places, with her hair undone and frazzled, was Robin.
“Cordelia?” She asked as if she wasn’t sure of the pegasus knight was real. Cordelia herself was questioning reality because, Naga, there were so many papers, it was inhuman. She gaped a few seconds like a fish before answering.
“I... wanted to… check on you.” She mumbled. Yes, she knew Robin had been working harder, but this? It was ungodly. It was frightening and so very disorganized. It was worrying.
Robin caught her gaze and looked around at the gathering of papers sheepishly. She seemed at least somewhat aware of the absurdity of the situation.
For a moment, at least.
“I… I haven't thought anything out yet.” Okay. Well, that was blatantly untrue.
“Really?” Cordelia asked as she loitered by the doorway, in fear of walking on something important. Robin didn’t meet her eyes for a second, looking down to the pencil and half scrawled on paper.
“Because it looks to me like you’ve been thinking all too much.” Kneeling down, Cordelia picked up the nearest paper. On it, were drawings of terrain. A scenario where the army would be fighting in the sand. Looking over, she found another, this time with a map of a river. Separate formations were marked in separate inks. There was another, detailing ruins. Another, theorizing possible Plegian architectural building layouts.
Everything was thought of. To the point where everything was being overthought. Every movement, every line and letter were written in handwriting edged in desperation. Once she’d collected a good ten of them, she stacked them together and looked Robin in the eyes.
“You need to tell me what’s wrong.” No asking, this time, like Cordelia had in the barracks, and later on with the girls in Lissa’s tent. No observing like she had on her pegasi earlier that day. No more guessing and dancing around it.
“I know something is wrong.” She said again when Robin met her eyes, Twirling a pencil between her fingers, looking to the papers in Cordelia’s hands.
Cordelia had expected more romantic troubles with Frederick. Something that the knight could easily help with. This? This was out of her range. This was out of her depth and— yes Cordelia maybe had some small, minuscule issues with perfectionism but they were hardly anything worth mentioning in comparison to— to— well, this!
“I don’t know if I can explain it,” Robin admitted, beginning to pick up the papers and books. There was a distant look in her eyes as she moved them into her own piles, glancing to Cordelia as she did. The air was thick with a loud silence, and after a full, painful minute Robin had cleared a space around her and looked to Cordelia again.
“I can’t explain it.” Robin decided, rubbing a hand over her face. She looked tired. So, so tired. But she didn’t stop, scooping a pile up, shuffling over to the entrance of the tent, closer to Cordelia who listened intently.
“But if you give me a chance then I think…” She gestured to the papers, all of them. Clutching a group in her fist that she loosened her grip on, before offering them to Cordelia.
“I think that these can.” Cautiously, Cordelia took the papers in her hands. She wasn’t going to lie and say she understood what was going on. She wasn’t going to pretend she wasn’t alarmed by what exactly was happening with their tactician. But Robin needed someone to listen. And Cordelia had offered her that days ago.
So if Robin felt that these papers were the answer- or at least some answer of any kind to what had been weighing on her- hurting her. Then Cordelia would listen.
So with her legs crossed, as the thousands of others headed to bed for the night, Cordelia took the papers and held them close to her chest.
And she listened. For the good of her friend, she listened.
And Robin’s rambling began.
She hadn’t expected any visitors that night, but then again when did Robin ever invite anyone over. Had she known Cordelia was coming she would’ve made an effort to clean up, but it was perhaps her messiness that made it that much easier to explain what was happening inside her head.
"Two nights ago I talked to Frederick, in his room." Robin watched Cordelia's eyes glint. Like she had finally found something she could understand.
"I wanted to see if he was okay and he was not and we fought. Like, we had an actual fight. With yelling. And then I went back to my room and—" Did Cordelia need to know about her breakdown? Robin doubted that would make her seem anything but weak in the eyes of the pegasus knight.
She would leave that out.
"I realized that— I understood—" Robin stuttered and stumbled before biting down on her tongue. No. None of that.
“These are my thoughts," Robin said, gesturing to the papers.
"My thoughts and my plans. And they’re… all I have, really. My ideas. My failures. My successes. Does that make sense?” That night in her room at Regna Ferox still weighed heavy in her head. Robin didn’t sleep. She just wrote. She didn’t eat that morning, she just wrote. Over and over and over she came up with plans and offered them to Chrom. They would be shot down and redone, or they would be accepted and put in the pile of possible contingencies when the time to battle came.
She didn’t speak to Frederick after visiting him that night, and the knight seemed to like it that way. His eyes still burned into her back each time she approached Chrom. Watching and scrutinizing but it was nothing compared to the burning in her chest.
Who am I?
Who am I?
“This is me, Cordelia. This is it. Blank papers with scribbles. I’m just scribbles. I write scribbles. They work or they don’t. They make people happy, or they don’t.” She watched her friend closely for any comment. Any denial or attempt to cheer her up. But Cordelia was silent in shock. Cordelia was just listening.
Robin tried another approach.
“I’ve heard people talking about it, so what do you think about what happened that day? In the throne room?" Cordelia blinked and thought for a second, then another. Pursing her lips and hm-ing, like the possible words she could say were rolling over her tongue.
“If you mean when you spoke up, people are talking about it because it was just so sudden and so… completely out of character.” There it was. Robin barked a short laugh.
“Was it?” She asked, going back to collecting her papers. Sorting maps and writings and theories in, what were to her, clear piles.
“What?” Beside her, Robin hears shuffling and she turns her head just in time to see Cordelia laying papers on the cot beside her. Organized in a way Cordelia seemed to understand.
And one that Robin just... couldn't.
“I… I don't know. I just… I don't think I can say it's out of character. Because I don't even know what's in character for me.” She looks away from her friend's collection of papers, instead seeking out the last of the books.
It's around now that it really occurs to her how frightening and manic a sight this must be.
“I'm sorry." She freezes and then rushes to pick everything up.
"I know you didn't come here to hear me like… this.” Flustered now, Robin harried herself. Gathering things up in a flurry of arms and sheets.
“No, It's okay. I understand.” Understood what? That Robin was manic? One-tone? Probably insane? With a swift motion, she pushed everything onto her bed.
2 days and 2 nights worth of ramblings and desperation.
“I… I don't. I don't understand anything.”
She could feel herself returning back to that pitiful state. Wrapped up in her covers on the brink of tears. Feeling pain. Feeling confused.
Her fingers tightened around the edge of the cot, and she gripped it till it hurt. And she fought it. With all the force she could muster, Robin fought.
And then let go.
“I don't know who I am." She whispered, letting her grip loosen like the words she spoke into the air. Openly, not just in her mind or too herself.
She admitted it to another person.
"I don't know who I am and I don't know who I was either. I'm terrified I'll never know and I'll always be like this, and I'm terrified that what I'll learn about my past will make me wish I had amnesia all over again. I don't know if there are people out who— who care about me. Who are out there, waiting for me, or looking for me. I try to think and everything is just… blurry. Messy, like scribbles.” At some point, as her words rushed out like an overflowing river, Cordelia had shuffled over. Quietly, carefully. Having taken a seat close to Robin's side. Offering a question.
“Well… if you can't work with what you may have had, what about what you know? How do you want to be?” How did she want to be?
“I don't know." Robin's shoulders moved in a weak shrug.
"I feel like I don't know anything.” No. No that was a lie. That was her trying to get out of talking. She would not abide that.
“What I mean is, look at everyone and I want to take on their traits. I want to be observant like you. Kind like Sumia, fun like Lissa. I want to be steadfast and confident like Frederick and I want to be the kind of person someone would follow into battle, like Chrom. But adopting all those things onto myself wouldn't make me, me. It'd just be acting.”
“Then be you.” Easy. Simple as could be. Probably one of the easiest things most grown, adult women could do.
Easy if that was what you wanted.
“I can't. I don't… I don't want to be.” There's a heavy feeling in Robin's chest. Clenching, aching and pinching. Embarrassment is not something she's totally unfamiliar to. But there was something particularly embarrassing about admitting you were embarrassed— no, horrified by the thought of being yourself.
Cordelia was so quiet as Robin ranted. The decisive, intelligent and wonderful woman seemed unable to decide on words. She just watched Robin, who watched her papers. Begging, hoping, pleading that the only person observant enough to know something was wrong would be able to give her an answer.
Instead, Robin is offered a question.
“Robin, do you like the way you are now? Are you happy with yourself?” Was she happy?
“... No,” It's a simple answer to a complicated question, which filled her mind with complicated thoughts.
She wasn't happy with how she was now because how she was now didn't feel right. Didn't feel like a person she wanted to be, at the very least.
Focusing on her cot, she gazed over the towns in her plans again.
Fusing her own views of herself with what people told her, how they viewed her. She defined her current self by that.
“When people talk about me— describe me, they say 'Oh, well, she's a tactician. she makes choices on the battlefield. She's a person who acts good and follows most of the rules. She reads books and she sits in areas that are quiet.' That's what they say. So I think that's what I am.” She paused, looking over to Cordelia, still watching closely from where she was seated neatly on the ground
“Does all of that sound accurate to you?” Robin asked the flier, who chewed her lip for a moment, likely wondering what exactly to say.
“Yes, but…” She began with a raising hand and then faltered. Robin ignored that and egged her on.
“Well, like you said. Those are decisions. They're something you do.” Quietly, Cordelia spoke, and Robin nodded with a small, melancholy smile.
“Exactly.” She said softly, leaning back on her arms.
It was the things Robin did that caught people's attention. From a week ago, back in the barracks, when Cordelia first called her out on her strange behaviour, everything she did that made her suspicious in Fredericks mind.
It was her behaviour that caught people's eyes.
She was a good tactician because she made decisions that helped them win. That was why Chrom had her join the shepherds. She was quiet and didn't socialize, which was why she was invited to hang out with all the girls.
Robin was actions. Robin was doing and overthinking.
But Robin was one more thing, behind all of the actions she took and things she did not say.
Robin was an amnesiac.
And she was terrified to forever wallow as that defining state.
“I'm not a person... I-I don't feel like a person.” Sure, physically she was. All her parts and her intellect matched the definition at the very least. But did she ever think of herself in a broader sense, things got blurry. Ultimately it would bring about the mind-fog, frustratingly obfuscating any truths. Then with it, would bring the aching headaches at the pique of her skull in tow.
“I don’t want to be quiet,” Pulling away from the pain, she thought briefly of her moment in Frederick room days ago. More accurately, how genuinely liberating it felt to snap, just for once. And the feeling of venting her actual thoughts and opinions to other living breathing humans instead of letting them whir around in her mind.
“I don't like being quiet.” Her words were spat with a sharp bitterness. Peace and quiet being around her was a gift, for sure. But quiet wasn't Robin. It wasn't what she wanted to be, at the very least.
Because quiet got her pity from her comrades. It got her mostly overlooked until it came to needing a second voice on the battle. And while quiet didn't mean weak, it gave many that assumption towards her. And other assumptions. All dubious in nature.
“I want to change.” Robin decided, feeling a weight slip off of her back with the four words.
She wanted to be that woman in the throne room, with the confidence to take on an impossible task and shoulder it. She wanted to take her many building frustrations and use them as the ammunition she needed to be decisive, and witty enough to strike back.
But most of all she wanted- no, she needed the freedom. The chance to do more than what she already was already doing every day. To learn about herself beyond the boundaries of her work, and the world she felt so unfamiliar with as well. And she had no opportunity for that here.
She couldn't go where she pleased, or spend money and meet people as she liked. Not without being watched and judged. Robin had responsibilities and expectations for what she needed to do following her every plan and move. And they were responsibilities that she would never turn on.
But Robin, still, could see no place to grow. To develop or learn about more than just fighting. A life more than tomes, schedules and training. Where she isn't sleeping in an army tent with a sword always in arms reach, just in case.
Robin was now barely aware of the tent around her. Consumed by thoughts of warm, sun-soaked fields and peaceful village upon peaceful village. Faraway places where somewhere she might find a clue to her past.
“I want to change,” She repeated to Cordelia, fingers flexing as she blinked her eyes a few times, bringing herself back to reality. A reality where she sat in a tent in the middle of nowhere, on her way to fight a battle that was only barely hers.
“And I can't do that with a war going on.”
Cordelia watched her with hesitancy. Hesitancy Robin had seen on the faces of countless others who had questions she had no answers for.
But not this time.
“So what are you going to do?” Robin looked back to the maps of towns. Kingdoms. A Plegian map that was a clone of the larger copies used at war tables. Old, and immaculately recorded by an expert cartographer. Robin plucked the paper and placed them in her nearby journal. Snapping violently it shut.
What would she do about this hot-blooded, impending war?
Oh, the answer to that was very simple.
“I'm going to end it.”
Chapter 10: Remuneration
Hey guys! Just a quick warning that this chapter will be bloodier and gorier than the others, with descriptions of death. Just thought I'd give a heads up as everything else so far has been rather tame! Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The road from Regna Ferox to the Plegian borders and the deserts that followed were filled with silence, planning, and not much more.
Robin didn't sleep much after she and Cordelia talked. Rather, her hours were filled (unsurprisingly) with war plans and marching.
It took a week to re-enter Ylissean soil, at which point there was a split. The army they'd gathered was strong and had plenty in numbers, but it would be useless as a whole in the effort to save Emmeryn. Entering Plegia with such a force would do nothing but force the Mad King's hand.
Instead, the large force was sent to secure Ylisstol, Flavia and Basilio staying with the smaller militia of the shepherds, who would travel into Plegian territory, hopefully going unnoticed. Robin was certain Emmeryn's public execution was nothing more than an attempt to ensnare Chrom and the others, but they had no other choice to engage.
Robin would need a plan.
Plegia had a curious history of war practise, and a wicked one. Ylisse in its crusades those 20 odd years ago was cruel, bloodthirsty almost. So much so that Robin was shocked at how Emmeryn managed to win the hearts of so many after the conduct of her family before her.
But then, Emmeryn was not her father. Neither were Chrom or Lissa, all kind in nature. Not that many there seemed to care. The Plegian survivors of the war that won nothing but blood and broken families learned to be more ruthless. Moving past simple survival into cruelty. Revenge. A fantasy that, in its sudden reality, put the stability of all neighbouring countries and their people at great risk.
The Grimleal would be formidable. Dark fliers and dark mages, who would all be fighting on their own turf and own terms. Winning, or at the very least extracting Emmeryn would be excruciatingly difficult.
But not impossible.
Over the 2 weeks, it took to reach the golden deserts, people along the way jumped to try and join their fight. Young men in outskirt villages, armed with bronze swords and little basic training were turned down and directed to the more helpful purpose of defending their villages. However, it wasn't just these kinds of willing fighters the Shepherds came across.
Gregor, the foreign mercenary and Nowi... the…
They were two of those more… special, individuals. Caught in a grand misunderstanding when the Shepherds met them, which took a good half hour of battling Plegians looking into the slave trade to sort out.
Now the two were fighting with them, for better or worse.
"So you're a dragon?" Robin asked rather bluntly, during a stop to water the horses. The shepherds had been travelling in the desert 3 days now, and those with heavier armour and on horseback were suffering, especially with the sudden change in climate.
Horses moved slowly and painfully, and armour was so heavy and hot it posed a real risk to anyone who wore or was even unfortunate enough to be close in proximity to these people.
Not that some of them would ever admit that.
"Yeah! Well, I'm a manakete. You do know what that is, right?" Nowi spoke with vigour, jumping and bouncing with enthusiasm that was exhausting Robin, who had taken the moment to rest in the heat.
Not really. Not anything more than Lissa and Frederick told her. By all accounts, Robin should have been worried about the sudden appearance of dragon-like people. But it was the images of Plegian soldiers, who’d attempted to sell Nowi off that stuck in Robin’s mind.
Images of them running away. Paired with worries of how far they’d gotten, and who they’d reported the Shepherds presence to since. She needed to make sure the group were moving as fast as possible.
Robin shook her head and gave Nowi a shrug.
"No, I’m afraid I have amnesia. It's a really long story." She sighed, looking across the way as a few meters from her, Frederick coaxed his horse into taking a drink. From here even she could see how red the sun had turned his face. And how drained he was undoubtedly feeling.
In sharp contrast, as the sun's rays beat down on her body, Robin faced no physical toll. She found no discomfort in the sand and how it seeped into her shoes and got caught in her hair. And she was not so easily disoriented by warped waves in the air, making hallucinations of distant figures and buildings like many others described.
To Robin, the desert was disturbingly familiar.
"He needs to take his armour off. He's going to bake in that." Nowi, who had plopped down beside Robin crossed her arms with a scowl. One that nearly made the tactician laugh.
Frederick was the one in someone's bad books for once after he had told Nowi off for breathing fire near the horses. Admittedly a bad idea to do near some people's only form of transport. On his end, also admittedly a bad thing to do when the person he's riled up is a dragon whose age and maturity translated to that of a human 14-year-old.
"You can tell him that," Robin said, pulling out her waterskin to take a sip. No way was she going to try to speak to him. Not until after she’d proved herself. And after everything here in this desert and with the Plegians had wrapped up. She offered her water to Nowi, but the manakete seemed to have taken Robin’s words to heart.
"Ok." The girl chirped, and it was to Robin’s utter horror that she watched Nowi hop up to her feet, and cup her hands around her mouth, like the world's smallest and loudest town crier.
"Hey! Hey! You need to take that armour off or you'll burn!" She yelled, grabbing the knights attention as Robin looked for a swift exit. Something difficult to seek in an empty, barren desert. In her haste she pulled her hood down over her eyes, just in time to see Frederick staring across the way at the two of them, arms crossed and, as always, looking thoroughly unimpressed with her.
"And risk attack while unprotected? Unlikely. I'll keep myself safe from any attempts on my life, thank you!" Spoken like a true knight, Frederick barked his words at Nowi and Robin like an instructor answering a stupid question from two children. Robin kept her eyes to the sand before she gave a thumbs up to the knight that she regretted instantaneously. When she looked up, Frederick has already moved on.
“Cool,” She muttered, rubbing her face with her hands. She’d already managed to annoy him just by association. Just by being there. Awesome job. Incredible. “Great.”
"Who is he afraid of stabbing him?" Nowi sat back down beside Robin, leaning on her arms as she lolled her head to the side. Being completely oblivious to Robin’s change in mood, the tactician gave the short answer and raised her hand silently. Nowi’s eyebrows raised suddenly.
"Have you stabbed him before?" She asked; and almost sounded excited? Robin wasn’t quite sure.
"No. He just thinks I might." Robin explained, dusting down her sleeves, preparing to stand up. Nowi asked another question.
"Do you want to stab him?" Robin thought for a moment. Of when Frederick gave her food and helped her train. When he worried for just a second about her wellbeing in the snow.
And then she thought of the staring and the fighting and the constant undefinable tension.
"Sometimes," Robin admitted, helping Nowi to her feet. In front of her, the girl looked up and cocked her head. Staring up at Robin as Robin stared down at her.
"I can st—"
"Let's not have this conversation right now please." And that was the last time Nowi brought up any plans to assassinate the man Robin pined for. As the two moved to rejoin the others, and return to their trek to the desert again.
The ruins and the Mad King drew ever closer.
A day and two nights later, they came in reach of the ruins. Tall and looming in the distant, the group made camp to finalize their plans. With Robin at the centre of the table.
“The exalt is to be executed at the castle on the morrow. I heard if from the king's own lips, sire.” A spy, who's arrival had sparked murmurs and a rise in energy all over the camp spoke. At his side, Basilio looked over his report. Flavia leaned against the table and looked to the maps once again.
Robin had thought as much.
“This is it, then.” He said, leaning back so the current Khan could have her own look over. Chrom, with Frederick at his shoulder and Lissa at the knight's side, wasn’t looking at anything on the table or in anyone's hands. Instead, his eyes lay directly on Robin.
“Exactly as you predicted, Robin.” He said. The escapees from the border conflict with Nowi and Gregor had made it. Which means they’d arrived just on time.
“So far, yes. But tomorrow will be the true test…” Robin shrugged off the praise. Nothing had happened yet. There was nothing to celebrate.
"Chin up, there! Show some confidence! It's your thinking that's got us this far. The plan is risky, but only as much is called for." Robin's coughed heavily as the Khan slapped her back, knocking the air from her lungs and winding her momentarily. Gods, this woman was strong.
"We'll find a way to see it through, Robin. Don't worry. This time tomorrow, we'll be swapping stories with Emm on the road home." Chrom did his best to offer comfort, and Robin took it happily with a deep breath inwards, looking over the map of the ruins and their plans one last time.
Where Emmeryn would be put on display. The positions of the Mad King and his witch-assistant, Aversa. The troops and their weapons, the tactical layout of their army.
Everything had been accounted for. Robin had made sure of it. She was so sure of it.
From across the table, Frederick met her gaze. Their eyes locked, and she swallowed but did not look away.
"I hope you're right."
Robin went to sleep that night with Chrom's words in her mind. Her clothes laid out beside her, and a sword and tome on the ground beside her cot. She fell asleep confident she could prove herself. To all the shepherds, to the army, to Frederick. And to herself.
She was so confident, and then she woke up in a cold sweat the next morning.
A bad dream setting an omen for what would be, unknowing to her, a dark day ahead.
“Robin? Hey, Robin!” It was a pair of hands on her shoulders that woke her up, jostling her body as she gasped into consciousness. Her eyes scrambling to find focus through a groggy panic.
Lissa’s voice. Her tent. Her things at her side, the cot that she lay on and the light blankets hanging over her sweating form.
Robin had heard plans and orders in her dream. Unfamiliar, frightening voices. Emmeryn's name. She felt hollow in her chest.
There were tears in her eyes.
"What's wrong? Was it a nightmare?” Lissa was fully dressed, with her staff along her back. Light was peeking in through the tent flap and, now that she had started to concentrate, Robin could hear people, horses and boxes being moved outside.
Robin was here. Robin was safe, in camp, and Robin was with her friends. Her breath left her lungs shakily, along with the details of her dream.
"Is...that what it was? Y—yes, it must have been…" Her mind sharpens as she feels her knot of hair, untied and lying loose around her shoulders. Her sheets, damp like they'd been splashed with a little water. Her mouth, dry and sore.
Lissa looked over her. And Lissa looked worried.
"I'm sorry, what brings you here, Lissa? Was there something you needed?" Subtly, Robin reached for her waterskin and took a deep drink. Lissa looked over her friends form hesitantly but told Robin why she was here anyway.
"Frederick says it's time to march. And we can't start the plan without our master tactician!" Sighing as she capped the bottle, Robin's heart began thudding hard against her chest. Whether it was from the mention of Fredericks name or the notion of possibly dying later on today, Robin was unsure
"Right, yes, of course." In a swift movement, Robin threw the sheet off her bed, wiping the sweat off her forehead. How long had she been asleep? Not matter now, she needed her things.
Quickly she stood, locating her clothes, weapons and plans. Lissa hung by the bed, hesitation radiating from her body as she watched Robin move erratically around the room. The tactician wearing little more than underwear and a loose shirt.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Almost as if she had been hurt, Lissa had her arms crossed over her chest. At the sight of such concern, Robin paused.
This had to be hell for her. Her sister kidnapped, her brother made to lead an army. How she'd managed to cope throughout the whole ordeal with a smile on her face and no breakdown since her fainting at Regna Ferox was beyond Robin.
Lissa was strong. And so Robin would be strong for her friend.
"Yes, I just had the strangest dream. I thought…" Her stomach twisted as she thought back to it. They were unfamiliar figures, but something about them…
No. It had to be a symptom of stress. Robin shook her head and waved a hand, the hope in her chest begging that she seemed at least somewhat confident. For the sake of her companion.
"It doesn't matter. I'll be ready in five minutes" Robin promised. And though Lissa looked ready to argue, she said nothing and, with a nod and a smile in goodbye, exited into the desert.
A short time afterwards Robin followed. Fully dressed and tying her hair into pigtails as she walked. All around people were mobilizing. In an hour or so the encampment would be mostly empty, in its little crook of ruins not far from where Emmeryn was being held.
Time would tell whether they'd return, or if the camp would stand forever empty, as long as the sands willed it.
Everyone Robin had ever known was out and about. And while it was hardly a statement worth a lot in regards to her social circle, it was still a lot.
Phila, Cordelia and Sumia talked as they readied their pegasi, brushing the beasts with an air of anxiety. Vaike gave mediocre advice to Donnel, who did his best to copy the braggart's stance.
Frederick stood tall by the large tent keeping the horses shaded. At his side, Stahl and Sully talked, but he didn't seem to be listening. From the moment Robin had locked eyes on him, she found his staring back. Watching.
He pointed to the tent where she assumed Chrom was waiting for her, and Robin wasted no time in getting her nervous, blushing into the tent and far away from him as quickly as possible.
Gregor had other plans for her. Waving the tactician down as she walked past, nodding at the tome poking out of her coat.
"We are making of the killing of Plegian army today, yes?" He asked in an accent unfamiliar to Robin. Not that she actually knew what most accents sounded like anymore. Regardless, she nodded.
"Hopefully, we'll have fewer deaths on our hands. If the plan works" She informed him, watching as the large, older man snapped his fingers and nodded.
"Pegasus knights. Yes." So it seemed Chrom had already explained everything. Robin nodded again.
"Yeah, pretty much." Have the knights with Phila swoop in from behind. Catch the Plegians off guard, and get Emmeryn out of there and over to her heavily armed siblings and their friends, similarly armed to the teeth.
It would be swift, but it would work. Robin was sure that as long as no Plegian soldier were aware of the plan, it would work.
She swallowed a lump in her throat and gave Gregor a nod.
"Good luck out there." She told him, watching as Lon'qu gestured for him to join the other swordsman. He nodded again and gave her a wave, before moving across the sands to the others.
It was another few hundred meters away that Robin found Chrom, standing atop a massive sand dune that allowed the shepherds a clear view of their target. It was there that he was pouring over the map one last time.
"If you stare at it any longer like that, your eyes will start to sting." She said, walking to his side. His eyes didn't move from the paper and were it not for the noticeable drop of his shoulders upon he approach, Robin would have thought he hadn't heard her come in. He was that engrossed.
"When you described where we were going you said ruins. I wasn't expecting a city." He said with an upwards glance after a few more moments of silence. Robin winced.
It was both really. Looking over it, the Plegian capitol was both imposing and… depressing. A city built into the skeleton of a giant, long-dead beast, it’s final resting place half settled into a desert mountain. Surrounded by barren cracked ground and dust, with fallen columns and hollow, roofless four wall structures surrounding its crumpled walls.
It was tiny. It was overflowing. And near the outside, strangely beyond the walls, it had a large courtyard, that lead into a large castle embedded into the mountain. One that was swarming with soldiers.
One that would be the scene of their battle for Emmeryn's life.
"Their infrastructure hasn't changed much since the crusades," Robin explained. No money, barely people any people and even less young men made for an economic nightmare. Knowing what she did from history books and reports, it was a wonder to her that they'd managed to scrape together an army at all.
But then again, when people were really, truly desperate they'd do anything to have a purpose than wasting away in poverty.
Robin was a perfect example of that.
She cleared her throat.
"Are you versed on the plan?" She asked, looking away from the daunting buildings and distant people. Chrom folded the map, giving her a half-hearted half-smile before he spoke.
"We move in quietly to the ruins. Enter from the north, and then move south through the dunes and then east, past a blockade and to the courtyard entrance. There, we'll have our backup. The Plegians will be caught off guard, and we'll have Emm." Robin clicked her tongue, thoroughly impressed with how quickly Chrom had memorized and then retained her plan.
She reminded herself that, despite his oblivious nature with women, he was their leader for a reason. He was just in need of an extra voice of reason.
Extras. If you considered her, and—
"And this will work?" Said a stern, familiar voice from behind the two.
Robin froze solid on the spot, and a chill fired up her spine. Her senses completely leaving her and leaving her an absolute tense mess. Chrom paid no mind as Frederick walked forward, deliberately positioning himself to stand between his liege and Robin. In such a way that he brushed against her shoulder, briefly breaking down her ability to speak or think rationally.
"It will work," Chrom said with a voice that was, to his credit, full of confidence. A shame that his words prompted Frederick to turn his attention to Robin. Looking down on her, accentuating the good whole foot of height difference between them. Something that made Robin's mouth go dry.
"I mean, it—"
She hated that he could do this to her.
"It has to." She finished, after taking a deep breath, trying her best to smile at Frederick who, as always, wore a mask of steel in return.
His eyes flickered away from hers, looking to the city and ruins below.
"I hope so." He mumbled, before excusing himself swiftly, with Chrom in pursuit. A battle was coming after all.
And Robin, with a heavy heart, could feel the strain Frederick held in his tone. It added to the weight that was breaking her shoulders. A weight that grew heavier as everyone finished preparations, and started their short march down from the sandy hills
Getting to the scene of the coming execution was so easy, it sent Robin into a paranoid state more severe than she'd ever felt before. They simply walked down the hill, and seemingly, to the guards patrolling, appeared from the desert-like countless others who'd travelled to see the Exalt fall.
No random encounters, no people asking why they were there and only a few funny looks followed the group as they all moved on foot.
It was almost certain that they had been allowed to sneak in.
And as Robin had suspected, that meant there was no doubt that the group would be walking right into a trap.
This fact did not make a single Shepherd falter as they reached the edge of the courtyard ruins. Dressed in robes, donned in concealing scarves, hoods and wraps.
A fashion sense apparently popular with Plegians, as Robin noted the passing individuals. All keeping their heads down and avoiding eye contact. For a public execution, not many people were there.
And the people present hardly looked common enough to warrant grouping in with the 'general public'.
"Hey, Robin, I'm— uh. Seeing a lot of armour, and swords on hilts." Mumbled Stahl, who did quite well to keep his voice down as he walked up beside her. Robin nodded but didn't respond as they passed by yet another gigantic fallen column and passed by the last few guards before the main gates. That was if the spies information was correct.
The once grandiose courtyard towered over the group, bigger and greater than even that of the Ylissean palace. And hauntingly empty.
Behind great chunks of weathered sandstone, the group knelt and hid. Chrom, Lissa and Frederick in front of Robin, and the rest behind. Across the sands and near the outskirts leading to deserts, Robin locked eyes with Phila. Hiding in a hollow, roofless building. Her pegasus knights, and The Shepherds other animals in tow.
Turning her attention back to the three in front of her, Robin cleared her throat.
"There's your horse." Robin murmured, tapping Frederick twice with her finger. He raised a brow at the sound of her nail on his pauldron but followed where her other hand pointed.
"An astute observation." He commented. In fact, he said rather dismissively.
For the first time, as she looked at him, Robin felt a flare rise up in her stomach. An intense emotion that was neither sad nor driven by any romantic attraction on her part.
Very deliberately, Robin proceeded to look past Frederick, over to where Chrom and Lissa were still watching the courtyard. Going to great lengths to not have to look at him again.
It was wide, with stairs leading up and inside to a building reminiscent of a giant cathedral. Large, narrow platforms suck out from the cliffside the back of the building was built against. Like spikes embedded in poorly made brigand armour. But it was the biggest, most heavily guarded one, along with the square of guards at the top of the steps that caught Robin's attention.
"That's where they'll have her. And that's where the Mad King will be." Robin told Chrom, earning a wide-eyed look from the prince.
"And you are sure of that because?" Asked Frederick, dubiously. Normally she would have somewhat understood his hesitation, but time was short and so was her temper. Robin felt that flare once again. Sharper, and more evocative, like she'd been prodded directly to the stomach with a hot iron.
"Critical thinking and the use of context, Sir Frederick." Somehow the words that left Robin's mouth were both sharp and placid. They were strong enough that they garnered a sharp snort from someone behind her. As well as a flare of nostrils and set jaw on Fredericks end.
"Would advise we wait until we see Emmeryn and have a clear mark on her before we act. We won't have a direct way in." Paying no mind to whatever Frederick was about to say, Robin, pressed on, gesturing to the courtyards exterior infrastructure.
Elevated above the sands, there was no way to get in but the front door, without a pegasus or a wyvern. And with the archers positioned at the same entrance, there was no getting past them that way either.
No, to get inside the courtyard they'd have to fight their way in and then out.
"Basilio and Flavia will have secured a way out by the time we have Emm," Chrom said, but Robin was only half aware of her words as a hand suddenly grabbed her shoulder and dragged her attention elsewhere.
Gaius, a thief she had barely had time to talk to since his recruitment during the first attempt on Emmeryn's life, pointed to sudden movement at the top of the stairs.
"It's starting." He murmured, and her stomach dropped.
"Good eye." Was what she dumbly said back, as the others beside her slowly caught on with sudden gasps and caught breath.
Most of them, at the very least. For when Robin looked to Chrom, she found Frederick still staring at her with a slow-burning frustration bordering on anger in his eyes. A look that made the pit in her stomach worse.
Trust her to make an already bad relationship worse with a few simple words.
She could have contemplated Frederick longer, and likely would have, were it not for the sudden voice that boomed out across the courtyard, reaching the sands where the Shepherds stood, instilling a sensation of cold-blooded fear and hot-blooded anger coursing through Robin's body.
Gangrel had finally made his entrance.
"Good people! Warriors of Plegia! Welcome! Welcome, one and all! Your anticipation electrifies the air!" Even from this far away, Robin could tell he was decked in his usual gaudy fashion. Flashy gold, beautiful silks. All that as a reminder to the gold the country hoarded with their church, never a coin spent on its citizens.
Robin's blood burned through her veins. Her fingers coiled with rage she could not quite place as she caught sight of the figure being lead out onto the cliffside by a guard. A figure she'd seen and known before.
"Emmeryn." Lissa's pained whisper reached Robin's ears at the same time the Mad King's cries did.
"We ALL remember the crimes of Ylisse…" A single sentence and the Shepherds around her bristled. Hackled raised.
"Not yet." She hissed to them through gritted teeth. "Not yet."
"Would you have their witch-queen answer for them? Here? Today? NOW?" With each question the cries and jeers of the soldiers in the courtyard in a sick display of joy and anticipation. In the corner of her eye,
"Yes!" He screamed, certifying any question of his lack of sanity. "Finally, we will have justice!"
'What justice?' Was what Robin wanted to scream back, but an internal hypothetical debate with a madman incapable of forming a justifiable argument is the last thing the Shepherds tactician needed to occupy herself with.
"Executioner! If you would be so kind…" was what Gangrel shouted, but Robin could hardly hear it over her own shrill and sudden scream, as she tore herself to her feet
"Flavia!" For a second she feared the Khan, wherever she was on the soon to be battlefield, had not heard her cry, but the axe that flew through the air and killed Emmeryn's executioner said otherwise.
Emmeryn was alone up there. The field was set, and their targets lay in their sight. Robin drew her sword.
"Everyone!" She bellowed, pointing south to the barricade set up around the corner. "Now!"
The reaction was instant, the shepherds around Robin jumping to their feet, weapons drawn, bounding into a run. Some south, some detouring, like Sumia, for their beasts.
As they moved it was Chrom's, and then Gangrel's voice that egged them on.
"Take out all the soldiers first! We'll deal with the Mad King later!" Chrom shouted to Robin as he charged ahead into the coming onslaught of barbarians, mages and others. In the distance, up the stairs, Gangrel cackled.
"Oh, will you now? We've been expecting you, Little Prince. Men: Kill him. Kill his sister. Kill his troops and his friends and anyone else you find! Kill them all!" Spoken like a true madman, Gangrel gave the official shout before, like a true coward, he rushed back into the palace, with his little witch Aversa at his side.
They'd get to him soon enough.
"Lissa! Keep with Chrom, make sure he doesn't get himself killed!" Robin ordered the princess, who took off in hot pursuit of her brother, Lon'qu and the other warriors on foot who had charged at the enemy line.
Robin began running herself, shouting orders as she prepared her Arclightning tome. Her heart was beating in her ears.
"Miriel, Ricken, take out the archers! We need room for Sumia and Cordelia! You two, don't you dare take flight until they're dead." Her orders were followed, as she kept running, finding easy footing despite the sand.
This was it.
"Frederick!?–" She started but was swiftly silenced as the knight stormed past (albeit slower than usual) on his horse, towards Chrom.
He knew what he was doing, taking a swing with his hammer as he passed a foe. A foe who, despite taking the hit, kept running with his axe drawn. Beelining for Robin.
The tactician stopped in her tracks, and steadied herself tome in hand, face like stone.
And so the battle began.
Robin learned swiftly that blood didn't sink into mud or snow quite the way it sank into sand.
Maybe it was the way the sun burned it, or the texture of the grains altogether, but when blood hit sand it seemed all that drier. Or at the very least, far worse than how it looked dripping from a blade of grass.
And the heat didn't help either.
Robin fired off another lightning spell, bringing the swordsman that sprinted at her to a screaming, crackling end. He smelt like a pig on an open fire, his body like a charred log at the centre of its pit. He didn't look like a person anymore.
He was not the only corpse on the battlefield.
The ruins towered over the shepherds as they drew ever closer to the palace's entrance. The group ahead having passed what seemed to be the little blockade formed, with the courtyard gate ahead. They'd only been fighting 10 minutes.
Behind and beside her, Robin saw countless bodies felled by her and her comrades. Stuck with arrows, cut to shreds or simply left smouldering after a particularly nasty fireball a la Miriel. The archers and the barbarians are long gone. Only mages, and the Plegian general lay ahead.
Something about the way Robin fought was grittier than normal. Maybe it was all the self-reflection, maybe it was the location and it's circumstances. But the corpses she left behind were dead far quicker than normal.
She attributed it to her seething, built-up anger.
None of the dead littering the sands were friends or shepherds. So without need to mourn, Robin took another few steps through the sand to focus on what was ahead of her.
In the distance was Chrom. Frederick, Sumia and Cordelia. Robin can pick them out easily, with the first's hair and the latter's mounts. But that's all she could define from this distance, as the enemies that managed to break through the line ahead thundered in her direction.
For the seventh time this battle alone, a Plegian soldier chooses to die at the hands of a mage powered through hostility alone.
Robin didn't even know why she was so angry, or what she was angry at as she drew her bronze sword and struck down on brigands neck. The war? The mistreatment of her friends family? Plegia as a whole? Herself? Frederick? She could not put a finger on it.
All she knew was that those who were getting in her way now with cruel intentions would pay for it. With her crude swordsmanship, that made death far messier than it probably should have been.
The man who charged at her, screaming profanities, is dead. Cut up silently as Robin struck repeatedly with only grunts escaping her, as she felled him. Leaving him a butchered mess in the sand.
It took the woman's entire resolve not to vomit on the spot. Robin was on a battlefield, she could not afford to mourn for slain enemies who'd have done the same to her. Still, it was difficult for her to not stare at what once was a person, instead of looking away.
Someone noticed this.
And it wasn't someone she knew.
"Looking a bit green, are we?" A drawling voice drew Robin out of her haze. Bringing her blinking to reality as she looked up. Where she found her eyes locking with a dark-haired, scantily clad woman. In dark mage robes.
She drew her sword.
"Who are you?!" Obviously, the mage wanted to talk. Robin wasn't in the mood for any witty mid-fight banter. Luckily the woman seemed to share that sentiment, she waved her hand as she walked forward, unarmed.
"Don't worry. I'm no threat to you. Think of me as a friend." Robin's sword lowered just a bit as she eyed up the woman, who walked past her and started to circle the still-warm body.
"You're wearing Plegian robes," Robin stated bluntly, sword still in hand as the woman knelt down, and pulled a small knife from the man's belt. Before Robin could react, she stashed it on her belt and stood back up.
"Yes, awful things, aren't they? Like I said before, you've nothing to fear from me. Your blue-haired friend is quite persuasive. And you are… fascinating."
"I, sorry— what?" Was all Robin said before, all in a flash, the woman drew an unfamiliar purple tone, and raised a hand. A hand that swiftly lit up with dark purple energy, and pointed in her direction.
It's what Robin awaits. For her heart that was beating irregularly to suddenly halt. For her heaving breaths from exertion to let out one final gasp. Death is what Robin had somewhat expected out here.
But death does not come to Robin, the bolt of dark magic from the woman's hand flew past Robin's ear and met its target, instantly killing another Plegian soldier behind her. His axe that he'd raised over her head falling uselessly to the floor.
Robin let out a heavy breath as the body twitched in the ground, her feet stumbling back two steps as she returned her gaze back to the mage woman. She looked pleased with herself.
"Do try to stay alive. I quite like the look of you." Robin is unable to parse a single word the woman says. She does not understand why she was being talked to by a strange individual, or even how she'd come to suddenly align herself with Robin's cause.
She only knew two things. The first, that this woman had just saved her life. And the second, that a creepy Plegian dark mage staring at her with googly eyes was the least of her problems right now.
Which was saying something.
In the seconds that had passed during their conversation, Chrom had broken through the main line of defence. He was almost out of view, charging towards the steps with Frederick and Lissa hot on his tail.
Robin needed to be up there, now.
"They— I'm needed up ahead. You— who are you?!" She shouted the question as she began to move up, looking back and forth a few times. The woman simply smiled.
"My name is Tharja." Tharja. Okay.
"Robin. I'm Robin." Tharja raised a brow, and for a second, Robin noticed the look on her face drop for just a second, before returning to the same almost menacing smile as before.
"Well, Robin, I have a feeling we'll be seeing much of each other soon." Okay. Creepy. But still, very much the least of her problems.
"If we survive this." She shot back
"We won't if you dawdle." Right. Chrom. The plan. She needed to get moving, and far away from this strange woman.
Which was exactly what Robin did.
"Be seeing you!" Tharja called after Robin, who debated for a second if the woman was aware of how entirely threatening she came off as.
She hadn’t come up with an answer to that as she approached Chrom, who was just finishing off a particularly brave and particularly stupid man with an axe, that now lay useless and blood-soaked in the sand.
Frederick and Lissa stood nearby, with the latter healing a nasty gash on the arm of the former. A pang hit Robin’s stomach when she looked at the wound but quickly left as soon as it had come when her eyes met with Fredericks. She very swiftly looked away, and at the battle scene.
The barricade was practically non-existent. Sharpened sticks and traps lay broken on the ground, and unfamiliar bodies lay scattered, with the only breathing enemies to the left, far ahead and guarding the steps up to the palace.
Breathing heavily, Robin gave the prince a withering look as he came to her side.
"Chrom, who on earth did I just talk to?" With ne’er a second for him to greet her, Robin began her line of questioning immediately. Sweet, bloodsoaked Chrom responded with a tilt of his head. Like a small, confused dog.
"Libra? He said he was the religious type—"
"Not the priest, Chrom, the ominous Dark Mage!" She snapped and ignored the implication that he'd recruited more than one person in a matter of ten minutes. In the corner of her eye, Lissa and, shockingly, Frederick perked up at her words. Finally, she'd got his attention.
"Oh, Tharja? I met her a few paces back. She wants to help." Robin’s face blanched. Yes, the woman had helped she supposed. And yes, she had certainly seemed to bear no ill will towards Robin or Chrom, as it seemed. But still—
"She's a Plegian." Robin hissed, but not quiet enough to escape the ears of Frederick who came up to stand beside her. The poor woman’s breath and speech suddenly caught in her throat, with her heart.
Robin half regretted starting such a discussion on a battlefield, but the other half screamed internally at the jeopardy the plan could have been put in had Chrom chosen the wrong Plegian to trust.
Regardless, she learned then when or when not to start an argument of this kind.
"She's a what? Milord—" Frederick started what would have likely been another legendary round of scolding, were it not for the sudden reminder that the four were, indeed, in the middle of a bloodbath.
"Look out!" A voice unfamiliar to the conversation shouted, and before Robin could even begin a search of what to look for, a shadow cast over the group, dropping in front of them with a shield that promptly blocked the bolt of fire, which had been cast at the group for some distance.
Robin swallowed heavily and looked to her body and arms. Free of burns, which was not something that could be said for her opponents earlier. Ones who had met their ends at the hands of the exact same spell, that had just fired her way. She looked to Lissa, Chrom and even Frederick. All unharmed. And then took a shaky breath.
Were it not for the intrusion, they would have all been dead.
Robin looked to their saviour, high on her pegasus, looking over the four with great concern.
"Woah! Sumia, thank you!” Chrom spoke in a voice that was free of fear, and laden with awe. Adrenaline got the better of Robin, the blood in her ears blocked her hearing for a good five seconds as he looked behind her and confirmed the rest of their shepherds, alive, and making their way to their position at their own pace.
They hadn’t lost anyone yet.
“—Frederick, we'll talk about this another time." Robin tuned in just in time to turn back, where she found Chrom behind Sumia on her horse. The pegasus rider looked to the final enemies far ahead, and then to Emmeryn. She stood alone at the cliff, awaiting the rescue which Robin had planned.
Robin’s hand lunged forward, grabbing the flier’s ankle and her attention as she looked down to the tactician, who spoke firmly.
“Phila will cover her. You get Chrom to that general, and the army will fall.” There was a reluctance in Chrom’s eyes, and Robin understood. He wanted to get to his sister as soon as possible. But they couldn’t risk it until the army was gone.
Wordlessly, Sumia took off again. Her pegasus kicked up sand as it surged, keeping to a low glide across the sand dunes. It left Frederick, Lissa and Robin to watch the two soar over the approaching enemies. As Robin drew her tome once more, Lissa spoke.
“I need to make sure nobody’s hurt. Maribelle can’t handle it alone, are you sure you two—” She began but was swiftly cut off by both Frederick and Robin.
“We’ll be fine.” The two said in unison, sharing a look of sudden surprise as they did. Lissa simply looked between them with hesitant eyes, before she gave way, and began her move backwards.
And then Frederick and Robin were alone. Him atop his horse with his silver lance, and her with her tome and sheer determination.
With a swathe of enemies that approached, ready to come down upon them with years of xenophobic rage and fury.
They were alone with that, and the bubbling frustration he felt towards her. An emotion for which she had planted the seeds for beforehand.
"And I suppose you're thrilled about this new friend of his?" Frederick asked as they prepared themselves, eyes glued to the horizon as their foes closed in.
In the gap it took for Robin to cop onto what he was talking about, she had already engaged with an enemy, the steadfast knight at her back as she took out the sudden frustration on the new target. With more on the move to their location.
"Oh, yes, Frederick." She hissed under her breath as she drove a sword into the throat of an oncoming soldier. A strike that left his body drooping, limp and lifeless. Through the same technique, Frederick had taught her half a month ago. Clearly, this is exactly the outcome she wanted.
"In fact," She said a little louder, swivelling around to send off a fire spell for a change. Charring a distant archer on one side of his body. For a risk to be put upon her plan and reputation that was already so shaky within the group.
"I talked him into this because—" Another soldier surged forward, coming to a halt as she fired off a wind spell with a tome in her coat, stalling him long enough for Frederick to skewer him and end his struggle. Obviously, there was nothing she wanted more than to sabotage the knight and his lieges.
"— clearly I'm a lying, psycho, amnesiac Plegian out to slit your throat." Because the logical summation of her interactions with Frederick so very clearly marked her out as an untrustworthy spy and not. Oh, maybe someone who had a stupid, confusing, misguided crush on him?
As Robin breathed heavily over the newly made corpse, it occurred to her that she had maybe started ranting a little louder than intended. This was evidenced by the seething look that Frederick held her to, his own foes dead at his horse's hooves.
"Robin!" Chrom's voice ended the argument before it began. The two’s onslaught had seemingly not been the only one, as Robin found him and Sumia in the distance, with the general lay dead on the steps. He pointed behind her, a gesture that lead her gaze to where they came, where Virion and Miriel stood amongst dead bodies and great, bleeding, unmoving hulks of scales. The rest of the shepherds had nearly caught up.
A failed attack from behind, it seemed.
"Their wyvern riders have fallen! The skies are clear! I'm giving the signal!" As Chrom shouted, Robin and Frederick began their push forward to where he and Sumia were, his words lit a fire in Robin’s stomach.
"Alright!" This was it. No more soldiers in the way, no more arguments to be had or sudden new arrivals.
This was it, and Robin— She was so, so sure.
Until she wasn’t.
Everything went according to plan as Phila and her knights flew up to Emmeryn, and Gangrel and Aversa ran back into their sights, only just up the stairs.
Everything was so, so perfect. As Robin reached Chrom’s side, her chest alight with pride as Phila reached out to take the Exalts hand. Everything was perfect.
And then cracked, rotting, dead hands sprung forth from the sands at Aversa’s feet. Littering the courtyard in their tens, soon to be hundreds.
And perfect it was no more.
“...Risen?! Oh gods, no! Chrom!” Robin shrieked, gripping the prince’s arm as his face turned a sickly white. They and the shepherds behind them stood frozen at the courtyard gates.
It was okay. The group was close together. Robin lunged into her coat holsters and pockets for a fire tome— one that could blast them to pieces before they drew their bows and aimed at Phila and— Oh, gods.
All it took was one arrow. A
n arrow that struck quick and true at the heart of Phila’s pegasi, killing it instantly before she could raise her hand to clasp Emmeryn’s.
It was an arrow that left Robin and the others to watch with utter horror as Phila fell, hundreds of feet to her death on the cobblestone below. Her last words lost in the wind, and her body obscured by that of her fallen beast.
She was the first of them to fall, all the rest dead within ten seconds. Their own cries masked by the screams that left Cordelia’s lungs. The redhead lunged forward, off her mount and towards the steps but Robin caught her, pulling her back into a half hug, half grapple.
“No no no…” Robin cried to herself and to her friend as she held her back, serving as a pillar for which Chrom leaned against as the risen turned their attention to the shepherds. Gangrel danced down the steps, among the bleeding corpses.
Emmeryn was still suspended upon the cliff. Alive, but no one knew for how long.
They no longer had control over that.
“We've lost…” Chrom’s voice was broken, and Robin who still held a weeping Cordelia looked around with the desperation of a dying woman. Something she supposed she was about to be.
Not yet, not yet. There had to be something.
“I believe this is what they call a reversal of fortunes. Now...grovel before me. Plead! Beg for your worthless lives!” Gangrel sang to them with a voice laced in sick malice, Aversa herself lurking at his side. Risen were still pulling themselves from the grounds and sands, their rot making it impossible to tell when exactly these once-people had died.
“I'd give up my life before I'd beg for it from you.” Chrom bared his teeth and took a step towards the stairs before Frederick stopped him, grabbing his arm with a vice of a grip.
“Oh, now THAT is a good line. A fitting epitaph for your tombstone, perhaps? But it's not just your life in the balance. The exalt still stands upon the block. And I have a dozen bows trained on her. All it would take is one word from me…” Robin’s stomach dropped, and Frederick’s grip on Chrom’s arm faltered enough to break free. His eyes on the exalt, and stone face completely devoid of the stone wall Robin was used to.
Frederick looked afraid.
And that terrified Robin.
“Emm! Hold on, I'm—”
“Archers! If this Ylissean pup so much as twitches, let fly your arrows!” Gangrel with all his disgusting wit was quick to shut down any words from Chrom, who stood in front of Robin still shaking and seething.
It was another horrifying moment, where Robin was reminded that that was his sister up there. And Lissa’s.
“I... I'll kill you!” He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Even Robin couldn’t see a winning move here. And Gangrel knew it.
“Go ahead! I welcome it. Just know you were responsible for Big Sister's bloody demise! ...And what of the rest of you? Eh? Who wants the honour of killing the exalt?” The shepherds did nothing but stand. Silent, seething, itching to strike, but…
“...No one? Bah! Your merry band isn't quite so headstrong anymore, is it? Pathetic!” This was pathetic. It was ridiculous, and most importantly it wasn’t supposed to have happened.
Robin just… let it happen.
“Damn you!” She hadn’t planned far enough ahead.
“Now, now, my boy—no one needs die today. Not you. Not the exalt. Not your friends. Just lay down your sword, and give me the Fire Emblem.” This was her fault.
“...I...” Chrom started. The Fire Emblem. Robin hadn’t even thought much of it being in their possession. Sure enough, it hung at Chrom’s belt safely.
But how long would that be for? Robin could see he was thinking, and let go of Cordelia, grabbing onto the prince’s shoulder with desperate force.
“Chrom! You can't trust him!” There was no telling what Gangrel would do, and Chrom knew that as he whirled around to her, letting out his anger.
“Of course I can't trust him! I'm not an idiot! But if I just say no, he'll kill her!”
They couldn’t let Emmeryn die. But they couldn’t just give up the Emblem.
“There has to be a way…” She only half believed her words as she looked to the forces they were dealing with. If she could somehow get Virion in line to take out one of the archers… she and Miriel could handle the others… the risen… Frederick could...
“If there is, I can't see it... gods!” Chrom’s hand went to the Emblem, and Gangrels patience ran out. Throwing out an arm and pointing to Chrom, his manic voice echoing throughout the courtyard.
“I will count to three! Throw down your weapons, or your exalt becomes the world's largest quiver.” No…
“One!” Robin looked at her friends.
“Two!” There had to be something.
“Three—” This couldn’t be it.
“—No, wait!” A voice, gentle but impressive called down to them from the heavens. Like an angel sent from above.
“Emm…” Murmured Chrom.
“Silence!” Gangrel shrieked in an effort to shut her up, but Emmeryn continued.
“King Gangrel, is there no hope you will listen to reason?” Truly? She was trying even now for peace? Even Gangrel looked shocked before that gave way to the same ghoulish grin. He wasn’t about to listen.
“You mean listen to more of your sanctimonious babble?! I think not. No, all I want to hear now is the THUNK of arrows, and a SPLAT as you hit the ground. Take one, long, last look from your perch. You do so enjoy looking down on people... Then prepare to meet the ground and your maker! That is unless someone were to give me the Emblem... now!” Gangrel was approaching, along with his army of dead. An icy feeling settled in Robin's stomach as he came closer. There was no reason he would listen to, there was no solution.
He only halted when Chrom thrust out a protective arm, acting as a barrier between the madman and his friends.
"All right! All right..." He shouted to the king, and Robin's heart dropped as his head angled upwards, and called to his older sister.
"Emm, I know you won't approve, but this is my final decision. Maybe someday we'll face a crisis where maybe the Emblem would've helped... But I know for a fact that Ylisse needs you, today! The people need their exalt... And we need our sister. If those dark days should come, we'll face them together." Spoken like a true little brother, Robin's heart ached as Chrom pleaded with Emmeryn. Hoping with all her heart that Emmeryn could hear him, and the hopes of her people from all the way down where they stood.
And she did.
Emmeryn, with all the elegance of sleek cat, or graceful deer took a step forward, right to the cliff's edge, and then called to the palace, the army and the city. Her words so loud it seemed they echoed across the entire desert, and the entire country.
"Plegians! I ask that you hear the truth of my words! War will win you nothing but sadness and pain, both inside your borders and out. Free yourselves from this hatred! From this cycle of pain and vengeance. Do what you must... As I will do. See now that one selfless act has the power to change the world!" And then, to Robin's utter horror, she took another step off.
Right off the platform.
And Robin squeezed her eyes shut.
Whatever happened next Robin didn't see. She heard it, viscerally so. The screams of anguish, the sound of Chrom taking off towards her falling form, Lissa's blood-curdling scream.
And then a sickening fusion between a wet crack and a heavy thud.
Her eyes opened.
"Oh, gods…" Emmeryn's body lay on the palace's decrepit flagstones. Broken, bloodied and unmoving. Half blocked by Chrom's form, which had dropped down to his knees.
Gangrels voice mixed with the sounds of open sobs and weeping.
Emmeryn was dead.
Robin had failed them.
"Well now! ...How disgustingly noble. And so lovely a fall! Here I thought death to be an ugly thing. I've never seen one fall so gracefully, in fact. ...And I've seen many fall. Ah... So ends Emmeryn, Ylisse's most exalted! But how can we ensure everyone remembers this beautiful moment of her sacrifice? Perhaps we should gather up her body and put it on display!"
As he ranted Robin moved sluggishly, but determined, towards Chrom, her hands grabbing at his shoulders as the risen drew closer. But Chrom didn’t care, he rose to his feet to challenge the Plegian king again.
"Gangrel! You die today!" Robin isn't the one to argue with him this time. Instead, a familiar voice that was absent during the fight announced itself, bringing with it, hope.
"No, boy! I secured an escape route! We have to flee!" Basilio called to the pair from the steps, the shepherds standing behind him in various states of distress. Sobbing, yelling, pulling weapons and shouting.
Frederick just stared at the dead body of the Exalt.
Somehow this put a kick into Robin’s stomach. A last push over the edge, as she pulled Chrom with all her might, dragging him back to the steps down to the desert, away from the enemies they could not fight.
"B—but...her body... I have to…" He argued weakly. Basilio had none of it, pushing him forward once Robin had gotten him to the stairs, rushing him and the other shepherds back to the sands.
"You have to RUN! Now! Robin! Don't let him do anything stupid!" The western Khan ordered her as she did a quick headcount, before returning to pulling Chrom by the hand.
“I won’t. I—" Basilio pushed her along and into Frederick, who didn't complain about her presence as he took Chrom with one hand, Lissa's arm already in his grip, taking the last of his lieges far, far away from here. Robin followed them.
They did. They sprinted from the Plegian castle. From its courtyard soaked in blood. From the bodies of those who had to be left behind. From Phila. From Emmeryn. They ran, without stopping, away from the capitol. Away from their empty camp into the unknown.
Some piled onto the others horses and pegasi, with others firing spells, arrows and javelins at whoever or whatever dared follow them.
Robin stayed behind Frederick and struggled through the sand, her legs growing weaker with each step.
In the silence, she cried.
Robin cried because she knew this was her fault. That she hadn't thought of everything as she prided herself on doing. That this failure had cost a life so dear and important.
Robin cried for Ylisse, for Emmeryn, for her friends.
Robin cried because there was nothing else she could do.
She cried quietly to herself, for those who'd misplaced their trust in her. And with them, she ran.
Thanks for reading! This was by far the longest chapter for anything I've ever written at 9,500 words, which is nearly a third of this entire book. There's was a lot that happened in this part of Awakening, and I didn't want to skim over anything. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed it! Thank you again for reading!